A couple of weeks ago, NFL.com's Bucky Brooks ranked the Top 10 rosters in the NFL based on talent. In that post the Dallas Cowboys were number ten. This is in line with what many NFL observers believe, the Cowboys have the talent to be serious contenders in 2016 and that the 2015 season was an anomaly, a result of injuries to their two important cogs, Tony Romo and Dez Bryant. Of course talent isn't the only factor in a team's success. Coaching, chemistry, injuries and plain old luck can have a lot to do with a team's fortunes, but without talent none of the rest matters. It is the foundation for building a successful NFL team.
So it's nice to see a second ranking where the Cowboys come out in the top half of the league in terms of talent on the roster. Pro Football Focus has released their talent rankings and while the Cowboys don't make the Top 10, they do come in at number twelve.
12. Dallas Cowboys
Top five players: OT Tyron Smith, OG Zack Martin, OC Travis Frederick, LB Sean Lee, QB Tony Romo
Starters who should be upgraded: LB Anthony Hitchens, CB Morris Claiborne
In the opposite trend to most NFL teams, the Cowboys have no worries along the offensive line, boasting all-pros in multiple positions. La'el Collins had several highlight-reel pancake blocks as a rookie, but he was only average overall. If Collins develops and irons out those negatives, he could quickly become another all-pro.
There are significant holes elsewhere, however, especially at cornerback where former first-round pick Claiborne appears likely to start again despite four straight seasons of negative PFF grading and no year in which he allowed lower than 61.5 percent of targets sent his way to be caught. Depth remains an issue on the defensive front, as the Cowboys let Greg Hardy walk this offseason, while DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory are facing four-game suspensions to start the season.
One glaring item to note based on the PFF blurb above. Dez Bryant is not listed as one of their top five players on the roster. Is this just because of a down 2015 because of injury? Maybe, but wouldn't that also affect Tony Romo? I get that everybody loves the Cowboys offensive line, and the Smith/Martin/Frederick trio is constantly hailed as among the best the NFL has to offer. But PFF seems to be especially noted for praising the season that Sean Lee had in 2015. While the rest of the team was falling apart, Lee had one of his better years and remained relatively injury-free. Still, any mention of the Cowboys top five players without Dez Bryant will raise eyebrows.
And just like in Brook's analysis from a few weeks ago, a rival NFC East team jumps the Cowboys in the rankings. In Brooks' view, the New York Giants were the number nine roster compared to the Cowboys' number ten. In PFF's roster rankings, the Philadelphia Eagles ranked number five! Yes, that is fifth overall. Following the Patriots, Packers, Panthers and Steelers are the Eagles. Make of that what you will.
Washington is #21 and the New York Giants are #25 in the PFF rankings. Here is a summary of how they reached their conclusions.
To determine the rankings, we took the past two years of PFF data and, giving the 2015 season more weight, averaged out the grades for each roster. Then we added a closer evaluation for added context, which allowed us, for example, to reward teams that have an excellent quarterback situation but a relative hole along the defensive line when it came to run defense.