What if you found out the Dallas Cowboys had the eighth-best roster in the NFL? That’s exactly what Pro Football Focus is proposing. Let’s quickly dispense with the caveat that PFF rankings are all in the eye of the beholder. If they support your argument, they’re golden. If they support the counter-argument, they’re trash. So your mileage may vary.
Anyway, with all the talk of the Cowboys losing Dez Bryant and Jason Witten, and their youth up and down the roster, you would probably expect the Cowboys roster to rank somewhere in the teens at best. PFF would disagree.
To give you some context, let’s see who ranks above the Cowboys in the pecking order. Philadelphia is first, and coming off a Super Bowl win that would be expected. Then immediately things go not as planned. The Falcons rank second, the Saints are third, then you find the AFC juggernaut Patriots at fourth. Maybe PFF is saying that it’s Bill Belichick’s coaching and Tom Brady’s brilliance that keeps them at the top of the heap year after year.
Let’s take a look at what PFF had to say about the Cowboys.
Biggest strength: Center Travis Frederick continued last season right where he left off in 2016 and is well on his way to establishing himself as one of the greats at the position. Frederick allowed just 12 pressures from his 555 pass-blocking snaps and has now gone three straight seasons without allowing a sack.
Biggest weakness: While the team’s biggest strength is on the offensive line, its weakness lies on the opposite side of the trenches. Entering his third year, defensive tackle Maliek Collins has yet to register a grade above 46.8 and has struggled against the run, scraping together just 15 stops from his 471 run-defense snaps over the past two years.
By the numbers: In 2017, no player embodied the term “breakout” more than Dallas edge defender DeMarcus Lawrence, who ended the year with an elite grade of 94.1 -- the third-best mark among edge defenders. Lawrence put together a spectacular campaign, producing 79 total pressures, which was second to only Von Miller (83), and throughout the season, he managed to produce pressure on a whopping 18.6 percent of his pass-rushing snaps, which ranked first among all edge rushers.
Before we proceed, we should note that these rankings are based on the 2017 season. This greatly affects things. For example, Tyron Smith‘s 79.7 rankings, which just barely keeps him in the “Average” category. We all know that Smith is anything but average, but his 2017 season wasn’t his best with injuries taking their toll.
The Cowboys have three players ranked as “Poor” in their projected starting lineup - Terrance Williams, La’el Collins, and Maliek Collins. This is where you can get into the debate about PFF’s rankings. Williams is probably the least controversial here, he’s had an inconsistent career in Dallas, and his recent injury and off-the-field incident has many wondering if he’ll continue to start or even remain with the team.
The grade of La’el Collins seems harsh. Our own Connor Livesay chronicled how Collins improved as the season wore on and he had to battle some really tough defensive linemen along the way. Poor seems low, average seems right. The grade on the Collins, Maliek Collins, is also a bit of a shocker. Of course he had to play out of position for most of 2017 and wasn’t really in a position to show off his best attribute, his quickness for a man his size.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Cowboys have three elite starters - Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, and DeMarcus Lawrence. Hard to argue with any of those three. Sean Lee just missed the “Elite” cut and Ezekiel Elliott was listed firmly in the middle of the “Good/High Quality” category (as was Dak Prescott). How Zeke is anything but elite is beyond me.
But we won’t trash the PFF rankings totally because of the Zeke ranking, after all, as I said at the top of the article, if the PFF rankings support your argument, their golden. And they did rank Washington’s roster as #21, and New York’s at #28. That sounds about right to me!