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2019 Team Report: Dallas Cowboys

Offensive Philosophy

Head coach Jason Garrett prefers a simplified offensive scheme tailored to the talent available to him that relies on his players simply outperforming the players they're matched against. With a standout offensive line and an All Pro running back, this results in big and consistent production from the running game, but it can be difficult on receivers who struggle to win one-on-one battles and separate consistently.

Quarterbacks

Starter: Dak Prescott
Backup(s): Cooper Rush, Mike White

Starting QB: Dak Prescott enters his fourth season with the opportunity to secure a massive contract extension that guarantees he'll be the Cowboys starter for much of his career. To justify that extension, he'll have to answer questions that have lingered since his surprisingly effective rookie season. Prescott was a marvel as a rookie in 2016 but regressed in 2017. 2018 was supposed to be the tiebreaker, but in many ways, it left his doubters and fans with fuel for their side of the debate. Prescott struggled mightily through the first seven games and looked lost. He averaged 180 passing yards and threw eight touchdowns and four interceptions. To call him a game manager would've been an insult to game managers around the world. Just as things looked dismal, Jerry Jones traded for Amari Cooper and the Cowboys' season, along with Prescott's performance, changed on a dime. Once Cooper joined the lineup, Prescott had a 71% completion rate, averaged 250 yards per game, and threw 14 touchdowns in nine games. Pro-rating his totals with Cooper equates to a 4,010-yard, 25-touchdown, seven interception season. Optimism abounds entering 2019 thanks to promising reports on All-Pro center Travis Frederick, and the benefits of having Cooper participate in a full offseason. Finally, the team promoted quarterbacks coach Kellen Moore to offensive coordinator, in the hopes of invigorating a stagnant playbook.

Backup QB: Cooper Rush and Mike White return as the backups, and both are incomplete players with a questionable pedigree to execute the full playbook in Prescott's absence effectively. White was a prolific college passer in a wide open offense at Western Kentucky before being drafted in the fifth round last year. Rush joined the team in 2017 as an undrafted free agent after starting at Central Michigan for four years. Neither White nor Rush is an elite athlete, but both have shown well in training camp and preseason game opportunities.

Running Backs

Starter: Ezekiel Elliott
Backup(s): Mike Weber [R], Tony Pollard [R], Jordan Chunn, Darius Jackson
Fullback(s): Jamize Olawale

Starting RB: Ezekiel Elliott is the team's offensive centerpiece, and unquestionably one of the best running backs in the league. Any questions about Elliott's value after a sophomore season that included a six-game suspension were put to bed in 2018, when Elliott dominated again, in spite of an injury-riddled offensive line and questionable passing play for the first half of the season. Elliott led the league with 304 carries and 1,434 rushing yards. It's the second time in three years Elliott was the NFL's leading rusher, and he likely would have led the league in 2017 were it not for the suspension - he averaged a league-best 98.3 yards rushing in 10 games. While Elliott's touchdown totals (9 in both 2017 and 2018) have normalized after 16 scores as a rookie, the talented tailback more than offset his scoring regression with newfound domination in the passing game. After catching a respectable 58 balls in his first two seasons, Elliott caught 77 passes for 567 yards and three scores last year. His receiving breakthrough arguably makes Elliott the hardest skill player to defense in the league. As long as he keeps his off-the-field antics in check, there's no reason Elliott shouldn't vie for offensive player of the year honors again.

Backup RBs: Building depth behind Elliott was a priority entering the NFL draft, as only Darius Jackson and Jordan Chunn were on the roster. Chunn made the Cowboys' practice squad last year as an undrafted rookie out of Troy University, but he never saw regular season action. Jackson is currently on his third stint with Dallas but has also spent brief periods with the Cleveland Browns and Green Bay Packers. Fortunately, the team added two rookies: Tony Pollard in the 4th round and Mike Weber in the 7th round. Pollard (6-foot-0, 210 pounds) is built more like a receiver and has a skill set best suited to third downs. Weber (5-foot-10, 211 pounds) is more compact and was used as an inside runner at Ohio State, but he'll need to overcome fumbling problems and a tendency to bounce out of the intended play to hit a home run. While neither rookie is a finished product, they do have higher ceilings than the incumbent backups.

Fullback: Jamize Olawale returns as the fullback. The veteran has just 96 career touches and will serve as a role player in Dallas' jumbo and short-yardage packages.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup
Backups: Allen Hurns, Randall Cobb, Tavon Austin, Noah Brown

Starting WRs: Last preseason, if you asked six different analysts who would lead the receiving group, you would have gotten six different answers. Some believed in veteran slot receiver Cole Beasley, while others held out hope long-time starter Terrance Williams would finally become a reliable every-game contributor. Others believed rookie Michael Gallup would emerge quickly amidst a void of veteran options. Free agent veteran Allen Hurns had his supporters, as did Tavon Austin truthers. Ultimately, the answer was none of the above as the team's passing attack was woeful for the first two months. A midway trade for Amari Cooper changed the dynamic and re-invigorated the passing attack. Cooper played over 80% of snaps as the starter and was on a 16-game pace of 94 receptions for 1,289 yards and 11 touchdowns. Cooper is entrenched as the No. 1 which leaves the question of who lines up opposite him in Week One. The smart money is on Gallup. Although Gallup's rookie season wasn't jaw-dropping (33 receptions for 507 yards and two touchdowns), he played more than 70% of snaps once Cooper entered the lineup. With Cole Beasley gone, Gallup will be given every opportunity to make the leap commonplace for second-year receivers.

