Power Ranking the 15 Most Important Dallas Cowboys on the Current Roster
There will be 53 players on the Dallas Cowboys' roster this year, but no coach talk can change the fact that some are more valuable than others.
That's why Dez Bryant is listed ahead of the rest of the wide receivers on the depth chart. That's also why Tony Romo starts under center over Kyle Orton. Every player who makes the 53-man roster this year will have a role, but that doesn't mean every role is equal.
This power ranking factored in a player's recent success, his potential going forward and his impact on the team. Here are the top 15 most important Cowboys on the current roster.
All statistics used were from Pro-Football-Reference unless otherwise specified.
15. QB Kyle Orton
Sitting on the bench as a backup quarterback does not actively help the Cowboys win any games. Despite this fact, Kyle Orton fills an important role with the team.
While no team wants to see its starting quarterback go down with injury, it's important to have a talented backup to come in if necessary. Orton is one of the most reliable No. 2 quarterbacks in the NFL today, and the Cowboys should be happy to have him.
Orton has been a starter for both the Chicago Bears and Denver Broncos over his eight-year NFL career. In his one game he played in last year for Dallas, he completed nine of his 10 passes and threw one touchdown.
It's not the most glamorous position on the Cowboys' roster, but it's an important one that Orton fills well.
14. K Dan Bailey
It's almost an unwritten rule of football that the kicker is the supposed to be the butt of most locker room jokes. Dan Bailey's importance to Dallas is no joke despite the position he plays.
Before Bailey came to Dallas, the team had a revolving door of kickers and lost several games due to incompetency at the position. From Martin Gramatica and Mike Vanderjagt to Nick Novak and Nick Folk, the Cowboys had kicking troubles for some time.
The current Cowboys kicker has missed just six field goals over two seasons and has converted 61 over that time span. Bailey improved his conversion percentage from 86.5 his rookie year to 93.5 this past season.
Bailey has one job on this team and that's to kick the football through the uprights. So far, he's done a pretty good job in his specific role. Bailey has brought stability to a longtime Achilles' heel for the Cowboys and should only continue to do so.
13. LB Bruce Carter
Heading into his third season in the NFL, linebacker Bruce Carter is one of the most promising young Cowboys on the roster.
The 2011 second-round pick played his first season as a starter last year. Carter tallied 70 tackles before suffering a season-ending elbow injury. It's just one season of work, but that season is exactly what Carter needed after receiving his promotion from special teams.
He was a Butkus Award finalist his senior year as a North Carolina Tar Heel and has begun to show why Dallas picked him in the second round in 2011. Carter has the potential to become a Pro Bowler. With just one season of production under his belt, though, he could only go so high on this list.
12. WR Miles Austin
Miles Austin's career has been a bit of a head-scratcher. The wide receiver was undrafted out of Monmouth in 2006, yet has risen to the Cowboys' No. 2 receiver.
Austin posted two straight seasons with more than 1,000 receiving yards in 2009 and 2010. In 2009, he recorded 1,320 yards despite starting just nine games for Dallas.
In 2011 and last season, however, Austin has failed to eclipse the 1,000-yard milestone and hasn't started in all 16 games in either year. While he missed just one game last season, Austin sat out six games in 2011 with a bothersome hamstring injury.
When Austin is on the field, he's a crucial member of the Dallas passing game. It's no secret that Tony Romo has a chemistry with his No. 2 receiver and that has helped the Cowboys many times. For example, Romo threw to Austin 10 or more times in four games last year. Dallas won three of those four contests.
Austin is a great receiving option when he's on the field, but the question of whether he can stay off the injury report always looms.
11. DE Anthony Spencer
Anthony Spencer needed to have a Pro Bowl season to stay with Dallas after 2012, and he did just that last year. He hasn't been awarded with a new contract just yet for his efforts, but he's hopeful he'll get one eventually.
Spencer tallied 11 sacks for the Cowboys last season. That total equals his output from 2010-2011 and marked a career high for him. Paired opposite DeMarcus Ware next season at defensive end, Spencer could have a new career-high sack total come next year.
