I will probably get a lot of push back on my opinions for "America's team," but just hear me out and take off your fandom glasses. This team though set up well for the future with a good young base of Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott to go along with some nice younger defenders like Jaylon Smith and Byron Jones. However, have you seen this team's schedule and even if they did have Zeke for the first handful of games it would still be difficult to see them making it out of the first six games with anything better than a .500 record. I also can see this offensive line taking a step back even though everyone keeps being enamored about it. They did lose a quality guard in Ronald Leary to free agency and equally steady Doug Free who was to me the glue for the line being the oldest one there retired this off season. Plus, a back injury to Tyrone Smith worries me since a back issue is one of the worst injuries to have on either side of the trenches. In general, this team will be solid most weeks, but I can still see them miss the playoffs.
Going into the draft last year I thought drafting Zeke Elliott that high would be a bad decision and not just because he was a running back going top 10. If they are a good enough talent a back that high in the draft is fine with me since he proved that he can be an easy 100 yards a game player. However, there were red flags during his time at Ohio St that he may be too immature even so much so that his dad warned people about his behavior. Thankfully for him Jerry Jones only cares if you can produce on the field, but if he continues to be an idiot off the field even Jones may have a difficult time stomaching Elliott missing games every year. Not to toot my own horn here to, but I thought Prescott was the best quarterback in last year's draft and I may have been right if not for Carson Wentz looking equally as good. If not for some bad off field stuff leading up to the draft he would have been selected higher. Everyone knew he had the brains to be a quarterback it was just his weak arm that worried people. That arm may always be an issue for him, but if Elliott can stay on the field and they surround him with quick receivers to throw like Brady has then his future will be very bright. Like I said above this line to me is not the same line from the past few years. They still have Travis Fredrick and Zach Martin on the inside, but massive first round bust Jonathan Cooper occupies the left guard spot. Then at the tackles I worry about Smith's health going forward since back issues can be tricky and then on the right side they are giving La'el Collins a shot. However, Collins has only played guard professionally so it will be interesting to see if he holds up on the outside. Their receivers are about the same this year with Bryant, Williams, Beasley, Butler, and Witten. Hopefully, Bryant and Prescott can get more in sync with each other with a full off season of work. Overall, this offense should be mistake free under Prescott, but I just do not see them replicating the same chunks of rushing yards behind a new front five.
This is the side of the ball that worries me the most about the Cowboys and their chances to make it out of the NFC East victorious. They have no consistent pass rushers and should have addressed it more in the draft. Selecting Taco Charlton may be the first building block, but who knows with rookie pass rushers. Then the rest of the line with DeMarcus Lawrence who disappointed last year and same goes for Tyrone Crawford on edge, plus both of them are going into the season hampered by injuries. That is never a good sign. Their tackles are steady with Maliek Collins who played well as a rookie last year and Cedric Thorton who is a consistent run stopper. The best unit on this team may be their linebackers if everyone can stay healthy. Sean Lee has always been a good defender when he can stay on the field. They also have the anticipated arrival of Jaylon Smith who looks healthy and ready to make plays. If Smith does end up playing and well then I would say the Cowboys can put down the 2016 draft class being a very successful one. The spot next to those two is a bit up for grabs, but very rarely do NFL defenses play all three linebackers any more. The big question mark in my opinion on the defensive side of the ball are their corners. They have oft-injured Orlando Scandrick to go along with mediocre Anthony Brown as well as two possible solid rookies in Chibode Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis. Their safeties are a tad better with Byron Smith turning out to be a quality former first round pick and Jeff Heath is a nice do it all safety. This shaky secondary to go along with their poor pass rush is a bad combination in a division with solid passers.
In the end, I think this team's roster is on the upswing, but not enough to make me say their a playoff contender. I really like Prescott, but with a year of tape on him team's will just load up near the line threatening him to throw the ball down field. If he does not capitalize on those throws I can see him turn into a mobile Sam Bradford. This defense to me is the worst in the division where the Eagles and Giants are near the top in the league and the Redskins are probably in the middle. Their schedule is brutal the first six games with match ups against the Giants, Broncos, Cardinals, Rams, Packers, and 49ers. Even with Zeke they would be lucky to win 4 out of 6 and without him I can see them losing at least three and maybe four. The rest of the schedule includes the Chiefs, Falcons, Chargers, Raiders, and Seahawks. Out of that bunch I think they would be lucky to win two games. Overall, a 9-7 record is their high end, but I can see them being a 7-9 or lower team if their defense plays even worst than expected.
