Offseason Dallas Cowboys Player Power Rankings
Both raining camp and the preseason are still weeks away, and the Dallas Cowboys are just beginning OTAs down in Valley Ranch. With no camp battles or exhibition performances to analyze, let's take a look at who the best players are on Dallas' roster.
The Cowboys possess a solid amount of talent, with the majority of that talent lining up on offense. That doesn't mean that the league's worst defense from a season ago doesn't have more than a few valuable pieces, however.
Based on Dallas' projected depth chart, per ESPN, this article ranks each likely starter from worst to first. The rankings were based on past production, importance of position and how valuable the player will be to the Cowboys' success in 2014.
22. LB Anthony Hitchens
With Sean Lee likely out for the season, starting in his place will likely be rookie Anthony Hitchens.
DallasCowboys.com's Rowan Kavner asked Hitchens if he was ready to take over for Lee as the starter, to which the Iowa product replied "honestly, right now, no."
DeVonte Holloman and Justin Durant will also likely be in the mix for the starting position. NFL.com's Dan Hanzus reports that the Cowboys plan to find Lee's replacement internally. Hitchens was a fourth-round pick this year, but Dallas could very well choose to start him right out of the gate.
Hitchens possesses some solid speed and is a great tackler, but he has a lot to learn before becoming a top player for the 'Boys. He will likely be thrown into a trail-by-fire situation, and Dallas can only hope that his transition to the NFL is as smooth as it can be.
Until Hitchens has had more time to get used to the strong possibility of being the stand-in at Lee's middle linebacker spot, he has to be considered Dallas' weakest link as a far as projected starters go.
21. FB Tyler Clutts
Tyler Clutts played for the Dolphins before landing in Dallas last season, where he caught one pass for four yards. Clutts clearly wasn't brought here to become the Cowboys newest receiving threat.
He was signed with the hope that he would give the Dallas offense a lead blocker to help out DeMarco Murray in the running game.
After Clutts was signed on Dec. 3, 2013, Murray ran for back-to-back 100-plus yard games against Chicago and Green Bay, respectively. He followed up those two games by running for 96 yards against the Redskins. There is a very small body of work that shows that Murray had at least a somewhat easier time running with Clutts in front of him.
There is no guarantee that head coach Jason Garrett will keep Clutts or any fullback on the final 2014 roster, as the team went without one heading into last year. Clutts will have to earn his roster spot, but if he does, he should be a serviceable fullback.
20. LB Kyle Wilber
Kyle Wilber is another young member of the Cowboys defense, but he did see a fair amount of playing time during his second year. He started in six of the games he played in last year, tallying two sacks, two fumble recoveries and 31 tackles.
Wilber is far from a finished NFL product or even a reliable starter at linebacker. He did, however, turn some heads during the playing time he had last season. The third-year player will be challenged by Justin Durant and DeVonte Holloman for a starting role heading into 2014.
Jon Machota of the Dallas Morning News explained in a mail bag article back in April that he views Wilber as a sleeper heading into the upcoming season. "Wilber seems to finally have found his spot in the NFL as a strong-side linebacker in that 4-3 scheme," Machota wrote.
There's reason to believe that this might be the breakout season that Dallas would love to see from its former fourth-round pick. He could just as easily have an average year, though.
19. OG Ronald Leary
Ronald Leary will have to fight to remain a starting guard with Zack Martin in the fold. Though it will take some impressing in training camp, Leary should edge out Mackenzy Bernadeau for the other guard spot.
Leary is a powerful blocker who can use his strength to really make things difficult for pass-rushers. That being said, he isn't exactly one of the best guards around. The better word to describe Leary is "average" or "serviceable."
There are certainly better guard options out there in the NFL, but Leary is a decent enough starting option if you're the Cowboys. They don't have a ton of other options to challenge him, and he performed fine in his starting role last year.
Expect Leary to beat out Bernadeau and have a similar performance to last season.
18. S J.J. Wilcox
J.J. Wilcox spent some time during the 2013 season as a starting safety, and he should do so again this year. He will be a part of the biggest camp battle of the offseason, but even secondary coach Jerome Henderson admitted to Calvin Watkins of ESPN Dallas that Wilcox has the inside track.
