LAST year Dallas finished 6 – 10 overall, and 2 – 4 in the division. It can be said that they were derailed by a number of injuries, but that was par for the course for everyone in this division. So nope! No one gets a pass because of injuries in 2020. Hey, remember this?:
Dallas was just an expensive and over-hyped bad team. Period.
But that was last year! Here’s what Dallas looks like 8 days prior to the 2021 NFL Draft.
QB: Dak Prescott returns! But just how much of him is going to make it back? About a month the press got hold of some video of his rehab process. Take a look at it. Specifically his right ankle:
He’s all arm and no mechanics from the waist down. There is no dropback. No plant. No drive. No stepping into his passes. Worse than how he looks, is the fact that this is becoming muscle memory for him. For any of you who ever played a sport, you know how hard it is to unlearn a bad habit once you pick it up. As for picking up where he left off, he spent 2020 going 2-3 as a starter, with both wins being worthy of a shrug. His win over ATL was a product of the Falcons refusing to recover an onside kick. The win over the giants was a game he started, but didn’t finish. He could have easily gone 0 – 5. Behind him are Garrett Gilbert who battled PIT in Week 9 to lose by just 5; and Ben “Bring It On” DiNucci who in Week 8 was handed an ‘L’ by PHILADELPHIA. Preseason legend Cooper Rush has also found his way back onto the roster. Prescott will probably be present, but held out of anything on-field during OTA’s and mini-camp. His first real work might not come until training camp starts in July. That said, as of this moment, this moment right here, the Cowboy have as many question marks at this position as every one of their rivals. (-)
RB: Ezekiel Elliott (for the third straight year) saw his rushing attempts, rushing yardage, rushing yards per game, rushing average, AND receiving yardage, drop again. Only twice did he top 100 rushing yards, and he was held to fewer than 50, in six games. He had just 3 rushes of 20 or more yards, and his longest catch was for just 19. His last rush of 40 yards? That was back in 2018. In fact, that was his only one since 2016. This is why Dallas is making the slow pivot to a backfield tandem with Tony Pollard. Pollard was initially considered a change of pace runner. However, in an attempt to add some explosiveness to their run game, Dallas began increasing Pollard’s snap count after the midpoint of 2020. Pollard lacks many of Elliott’s tools (power, alpha mentality, expectation of greatness). However, if he gets a hole, he has the short-area explosiveness to exploit it, although he lacks the long speed to make himself an every down threat. Rico Dowdle and Sewo Olonilua are also on the roster. (+)
WR: Amari Cooper led the team in catches, and receiving yards while posting an impressive 70% catch rate, despite everyone in Texas getting to throw him a pass last year. Rookie Ceedee Lamb posted 935 yards, while coming in second on the team in targets and catches. Michael Gallup saw over 100 targets, but still was third fiddle with just 59 catches. All three caught 5 TD’s apiece. With Lamb’s presence, Gallup now becomes expendable. Though many will try to talk up a three amigos scenario, it’s more likely that Three’s A Crowd
Cedric Wilson and Noah Brown give the Cowboys two receivers who know their system, and thus represent at least schematic depth, if not depth of talent. This is currently the best group in the division. (+)
TE: Blake Jarwin tore his ACL in the first game of the season, and was lost for 2020. So in stepped Dalton Schultz. With 63 grabs and an average of 9.7 yards per grab, Schultz was a functional outlet, and someplace safe to dump the ball off. Which is exactly why he posted a 70% catch rate. He has plenty of value as a back-up, but as a starter… not being a threat as a receiver makes him a liability to the run game. Speaking of not being a receiving threat, I guess Dallas is playing Hollywood Squares because,
they added free agent, Jeremy Sprinkle for the block! Really, blocking is pretty much all he’s good for. This is a viable position, but it doesn’t scare anyone right now. “Right now” being the operative term. (+)