1 (28) - Taco Charlton DE - It was an odd rise and fall for Charlton leading up to the draft. He spiked up to top ten in mocks then days before the draft he drifted down to the bottom of the first round. I liked Charlton's raw ability, but he is a bit of that tweener size that worries me. Playing a traditional end may be his best spot, but to me he is more of a power rusher. Which, means he will do well in the run game and pushing the pocket. However, I doubt he will ever turn into a high sack artists unless he expands his repertoire.
2 (28) - Chidobe Awuzie CB - Not only did this pick have one of the greatest announcements with Drew Pearson digging into the crowd, but it was also a very good pick. To me he was very underrated out of this loaded secondary class and his versatility will prove useful in a Dallas secondary in need of talent. He is a chippy defender with good swagger and ball skills, which is a big attribute with corners where confidence is at a premium. Overall, I think this was another smart pick made by Stephen Jones who has been a good drafter since taking the reigns from his dad.
3 (28) - Jourdan Lewis CB - Lewis had some legal issues that may have caused him to slide in the draft, but the Cowboys may have gotten this one right. Much like Gareon Conley I think his case was someone trying to get him in trouble on purpose out of spite. Even without that issue Lewis already had his detractors about his slight size at only 5'10." However, he could be a great slot corner since to me he was the best pure cover corner in the draft. I even would see if he can handle the outside since he did well in college out there. Either way him along with Awuzie can create a nice young base for their secondary along with Byron Jones.
4 (27) - Ryan Switzer WR - This was a bit of a head scratcher to me since the Cowboys already have a solid slot receiver who Prescott loves in Cole Beasley. Maybe Switzer is a tad quicker, but at the slot chemistry is key with the quick routes. Switzer to me will be a nice depth receiver who can maybe work his way in by year two. I think they should have gone with a better outside option to move out the mediocre Terrence Williams.
6 (7) - Xavier Woods S - The Cowboys could use a safety to plug in next to Byron Jones and they had their eyes on Woods the whole way. He is a heavy hitting safety who has a nose for the ball. His versatility is also a useful trait and will help him get to the field quicker. I can see him beating out Jeff Heath for a starting job before it's all said and done.
6 (33) - Marquez White CB - A nice developmental piece, but his athleticism to me is on the low end. He would benefit the most in a zone scheme where he is not left on an island. He may be best served on the practice squad his rookie year.
7 (10) - Joey Ivie DT - The Cowboys I think should have used an earlier pick on a better pass rusher, but this draft was a lot more shallow at the position than defensive backs so I get their strategy here. Ivie could be a nice all around tackle here and could be a nice depth option his rookie year. Best thing about him is his perfect scheme fit for Rod Marinelli's system and his ability to get the most out of his tackles.
7 (21) - Noah Brown WR - This kids is why you do not leave college with a limited amount of production no matter how talented you are. Brown has all the skills to be a top receiver from his size, athleticism, and speed. However, he is an extremely raw prospect who would have benefited a lot from another year or two at Ohio St. If given time this will be a great late round pick for a team who could use another solid outside option. Unfortunately, for Brown if he stayed in school he might have had a shot to be a first rounder. Stay in school kids.
7 (28) - Jordan Carrell DT - Another late round depth tackle who can make the rotation. I doubt it though and he most likely will be cut by Saturday.
2018 Off Season:
I think this young core is a year or two away from being a consistent playoff contender. They need to definitely reel in Zeke like they did with Dez Bryant before he gets himself in real trouble. I also think they should retool that line to help continue it's dominance by finding another quality guard and possibly a nice developmental tackle who can move in for either Smith or Collins if either falter. This defense still needs a lot of work and I would not be shocked if they use another first rounder on another pass rusher in the draft. They could also look for another safety and a possible corner if none of their rookies pan out like expected. I worry mostly about Jerry Jones already at an old 77 years old and might start to get a little impatient on seeing another Cowboys Super Bowl win. If he takes over again they might go back to their disappointing ways like they were with Tony Romo.
My 2018 Mock Draft:
1 (25) - Ronnie Harrison S Alabama