2012 was certainly the former first-round pick's biggest year, but he needs to continue to build upon that. One good year does not get you into the top 10 of this list.
Spencer has shown that he can be more than just a decent player in this league. Now he just has to continue to show that same ability.
10. LT Tyron Smith
The offensive line has not performed overly well for the Cowboys recently. Offensive tackle Tyron Smith is the one bright spot on an otherwise average line.
The No. 9 overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft, Smith has started since Week 1 of his rookie season. He's missed just one game in the past two years and has proven to be a reliable blocker.
Bleacher Report's own Matt Miller said that he "has the power and agility to blow open holes and get to the second level [in the run game]" when ranking him in this year's B/R NFL 1,000.
Smith is still a young talent, but he has proven to be the best Dallas has on the front line despite having just two seasons under his belt. Smith and this year's first-round draft pick, Travis Frederick, are the two cornerstones of the offensive line.
9. CB Brandon Carr
Brandon Carr was one of the most coveted free agents at his position last offseason. The Cowboys wooed him to Dallas and were rewarded with a solid first year from the cornerback.
Carr intercepted three passes in 2012, returning one for a touchdown. The three picks were the second-most in his career for a single season. The former Kansas City Chief also recorded 53 tackles that year.
Over his five-year career, Carr has never missed a game. On a Cowboys roster full of injury-prone talent, his durability is certainly a plus.
The Cowboys turned one of their biggest issues on defense into a positive by drafting Morris Claiborne and signing Brandon Carr last year. As long as Carr continues to be his consistent and durable self, he'll continue to be one of the team's most important players.
8. DT Jay Ratliff
Coming off a lost season last year, it can be easy to forget how dominant Jay Ratliff has been for Dallas in recent years.
The defensive tackle was a Pro Bowler every year from 2008-2011 and has 27 career sacks. Ratliff knows how to create havoc in the middle of the opposing offensive line. He's made a career of being a darn good nuisance and helping out his teammates at linebacker.
It is tough to speak highly of Ratliff after a 2012 centered around a groin injury and bickering with owner Jerry Jones. Still, those recent bad memories cannot erase the fact he's been a rock for the Cowboys on defense for the past several years.
It should also be noted that before last year, Ratliff hadn't missed an NFL game since 2007. He needs to get back to his old Pro Bowl ways next season, but he's a proven star on this roster.
7. RB DeMarco Murray
The best word to describe DeMarco Murray is "puzzling." In his rookie season, it took him just seven starts to rack up 897 yards. He might have broken 1,000 yards that year if he hadn't suffered a high ankle sprain in Week 14 against the New York Giants.
In his sophomore season, Murray found himself plagued by injuries once again. He failed to rush for over 700 yards and started just 10 games for the Cowboys.
When he's on the field, the former Oklahoma Sooner looks like the best rusher Dallas has had in some years. He knows how to elude defenders and has averaged almost five yards per attempt in his first two NFL seasons.
The issue with Murray has been injuries. He needs to show he can start 16 games and stay on the field before moving any higher on this list.
6. CB Morris Claiborne
The Dallas Cowboys knew they needed to upgrade their secondary after 2011. One of the team's two answers to cornerback woes: moving up to draft Morris Claiborne.
He had just one interception his rookie season, but he did also recover a fumble for a touchdown. Claiborne also recorded 65 tackles and another fumble recovery on the year.
The LSU product was the most coveted corner in his draft class and produced a solid rookie season for the Cowboys last year. Claiborne still has a ways to go to become the corner Dallas expects him to be, but he certainly didn't flop out of the gate.
Dallas is counting on Claiborne to live up to his promise, as he is one of the young building blocks for the defense.
5. LB Sean Lee
Sean Lee is a great example of a player who has already produced and hasn't even reached his peak yet.
