Well what a surprising season the Dallas Cowboys had in 2016. Dallas always have a chance to win when Tony Romo is healthy, then came the Seattle preseason game. Romo’s season ended due to injury, so was Kellen Moore’s due to injury. Enter stage left rookie quarterback Dak Prescott. 4th round rookie Prescott and 4th overall rookie Ezekiel Elliot formed a dynamic duo who behind a ferocious Dallas Cowboys offensive line spearheading Big D to a 13-3 record, winning the NFC East in the process. Prescott’s performance earned him the NFL Rookie of the Year award and Cowboys fans will be excited to see how he develops in his second year in the NFL.
A six-game suspension to star RB Ezekiel Elliot, an exodus of talent in the secondary during free agency and a division which looks loaded with talent will make it difficult for the Cowboys to repeat their NFC East title in 2017. No team has won the division back-to-back since the Eagles did it in ’03 and ’04. The Giants, Eagles and Redskins will all pose unique challenges in 2017 and America’s Team will need to bring their A-game if they hope to better their divisional round appearance from a year ago. Here it our preview for what 2017 might look like in Jerry’s World…
Coordinator Scott Linehan will continue a run heavy offence but will look to open up the playbook more in the passing game. Dak Prescott has worked hard as a pocket passer during the offseason and looks set to take that next step forward. The backup quarterback spot is where questions arise. Kellen Moore hasn’t been great this offseason and he is Dallas’ only veteran option. Rookie Cooper Rush has been exceptional in preseason, throwing touchdowns in every game and looking comfortable throwing the ball around the field. Rush has definitely given the Cowboys an option as the backup to Prescott.
The Cowboys resigned Terrance Williams which keeps the same group of receivers on the team. He will remain the starter opposite Dez Bryant. Cole Beasley was a favourite weapon of Dak Prescott and will continue to be. Beasley is one of the hardest slot receivers to cover in the NFL using his quickness and route running. Dez Bryant is looking very sharp and this is the first full offseason he has had since 2014, the year which he led the NFL with 16 touchdowns. He could return to pro bowl and all-pro form this year. Rookie Ryan Switzer is a similar player to Beasley but he offers Dallas an option as a punt returner, something he did well in college. This would be an improvement as they struggled with returners last season.
Ezekiel Elliot’s six-game suspension will really hurt Dallas and harm what they hoped to achieve early in 2017. Yet luckily the team is not short on depth at the position. Veterans Darren McFadden and Alfred Morris have looked good so far but former fullback Rod Smith has looked the part since moving to running back. The Cowboys should be fine running the ball until Elliot is back. Where they will miss Elliot a lot is in pass protection. Elliot is one of the best in the league when he has to stay and block, a strength he is proud of.
Dallas may have challenges with its offensive line this season… Ron Leary became a free agent and was signed by Denver. He is a very underrated guard in the NFL and will be missed in Dallas. The Cowboys will also miss right tackle Doug Free who retired this past offseason. Dallas have moved La’el Collins from guard to right tackle but will need to work on his hand placement. Left guard is currently being competed for. Chaz Green has had his chances to take the spot and has looked good but injuries have plagued him. Jonathan Cooper has looked better than his previous season and could very well be the starter at left guard.
Rod Marinelli has done well with the players he has to work with. Last year Dallas were fairly solid on defense but lacked the pass rush and turnovers needed to take this unit to the next level. Defensive ends Damontre Moore and David Erving will be serving suspensions which is a shame as they’ve shown a lot so far. Demarcus Lawrence looks very sharp and could have big season in a contract year. First round pick defensive end Taco Charlton has been steadily improving and could help aid America’s team to more sacks. Defensive tackle looks to be strength again. It was tough losing Terrell McClain in free agency but the signing of Stephen Paea looks to be a good replacement at the 1-technique spot. Cedric Thornton couldn’t make much of a challenge for that spot. Maliek Collins looks like he is going to be a pro bowl player this year after a quietly impressive rookie season. The second year player who was a third round pick in 2016 looks quick and very powerful, giving Zack Martin and Travis Frederick fits in practice. He fits Marinelli’s scheme well as the 3-technique defensive tackle.
The Dallas Cowboys were hit with a big injury to linebacker Anthony Hitchens, fortunately it wasn’t season ending and he will only be out for 8-10 weeks. Hitchens is an underrated player and looked very impressive so far as the team’s “Mike” linebacker. Jaylon Smith has come a long way and has been superb but is unlikely ready to be a starter. This leaves them with Justin Durant as a possible starter there. Sean Lee continues at “Will” and is the best player on the defense. Sean Lee reads and reacts incredibly quick and will lead this team again this year. Damien Wilson is likely the “Sam” linebacker.
Dallas may have lost a lot of players in free agency from their secondary but they have done well in attempting to replace them through free agency and the draft. Nolan Carroll looks to be a slight upgrade to Brandon Carr. They drafted Chidobe Awuzie in the second round and Jourdan Lewis in the third round. Lewis flashes first round talent on his college tape and will push for some snaps in the slot early in his career. Orlando Scandrick looks back to his best this year and will be the team’s number one cornerback. Anthony Brown had a very impressive rookie season and looks to improve this year and push the starting snaps, will see starting snaps in nickel packages.
Barry Church will be a tough loss for Dallas who is now in Jacksonville. His replacement at strong safety will be Jeff Heath, who has seen improvements in coverage. Heath offers his ability to tackle as he is the team’s best special teams player. Byron Jones looks to be mentally sharp as the free safety. He seems to be reading the game a lot better to put himself in position to make plays. Sixth round pick Xavier Woods looks like a steal, he was borderline top-100 on my board. He has looked good so far. Kavon Frazier will hope to push for snaps after a good showing so far, a player who can tackle and play in the box.
Players to Watch
Dak Prescott – Prescott had one of the best rookie seasons from a quarterback and looks to take the next step forward. He has worked hard to be a more polished pocket passer and should continue to get better.
Maliek Collins – Collins looks like the real deal, he has been disruptive so far and really could make the pro bowl this year. Offensive lineman beware.
Ryan Switzer – The rookie is a talented receiver but faces competition for snaps. Where he is to watch is as a returner. If he stays healthy then he could be a nightmare for opposition special teams.
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