Last month, Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones acknowledged the fluidity after the team drafted nine players in three days. None of those selections were a running back, but Jones cited the position as an example of how the front office is future-minded when building a team.
“What’s this roster going to look like two or three years from now in terms of who will be on it?” Jones said. “We looked at a couple running backs because Pollard is going to be free next year, Rico [Dowdle] is going to be restricted, Zeke’s making a lot of money. All those things come into play.”
Elliott, who turns 27 in July, used three years of elite production to leverage his extension in 2019. He is very much still an asset to the Cowboys, but merely pointing to recent numbers to construct that case is no longer viable. Elliott struggled with ball security in 2020 behind an injury-ravaged offensive line that was already in transition with center Travis Frederick’s retirement, not to mention the Cowboys played 11 games without quarterback Dak Prescott (ankle).
In 2021, he seemed poised for a rebound year, reporting to the team lighter and in top physical shape. His increased lateral explosion was noticeable during the spring and training camp, and it translated with a fast start to the season. A partial PCL tear during a Week 4 win over the Carolina Panthers, however, derailed all that.
What’s The Issue: As the NFL has shifted to a more pass-centric style, the three-receiver set featuring a slot receiver has become commonplace around the league. The Cowboys are no different. They played 811 snaps in 11 personnel last season, sixth most in the league and 67% of their total offensive snaps, according to Sharp Football.
The grouping mostly featured Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb and either Michael Gallup when healthy (he missed nine games with injuries) or super-sub Cedrick Wilson. That dynamic must change this season. Cooper’s now in Cleveland, Wilson’s now in Miami and Gallup (February ACL surgery) might not be ready for the start of the season.
Who Can Fix It: Here’s how the Cowboys dispersed the slot snaps among its regular receiver rotation last year, according to Pro Football Focus: Wilson: 500. Lamb: 320 Cooper: 279 Noah Brown: 57 Gallup: 36 (in seven starts)
Where do you believe Dak Prescott ranks among starting quarterbacks?
The Dallas Cowboys have few questions at the quarterback position. While Dak Prescott might not be a truly elite signal-caller, he’s well above average. The 28-year-old bounced back from 2020’s broken ankle to have a tremendous campaign in 2021. Prescott finished last season with 4,449 passing yards, 37 touchdowns, 10 interceptions and a rushing score.
Unfortunately for Prescott, his supporting cast might not be as good as it was a year ago. The Cowboys traded away Amari Cooper and lost receiver Cedrick Wilson Jr., tackle La’el Collins and guard Connor Williams in free agency. Dallas did, at least, add wideout James Washington and use a first-round pick on Tulsa lineman Tyler Smith. It also took wideout Jalen Tolbert in Round 3.
While it may take time for all of the moving pieces to sort themselves out, Prescott will enjoy plenty of continuity with offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, who has held the position since 2019 and was quarterbacks coach the previous season.
We saw a couple of Cowboy records be broken last season.
We saw Dak Prescott break Tony Romo’s single-season touchdown record when he threw 37 a season ago. The first record that comes to mind is the sack record which belongs to DeMarcus Ware as he registered 20 in 2008.
Dallas has two different guys that have a chance to break that record, Micah Parsons and DeMarcus Lawrence. Parsons put up an incredible 13 sacks in his rookie campaign, and he did not even line up as a primary rusher for the entire season. I am excited to see what he will do in year two under Dan Quinn.
Lawrence sits 4th in the record books currently. He was able to register 14.5 sacks during the 2017 season. If healthy, Lawrence has the chance to top his record, but with the extra game might be able to come close to 20 sacks.
Connor McGovern is one player who needs to perform well in camp to keep his job.
3. Connor McGovern. The minute Connor Williams signed with the Dolphins in free agency, McGovern became the de facto starting left guard. Assuming the Cowboys run a meritocracy, that likely didn’t change following the selection of Tyler Smith in Round 1.
Drafted as Tyron Smith’s potential successor, Smith is likely to begin his pro career as a guard as he adjusts to the speed of the NFL. With Zack Martin penciled in at right guard, the Tulsa product has a clear path to a starting role at LG if he impresses during training camp and the preseason. That could mean supplanting McGovern, who started six games and played 500 snaps last season amid Williams’ penalty woes. Given his NFL experience and familiarity with Kellen Moore’s system, it’ll be McGovern’s job to lose.
The Cowboys won’t force Smith, who’s widely viewed as a developmental project, into a starting role right away, but the left guard spot is begging the No. 24 overall pick to make it his own. We’ll know soon enough if he’s up to the challenge.
Training camp is only a few months away.
Simi Fehoko vs. T.J. Vasher. Given the timeline of Michael Gallup’s injury, Dallas should carry a few extra receivers in the early weeks of the season. Players like CeeDee Lamb, Gallup, Jalen Tolbert, and to a lesser extent, Noah Brown and James Washington, should be safe to make the 53-man.
But they are likely not going to carry only five WRs, meaning that there will be a battle for the sixth spot. The candidates are Brandon Smith, Ty Fryfogle, Simi Fehoko, T.J. Vasher, and the other three undrafted free agent WRs they signed in 2022. But the battle seems to be between Fehoko and Vasher.
And these two players are somewhat similar. They both came onto the team in 2021. Both showed the ability to take the top off of defenses in college. Both are big-bodied receivers. And both, despite not being contributors in the 2021 regular season, still possess upside.
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