Backup WRs: The greatest threat to Gallup's starting role is Randall Cobb, the once-promising possession dynamo in Green Bay who fell out of favor with the Packers thanks to repeated injuries. It's unclear whether Cobb can regain his peak form, but the Cowboys took a one-year flier to find out. Tavon Austin and Allen Hurns return, but neither made an impact in their first seasons in Dallas. Lance Lenoir and Noah Brown currently fill out the depth chart, but their hold on roster spots in tenuous depending on how the draft unfolds.

Tight Ends

Starters: Jason Witten
Backups: Blake Jarwin, Dalton Schultz, Rico Gathers

Guess who's back, back again, Witten's back, tell a friend. When Jason Witten retired last year, it surprised many, until we found out he was being given the ultimate broadcasting job immediately - a seat in the Monday Night Football booth. Unfortunately, Witten's inexperience showed and he was subject of constant criticism. Whether that played a role in his decision to return to the gridiron is unclear, but either way, the future Hall of Famer will be suiting up for Dallas again. Witten is 37 years old and is best suited as a part-time player, but keep in mind his 2017 totals (63 receptions for 560 yards and five touchdowns) far outstripped anything the tight ends did last year. Blake Jarwin led the team with 27 receptions for 307 yards and three touchdowns, and he'll still have a role this year even if Witten out snaps him.

Place Kicker

Brett Maher: The Cowboys were maligned for choosing the former CFL kicker Maher over franchise fixture Dan Bailey, but they were vindicated by season's end. Maher was more accurate last year than Bailey, who caught on with Minnesota after their rookie kicker flamed out in two games. Maher wasn't exemplary, going 29-for-36 on field goal attempts, but he did make 6-of-7 from 50+ yards and 32-of-33 on extra point attempts. Dallas ended up tying for fifth in field goal attempts and Maher was 10th in kicker scoring with a boost of a spot or two in leagues that reward distance kicks. He'll be a last round kicker consideration this year.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Jourdan Lewis, Tavon Austin

After trading Ryan Switzer to the Oakland Raiders, the 2018 Dallas Cowboys headed into the season with a lot of uncertainty surrounding their return specialists. Four different players returned kicks for the team, not counting the most experienced returner on the roster, receiver Tavon Austin. With several of those players now gone from the team, early front-runners for 2019 return duties are Jourdan Lewis and the aforementioned Austin.

Punt Returners: Tavon Austin, Jourdan Lewis

Tavon Austin opened 2018 as the Cowboys' top punt returner until an injury cost him nine games. Austin re-signed with the franchise this offseason and hopes to reprise his role. Receiver Cole Beasley stepped up in his absence, but with Beasley no longer on the squad, Jourdan Lewis is a likely first choice should Austin falter or get hurt.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: Tyron Smith, Connor Williams, Travis Frederick, Zach Martin, La'el Collins
Key Backups: Cameron Fleming, Joe Looney, Connor McGovern [R], Xavier Su'a-Filo, Cody Wichmann

Much of this Cowboys' line grade depends upon the health of center Travis Frederick. The former All-Pro missed all of last season with a rare auto-immune disease. He is participating in offseason workouts and is on track for training camp. Assuming Frederick can recapture his dominant form, this line could again be among the league's best. Left tackle Tyron Smith was a Pro Bowl starter last year while right guard Zack Martin made first team All-Pro. Not many lines have players as good as Smith and Martin. Left guard Connor Williams had a learning experience as a rookie and right tackle Lael Collins continues his solid run blocking. The team drafted Connor McGovern from Penn State in the second round to push both players, and provide more insurance for Frederick. It is also notable that Marc Columbo took over the offensive line coaching duties last season and sparked improvement from depth players such as Joe Looney and Xavier Su'a-Filo. This line grades in the top-tier.

Team Defense

The Cowboys defense is becoming a team strength even though it wasn't a prominent fantasy force in 2018. Although the unit allowed 5,268 yards (26th), the unit kept teams from finishing drives (6th in points allowed). Star defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence should be healthy after dealing with a torn labrum last season, and he was rewarded with a massive new contract after initially receiving the franchise tag designation. Veteran Robert Quinn struggled in Miami but hopes to revive his career in Dallas, and at least partially offset the departures of Randy Gregory and David Irving. The linebacking corps and secondary return intact, creating optimism for a season-opening stretch against the Giants at home, Washington on the road and Miami at home. The Cowboys are a compelling late-round fantasy target.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Demarcus Lawrence, DE Robert Quinn, DT Antwaun Woods, DT Maliek Collins
Backups: DE Joe Jackson [R], DT Tyrone Crawford, DT Christian Covington, DE Taco Charlton, DT Trysten Hill, DT Daniel Ross, DE Dorance Armstrong, DE Shakir Soto

