Undrafted’s Dallas Cowboys preseason review! The Cowboys finally committed to Dak Prescott, and he gets to work with one of the hottest groups of weapons in the entire NFL. Between Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and now sophomore Ceedee Lamb in the receving room, and Ezekiel Elliott & Tony Pollard in the backfield, this group is dangerous, and the Cowboys were showing just that before Dak went down.
Of course at that point, Andy Dalton had to come in, and Ben DiNucci contributed too, but the back ups weren’t getting it done, and while Dalton did settle down a little and the Cowboys won a few more games, there’s a reason he’s no longer in Dallas. I said at the time of the injury that it might be a blessing in disguise for Dak, as the team is left to realise what they are without him, and that’s exactly how it transpired. With the deal now done, the Cowboys can turn their attention to challenging for the NFC East, and figuring out the struggles on defence.
Last year only 4 teams gave up more points per game than the Cowboys, and when you’re offence is firing the way it was with Dak on the field, your defence handicapping you like that is a real problem. But this year, with Dan Quinn, ex Falcons head coach taking over as defensive coordinator, and bringing safeties Damontae Kazee and Keanu Neal with him, as well as first round draft pick Micah Parsons in the middle of the field. There’s certainly been a focus on that side of the field, but there are still questions in Dallas. Can Zeke get back to his best? Is the offensive line as much of an issue as people think it is, and have they done enough to rebuild the defence and become a favourite for the division.
The Head Coach
Mike McCarthy, who spent 12 years as the head coach of the Packers, and is one of the most experiences head coaches currently in the NFL, brings an offensive mind to the head coaching position. Spending all those years working with Aaron Rodgers and running a successful offence makes for a strong resume, and I feel like it’s a good hire for Dak Prescott. McCarthy’s always had an eye for putting points on the board, and apart from one season as the OC for the San Francisco 49ers, in which then starter Tim Rattay went down, and was replaced by rookie Alex Smith, he’s got a great track record for high scoring offence.
McCarthy has worked with some of the greats. Brett Favre. Ricky Williams in New Orleans. Aaron Rodgers & Davante Adams in his long term tenure in Green Bay. With the weapons at his disposal, this hire could easily work out to be one of the better ones in recent years across the league. McCarthy spent his break from head coaching between 2018 and 2020 studying game analytics and watching film with pro analysts. He did this intentionally, after interviewing for roles with the Browns and the Jets, he made the decision to sit the 2019 season out, before coming back to coaching. It was then that he decided he’d use a full year to develop his knowledge of the game, and it’s trends, team playbooks, and tendencies around the league. It’ll be interesting to see a full season with Dak and all his weapons under McCarthy’s command.
As a football fan in general, seeing Dak go down last season while he was performing at an extremely high level, trying to earn himself a contract with the team he loves, was incredibly sad. That image of the young man in tears as he was carted away from the field is burnt into my memory, and of course Dak Prescott had no idea whether he would ever suit up for the Cowboys again. Fast forward to the present day and the Cowboys have come to their senses, and agreed a four year deal worth $160M, including $126M guaranteed money. Dak is staying in Dallas for the foreseeable, and now it’s his time to settle down and take the Cowboys to the playoffs.
Before the injury, Dak was first in the league in passing yards, and was on pace for a ridiculous 6000 yards. The Cowboys QB was playing at the highest level he ever had, and unfortunately went down before we were able to see if he could sustain that, and how much of that was the new relationship formed with head coach Mike McCarthy.
This season, the Cowboys offence is on pace to be one of the most exciting offences in the league to watch. The receiving core is of a very high standard, and with the expectation on the young Ceedee Lamb to turn it up a notch further this year, things could be very exciting offensively for Dallas. No excuses now, Dak has his contract, a strong group of talent around him, and if all healthy, the offensive line should be better this year too, although still a slight concern. I’m routing for Dak Prescott this season, I think he’s going to be great, and he’s a fantasy selection for sure!
The Rookie To Watch
The obvious choice here would be Micah Parsons. Parsons is going to come into that defence, with an already stacked linebacker room, and reshape the way they play defence. The run stuffing mauler gives them some serious speed, and a great compliment to Jaylon Smith in the middle of the D. Look for the Cowboys to be sending him through the middle to blow up plays regularly, and with the speed he possesses, he’ll be steaming round the edges to destroy run plays as well. Micah Parsons can run stride for stride with every running back in the league, and you’ll find him tracking you all the way to the sideline, where you’ll run out of room.
