If you stuck with me this far, you’ve made it through the rankings of 60 players. Over the course of this process, we’ve lost a Lucky here, gained a Luke there, as the dynamic of the roster has changed. Some players have moved up and some have slid down. Here is an updated rankings of players of players 11 through 70.
But now we are at the good part. With just 10 players left, let’s take a look at players 6 through 10.
Some people might think Jason Witten is ranked this high out of respect for his total body of work in a Cowboys uniform. If that was the case, he’d be much higher on the list. The stone-cold reality is that he still emerges as one of the better football players the Cowboys have on the field.
Don’t ask me how he does it. He’s not fast. He doesn’t have this amazing athleticism to go up and make ridiculous catches. When he catches a pass, it looks very standard. There is nothing special about it, except that he does it over and over and over. That’s the part that’s special.
Witten has been the team’s ultimate security blanket. When the game starts, he’s always there. When the pass is thrown, he’s always there. And when the game is on the line and you need a crucial pass reception, guess what...he’s always there.
During his 14 years in the league, Witten has only missed one game. During his rookie season, he broke his jaw that required surgery that included three plates being inserted. But as one might expect, Witten’s toughness only kept him out a single game as he played through it.
He’s had a Hall of Fame worthy career, including 10 Pro Bowl seasons. Despite the propensity of the ball always finding him, defenses still can’t seem to cover him. Witten is just a perfectionist in his footwork and route running. This means he’ll be where he needs to be and that is something quarterbacks have come to rely heavily on.
Oh yeah, he’s also a super-fantastic guy. Maybe one of the best people ever to wear the star.
Gone are the days where we are left holding our breath if a 40-something yard field goal will be good or not. In fact, those days have been gone for a while. Instead, if Bailey’s 55-yarder bounces off the bottom of the goal post, fans are in disbelief and wonder if something is wrong with him. Well, truth be told - something was wrong with him last year. Bailey had been dealing with back issues. Entering last year, he was the NFL’s most accurate kicker, but after missing five field goals, that title now belongs to Justin Tucker from the Baltimore Ravens. But for a down season, here’s what Bailey accomplished:
- He was a perfect 10 for 10 in the fourth quarter. That’s clutch.
- He’s hit all 250 of his career extra points.
- He booted a career high 57 kickoffs for touchbacks.
- Of his misses, they were of 56, 55, 52, 47, and 47 yards. He doesn’t miss gimmies.
Even when he’s not good, he’s pretty darn good. There are three things you can always count on in life...
If there is a name you are surprised to see this high, it’s probably Maliek Collins. He’s my top choice for “Breakout Player” for the Cowboys. Collins had a great rookie season and will be looking to build on his strong start. He was overshadowed by other rookie standouts like Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott, but he put together a great rookie season himself.
The Cowboys selected the Nebraska defensive tackle with the 67th pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. The draft was rich at this position, but the team was able to wait and still get a player with the traits they look for in a 3-tech DT. Collins is explosive out of his stance and exhibits great control with his body, showing strong leverage. His ability to get underneath his blockers and drive them back is one of his strengths. He also uses his hands extremely well to slap away blockers.
A couple months ago I wrote about him being the team’s best kept secret. With each new day on the field, the word will slowly get out and he’ll be a fan favorite before the season is over. He suffered a hip flexor late last month and has been proceeding cautiously in camp, but he looks healthy now and has been giving Zack Martin all he can handle.
He’s been compared to Henry Melton, who Rod Marinelli made a Pro Bowler out of in 2012 with the Chicago Bears. That season Melton finished with six sacks, 43 tackles, and two forced fumbles. During Collin’s rookie season last year, he finished with five sacks, 23 tackles, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery. These are impressive numbers for a rookie, especially over the course of just 14 starts. He’s only going to get better and can you imagine how much more special the 2016 draft haul would look if he turns out to be the real deal?
The team may have zonked out when they drafted one Nebraska pass rusher (Randy Gregory), but they landed something good with Collins.