Starting DL: DeMarcus Lawrence anchors Rod Marinelli's defense line and is one of the league's best all-around lineman. His ability to both stop the run and generate double-digit sacks earned him a massive five-year, $105 million contract including $65 million guaranteed. Lawrence underwent surgery in April for a torn labrum but expects to be ready for the regular season. Veteran Robert Quinn joins the team after a disappointing few years in Miami, and will be asked to make up for the loss of Randy Gregory. In the interior, Dallas rotates heavily, but veterans Maliek Collins and Antwaun Woods are the nominal starters. Collins has steadily improved his tackling and turned from a liability as a run defender in his 2016 rookie season to a plus defender the last two years. Woods flourished in his first season in Dallas after a forgettable few years in Tennessee.

Backup DL: Tyrone Crawford enters his eighth season as one of Dallas' quiet stalwarts. He's averaged nearly 700 snaps over the last five seasons and flourishes as an interior pass rusher (24 sacks since 2014), while his run defense has improved over the last two years. Taco Charlton has struggled in a part-time role, with only four sacks and eight quarterback hits in two seasons. He'll get an opportunity this year as Dallas doesn't want to overwork Robert Quinn, but Charlton needs to flash the potential that made him a first-round pick out of Michigan two years ago. Rookie second-rounder Trysten Hill projects as a perfect fit for Dallas' attacking line scheme. He has the athleticism and leg strength to anchor the nose for years to come, but this year he projects as a backup rotational contributor. Veteran Christian Covington joins the rotation after four years as a rotational lineman in Houston.

Linebackers

Starters: SLB Joe Thomas, MLB Jaylon Smith, WLB Leighton Vander Esch
Backups: Chris Covington, Sean Lee, Jalen Jelks [R], Joe Thomas, Justin March-Lillard

Starting LBs: The linebacking corps is set at two spots and has major question marks at the other. Last year's rookie phenomenon, Leighton Vander Esch, is already one of the best linebackers in the NFC and can vie for defensive player of the year honors is he maintains his current trajectory. He'll play the weakside, but can also fill in admirably for Jaylon Smith in the middle, if need be. Smith was the Cowboys' iron man last year, staying on the field for 978 snaps earning high marks as a run defender, pass rusher, and in coverage. Vander Esch and Smith are elite, which makes the questions on the strongside less of a concern. Veteran Joe Thomas is penciled in as the starter, but he'll face stiff competition from Justin March-Lillard and possibly Sean Lee, depending on how Lee's health holds up in the preseason.

Backup LBs: Sean Lee was the Cowboys best defender in a lot of lost seasons but has now taken on the mantle of locker room leader and part-time contributor. Lee's true talent was never fully realized because of a litany of injuries, and he actively removed himself from the starting lineup last year in favor of rookie Vander Esch. Lee likely backs up all three linebacker positions this year but could be pushed into a starting spot on the strong side depending on how camp unfolds. Justin March-Lillard re-signed with Dallas this year, but he was primarily a special teams contributor in prior seasons. A pair of late round picks, Chris Covington (2018 sixth-rounder) and Jalen Jelks (2019 seventh-rounder) fill out the depth chart, at least until Dallas considers adding veteran free agents as they're cut loose in the next few months.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Byron Jones, FS Xavier Woods, SS Jeff Heath, CB Chidobe Awuzie, CB Anthony Brown
Backups: CB Jourdan Lewis, S George Iloka, S Kavon Frazier, CB Michael Jackson [R], S Donovan Wilson [R], S Kyle Queiro, S Treston Decoud

Starting DBs: The secondary is a tale of two positions. At cornerback, the team has built impressive depth and the starters - particularly Byron Jones - have emerged as difference makers. At safety, it's the opposite and fans are understandably frustrated Dallas failed to add competition for both spots in the offseason. Veteran Jeff Heath played 1,000 snaps last year and gives as much effort as anyone on the roster, but he's limited athletically and can be exploited by smart offensive coordinators. Xavier Woods' starting job has been in question since he first got the role but sits atop the depth chart entering the preseason. Jones is one of the better cover corners in the NFC, and also a sure tackler. If he can start creating more turnovers (0 interceptions in 2018), he'll maintain the All-Pro status he earned last season. Chidobe Awuzie had his ups and downs last year, but is fearless and adjusts well to the ball.

Backup DBs: Anthony Brown and Jourdan Lewis will compete for the nickel back role. Lewis played nearly 800 snaps as a rookie in 2017 but was relegated to a part-time (193 snaps) role last year thanks to injuries and missed assignments. When Lewis was on the field, he outplayed Brown, who is steady but doesn't have a knack for big plays. Brown is the steady hand with a defined range of outcomes, whereas Lewis has higher upside but needs to regain the coaches' trust. George Iloka was a Pro Bowl-caliber safety in Cincinnati but has since fallen on hard times in Minnesota and Dallas. Kavon Frazier hasn't done much in limited time to argue for a bigger role and could be pushed by rookie Donovan Wilson for a roster spot.

Last modified: 2019-05-22 16:20:46