In late 2019, NFL Network analysts Bucky Brooks and Daniel Jeremiah drafted a ‘checklist’ of sorts, outlining the components they deem necessary for a true championship-contending NFL roster.
Brooks and Jeremiah’s criteria lined up pretty nicely with the teams who were actually still in the thick of things in January.
The necessary components in the eyes of Brooks and Jeremiah go as follows.
- Franchise quarterback
- 3 offensive playmakers
- 3 quality offensive linemen
- 2 viable pass rushers
- 3 defensive playmakers
So, just how many components can the Cowboys check off on the “Contender Blueprint” checklist?
Franchise Quarterback: CHECK
We aren’t still doing this “prove it” thing with our guy Dakota are we? The guy isn’t perfect, but who is? What more do you need to see? The Cowboys QB just turned in the 2nd best full-season quarterbacking performance of the century for the franchise. Prescott has ascended rapidly and consistently since a bit of a sophomore slump in 2017.
Dak Prescott was a top 10 NFL quarterback by any and all quantifiable measures, last season, and most projections for 2020 have him understandably trending upward. CBS Sports ranked the Cowboys signal-caller as the 5th best QB in the league as it pertains to the upcoming season, which was quite the culture shock for Dak detractors.
The definition of “Franchise QB” extends so far even beyond on-field performance. We all know very well that Dak Prescott’s leadership is unquestioned in the Cowboys’ locker room, and that’s really been the case day one. He stands tall at the podium win or lose, shields the organization selflessly on social issues. A true franchise QB. The Cowboys have this component covered.
3 Offensive Playmakers: CHECK
Amari Cooper undoubtedly counts as a playmaker. Even in a hobbled, inconsistent 2019, Cooper still managed to squeeze out almost 1,200 receiving yards. The home and road splits are troubling, but opposing defenses still view Cooper as Dallas’ most dangerous weapon.
Though his designation is WR2, when you look closely it’s pretty difficult to come away viewing Michael Gallup as anything less than a ‘1b’ to Cooper’s ‘1a.’ Gallup really emerged and tallied over 1,100 receiving yards on 13 fewer receptions than Cooper. Gallup’s gaudy 16.8 yards per catch alone should classify him as a playmaker.
How much faith do we have in CeeDee Lamb? Do we feel comfortable assuming he will be a playmaker before his toes first touch NFL grass?
The easiest way I could come up with to frame this is this: Randall Cobb’s 2019, would have probably classified him as a playmaker. 55 receptions, 828 yards, 3 TD. I think overall CeeDee can match or beat that line. Maybe a few fewer receptions, but more TDs and a few bigger plays. However it shakes out, the total value of CeeDee Lamb’s rookie campaign should land somewhere in the neighborhood of 2019 Randall Cobb.
If you don’t want to count CeeDee into the playmaker’s group, Ezekiel Elliott is still employed by the franchise. We gripe about the frequency and timing of his use, but the sheer volume of his production (1,777 total yards, 14 TDS) classifies the soon to be 5th year back as a playmaker. With Jason Witten no longer acting as stop-sticks to his production, Blake Jarwin could very well fit this billing by season’s end. The Cowboys are good here.
3 Quality Offensive Linemen: CHECK
The Cowboys pretty easily have this one in hand. LT Tyron Smith’s back occasionally goes on the fritz, but he is still a top-level NFL OT. Smith turns 30 before the season ends, but has shown no signs of actual decline other than his troublesome nagging injuries. RG
Zack Martin has been an All-Pro since he got off the boat and hasn’t exhibited the slightest sign of trending backward. Still, probably within the top 3 at his position league-wide, Martin may actually be the best football player on the Dallas Cowboys.
La’el Collins, after finally settling in at RT and finding his feet has really blossomed into one of the league’s finest players at his position. Collins heads into the upcoming season at 27 years of age, and could realistically ascend even higher.
The Cowboys easily check the boxes on this qualification.
2 Viable Pass Rushers: FAIL
The Cowboys have one great pass rusher, who’s stat line did not reflect his skill level in 2019. DeMarcus Lawrence still racked up a nice number of pressures and ranked out highly in pass rush win rate, but 5 sacks simply do not cut it. DeMarcus Lawrence may not have even qualified as a “viable pass rusher” in 2019, but we know him well enough to comfortably depend on him being that type of player in 2020.
Lawrence’s pass rush dance partner Robert Quinn departed this offseason for a hefty bag from Chicago, and therein lies the big question mark. The group the Cowboys have duct-taped together to take over for Quinn is uninspiring, to say the least. Randy Gregory and Aldon Smith who have each been away from the game a long time, rookie Bradlee Anae, and a bunch of guys most fans didn’t even know was on the team the past few years. Someone has to emerge from this group for the Cowboys to field a formidable defense, let alone meet the “Contender Blueprint” criteria.
Technically, interior pass rushers would qualify too here, but I don’t think anyone is counting on some anomalous year from an aging Gerald McCoy. The Cowboys fall short of the mark here.
The cure to this ailment is quite simple. Premium ends Jadeveon Clowney and Everson Griffen still doesn’t have any plans at the moment, and either would probably love to come over if an invitation was extended.
3 Defensive Playmakers: FAIL
A big, resounding nope. Not even close. Even if you redundantly label DeMarcus Lawrence as a playmaker, who the heck is number 2? When Leighton Vander Esch is healthy, maybe he fits into this category, but that’s a bit of a stretch. No game-changers in the secondary. Yes, Jourdan Lewis seems to find the football, but he hasn’t done it as a full-time player, and there is no guarantee he gets that shot.
Maybe with the schematic shift, someone new emerges. Until someone does though, it’s pretty humbling to comb over the Cowboys roster and realize that the Cowboys defense really doesn’t have a clear-cut playmaker. Honestly, performing this exercise and realizing the sheer dearth of playmaking ability on the Cowboys defense makes me understand the desire others have to see that long-rumored Jamal Adams trade to finally come to fruition.
So what have we learned about the Cowboys from this “Contender Blueprint” exercise
Not a lot.
We have pretty much confirmed the general consensus. The Cowboys’ offense is ready for war, and the defense is a work in progress.
The Cowboys are very much in condition to contend, but a little schematic help, and maybe a key roster move or two would sure improve the team’s chances.
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