Wilcox was taken in the third round of the 2013 NFL draft and showed promise last season. He tallied 22 tackles and one pass defensed in his rookie year. Those numbers certainly could have been better, though, which is partly why he lost his starting role to Jeff Heath.
Safety has not been a position of strength for the Cowboys for quite some time. Wilcox hasn't shown that he has the ability to be quite that productive just yet, but it appears as though the coaching staff believes in his ability.
There are a lot of unknowns with Wilcox, including whether or not he'll win a starting job. That being said, he is a former high-round draft pick who could be a decent contributor in 2014.
17. DT Terrell McClain
Terrell McClain hasn't started since the 2011 season with the Panthers, but he very well could start next to Henry Melton at defensive tackle for Dallas in 2014.
McClain certainly isn't going to replace the production of Jason Hatcher, who left this offseason via free agency. He probably isn't going to have a Pro Bowl year in 2014, either. That being said, take a look at what George Selvie did last season; sometimes, guys just come out of nowhere and perform.
The former Panther and Houston Texan is no shoe-in to start with Melton. Nick Hayden will give McClain a run for the starting gig, but the veteran was brought in via free agency for a reason.
There's no real track record to project what McClain might do this season. That being said, he is a former third-round pick and has got to be itching for the chance to start again.
Like the others ranked below him, McClain is unproven, but expect him to give his all in training camp.
16. OG Zack Martin
It's difficult to rank Zack Martin on this list, as he has yet to play a snap in the NFL, let alone in Dallas. That being said, all the talent that made him a first-round pick in the 2014 NFL draft sort of makes up for his inexperience.
The Cowboys have had mediocre starters at guard over the past two years. Mackenzy Bernadeau and Ronald Leary filled the starting roles last year, and they did a serviceable job, but Dallas realized that it needs more than serviceable players to protect its quarterback.
Martin has the perfect size for a lineman (6'4", 308 lbs) and is quicker than most would expect for someone carrying such a frame. He is an instant upgrade over both Bernadeau and Leary, and he will start in one of their places next year.
While there is very little tape of Martin in a Cowboys uniform and none of him in a pro game, the footage of him in college is enough to land him as Dallas' No. 16 best projected starter in 2014.
15. OT Doug Free
Doug Free's NFL career has been a bit of a roller coaster. One year he's lights out, and the next he's abysmal. In 2012, Dallas essentially told him to take a pay cut or be cut from the team.
Free took the smaller paycheck in 2013 and played like the player who had earned the $32 million deal he signed 2011. When he's playing to the top of his ability, Free has proven that he can be a solid pass-blocker. He's never been a stout blocker in the running game, but he even improved in that area in 2013.
Due to his consistent inconsistency, Free doesn't find himself ranked too highly on this list. If he can continue the upward trend he started last season, however, that might change.
Until Free becomes a reliable run-blocker, though, he can't be considered one of the more vital starters in Dallas.
14. DE George Selvie
Selvie burst onto the scene last season after Anthony Spencer went down, posting seven sacks on the year. He had recorded just 3.5 sacks over his first three years in the league, with the Rams and Jaguars, respectively.
Selvie hasn't been around Valley Ranch for long, but he's likely worked his way into one of the team's starting spots at defensive end. He made the most of his opportunity last year and showed that he had an understanding of Dallas' Tampa 2 system.
With Rod Marinelli now serving as the team's defensive coordinator, Selvie has the chance to continue to work with one of the NFL's best defensive line coaches.
With so many of the Cowboys' notable defensive names leaving this offseason, Selvie once again has an opportunity in front of him. Selvie should start at either left or right defensive end, and he will need to keep up the stellar pass-rushing prowess he showed last season.
13. S Barry Church
Barry Church was one of the Cowboys' bright spots on defense in 2013 and has proven to be a serviceable safety. The undrafted free agent forced three fumbles and recorded 107 tackles last season.
He's no Darren Woodson, but Church brought a certain level of stability and competency to the position last season. Bleacher Report's own Matt Miller ranked him No. 50 overall at the position in this year's iteration of the NFL 1000 series.
