Believe it or not, Dallas Cowboys training camp is right around the corner! Before you know it, the team will be in pads out in Oxnard preparing for the 2019 season. If that does not get you pumped up, I don’t know what will.
As we prepare ourselves for the madness of training camp, The Draft Network’s Jordan Reid posed an interesting question that has us thinking: who are the Jenga pieces on your team’s roster?
Fun Discussion: For your team, who are the 3 Jenga pieces on the roster?— Jordan Reid (@JReidNFL) July 11, 2019
The ones you consider foundational players or the outlook of things would massively change without them on the team.
As we wrote about earlier in the week, the Dallas Cowboys have one of the elite young core fives across the National Football League. With young talent galore, there are several options to choose from when discussing foundational players on the roster that could make or break the upcoming season.
Last year, our own RJ Ochoa wrote on who he believes are the five biggest Jenga pieces entering the 2018 season for Dallas. Here are the five (or six) who he came up with:
- Tyron Smith
- Sean Lee
- Ezekiel Elliott
- DeMarcus Lawrence
- Travis Frederick/Zack Martin
Obviously, things have changed greatly in a year. Travis Frederick missed the entire 2019 season due to an autoimmune disease and, while the Cowboys would prefer to have its All-Pro center back in the fold, Joe Looney filled in pretty well during the 11-win campaign.
Elsewhere, it would be extremely difficult to argue for Sean Lee. For years, we saw how important and valuable Lee was to this team, as the defense would fall apart without its leader on the field; however, 2018 was a different story. Rookie Leighton Vander Esch and young phenom Jaylon Smith had outstanding seasons combining for 261 tackles. In fact, their seasons were so impressive, that Lee has been relegated to the team’s third backer entering the season. Imagine somebody telling you that a year ago.
With players breaking out, new additions to the roster, and a handful of other factors, here is my personal list of the five biggest Jenga pieces for the 2019 Dallas Cowboys.
RJ didn’t include Prescott on his list because he ruled out the quarterback given that he is far and away the foundational piece for any team. We’ve decided were going to include him on this list.
Prescott has had his ups and downs during his three-year career to this point, but the Cowboys quarterback ended the second half of last season a strong note. Over the final nine games he had 2,368 yards, 14 touchdowns, just four interceptions, an average of 7.71 yards per throw, and seven wins.
With the hope that Kellen Moore will take this offense to the next level — and a whole offseason with Amari Cooper — there is some expectation that Prescott will take the next step in his development, which should excite Cowboys fans.
Prescott is the probably the most important player on the entire roster. If the Cowboys are going to make the playoffs in consecutive seasons — and potentially go back-to-back as champs in the NFC East — he will be the biggest reason why.
Prescott’s talent, combined with the fact there is nobody proven behind him, gives him the top spot.
Tyron Smith is one of the elite offensive linemen in football. His ability to protect the quarterback and open up lanes for the running back at a high level makes him a special talent that is undoubtedly crucial to the success of this team.
Smith, 28, is aging and has been banged up at times during the past few seasons, but there is no denying how great he is. There is clear difference when 77 is not anchoring the left side, as the offense takes a step back.
Like Prescott, if the Cowboys are going to be playing playoff football, Tyron Smith needs to be available.
In general, you can argue how important a wide receiver is in the grand scheme of things. They do not touch the ball for the majority of a game and are certainly not as impactful as the quarterback or, in some cases, the running back.
However, it is crystal clear just how important the addition of Amari Cooper was to this Cowboys offense in 2018. The unit was struggling mightily to move the football and get into the end zone prior to the move for Cooper. The offense averaged just 16 points per game in six of the first seven games prior to the move for Coop.
Cooper’s two big games are well-documented here at BTB, eight catches on nine targets for 180 yards and a pair of touchdowns against Washington on Thanksgiving and 10 grabs on 13 throws for 213 yards and three scores versus Philadelphia to seal the division. Cooper’s presence was more than that, though — he gave Prescott a legitimate target to go to on third down and touchdown situations and he forced defenses to think twice about stacking the box.
Amari Cooper is a huge factor in how good the Cowboys will be in 2019.
Tank received his well-deserved pay day this offseason after accounting for 64 tackles, 15 TFLs, 10.5 sacks, and 23 QB hits during the 2018 campaign. Lawrence, as we all know, has developed into a terror for opposing offenses week in and week out.
The Cowboys’ defense has developed into one of the best across the league, and their star pass rusher is a huge reason why. Lawrence is the kind of player that can impact the game in ways other than just bringing the quarterback down to the turf — although, we all know that is his favorite thing to do.
Without Lawrence in the fold, the Cowboys would lose its best pass rusher, top defensive player, and a leader both on and off the field. Robert Quinn is a nice add to this defense and Tyrone Crawford is a solid talent on the defensive line, but the defense would take a big step backwards without Tank.
Ezekiel Elliott/Zack Martin
Okay, so I kind of cheated here, but both of these guys are both deserving. If you take Prescott out of the equation (because quarterback), then both are clear cut locks. I would not be opposed to hearing an argument of having both of these guys above Amari Cooper (because receiver), for example.
Zeke is the machine that makes this offense go. The Cowboys drafted the former Ohio State star fourth overall in the 2019 NFL Draft and all that he has done is lead the league in rushing two times in three seasons, be selected first team All-Pro as a rookie, and earn a pair of Pro Bowl nods.
The concerns around Zeke stem from off the field incidents. He missed a chunk of the 2017 seasons due to his actions off the gridiron and was again in the headlines this offseason for a pushing incident in Las Vegas. If Zeke can stay out of the news, he will likely lead the NFL in rushing for a third time in his first four seasons.
As for Martin, well, he is one of the elite football players in the game. The three-time first team All-Pro selection has been nothing short of phenomenal since entering the league as has has paved the way for two different running backs to lead the NFL in rushing.
Obviously, the Cowboys would take a huge hit without their superstar guard on the field, especially when considering there is not another proven and reliable option on the roster. Connor Williams has promise, but has room to grow. The team has hopes for Connor McGovern, but the rookie has not played a snap of professional football yet. Xavier Sua’Filo has had his moments, but could the Cowboys lean on him over the course of a season?
Martin is without a doubt one of the most important players on the roster.
Some of the other writers on the BTB staff weighed in on the topic (note: the original draft of this piece was going to feature only three Jenga pieces, hence why some gave only three players).
- David Howman: Tyron Smith, Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper
- DannyPhantom: Dak Prescott, Leighton Vander Esch, Amari Cooper, DeMarcus Lawrence, Byron Jones
- Tom Ryle: Tyron Smith, Dak Prescott, Byron Jones
- Michael Strawn: Dak Prescott, DeMarcus Lawrence, Ezekiel Elliott, Travis Frederick, Amari Cooper
Who are your five, BTB?