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ESPN future power rankings: Where do current Dallas Cowboys fit into the picture?

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The future is not so bright that we have to wear shades when it comes to the Cowboys and ESPN.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys-OTA Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

There was a time, say after the 2016 season, when the Cowboys were seen as a team of the future, a franchise that was going to challenge for dominance in the NFL. Dallas had gone 13-3, and Dak Prescott along with Ezekiel Elliott were tabbed as future stars. Basically, the Cowboys were on the right track.

Fast forward to this offseason. The Cowboys are coming off a 9-7 non-playoff season, Dak Prescott had a rough second half of the season, Dez Bryant and Jason Witten are no longer on the roster - and the view of the Cowboys has decidedly shifted.

ESPN runs an annual future Power Rankings article where teams are ranked in terms of their future for the next three years. They recently released their 2018 rankings and the Cowboys are now 17th in the league. This is a big dropoff from the 2017 offseason when they ranked sixth, but ESPN is following an established pattern:

In 2014 (after an 8-8 season the previous year), the Cowboys ranked 28th.

In 2015 (coming off a 12-4 season), they jumped to 6th overall.

In 2016 (after a 4-12 season), they plummeted to 26th.

In 2017 (coming off a 13-3 season), the team rocketed up to 6th overall again.

Teams are ranked in five categories - overall roster, quarterback, coaching, draft, and front office. The Cowboys ranked 11th in overall roster and 12th in quarterback, which aren’t bad rankings. Earlier this offseason Pro Football Focus ranked the roster eighth overall. In terms of the draft ESPN ranked them 13th, which seems a little low given their recent successes, and the front office got a ranking of 16th. Where the Cowboys really get hammered in the rankings is in coaching, where the Cowboys rank 26th. Ouch!

Here is what ESPN had to say:

Why they’re here: The recipe for Dallas’ success is to mimic its 2016 season: Dominate with an All-Pro offensive line and running game, mitigating the number of plays a less-talented defense has to play. Some questions arose from Dak Prescott’s uneven sophomore season, but we collectively believe in the player. A coach is judged by his wins and losses: Jason Garrett has led the Cowboys to three winning seasons and just one playoff victory in seven full years. -- Yates

The worry about Garrett can be justified. The Cowboys have not succeeded at the level that would be hoped during Garrett’s time, and it’s only magnified by the unbelievably quick turnaround Doug Pederson pulled off in Philadelphia. Garrett is certainly under a lot of pressure to perform this year.

More from ESPN:

Biggest worry: Production along the defensive line worried me in 2017, because I didn’t trust DeMarcus Lawrence’s ability to be consistent. He delivered a career year in terms of tackles, sacks and QB hits, but Dallas is still reluctant to commit to him long term. Offensively, I don’t believe the Cowboys have the firepower on the perimeter at wide receiver and tight end that will allow Prescott to shine as brightly as they need him to. Lastly, is this coaching staff good enough to make up for some of the holes in the roster? I don’t see that as being the case. -- Riddick

Chalk this up to everyone has an opinion. The Cowboys defensive line seems to be trending up, and there is a belief among some that the Cowboys will be a better passing team without Dez Bryant on the roster. We’ll see what happens this season.

One more opinion:

What could change for the better: The Cowboys can exceed our expectations to the extent Prescott exceeds our expectations. We ranked the Cowboys’ quarterback outlook 12th in the league, which indicates that we think Prescott is good. Can the third-year quarterback be better than good? Can he lift up his teammates, or is it still more the other way around? Prescott taking the next step is the clearest way for Dallas to climb. -- Sando

Fair enough. The Cowboys need a very good Prescott if they are going to succeed at the level they hope to, but that’s a given. Any QB in the league will need to perform at a high level for their team to reach the playoffs and further. Nothing new there. Given Prescott’s shaky second-half of 2018, he has something to prove.

But there is hope yet for the Cowboys: last year, ESPN ranked the Eagles 19th in their Future Power Rankings. We know how that turned out. Maybe we’ll see something similar this year.

What do you think of the rankings?