Church got his first taste of a starting role with Dallas last season, and he proved to be a reliable tackler while also demonstrating decent coverage ability. Dallas shouldn't view him as one of its starting safeties for years to come, but he can do the job just fine for now.
12. CB Orlando Scandrick
Capitalizing on a disappointing year for Morris Claiborne, Orlando Scandrick worked his way into the No. 2 cornerback role last year. The veteran did so by posting a career-high 59 tackles to go along with a forced fumble and two sacks.
Scandrick has been a solid contributor to the Dallas defense since joining the unit out of college in 2008. He has been the team's nickle corner for years now, but Claiborne's inefficiency and Scandrick's solid production landed him the No. 2 spot by year's end in 2013.
Unless Claiborne, a former first-rounder, puts together an amazing training camp, Scandrick should at least start the season in the position he earned last year.
What the Cowboys get from Scandrick is consistency and effectiveness. He is a solid cover corner and is also effective when asked to blitz.
Dallas thought enough of Scandrick's talents to hand him a six-year, $28.2 million contract in 2011. There's a lot to like about what No. 32 brings to the Cowboys.
11. LB Anthony Spencer
Due to the departures the Dallas defense has seen this offseason, Spencer has become the longest-tenured Cowboy on the line. While he did miss almost all of 2013 due to injury, he made the Pro Bowl a year prior.
Per Rainer Sabin of the Dallas Morning News, it's quite possible that Spencer could start the season on the PUP list, and he's listed as a backup on ESPN's projected depth chart as a result. Whenever he's on the field, though, he'll be one of the Cowboys' top talents along the defensive line.
In recent years, Spencer has proven to be a nose-to-the-grind kind of player, and he has really gotten better in the pass-rushing department. He tallied 11 sacks in 2012, which was the same amount he recorded from 2010-2011.
There is no guarantee that Spencer will be back to his Pro Bowl form this year, but if he's anywhere close to that, he'll prove to be one of Dallas' most valuable defensive assets in 2014. The Cowboys need some veteran leadership along the defensive line as well.
10. CB Brandon Carr
Over his first two seasons in Dallas, Brandon Carr has been nothing if not consistent for the Cowboys. Since donning the star on his helmet, Carr has recorded three interceptions in each season, and he even grabbed a fumble recovery last year.
While he was one of the players that had trouble with the switch to the 4-3 Tampa 2 scheme last year, Carr was able to keep his numbers up. Even while adjusting to the new scheme, he was able to keep up his expected productivity.
Carr admitted to Todd Archer of ESPN Dallas that he is aiming "to take over the league," and he has always shown the talent to do so. He's not on Darrelle Revis' or Richard Sherman's level just yet, but Carr is the closest thing Dallas has to either player.
The former Chief is Dallas' top cornerback, and though he struggled a bit last year, he has helped improve the secondary a good deal.
9. WR Terrance Williams
Terrance Williams doesn't have a long track record of production with the Cowboys, but he made a heck of first impression. In his rookie season, he posted 736 receiving yards and five touchdowns. With Miles Austin gone, Williams will be the unquestioned No. 2 receiver for Dallas in 2014.
The Baylor product has the talent to fill the shoes that Austin left behind. He showed soft hands and an ability to come up with the clutch reception when needed in 2013. In his second season, Cowboys fans should expect similar, if not better, numbers from Williams.
After the impression he made on Tony Romo last year, expect more passes to go toward Williams in 2014. He has the talent to be a solid No. 2 receiver, which is an important position in Dallas' offense.
8. LB Bruce Carter
Bruce Carter had a down year in 2013, but he is an important member of the Dallas defense, nonetheless.
He got nicked up with an injury and didn't seem that comfortable in Monte Kiffin's new 4-3 defense last season. That being said, Carter has proven to be a fine tackler in his short career and will likely be called upon as one of Dallas' defensive leaders in 2014. He posted a career-high 73 tackles last year after recording 53 in 2012.
After another offseason of adjusting to the 4-3, Carter should look more comfortable in the system this year. He should also continue to rack up tackles and grow into a leader for this unit.
7. C Travis Frederick
Like fellow offensive lineman Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick has quickly become one of the best guys up front for Dallas.