OT: Tyron Smith is back after having had season-ending neck surgery, to fix an issue that has cost him games over the years. While 31 isn’t ancient, paired with that neck surgery, it’s fair to wonder how much of Smith will be returning to the field. Filling in for Smith were Brandon Knight and Cameron Fleming (now in Carolina). On the right, La’el Collins missed nearly all of 2020 with what is vaguely reported as a hip injury. At 6’4” 320, and bending over to get into a three-point stance for a living, a hip injury is no minor thing. Especially when a hip injury is reported like it’s a “hip injury”, which indicates that it may be more than a hip injury. Filling in for Collins was Terence Steele. Knight and Steele played well enough for the Cowboys to run right out and sign free agent Ty Nsekhe, for more money than Knight and Steele are making in 2021. Combined. There is talent here, but it hasn’t been stable or reliable, and that has directly cost this team games and division crowns. Expect a day two draft pick to be spent here. (-)
G: Zach Martin finished 2020 on the bench, but that was after 5 weeks of being on IR with a calf injury. He comes back in 2021 as one of the premier players in the league at his position. On the other side is Connor Williams. While he can’t be mistaken for an All-Pro, he’s a three year starter in that spot, his line-mates know what to expect from him, and so they know how to play off of him. For those who know anything about offensive lines, please explain to your friends how valuable that is. Depth consists of Connor McGovern (not to be confused with Jets C Connor McGovern). McGovern is depth, provided the Cowboys don’t also move him to the pivot. For his part, he notched 8 starts last year on the left when Martin was injured, or was slid out to the edge due to injuries. Former giant Eric Smith enters his second year in a Cowboys jersey. That is, if a draft pick doesn’t beat him out for his roster spot. (+)
C: Second-year man, Tyler Biadasz started 4 games as a rookie, during which Dak Prescott was injured and 3 losses followed. Now he will be the man in the middle, unless something totally wild happens. Behind him is Adam Redmond. In 2018, Redmond saw 96 offensive snaps in 4 games, getting no starts, despite the Cowboys having deep injury concerns on their left side in 2018. Weird. When names like John Gesek, Mark Stepnoski, and Travis Frederick, can roll off of a rival fan’s tongue, you know Biadasz will not be getting the benefit of the doubt. He has lot to live up to, and is not off to a great start in doing so. (-)
IN A NUTSHELL: This team has weapons, but it needs a triggerman who can get the ball where it needs to be. Check that video again. That’s not the look of an NFL QB. That’s not even the look of a top college QB. Maybe Prescott will make massive leaps by training camp July, but that’s only 75 days away. Sounds like a lot. It isn’t. In any case, he’ll need to be kept upright, and right now 60% of his protection looks shaky, with no real depth behind it. This is why they had to have a potential Hall of Game G, slide out to play OT. Adding Nsekhe was a good first step, but alone he doesn’t fix this unit’s Achilles heel. With all the weapons they have, (all of whom they had last year), they still finished 17th out of 32 in scoring. (-)
DE: It’s official. It’s been three seasons in a row. DeMarcus “War Daddy” Lawrence is now a shadow of himself. Even with help on the opposite side, his sack and QB hits are consistently down, and he never seems to affect games anymore. Randy Gregory recorded no starts in 2020, but looked good on spot detail with 3.5 sacks in ten games. The Cowboys have their fingers crossed that he can play 16 games with his hand in the dirt. Tarell Basham comes over from the Jets to add some rotational pass rush. While he will definitely get pressure on a QB, he’s strictly a stand-up rusher. Being unable to play from a three point stance, means not being to consistently play against the run. This position is in trouble, and anyone in sports media will tell you, and has been telling you, the exact same thing. (-)
DT: Antuan Woods is the Cowboys best player at a position that produced 1.5 sacks TOTAL, in 2020. To his credit, Woods produced a sack. He specializes in neither rushing the passer, nor stuffing the run, but he’s still the tone setter for this position thus far. Starting nine games as a rookie was Neville Gallimore. That other half sack was his. Again, neither stuffing the run, nor getting to the passer seems like his calling card. The Cowboys may be hoping for a big rebound from Trysten Hill, who opened 2020 as a starter, before tearing his ACL in Week 5. No matter. His play to that point was unremarkable. That is, when he wasn’t drawing flags and fines for a helmet to helmet hit on QB Russell Wilson on one play, and twisting the knee of RB Chris Carson, injuring him after the yet another play had ended. Real talk? Hill’s ACL tear had all the earmarks of Karma. Hill also clashed with Cowboys coaching staff in his rookie year. It will be interesting to see what kind of player the Cowboys get back from his rehab. Justin Hamilton got two starts in 2020, (and FYI, the Cowboys won both games). No one is afraid of this group. (-)
