While they are nothing but helmets and shorts practices, the Dallas Cowboys are getting their first look at the full roster during the initial OTA session. It’s hard to take much away from these. There won’t be much data to really change our perceptions about the team. Mostly we are basing what we think about the 2022 version of the franchise from the offseason, including the NFL Draft†
Some are worried that the team may have gotten worse, while others are excited to see the new talent. To look at this, here is a breakdown by position group of where things should be better and where they could be at a disadvantage compared to this time last year.
The Cowboys are rolling with the same names they had at the end of the season. Dak Prescott is the undisputed starter, Cooper Rush looks to be reprising his role as QB2, Will Grier should be third in line, and Ben DiNucci somehow hangs on to a spot on the 90-man roster. However, there is a significant difference. Last year at this time, Dak Prescott was still rehabbing from his season-ending ankle injury the previous fall. He would not be fully ready to go for some time. This time, he is 100%, including from the calf strain he dealt with later in the year. That alone has things looking up.
Judgment: Things are in better health.
This is very similar. Ezekiel Elliott fought through an injury for most of the season. It was seen as a down year for him, despite him having the seventh most yards rushing in the league. Also expected to be back to full health, he should give the ground game a boost. We will have to see if the staff, especially Kellen Moore, makes better use of Tony Pollard this year, but the top two positions are secure, and there is an interesting group of players vying for however many backups they also roster.
Judgment: As long as Zeke is able to go harder, this is better – a bit.
No matter what you think about the wisdom of moving on from Amari Cooper, it is hard to argue that he doesn’t leave a big hole to fill. With Michael Gallup also expected to miss several weeks at the start of the season due to his injury, this group is unquestionably worse. CeeDee Lamb should be poised to have a big year, but putting too much hope in James Washington, Noah Brown, Simi Fehoko, and rookie Jalen Tolbert to be as formidable as what was widely seen as one of the best wideout groups in the league last off season is not wise.
Judgment: Here’s hoping Prescott and Moore can figure out how to elevate a weaker bunch.
We discussed the idea from this post on the latest episode of Ryled Up on the Blogging The Boys podcast network. Make sure to subscribe to our network so you don’t miss any of our shows! Apple devices can subscribe here and Spotify users can subscribe here†
In 2020, Blake Jarwin was the starter and Dalton Schultz was TE2. Jarwin would go down to injury and Schultz would be a surprise story by proving he was more than capable of holding down the starting job, and was the main guy in 2021. Now the team has to see what they have in rookie Jake Ferguson. No matter how well he turns out, don’t expect him to be an upgrade. We don’t even know if he will be able to hold off Jeremy Sprinkle and Sean McKeon for the second spot on the depth chart.
Judgment: Schultz is very good, but the backups are still question marks.
To quote the great Samuel L. Jackson in Jurassic Park, hold onto your butts. Tyron Smith is still elite – when he is healthy, which has not been the case for an entire season for years. Zack Martin looks to be HOF bound, so right guard looks great. The team took something of a risk in releasing La’el Collins. Terence Steele did a good job late in the season to make them willing to do so, but now we find out if he is a legit starter at right tackle. Tyler Smith was drafted with the intent of him becoming the new starting left guard, but he is kicking inside from tackle. His skill set may be better suited there. However, his technique needs a lot of work. Meanwhile, Stephen Jones has already alluded to competition for Tyler Biadasz as the starting center. And we saw this offseason how things go when he starts throwing some shade.
This may be the most crucial position group, since it is not only going to be so important protecting Prescott, but will be called on to improve the relatively anemic running game from last season.
Judgment: There is a lot of uncertainty, which is never good.
On the other side of the ball, the Cowboys seem very excited by the addition of Sam Williams, clearly a Dan Quinn pick. However, he has a big task in trying to be better than the early-season version of departed Randy Gregory. The staff apparently had faith in Gregory before the contract negotiation was bungled and he signed with the Denver Broncos† Early on, this has to be seen as at least a small step back.
The interior of the defensive line was not a real strength last year, and they didn’t invest much in trying to upgrade. All they spent was a fifth-round pick on John Ridgeway, who projects to be mostly a run stuffer in the middle. Although Neville Gallimore and Osa Odighizuwa looked good, especially later in the year, this feels an awful lot like treading water.
Judgment: This is a bit of a weakness, especially at the one edge spot.
Here, the most important thing is what we didn’t know at this time last year. Namely that the Cowboys had drafted a true unicorn in Micah Parsons. Now after storming to Defensive Rookie of the Year honors and first team All-Pro, he may be posited for even more impressive things with a year under his belt and hopefully not dealing with a minor injury as he was all last year. He also is a definite plus for the pass rush. The only question is how will he be used the most, and at the moment, it appears the team prefers to have him lining up primarily as a linebacker.
Dallas invested in two late-round picks the position, but one, Damone Clark, is a long play, as he may be on PUP for most or all of the year. The other was their sixth-rounder Devin Harper. He is most likely destined for a shot on special teams. The team is once again banking on Jayron Kearse to help out as a hybrid player. Otherwise, the depth is Leighton Vander Esch, Jabril Cox coming off his injury-limited season, and some other special team types.
Judgment: Just realizing what Micah Parsons is makes this look better than it was a year ago, but there are still some lingering concerns.
Trevon Diggs had him a year. He led the league in interceptions with 11, the most by any player in the NFL since 1981. That was great. It is also the bad news, because history tells us that players cannot sustain that kind of production from year to year. Diggs is widely criticized for the yards he gave up in coverage, although many argue that was somewhat illusory. Still, the team did nothing outside another fifth-round selection, DaRon Bland, to add talent to the room. They hope that Kelvin Joseph is ready to take the next step, but he has a big shadow hanging over him due to the off-field incident he was involved in. That could lead to a long suspension.
At safety, re-signing Kearse was the best thing they did during the offseason. But they got no additional help, and lost Damonte Kazee in free agency.
Judgment: No real help, and some regression to the mean seems inevitable after the outstanding job last year, so they took a small step back here. But outside the offensive line, this has the biggest potential for things to go badly.
Is addition by subtraction a real thing? It sure seems like it with the departure of Greg Zuerlein. Even though they are banking on UDFA Jonathan Garibay to be the new leg, we can have hope.
Judgment: This just feels better than expecting The Leg to return to his old self.
It just feels like facing reality to acknowledge that this roster is not as impressive as it was during the OTAs last year. The only thing that may pay off big is Prescott’s health. That can cover a multitude of warts. It is still a bit risky to rely on one player to carry things, especially when opponents know he is the one they have to stop. You might want to leave the Kool-Aid in the fridge for a while.