That being said, he is not my rookie to watch. Jabril Cox, who was drafted in the 4th round out of LSU, slipped way further than he should have. The reason for that is likely his level of contribution in the run game, but his coverage skills and tracking down the field are second to none for a rookie linebacker. The thing is, the Cowboys don’t need more run stuffing linebackers. With Keanu Neal converting from a safety, and a core of Micah Parsons, Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch, they’re set for guys who can blow up a play against the run. What this then allows Jabril Cox to do is sit back in coverage and use his tall frame and athleticism to cause problems for quarterbacks. I really believe Cox can excel in this defence and there’s a real opportunity for him to get snaps from day 1.
Cox featured in our ‘Day two steals of the draft’ article.. and the Cowboys actually managed to land him early on day 3. He’s been labelled steal of the draft for numerous reasons, so keep an eye on this man! He started his college career at North Dakota State, and dominated so heavily that he transferred to give himself more of a challenge in the SEC with the Tigers.
The New Kid On The Block
I really like the recent signing of Malik Hooker for the Cowboys, mainly because the secondary was an urgent need this off season. Hooker had visited numerous teams and not yet landed on a roster, but the Cowboys pick him up on a team friendly contract and give him a chance to rebuild his career in Dallas.
Hooker comes with very little risk for the Cowboys, but tremendous upside. His injury history is not great, and he’s struggled to stay on the field since being drafted in the first round by the Colts back in 2017. Hooker tore his achilles in week 3 of the 2020 season, and that spelled the end of his time in Indy.
That being said, he’s still only 25 years old, and has shown flashes of what he can do when he is healthy. In a similar sense to Keanu Neal, when healthy, he’s a talented guy to have in your secondary, and it seems the Cowboys are willing to take flyers on these guys on cheap contracts, in an effort to rebuild their defensive side of the ball.
The upside on this signing for the Cowboys is really speaking to me. Hooker had 7 interceptions in his first three seasons, with his best year coming in 2018, when he managed to stay healthy for the whole season. The roaming free safety could easily settle as the starter for Dallas, and there’s every opportunity for him to do so.
The Up & Comer
Trevon Diggs is my choice here, and here’s why. The Cowboys obviously trust the young Alabama alumni to take over as CB1 in their defence. Allowing Awuzie to leave, as well as Byron Jones making an exit the year before, resulted in the secondary in Dallas needing a total turnaround. Now Diggs won’t have been assisted last season by the fact he was playing corner with majority back ups. He was thrown in the deep end week 1, on a poor defence, and things won’t have got any easier for him when opposite corner Chidobe Awuzie went down. Now with the Bengals, Awuzie has gone, and Diggs has a role to step into and shine in.
He started the season horribly, that’s worth noting, but as the season progressed he got better, and settled down a little. Diggs managed two picks in the same game against the Eagles in week 8, grabbed another against them later in the season in week 16. No he wasn’t perfect, but he’s built to sustain a career in the league. he’s 6’2, long, and can lay a hit when he needs to, plus if his work ethic is anything like his brothers, I’d imagine he’s going to be a lot better this season. The Cowboys will need him to be if the defence is going to hold up.
Record Prediction: 11-6
Yup. You heard me. The only reason the Cowboys weren’t a playoff team last year was the injury to Dak Prescott and the woeful defence. Dak is back, and on huge money, and should be more motivated than ever now that the Cowboys have made a commitment to him. He can just relax and ball now. And the defence? Well they should be miles better. Not only have they added the likes of Micah Parsons, Jabril Cox, Keanu Neal, Malik Hooker, Damontae Kazee, and rookie corner Kelvin Joseph in round two, but Dan Quinn stepping in as the defensive coordinator should really tighten things up. I know Atlanta were poor last year, but Quinn gets a fresh start and will be focusing on the defence alone. Let’s not forget the Seahawks allowed the least points in the NFL when Quinn was the DC up there, and they went on to win the Super Bowl that year… he’s not been a defensive coordinator since that season!
My concern is the pass rush, and how well this secondary will gel. It might take a couple of weeks for them to settle, but the Cowboys could easily run this division this year. They have the best offence in the NFC East, and if they can keep Washington’s defence at bay long enough for Dak to do his thing, they can take it.
I feel like this year it’s time for all the pieces the Cowboys have been building to come together and succeed. Ceedee Lamb is set to have a big year, they drafted well this year too, adding key pieces in key areas, particularly on defence.
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