OLB: Leighton Vander Esch gives an all-out effort, but his production continues to fall off, as he continues to miss games with big injuries. Last year a broken collarbone cost him four weeks early in the season, and he was inactive for the last two games of the year. (Sean Lee remains in talks with the team, but at this moment, is still unsigned.) Keanu Neal is leaving the secondary and switching to this position. This gives the Cowboys more flexibility with coverage underneath. But how ready can Neal be at 216 pounds, to spend most of a game taking on offensive linemen? He will no doubt be targeted heavily every week, by opposing run games. That said, the position is a lot more athletic than they were at year’s end. That’s an improvement. (+)
MLB: Jaylon Smith is the second best player in the division at his position. He’s reliable, doesn’t stick to blockers, and can play in coverage as well as fight the run. Luke Gifford played a single defensive down in 2020. So yeah. Jaylon is super-reliable. (+)
S: Understanding that this position needed gentrification, the Joneses went out and added Damontae Kazee to be specific. Donovan Wilson looks to be safe at SS. Kazee has a reputation for having sticky fingers, so he likely has the inside track over Darian Thompson on the other starting gig. At 6’4’’ 215 free agent addition Jayron Kearse is tall. Good for him! (-)
CB: Trevon Diggs turned a lot of heads as a rookie in 2020. He played with tremendous confidence, whether he was making a play, or getting juiced over a mistake. Nabbing 3 picks and getting his hands on a total of 14 balls, will make teams treat him different in 2021. Anthony Brown struggled with injuries, and only started eight of the ten games he played.In fact, in five seasons he’s never started more than ten. Due to the Cowboys starting a Nickel alignment, Jourdan Lewis picked up 13 starts. Mostly in the slot.
This is also why teams elected to run on them so much. And did such a good job of it. Opting out of 2020 due to Covid-19 was former Raven Maurice Canady. The Cowboys signed him last year, but never got to take him for a spin. So in their minds, he’s still an unapplied upgrade. (+)
IN A NUTSHELL: It’s always messy when a team decides to sign a guy to serious money, and then switch his position. Neal could be in for a pretty rough ride as an undersized LB in this division. Especially on a team that struggles to rush the passer. On most teams, Basham would be a sneaky good add, but the Cowboys already lack a DE who can stack the run. Adding one more as a back-up, seriously encourages opponents to run the ball on 3rd and short. This unit is so much faster than last year’s, but nothing about this side of the ball indicates that they can win in the trenches. (-)
K: Greg Zuerlein was pretty reliable 34/41 (82.9%) with 6 of his misses (3/9) coming from 50 or greater (33.3%). Otherwise he was 31/32 (96.8%) He was 33/36 (91.6%) on extra points. (+)
P: Hunter Niswander was the punter for the final 8 games of 2020. He had just 26 punts, so it’s a small sample size, but the sample had his average punt at 47.2 yards with a net of 42.0. If we’re going to nit-pick, of his 26 punts, 9 were returned for 95 yards (10.5 ypr), indicating that he’s totally over-kicking his coverage team. Given a training camp, he should be able to shave 3 or 4 yards off of that return average. What say we meet back here in a year, and discuss how he did? Aaaand out of nowhere, the Cowboys added 32 year old Bryan Anger, because Jerry Jones wanted to blow his stimulus money on a Texan antique. (See what I did there?) Anger is likely a camp body just brought in to keep a fire lit under Niswander this preseason. (+)
IN A NUTSHELL: The legs on this unit are here to not lose the game. Just keep it close is all that’s asked of them. Should be an easy bar to reach. (+)
BOTTOM LINE: The Cowboys need a big Draft. Offensively, the QB has weapons, but is coming back from injury. The RB has spent the last THREE YEARS, regressing every year. The once vaunted offensive line, is better known for injuries these days. Their defense couldn’t stop anybody last year (28th out of 32), and the only additions to the roster so far, are role players and experiments. There’s a new DC, but most of the Cowboys problem last year, was losing battles in the trenches, and they haven’t gotten better on either side of the ball. In fact, most of the returning starters, are the same guys who were taking those whippings. But hey!