Rankings of the NFL teams are always pretty much just a way to generate some viewers, and that is especially true at this time of year. What you find out is less about the teams than about what various writers think about them. As Dallas Cowboys fans, we tend to get irate when we think our favorite team is being dissed, and crow triumphantly when the ratings say good things.
ESPN does one of these that is a little different (it is behind their paywall for those that have access). Rather than just try to determine how the teams rank this year, the take a longer view.
To project which NFL franchises are in the best shape for the next three seasons, we asked our panel of experts -- John Clayton, Louis Riddick and Mike Sando -- to rate each team on a scale of 0-100 in five categories: roster (excluding quarterback), quarterback, draft, front office and coaching.
After averaging the results from the panelists, each of the five categories was weighted to create the overall score -- roster (30 percent), quarterback (20 percent), draft (15 percent), front office (15 percent) and coaching (20 percent). The result is a comprehensive rankings based on how well each team is positioned for the future.
Seeing John Clayton, who is known to have a dim view of Tony Romo, as part of the panel might make you cringe a bit. But as it turns out, the Cowboys fare pretty well overall.
6. Dallas Cowboys
NFC East future rank: 1st
Overall score: 76.9
This is a significant jump from the ranking Dallas had using the same methodology last year, when they were a pretty dismal 28th overall.
The overview: The Cowboys edged the Vikings for the largest year-over-year rise in overall ranking, improving 22 spots. Dallas jumped from 29th to seventh in non-QB roster, 28th to 10th in drafting, 30th to 10th in front office and 32nd to 13th in coaching. Dallas has overhauled its formula, with the most significant move being Stephen Jones taking charge in the front office. The Cowboys have made low-risk selections in the draft to solidify their offensive line, avoiding any temptation to make a Johnny Manziel-type selection. On the sideline, Jason Garrett and the offensive staff smartly shifted toward a run-oriented scheme, while Rod Marinelli maximized less-than-stellar defensive talent. --Mike Sando
Here are the scores for this year and 2014 in table form:
That sounds pretty great, right? Dallas jumped up the list more than any other team.
Of course, that also points out the problem here. At this time last year, the considered opinions of the analysts came up with a consensus that the Cowboys were going to be one of the worst teams in the league, and the dregs of the NFC East. Now, they are one of the top teams, with only the Green Bay Packers and the Seattle Seahawks (this year's version of the usual suspects) rated higher than them in the NFC. The grades jumped up tremendously in all categories. And yet the quarterback, front office and coaching are essentially unchanged since those prior ratings, and the draft process has been consistent. Obviously, the grades were completely wrong last year. Instead of being a cellar dweller in 2014, the Cowboys jumped into the top ranks. This evaluation may claim to try to determine the health of the franchises in the future, but clearly they are looking back at last year to come up with their suddenly robust numbers for Dallas. And there is no sense of apology in the write up, even though you would think they might acknowledge just how far off their ranking for the Cowboys was last year.
That marvelously clear-sighted thing called hindsight reveals that having the Cowboys ranked 28th in the league for their future prospects was just a teensy bit low. I recall when that article came out, and thinking that the writers at ESPN just did not see the same things about the team that I saw. In particular, they saw the team headed down (it had gone 8-8 three years in a row, so they had to be buying into the idea that the record was going to be worse), where I, and many here, saw a solid foundation in place for the future. That foundation is still there, and now the brain trust at ESPN has caught up with us. Dallas is a team on the rise.
Or we are placing too much faith in this just because it supports our own beliefs? If the performance of this exercise was so poor last year, will it be any better this time? They did get stay consistent with some of their grades. The Packers and Seahawks just swapped positions at the very top, which is hard to criticize.
The truth is that this is just opinion, and it is clear that the experts in Bristol were just as fooled by the inaccurate memes in 2014 as the rest of the NFL world. Now people realize that the Cowboys have improved, and no one is going to be surprised by them. It is nice to see the team getting a measure of respect that it did not last year, but that is all this really is.
It just is a bit gratifying to see some of the doubters having to change their tune.