Football fans have a love/hate relationship with Pro Football Focus. In general, we love that someone is taking the time to chart every player and play for each NFL team and derive some kind of ranking system from that. Kudos for at least trying to create a baseline for comparing players to one another. But, we certainly hate some of the inconsistencies in their process. And we especially hate when our own team seems to be unfairly judged.
Given that, let's see what PFF thinks of the Cowboys offense going into the 2016 season. They rank three position groups for each NFL team, the quarterbacks, the running backs and the receivers.
13. Dallas Cowboys
Starter: Tony Romo
Backup: Kellen Moore, Dak Prescott
Key stat: Romo had a passer rating of 27.2 against the Panthers at the time he was knocked from the game and shut down for the year.
Tony Romo is one of the good-but-not-great quarterbacks, and another that is getting up in years, having turned 36 in April. Last season was a disaster between getting injured, playing poorly, and trying to come back only to get hurt again, but he is only a year removed from genuine quality play, and the Dallas offense is set up for him to be more of a passenger than ever before. The Cowboys have the best run-blocking line in football, and drafted a potential workhorse running back in Ezekiel Elliott at No. 4 overall. This is a team that should be able to pound opponents into submission and use Romo only for surgical aerial strikes off the back of that ground game. At this point, though, durability has to be a concern, and the options behind him are not good, with a developmental rookie, Dak Prescott, and Kellen Moore waiting in the wings.
Okay, this is a little tougher than just ranking the starting quarterback. They are looking at the entire group, but they say this in the opening: Quarterback is a strange position group because the emphasis is almost entirely on the starter. This is a league where many teams don't have a starter they are happy with, never mind a backup, so the impact the second or third guy has on an overall situation has quite possibly never been so low.
Based on that, you would think Romo would keep the Cowboys QB position group a little higher in the rankings. He's beat out by guys like Matt Ryan, Andy Dalton, Derek Carr, etc. Then there is this statement - but he is only a year removed from genuine quality play. Yeah, that seems like a bit of an understatement when you consider in 2014 Romo lead the league in completion percentage, TD percentage, yards per attempt, rating, QBR, among other categories. Basically, in 2014 he was the best statistical QB in the league and finished third in the MVP race, yet he's now 13th? Come on PFF.
Assignment one: What's your take on PFF's ranking of the Cowboys QB position?
Next up, the guys who carry the rock.
10. Dallas Cowboys
Starter: Ezekiel Elliott
Backups: Darren McFadden, Alfred Morris, Lance Dunbar
Key stat: Ezekiel Elliott gained 2,039 yards after contact over his last two college seasons.
We put on our college scouting hats for this one, and slotted Ezekiel Elliott as a top-10 running back in the NFL. He ended up as our seventh-best player on our final draft board this offseason, and the top running back by some distance. With our top back from last year, Todd Gurley, conjuring the rookie season he had, we felt comfortable enough to lean on the former Ohio State back here. If Dallas had passed on the running back position in the draft, though, and it was a group again led by Darren McFadden, we could have been looking at the 32nd-ranked unit.
Yikes. Here we are thinking what an amazing stable of running backs we have, and PFF has us ranked 10th, behind such luminaries as the Panthers (Jonathan Stewart, Cameron Artis-Payne, Fozzy Whittaker), the Jaguars (T.J. Yeldon, Chris Ivory, Denard Robinson). Sure it's hard to grade when Ezekiel Elliott hasn't taken an NFL snap yet, but seriously, a group that has the highest-ranked college running back since Adrian Peterson, a guy that was fourth in the league in rushing last year, and a four-year vet who made the Pro Bowl twice is only 10th in the league? Come on PFF.
Assignment two: What's your take on PFF's ranking of the Cowboys running backs?
Finally, the guys who catch the ball.
15. Dallas Cowboys
Projected starters: WR Dez Bryant, WR Terrance Williams, WR Cole Beasley, TE Jason Witten
Key depth: WR Devin Street, WR Brice Butler, TE James Hanna, TE Gavin Escobar
Key stat: During the 2014 season, Cowboys QBs recorded an NFL passer rating of 121.2 when throwing to Dez Bryant, the fourth-best mark in the league that year.
An injury-filled 2015 season was likely not the follow-up Dez Bryant imagined after his incredible 2014 campaign. Given that 2015 was the only season since entering the league in which he has graded negatively as a receiver, there is no reason to think Bryant can't get back to the form that saw him score 16 regular-season touchdowns in 2014. At tight end, Jason Witten is another player trying to put a disappointing season behind him. 2015 brought his lowest-graded season since PFF began grading (2007) and, despite being the second-highest graded tight end in 2014, there will be some concern that, at 34 years old, he won't regain that form again.
This one I can buy a little more readily, but 15th is still way too low when you look at some of the other groups they have listed. The Cowboys could use some more depth behind Bryant and Witten. I like Cole Beasley, but last year was disappointing even though it may have been the quarterback's fault. Terrance Williams' inconsistency has always been an issue.
Assignment three: What's your take on PFF's ranking of the Cowboys receivers?
Overall, it feels like PFF is downright hatin' on the Cowboys. Maybe their rankings are skewed by 2015's disaster of a season, but the Cowboys should be looking at an offense that will contend for most points scored in 2016. But in PFF's view, we're closer to middle of the pack. Seriously?