The Penn State product burst onto the NFL scene in Week 1 of the 2011 season when he ran back a Mark Sanchez interception for a touchdown. The Cowboys would lose the game to the Jets, 27-24, but not due to a lack of effort on Lee's part.
That same season, Lee recorded three more interceptions along with 105 tackles. He followed that season up with 36 tackles and 22 assists before a toe injury ended his 2012 campaign.
In just two years, Lee has become one of the biggest contributors on the Dallas defense. With Lee partnered with Bruce Carter, there is reason for the Cowboys to be excited about the years to come from both talented linebackers.
4. WR Dez Bryant
One good season does not make a superstar, but Dallas hopes Dez Bryant is on his way.
The 2010 first-round draft pick has improved his numbers on the field in each of his three seasons. Lucky for the Cowboys, Bryant shows few signs of slowing down.
Dallas' latest No. 88 posted 561 yards and six touchdowns in his rookie season. That was also the year that Tony Romo missed much of the season.
Bryant's 2010 stat line comes largely from Jon Kitna throwing him the football. No offense to the now-retired Kitna, but he wasn't exactly Peyton Manning. Bryant made the most of a lost season for the Cowboys.
In 2011, Bryant finally had a full season with the Cowboys' starting quarterback and tallied almost 1,000 yards with nine end-zone grabs. Last year, he eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark on 92 catches and 12 touchdowns.
Bryant has progressed in every season he's played so far and taken over the No. 1 receiving job in the process. He ranks so high on this list not only because of his recent production, but also because of his promise of continuing to progress.
One of the most hyped wideouts in his draft class, Bryant has found chemistry with Romo and should continue to get better with age.
3. TE Jason Witten
The Cowboys have had high-profile receivers like Terrell Owens, Terry Glenn and now Dez Bryant suit up in the receiving game in recent years. Despite the contributions from all three aforementioned players, however, the most reliable receiver has been tight end Jason Witten.
He owns the Cowboys record for most receptions in a single game and most career receptions. Witten is also an eight-time Pro Bowl selection. He also owns the NFL record for most receptions by a tight end in a single season.
Witten is a shoe-in for the Pro Football Hall of Fame when he hangs up his cleats, as he's been Dallas' most reliable receiving option for a long time now.
Even with Bryant's 1,382-yard season last year, he still finished with fewer receptions than the team's tight end. Witten had 110 catches compared to Bryant's 92.
If the Cowboys need a third-down conversion, chances are Tony Romo will look Witten's way as long as No. 82 isn't triple-covered. Witten is easily one of the most important and consistent members of the Dallas roster.
2. DE DeMarcus Ware
When you have a future Pro Football Hall of Fame player on the roster, chances are he's a big part of the team.
The Cowboys have seen three different 3-4 schemes during Ware's career in Dallas and are now switching to the 4-3. How he fairs in the new system won't be known until the season starts, but history says he'll be just fine.
The seven-time Pro Bowl selection has recorded at least 11 sacks each season since 2006. He had a career-high 20 in 2008 and even tallied eight in his rookie season back in '05.
Dallas' defense has seen lots of different schemes used in recent years, but Ware has always been the one constant. He's the unquestioned leader of the defense and has been one of the most productive, consistent players on the roster for many seasons.
1. QB Tony Romo
It was a tie between DeMarcus Ware and Tony Romo for the No. 1 spot, but ties go to the quarterback here.
As the quarterback, Romo touches the ball on every single snap for the Dallas offense. He's without question the player who has the most impact on each game.
There have been games like the 2006 NFC Wild Card Game against Seattle when Romo was the sole reason the Cowboys lost.
Then there are other times like the Week 2 game in 2011. Romo was the biggest reason the team defeated San Francisco 27-24 despite having injured his ribs in the contest.
Through the good and bad, Romo's ups and downs have directly reflected those of the team since he got the starting gig. In 2007, he threw for a career-high 36 touchdowns and 4,211 yards as the team went 13-3. When he broke his collarbone and missed much of 2010, the team finished just 6-10.
Romo has the most impact on the Cowboys' downfall or success each and every season.