We can now all sit back and enjoy a nice glass of lemonade as we reminiscence about the time draft pundits criticized the Cowboys for reaching for Travis Frederick with the 31st overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. It was a heavily scrutinized decision. Not only was Frederick projected as a second- or third-rounder, but people believed the team didn’t receive fair compensation for trading back that far (the Cowboys used their bonus pick to draft Terrance Williams). Now, three Pro Bowl selections later (over a four year career), the Cowboys look like geniuses for making that deal.
Nothing about Frederick’s athletic traits wows people. He ran a 5.58 40-yard dash at the combine (second slowest of all linemen). He had a sub-standard 21 reps on the bench press. On the surface, he didn’t look like a player that anyone would fight over, which is why his draft stock wasn’t very high. But as people quickly learned, there is a lot more to Frederick than what’s on the surface.
What makes Frederick so special is his understanding of the game and his ability to use his skills to maximize his effectiveness. He is a fundamentals ace. Frederick gets off the ball smoothly and can seal off the tackle before he can get into position to make a play. He is swift in his ability to pass off stunts. He comes up to the line and immediately coaches up his teammates. He diagnoses blitzes well and executes pass protection checks better than anyone in the league.
What he can do in football situations makes him appear a lot more active than what they measure at the combine.
It’s amazing how athletic Travis Frederick is when he pulls in space. Down blocks by James Hanna and Rico Gathers on DeMarcus Lawrence and Jaylon Smith were able to capture the edge. Frederick, from his center spot, opened to his right and -- almost like he was carrying the ball -- exploded around the corner to secure a block on Damien Wilson. The alley gave Ezekiel Elliott plenty of room to operate before a defender could even react to him.
When you do everything right, you don’t have to dominate people with athleticism. Frederick is a prime example of that and his discipline and intelligence has made him one of the very best centers in the league.
There are some fans that have trouble buying that Dez Bryant is one of the league’s elite receivers. He doesn’t take over a game like Julio Jones or try to catch the ball with one hand as much as fancy boy, Odell Beckham Jr. does. But that doesn’t mean he’s not one of the tougher receivers in the league to defend. One of my first articles I ever wrote over here at BTB was asking the fans what their favorite Dez Bryant play was? And looking through the choices served as a quick reminder of just how talented Bryant is.
He sometimes gets pushed aside when it comes to being mentioned with the elite receivers in the league, but that is a mistake. With the Cowboys having so many great offensive options, Dez isn’t going to pile on the volume stats. But that’s not to say he isn’t making the most of his opportunities. Bryant averaged 15.9 yards per catch, which is higher than Beckham, Antonio Brown, Michael Evans or any of the elite WRs not named Julio Jones. Since entering the league in 2010, no wide receiver has scored more touchdowns than Bryant.
Dez doesn’t have to be the center of the offense to be effective. He will lay it all out there doing whatever the team wants. At 6’2” 220 pounds, he’s all muscle and uses every bit of it in the running game. He’ll have games where he’ll spend most of his time blocking defenders so his running back can do his thing. He never complains about not getting the ball.
Bryant is a physical player. He doesn’t go down easy. The combination of size, speed, and agility allows him to get around the defender in different ways. One of my favorite plays was when he caught a pass an inch off the turf, and then drug a defender five yards for a touchdown.
While Bryant is a lot more blue collar than these other “elite” guys, that doesn’t mean he can’t dazzle you with the impossible catch. His resume is filled with remarkable catches. His ability to high point the ball and go up over multiple defenders is something he makes look easy.
A couple years ago, he had established himself as one of the very best in the league, but after two straight consecutive seasons where he’s missed time due to injury, doubt has crept in. Is he now an injury concern or was that just a coincidence? Well prior to those seasons, he’d only missed five games total over his first five years in the league, including three straight full seasons form 2012-2014.
Bryant is healthy and he’s had a great camp so far. If you’re looking for a great fantasy WR, I’d pick a dozen guys ahead of him as he’s just not a prime feature of the offense and he’s got a lot of tough individual match ups ahead of him.
But if you’re talking about reality football, Dez is one of the very best in the games.
Do you agree with these rankings? Which players should be higher and which ones am I overvaluing? Make sure to check out the previous installments of this series if you haven’t already.