All the hysteria from the NFL Draft is over. For the most part, all of the good meat from NFL free agency has been plucked off the bone. Despite that, this is no time to crawl in a hole as if there aren’t things going on that deserve our attention. The NFL is a 365 day business and front offices are still scrambling around looking for ways to improve their roster. What holes still need to be filled? Are there any trades that need to be made to bolster a certain position? With training camp only six weeks away, what do teams need to do in order to get themselves ready for the 2018 season?
Well, Bleacher Report recently delved into each team’s to-do list and this is what they came up with for the Cowboys:
Identify top receiving targets
Find a starting tight end
Get Dak Prescott back on track
Keep Ezekiel Elliott healthy
Let’s take a look at each of these items and determine what still needs to be done in Dallas.
1. Identify top receiving targets
It’s no secret that the Cowboys completely blew up their wide receiver position group this offseason. Dez Bryant, Ryan Switzer, and Brice Butler are no longer with the team. Terrance William’s role is now in question after drunken shenanigans got him arrested. With a couple rookie draft picks combined with a couple new free agents, the receiver group looks a lot different now.
There seems to be a growing narrative that the Cowboys have a whole lot of nothing at wide receiver now. More specifically, they are lacking a legit “go-to” guy they once had in Dez Bryant. Well, that’s true. There isn’t a player on this roster who can step in and perform like Bryant used to, at least like 2014 Bryant. It should be noted that last season that Bryant wasn’t performing like he used to. Prescott certainly tried to get him the ball, but the results were disappointing. Dez had 133 targets, but only caught 69 passes. While it’s unreasonable to think they can just replicate “old Dez” production, it’s not unreasonable to think they can improve upon “2017 Dez” production.
It’s not critical to identify a true #1 WR. Let the defense figure that one out when they decide where their top corner should line up. For Dallas, just throw out Allen Hurns, Cole Beasley, and Michael Gallup and let Dak go to work. On any given week, any one of these guys could end up being the team’s top WR. It’s not about an individual player, it’s about the team and the Cowboys got a good group to be excited about.
2. Find a starting tight end
If you think singling out a top WR is hard, it gets much murkier at the tight end position. If you told 10 different people to rank the tight ends, you’d find such a large disparity of combinations. Some peoples #1 guy would be others #4. The reason for this is twofold - first, there are no standouts from this group. They all have some type of warts. There isn’t a single player from this group that was drafted within the first 130 picks of their respective drafts. A couple of them were drafted after 200 players were taken from the board, and one of them wasn’t drafted at all. While that’s the bad news, the second reason these guys are clumped together is that they’re all decent. They all bring something to the table. For example:
- Geoff Swaim is an excellent blocker and knows the system.
- Rico Gathers is match-up nightmare and has great athleticism.
- Dalton Schultz has more balance, but was primarily used as a blocker.
- Blake Jarwin has more balance, but was primarily used as a pass-catcher.
So, which one of these players should be the Cowboys starting tight end? The team is still trying to push these guys to develop their weaknesses so they can move closer to becoming a more complete tight end. Which player can get there first?
Being a reliable in-line blocker is crucial for the Cowboys type of offense. This gives the edge to Swaim and Schultz. The veteran Swaim is the safe pick and should be the most reliable player to plug into the offense and go. The most unpredictable player is Rico. If he cannot pick up on his blocking assignments and understand the mental nuances of the position, then he becomes a liability for the offense.
The Cowboys are likely to use a committee approach to do what they need to do. If they’re in short-yardage situation, they can go with their strong blockers. If they need a red zone target, they can roll with Rico.
3. Get Dak Prescott back on track
Some people aren’t worried about this one as they are a big believer in their young quarterback. Others, however, aren’t so sure. When you’re talking about the most important position on the team, it’s definitely a big deal and his performance weighs heavily on the teams ability to be successful. The sputtering of the offense last season (they had five games where they scored 12 points or less) has people wondering if more struggles like this are coming or if it was just a combination of factors that have since been corrected.
So many new things are in place for him this season. The wide receiver group is now filled with several guys who offer a lit bit of everything. Not only that, but the Cowboys should have their All Pro running back for a full slate of games. Defenses are now going to have to worry about #21 again and that will take some pressure off of Prescott. While the team has done a good job providing an assortment of weapons around Dak, the biggest reason for optimism is the increased level of protection of Prescott’s blind spot. The offensive line has been revamped and now has five quality starters, plus a solid insurance policy at swing tackle. And the importance of quality play from that left tackle position cannot be overstated.
Cowboys offense in 2017 with Tyron Smith = 28.5 pts/game (ranked 4th)— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) June 3, 2018
Cowboys offense in 2017 without Tyron Smith = 8.0 pts/game (ranked last)
Poor chemistry with Dez, no Zeke...those things hurt, but there is no greater Dak-friendly piece than your All Pro left tackle. pic.twitter.com/KxIbDON6DK
If Prescott was struggling under normal conditions, there would be a bigger reason to hold our breath as we wait to see if he’s truly the right guy for the job. But he wasn’t struggling under normal conditions. Dak does very well in this offense when he has protection. Some might say that Prescott lacks that superstar ability to carry a team when adversity strikes. Okay. I’m not going to debate that one. But you can make the same point about Troy Aikman and he’s a Hall of Fame quarterback with three Super Bowl rings. And let’s not forget that the closest Tony Romo came to an MVP season was in 2014 where he had the fewest attempts per game of his career. You need other things working around you to be successful.
The Cowboys don’t need Dak to win league MVP and run amok over the league with some ridiculous passing stats. They just need the team to win and Prescott has proven he can lead that ship.
4. Keep Ezekiel Elliott healthy
Zeke has never missed a game due to injury. I don’t even remember him ever coming out of the game due to being nicked up. Elliott is only 22-years-old and is as healthy as an ox. With 228 pounds of bulk, a low center of gravity, and the type of toughness you want in a football player, Zeke has got a lot of things going for him in terms of durability. He has an offensive line that blocks well so defenses aren’t getting free shots at him. In fact, if there is a collision, it’s usually initiated by Elliott.
Despite having the ideal build for the job, Elliott gets a good dose of work and that could catch up with him if the team overextends him. The Cowboys continue to keep some good options on the shelf to give Elliott a breather. During the first two years of his career, he’s been backed up with two 1,000+ yards rushers in Alfred Morris and Darren McFadden. Both of those guys are gone, but the Cowboys drafted a rookie in Bo Scarbrough (who can hand out some punishment of his own) as well as traded for a gadget back in Tavon Austin (who is supposedly going to be incorporated into the offense). The team appears to have a plan in place where the offense can beat their opponents in several different ways without having to run Zeke into the ground.
All four of these things are very doable. What do you think should be on the team’s “to-do” list for the rest of the offseason?