On Saturday, the Dallas Cowboys will play in their first preseason game of 2016 when they visit the Los Angeles Rams. As we all start getting a glimpse of what this team can do, many questions will start being answered. I wanted to get some predictions in before it becomes evident to the rest of the world. Here are some quirky predictions for 2016.
Six of the last seven Cowboys first-round draft picks will make the Pro Bowl this season.
If some other team tried to make such a claim, you’d be inclined to think the prediction was ridiculous. And even with the knowledge that four of the last seven Cowboys first-round picks have already made the Pro Bowl, it still might seem like wishful thinking to expect two more make it. But is it really? Ezekiel Elliott and Byron Jones are going to break onto the scene this year. That’s not too hard to believe, is it? Many of us expect big things from Zeke this year. A fourth-overall talent plus the best offensive line in football equals big time numbers. If he makes the Pro Bowl, I doubt too many will be shocked.
Jones might be the more intriguing case. His athleticism is not an issue as we know he’s got outstanding measureables. The thing standing in his way is how quickly he can master the free safety position. And something tells me it won’t be very long. The coaches really put him through the ringer last season, constantly moving him as they challenged him to see what he could handle. He was exceptional at covering tight ends and showed a lot of versatility. He had a very good rookie season, but the experiment is over. It’s time to let him excel.
He passed the Cowboys’ test. But instead of placing more responsibilities on his desk – asking him to be effective in several roles – the coaching staff is letting him focus on becoming great at one: safety. His range, recognition skills and leaping ability make him a good fit in centerfield.
Jones first full year as a true free safety should produce pleasant results. When you have talent and great mental capacity to learn, it’s going to get you places. The Cowboys passed up on Eric Reid in 2013, when they decided to trade out of the 18th spot by trading with San Francisco. Reid flourished at the free safety position with 91 tackles and four interceptions, sending him to the Pro Bowl. It is not unreasonable to think Jones could have that type of season this year.
And six out of seven doesn’t even take into account Morris Claiborne. There will be no Pro Bowl talks about him regardless of how much he kills it at camp, however, it is not unreasonable to suggest that all seven of the Cowboys recent first-round draft picks could have a great season in 2016. So when the Cowboys front office tries to sell you on the idea that they’re successfully building the team through the draft, it’s perfectly okay to buy into that, because let’s face it – they are.
Darius Jackson will play so well in preseason, that some people will draft him in their fantasy leagues.
If you play fantasy football and are watering at the mouth about the opportunity to select Ezekiel Elliott, I got some good news for you – his stock will slide. Whether it is an early hamstring injury or the concern about the domestic violence accusation, there will be some dings in his armor when it comes to his outlook. But more than that, the recency bias of preseason games will cloud the perception of the Cowboys running game. Alfred Morris will look good in preseason. Whether he’s running behind the starting offensive line or running against second-string competition, he’s going to have advantages that other running backs won’t have.
Well, except Darius Jackson. He’ll have similar advantages. The Cowboys' other rookie running back will get plenty of touches in preseason. The kid from Eastern Michigan that everyone forgot about will be sending out little reminders to the league that he should have been drafted way earlier. After adding Morris in free agency and Zeke with the number-four-overall pick, the Cowboys were stacked at running back but that didn’t stop them from going after Jackson. Just like Charlie Day said in the movie Horrible Bosses when he buys all those peanuts, "You can’t pass up savings like that."
Jackson would be a deep sleeper in fantasy as it would take a few injuries for his number to be called in the regular season. But in reality football - the Cowboys got themselves a nice find.
Side note: If you do land Zeke in your fantasy draft, it will be very important to handcuff him with Morris. For fantasy, it’s not just about the talent of the player, but the situation and we all know from experience that the Cowboys running back situation is very prosperous.
The Cowboys will have a top 10 defense
I deliberately put this last in case people stopped reading when they saw it. Over the last three years the Cowboys defense has shown steady improvement. They have gone from dead last in 2013 (415 yards/game), to 21st in 2014 (361 ypg), to 16th last year (348 ypg). It’s even more impressive that they showed improvement despite having one of the worst offensive performances in the league.
The Cowboys defense continues to get better. Just look at the areas where they have improved:
The interior defensive line now has better starters and better depth.
The secondary is stronger as they’ll have all three corners, plus Jones now at safety.
The linebacker group is a big question mark, but they only have two of them on the field 70% of the time. With Sean Lee being one of them, that means they’ll only need production out of 1.3 linebackers. They should be able to find that with these options:
- Anthony "party like it's 2014" Hitchens
- Justin "I’m only good when I’m playing" Durant
- Damien "paintball warrior" Wilson
- Mark "rhymes with Gotcha" Nzeocha
They’ll find some good contributions from these candidates.
The only real issue comes from the defensive end position. DeMarcus Lawrence is demonstrating some great play so far this preseason. This is year number three and could be his breakout season. Is he capable of 35 tackles and six sacks? That’s what Greg Hardy gave the team in his 12 games of action. Tank should be a solid fixture on the edge, so it all comes down to finding other pass rushers to complement him. It’s hard to guess where that would come from, but once again there are plenty of young players who have a shot at breaking out. They just need one of those guys to come through.
Collectively this group has some real potential. They are not going to be one of those elite defenses that carries a team, but they are going to surprise some people.
What zany predictions do you want to stick a flag in before preseason games begin?