Predicting Cowboys' Key Stat Leaders for 2021 NFL Season

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistMay 19, 2021

Predicting Cowboys' Key Stat Leaders for 2021 NFL Season

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    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    The Dallas Cowboys are in a position in 2021 to be everything the 2020 team was supposed to be. 

    The Cowboys walked into 2020 with an eye on the NFC East title and the potential for one of the best offenses in the NFL. Injuries, an embattled defense and a rough start for Mike McCarthy soon dashed those hopes, and Dallas was fortunate the rest of the division was so bad it stayed in the playoff hunt. 

    All of the things that ailed the team have a chance to be better in 2021, though. McCarthy has had a year to establish rapport with the roster, the defensive coaching staff has been overhauled with Dan Quinn as defensive coordinator and the offense will get Dak Prescott back as well as the offensive line. 

    The results should be a dynamic offense that gives defenses headaches and a defense that will at least improve. 

    Here's a quick look at a few of the players who will lead the way and what their stats could look like by the end of the year. 

QB Dak Prescott

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    Ron Jenkins/Associated Press

    The Cowboys' hopes of a successful season ended when Prescott went down in a Week 5 matchup against the Giants. The woeful defense was going to make things difficult anyway. They were 1-3 heading into the game despite averaging 31.5 points per game and scoring another 37 in the win that day. 

    His importance to the offense was on full display in the following weeks. Dallas didn't score more than 10 points in each of the next three games. 

    Prescott is still rehabbing the injury that cost him the season. Head coach Mike McCarthy is confident he'll return by camp in July ready to return to near normalcy. 

    "He'll do most things," McCarthy said, per Todd Archer of "There's a plan in place that's coordinated with [athletic trainers Britt Brown and Jim Maurer] and the training room, so I know he feels really good. He's really had some excellent workouts here in the last couple weeks. I'd see him doing most of the work."

    That should give him plenty of time to work back into playing shape, re-connect with his receivers and be ready to hit the ground running in September. 

    When healthy, Prescott is capable of being in the top five of every passing category. With CeeDee Lamb living up to the hype last year, Michael Gallup and Amari Cooper returning and a healthy offensive line, he has everything he needs to put up elite production. 

    Key Stats: 4,780 passing yards, 32 passing touchdowns, 11 interceptions, 235 rushing yards, three rushing touchdowns

WR CeeDee Lamb

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    Ron Jenkins/Associated Press

    There's no question the receiving corps is the strength of this team. Combining Lamb with Cooper and Gallup was always going to be a challenge for secondaries, and their results with a combination of Ben DiNucci, Andy Dalton and Garrett Gilbert show the skill they have. 

    Here's how their receiving leaderboard broke down last year:

    • Amari Cooper: 130 targets, 92 catches, 1,114 yards, five touchdowns
    • CeeDee Lamb: 111 targets, 74 catches, 935 yards, five touchdowns
    • Michael Gallup: 105 targets, 59 catches, 843 yards, five touchdowns

    With a full year of experience under his belt, there's reason to believe Lamb will take over as WR1 in Dallas. For starters, Lamb's explosiveness stood out last year. He was tied for 11th in the league in receptions of over 20 yards with 18 such plays (tied with Davante Adams). 

    For context, Cooper was tied for 27th with 13 and Gallup was tied for 37th with 11. Lamb also led all Cowboys receivers in passer rating on targets, per Pro Football Reference. 

    It was clear last season when Prescott was playing he had early chemistry with his rookie receiver. Lamb was leading the team in receiving with 433 yards and two touchdowns in five games when Prescott went down. 

    The competition will be tough, but Lamb is the most likely candidate to improve on his numbers from last year. 

    Key Stats: 87 catches, 1,132 yards, seven touchdowns

RB Ezekiel Elliott

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    Ezekiel Elliott saw the first major hit to his production since his rookie season in 2020. Playing in 15 games he saw a significant decrease in carries and fell under 1,000 yards rushing for the first time since his sophomore campaign in 2017. 

    There are several reasons for that. First, the injuries to Tyron Smith, La'el Collins and Zack Martin up front severely reduced the run blocking. Elliott's 1.9 yards before contact was tied for 37th in the league. He had to grind it out just to get to 4.0 yards per carry and the reduction in carries could be attributed to the Cowboys having to chuck the ball around in games they were losing. 

    Still, whether Elliott can get back to putting up some of the best running back production in the league should be in question. Elliott is 26, which isn't old but also isn't young in running back years. He's also logged over 1,400 carries and another 241 receptions in his five seasons in the league. 

    The biggest threat to his production might come from his own backfield, though. Tony Pollard has seen an increased role in each of his last two seasons. Last year he was targeted 40 times with 28 receptions and over 100 carries. He responded with 4.3 yards per carry and 193 yards receiving. 

    Expect a bigger share of the work for him, a slightly less productive year for Elliott as an individual and a better overall running attack as a team. 

    Key Stats: 1,066 rushing yards, eight touchdowns, 45 receptions, 325 yards, three receiving touchdowns