Hot Takes for Dak Prescott, More Cowboys Stars Ahead of Training Camp
The Dallas Cowboys enter the 2022 season with a lot to prove.
The 2021 season was a huge step in the right direction. With a healthy Dak Prescott, they were able to go 12-5 in the regular season. Now, the expectation is for them to build on that success, but they'll have to do it with some key losses.
Thanks to a tight salary cap situation and a huge free-agent class, the Cowboys lost some important pieces from the roster that won the NFC East. Amari Cooper, Randy Gregory, Connor Williams, Cedrick Wilson Jr. and La'el Collins will all be playing for different teams this season.
That puts an even bigger burden on the stars who remain on the roster. Prescott, CeeDee Lamb, Ezekiel Elliott and Micah Parsons are all going to have to step into even bigger roles if the Cowboys are going to be a Super Bowl threat.
Here are some predictions as to how the season will shake out for their biggest stars.
Dak Prescott Doesn't Lose a Step
Coming back healthy and posting great numbers in 2021 was huge for Dak Prescott.
After missing the vast majority of the 2020 campaign, the passer came back and posted his most prolific and efficient season to date. He set new career-highs in completion percentage (68.8) and touchdowns (37) on the exact same number of attempts as 2019 (596).
The lack of playoff success is still frustrating, sure. But Prescott showed in 2021 that he is capable of getting the team to the postseason and showcased a new level of command of the offense.
Now he's going to have to do what all quarterbacks do when their big contracts start to kick in. He's going to have to continue to be elite with a worse supporting cast.
Much like Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes when they lost Davante Adams and Tyreek Hill, respectively, paying an elite quarterback means eventually losing good receivers.
Comparatively, Prescott still has a lot more to work with than those two. The Cowboys retained Michael Gallup and Dalton Schultz, while CeeDee Lamb remains on a rookie contract for now.
Expect Prescott to show the league he wasn't just a product of a great supporting cast.
CeeDee Lamb Will Be a Top 10 Receiver
The departure of Amari Cooper means it's officially CeeDee Lamb season.
Lamb was already the team's No. 1 receiver last season. He led the way in targets (120), receptions (79) and yards (1,102). With Cooper and Cedrick Wilson Jr. playing in Cleveland and Miami, respectively, there are 165 vacated targets to be redistributed.
Some of those will go to a (hopefully) healthy Michael Gallup. Some will go to a combination of free agent addition James Washington and third-round draft pick Jalen Tolbert.
But there's a good chunk that could still go to CeeDee Lamb, who is now unquestionably Dak Prescott's most capable weapon.
That could lead to Lamb having a target share that is similar to some of the best receivers in the league. With an increased role, he has the ability to prove he's a top-10 receiver in the league.
Based on Lamb's efficiency last season, an additional 35 targets could see him post a 102/1,421/8 campaign. That would have ranked 11th in receptions, fifth in yards, 15th in touchdowns and the No. 7 highest-scoring PPR receiver in fantasy football last season.
Micah Parsons Wins Defensive Player of the Year
Micah Parsons had a pretty good case to be the first rookie since Lawrence Taylor to win Defensive Player of the Year last season.
The linebacker brings unparalleled versatility to the field with his ability to play off-ball linebacker at times while being one of the league's best pass-rushers at others.
He more than holds his own in pass coverage. He allowed just a 71.5 passer rating when targeted last season. When he's allowed to go after the quarterback, he's the most efficient rusher in the league. He managed to notch 13 sacks despite being a part-time rusher.
Ultimately, Parsons fell well short of winning the award. T.J. Watt garnered 84 percent of the vote, while the Cowboys rookie only got a 10 percent share.
That's largely because Parsons got off to a slow start comparatively. The rookie had just 2.5 of his sacks in his first seven games. Over the final nine games, he had 10.5 sacks, signifying his breakthrough and a short learning curve.
With the confidence gained as a rookie and a more defined role, there's no reason that Parsons can't be the league's most dominant defender in 2022. By the end of the season, he'll have the hardware to prove it.