Ranking Strength of Every Dallas Cowboys Positional Unit
The injury to Sean Lee is the only thing everyone around the team can talk about. In football, when someone goes down, the other players must improve their play to make up for a leader’s absence. If the Cowboys plan on making this a successful season, they’ll have to do just that.
Here, I’m going to breakdown Dallas’ roster and rank the strength of each positional unit. I’ll begin with the weak points and move to where the team is best.
The injury to defensive captain Sean Lee leaves the linebacking corps as the weakest part of the Cowboys. Although he had gotten hurt the previous two seasons, it’s evident what the former Nittany Lion meant to this team and how good he is.
With Lee gone, the middle linebacker spot is a huge question mark. Unless Jerry Jones adds another veteran free agent, Orie Lemon and rookie Anthony Hitchens are the leading candidates. That’s not something to be excited about.
There are uncertainties on the outside as well. Expectations are still high for Bruce Carter, but after a disappointing 2013 campaign, what can we really expect from him?
Either Justin Durant or DeVonte Holloman will start on the strong side. The second-year Holloman is someone who can have a breakout year and surprise everyone. Either way, Dallas needs several players to be better than they were last year for this group to perform well.
Another weakness on this Cowboys team is the defensive line. There are several players in this unit who are capable of having a big year but as a whole they could have some issues.
Anthony Spencer and Henry Melton are the most important pieces on the line. Each has the talent to be elite players but both have had injury problems. If they can both stay on the field for an entire year, the line is no longer a weakness.
The other projected starters are George Selvie and Nick Hayden. Selvie was an impressive addition in 2013 and will try to duplicate his performance again.
Other players who will contend for starting positions are Terrell McClain and rookie Demarcus Lawrence. The rookie defensive end was taken with a very high selection and should have a major impact this year. Jeremy Mincey and Tyrone Crawford should also see the field a decent amount.
When a unit loses the caliber of players like Jason Hatcher and DeMarcus Ware, it’s going to take time to rebuild. Dallas has the pieces in place for the line to not be a weakness by year’s end.
Unfortunately, the defense rounds out the three worst positional units on this team. Although I wouldn’t call the secondary weak, it’s not at the level of any of the offensive positions.
At corner, the Cowboys have three very proficient players in Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne and Orlando Scandrick. The most impressive of the three has to be Scandrick, only because of the expectations around the other two.
Carr is being paid as one of the top cornerbacks in the league and he has yet to play up to that title with the Cowboys. The same goes for Claiborne, who was picked in the top 10 of the draft a few years ago. Both have to be better.
Barry Church proved last year that he is a solid NFL starter. He was one of the few bright points on last year’s squad.
The strong safety position isn’t as solidified. J.J. Wilcox is the leading candidate to start with guys like Jeff Heath and rookie Ahmad Dixon behind him. Then there’s the legend of Matt Johnson who still is surrounded by high expectations despite never seeing the field.
The secondary is by far the strongest part of the defense but clearly that isn’t saying too much. If some players execute to their full potential, these guys could be really good together.
Compared to the other 31 teams in the NFL, quarterback is without a doubt a position of strength for the Cowboys. The reason it’s not higher on my list of rankings is because of depth issues.
When Tony Romo is healthy, he’s one of the better options to have at quarterback. He’s the leader of this team and is coming off one of his best professional seasons. If all goes well with his back, he should play at an elite level for a number of years.
But because health is always relevant in the NFL, the quarterback depth chart is awfully important.
Kyle Orton doesn’t know what he’s doing in 2014 and neither do the Cowboys regarding the backup spot. If Orton retires, the duty will fall to either Brandon Weeden or Caleb Hanie.
If Romo plays the entire 16-game schedule, Dallas will be fine. However, if the offense has to rely on Weeden or Hanie, it could be in trouble.
A few years ago, the offensive line was considered one of the weakest parts on the team. After consecutive first-round picks, this line could be something special in 2014.
The first-rounders who will start are Zack Martin, Travis Frederick and Pro Bowler Tyron Smith. Currently the other projected starters would be Doug Free and Ronald Leary. Mackenzy Bernadeau will also be vying for a starting guard spot.
No matter where Martin plays along the line, the rookie is an instant upgrade. He also provides depth by moving someone like Leary or Bernadeau out of the starting lineup. One of them will see plenty of playing time off the bench along with tackle Jermey Parnell.
I see Martin being the long-term plan at right tackle, but for now Free will probably stay there this season. This unit was vastly improved in 2013 and should be even better now.
The running back position is one of the Cowboys’ biggest strengths. The combination of DeMarco Murray and the speedy Lance Dunbar will create tough matchups for defenses all year long, if used properly.
In his first season with more than 200 carries, Murray also reached the 1,000-yard plateau for the first time. He totaled 1,121 yards with 10 total touchdowns a year ago.
Lance Dunbar had only 37 total touches in 2013, however, each was incredibly explosive. In his final two games before hurting his knee, the change-of-pace back recorded 15 rushes for 102 yards and three receptions for 38 yards. He’s the perfect complement to Murray and is a big-play threat every time he touches the ball.
The problem the Cowboys had was not utilizing their running backs enough last year. In spite of averaging 4.5 yards per carry, the team ranked 31st in attempts. Does that make sense to anyone?
The backup role will come down to second-year Joseph Randle and recent addition Ryan Williams. Tyler Clutts also returns at fullback.
Murray can be one of the best running backs in football and Dunbar can easily be the next Darren Sproles. This unit is one of the strongest parts of the team and this season we’ll see how new offensive play-caller Scott Linehan uses his weapons.
Wide Receiver / Tight End
The greatest positional group the Cowboys have are their wide receivers and tight ends. Between Jason Witten and Dez Bryant, I believe Dallas has two pass-catching Hall of Famers on its roster.
Even though he’ll be entering his 12th year as a pro, Witten hasn’t lost a step. He’s one of the most consistent players in the league.
Bryant, who’s entering his fifth season, is only improving. In 2013 he posted career highs in receptions and touchdowns, while gaining more than 1,200 yards through the air. He very well could be the best player on the team.
Dallas’ other tight ends have a lot of potential, although not much to show for it. Gavin Escobar and James Hanna are both capable of big things.
The receivers behind Bryant aren’t chop liver, either. Between Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Dwayne Harris and rookie Devin Street, Dallas has a solid group of talented youth who should only get better.
This is the strongest unit on the 2014 roster and in order to win games next year, they will have to dominate.