With minicamp over and training camp six weeks away week one of the NFL season will be here before we know it. A group of writers with the Last Word on Sports team will be previewing all 32 teams in the NFL by division. We will be highlighting some of the strengths and weaknesses of the team, as well as a final record prediction for the upcoming season. Now it is time for the NFC East, usually one of the most competitive divisions in football.
2018 NFL Breakdown: Dallas Cowboys 7-9
It is no secret that the Cowboys have one of the best offensive lines in football, anchored by center Travis Frederick and right guard Zack Martin. Although they had a rough season last year, the Cowboys offensive line has the capability to bounce back. First round pick Connor Williams out of Texas projects to start as the left guard for the upcoming season and has a lot of potential. Ezekiel Elliott is one of the best running backs in football and will need to be relied on more this year than ever, with the departure of number one receiver Dez Bryant. Elliott has an extra chip on his shoulder entering this season after last year’s suspension. Dak Prescott was noticeably not the same without Elliott, and his return will elevate the level of the run game.
Defensively the Cowboys front seven has plenty of talent. It ranges from Demarcus Lawrence to a trio of talented linebackers: Leighton Vander Esch, Sean Lee, and Jaylon Smith. Lee is an NFL iron man fighting through numerous ACL injuries, to still be one of the best players at his position. Smith has all the potential in the world, he was going to be a top five pick in the 2016 draft before tearing his ACL in the Fiesta Bowl. He returned last season and showed some flashes. He will be joined by the rookie Vander Esch the defending Mountain West Conference Defensive Player of the Year. With one of the best pass rushers in the league and three talented linebackers defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli has no shortage of talent.
Jason Witten was old reliable for the Cowboys his 14 years in the league, but took them by surprise when he announced his retirement this offseason. Dallas has a few tight ends on the roster, however they are either rookies or have never played a regular season snap. It was rumored before the draft that Dallas liked South Dakota State tight end Dallas Goedert, but the division rival Eagles traded up and snagged him one pick before their selection. Management selected Dalton Schultz a tight end from Stanford in the fourth round, but he needs some time to develop. Witten is not easily replaceable acting as a safety net for Prescott whenever he faced heavy pressure. Right now it’s unknown who will be the starter and step up in his absence.
Besides the loss of Witten, Bryant is gone leaving a significant void in the offense. Although Allen Hurns signed in the offseason, there is concern who will be the second outside receiver. Cole Beasley is not tall enough or strong enough to play on the outside. Terrance Williams has been in Dallas for years now and continually struggles to produce. Whether it is Williams or one of the rookie receivers, they need to step up badly drawing some of the attention away from Hurns. Usually the Cowboy defense is the big question mark, but after this offseason expect the Cowboys offense to struggle without two of their biggest weapons of the past.
Team Most Valuable Player RB Ezekiel Elliott
Elliott is a supreme talent and it helps that he is running behind one of the best offenses in football. When healthy he is a top five running back in the NFL competing with David Johnson, Le’Veon Bell, and Todd Gurley for the top spot. This season will test Elliott’s greatness more than ever. In order to have success the offense will have to be much more reliant on the running game. With the loss of Prescott’s two top weapons, he will need to become more of a threat as a receiving back catching passes out of the backfield. Elliott will need to become an all four down back this season, until Prescott finds chemistry with some of the younger players. He certainly has the talent to be the team’s most valuable player, but with the current state of the offense he must take on that responsibility in order for them to win games
Team Sleeper WR Michael Gallup
Although management struggled to address the tight end position in the draft, they did select two receivers with very high upside Michael Gallup and Cedrick Wilson. Both Gallup and Wilson did not receive the notoriety they deserved playing in the Mountain West Conference for Colorado State and Boise State respectively. Gallup was one of the best and most polished route runners in this year’s class, which is extremely important for a young receiver and quarterback. Williams has not been effective on the outside and Gallup can step in and fill that complementary role opposite Hurns. If Williams picks up his play this season, it will give Prescott three reliable receivers on the outside he can be confident passing the ball to. While Gallup will need a little time adjusting to the physicality of the NFL, do not be surprised if he leads the team in receiving touchdowns by the end of the season.
Reason for Prediction
Playing in the NFC East is no easy task, especially because Dallas will have to face the defending Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles twice. With a ton of question marks in the passing game, opposing defenses will stack the box forcing Prescott and the receivers to beat them. Right now I am not convinced that the Dallas receivers can beat opposing defenses, despite how talented Elliott is. The teams in the NFC East have a tough challenge this season having to face the Titans, Saints, Jaguars, Panthers and Falcons. Jerry Jones and Cowboy Nation will once again be disappointed after another season where they miss out on the playoffs and the opportunity to play for the coveted Lombardi Trophy.
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