Frederick was the Cowboys' 2013 first-round pick, and he lived up to the value of where he was taken in his rookie season. One of the reasons running back DeMarco Murray ran for more than 1,000 yards last year was due to Frederick's blocking ability.
One good season does not make an NFL career, but there were few follies to criticize No. 72 for last year. The Cowboys have learned the hard way over the past several seasons that a lackluster line can hurt an offense, and their selection of Frederick has helped to right the ship.
Frederick is still coming into his own as an NFL center, but his first year performance was exactly what Dallas wanted to see out of him. He had a stellar 2013 and helped shore up a line that has struggled in recent years.
6. DT Henry Melton
Melton has not played a single down for the Cowboys just yet, but he's already their most valuable player on defense. With Sean Lee likely gone for the 2014 season, the former Bear will be this unit's leader and top contributor.
Melton missed the majority of the 2013 season due to an injury of his own, but he should be on the field for Week 1. Two seasons ago, he went to the Pro Bowl, when he recorded six sacks in 14 games for Chicago.
With Lee, DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher all gone, Dallas' defense needs Melton to return to his 2012 form.
Given the inexperience and lack of star power on this side of the ball, it's a forgone conclusion that Melton will be the Cowboys' top producer on defense.
5. RB DeMarco Murray
Murray put together a career year in 2013, and he did so despite Dallas oftentimes forgetting about the running game. He posted 1,121 rushing yards and averaged 5.5 yards per carry.
Murray showed the NFL what he can do when he's healthy for the majority of the season, but he still couldn't suit up for all 16 games. What keeps him from being ranked higher on this list is his notable injury history.
Murray has never stayed healthy for a full regular season, and he needs to prove that he can do so. There's no question that Murray is one of the best rushers Dallas has had in years; the issue is that the team has often had to find a way to play without him.
If Murray posts another season like he did in 2013—and more importantly, stays on the field—he'll move up this list come next year.
4. OT Tyron Smith
The Cowboys' offensive line has not been a consistent bright spot in recent years, but that statement doesn't apply to Smith. Since being drafted ninth overall in the 2011 NFL draft, Smith has been Dallas' best lineman on the offensive side.
Miller wrapped up his latest NFL 1000 series rankings a few months back. Among his top-35 left tackles, Miller ranked Smith No. 6 in the league at his position.
During his short time in the NFL, Smith has proven to be a solid asset as both a run- and pass-blocker. There is nobody up front who is better at keeping Tony Romo upright and creating holes for Murray.
3. TE Jason Witten
While the Cowboys have seen plenty of turnover in terms of pass-catchers since 2003, one constant has always been Jason Witten.
In a league increasingly full of tight ends that are known simply for receiving, Witten excels at both catching and blocking. He's been Romo's security blanket for the quarterback's entire career, and he has kept him upright more than a few times, too.
Over his career, Witten has posted four 1,000-plus-yard seasons, and he has five seasons with six or more touchdown receptions.
Even as he begins his 12th year in the league, Witten has shown little signs of diminishing ability. He's certainly heading toward the tail end of his career, but there are few players more consistent or reliable on this roster than Witten.
2. WR Dez Bryant
The former first-round draft pick has recorded more than 2,500 combined receiving yards over the past two seasons. Furthermore, his 25 touchdown receptions over the same period of time are more than Calvin Johnson has posted.
Bryant has quickly become Romo's new favorite target in the passing game, and it's easy to see why. Aside from the Terrell Owens years, it's been a little while since the Cowboys have had a receiver as talented and dynamic as Bryant.
It's clear that Bryant is beginning to come into the prime of his career, and he'll continue to play a big role in the Dallas offense for years to come.
1. QB Tony Romo
While each of the other 21 names listed in this piece each play an important role for the Cowboys, none are more vital to the team's success than Romo.
Romo has thrown for a combined 100 touchdown passes over the last three seasons. In two of those years, he threw just 10 interceptions.
And all those jokes about him not being clutch are based in mythology and false narratives. Romo boasts a 105.6 passer rating with 10 touchdowns and 1,074 passing yards in the fourth quarter.
For the Cowboys to go anywhere over the next several seasons, they need a healthy and effective Romo under center. He is the face of this franchise and the most vital cog in Dallas' hopes to finish better than 8-8 this year.