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ESPN produces their annual future rankings, and the Cowboys crack the top five

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The Cowboys break a recent pattern in ESPN future rankings.

NFL: Combine Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Every year in recent times, ESPN produces a “future power rankings” for all 32 teams. These rankings are about how a team is set up for the next three years as opposed to just the upcoming season. They are out with the 2020 edition of their future rankings and for the first time in a while, the Cowboys break a pattern.

For context, here is how they come up with the rankings.

To project which NFL franchises are in the best shape for the next three seasons, we asked our panel of experts — Jeremy Fowler, Louis Riddick, Seth Walder and Field Yates — to rate each team’s roster non-QB, quarterback, draft, front office and coaching using this scale:

100: A+ (Elite)
90: A (Great)
80: B (Very good)
70: C (Average)
60: D (Very bad)
50 and below: F (Disastrous)

After averaging the results from the panelists, each of the five categories was weighted to create the overall score — roster (30%), quarterback (20%), draft (15%), front office (15%) and coaching (20%). The result is a comprehensive ranking based on how well each team is positioned for the future.

We’ve been tracking these future power rankings since they came out, and we’ve noticed a very distinct pattern. If the Cowboys do well the previous season, their rankings go up, sometimes dramatically. If they do poorly the previous season, their rankings go down, sometimes dramatically. If they have a mediocre previous season, they get a mediocre ranking. Check it out.

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

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

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

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

In 2018 (coming off a 9-7 record) they sat at a decidedly meh 17th.

In 2019 (coming off a 10-6 record) they inch up a few spots to 14th.

Now, they are coming off the most middle of the pack record you can have, 8-8. So the pattern should hold that the Cowboys are somewhere around 16th. But this year, things have changed.

5. Dallas Cowboys

Overall score: 82.7

Overall roster (minus QB) - Score: 82.3 | NFL rank: 7
Quarterback - Score: 86.8 | NFL rank: 5
Coaching - Score: 80.3 | NFL rank: 15
Draft - Score: 84.5 | NFL rank: 1
Front office - Score: 79.5 | NFL rank: 13

Before we get into some of the reasons they ranked the Cowboys where they do, let’s address the jump from 14th last year to fifth this year, even though they had a worse record. Three categories account for much of the jump - coaching, quarterback and draft.

The Cowboys went from a 31st NFL rank in coaching to 15th. That makes it apparent that Jason Garrett didn’t have a lot of believers left. And even though Mike McCarthy has a Super Bowl victory on his record, his tail off at the end of his time in Green Bay relegates him to only a 15th ranking. Still, a big improvement for Dallas.

At quarterback, Dak Prescott elevated his ranking from 15th in 2019 to fifth this year. That’s quite a jump but goes to show how impressive of a statistical year Prescott had in 2019. The Cowboys also jump from seventh in the draft category to first this year. Guess that's the power of CeeDee Lamb.

The Cowboys dropped in two categories, non-QB roster went from fourth to seventh, and the front office dropped from eight to 13th. The non-QB roster drop is likely from Byron Jones and Robert Quinn leaving. As for the front office, maybe it’s not getting a deal done with Prescott long-term.

Here is some of what ESPN had to say.

Why they’re here: The Cowboys have been as strong as nearly any team in finding blue-chip talent, acing many draft picks to help build a top-flight nucleus. Though Dak Prescott didn’t get a new deal this offseason, if a deal is struck in the future, the Cowboys will have perhaps the best skill group in football basically all under contract long term. Couple that with an excellent offensive line, and points should come easy going forward. — Yates

Biggest worry: Will the lingering contract situation with Prescott have a negative impact on the focus and attention to detail of both QB and the team overall? Prescott seems intent on betting on himself for this season and dancing this dance again in 2021, which ultimately could lead to the Cowboys being in the market for a franchise QB in less than a year. Say it ain’t so. — Riddick

All fair with that. The Cowboys’ offensive skill positions are top-notch in the league and the offensive line is still a powerhouse. Getting a deal done with Prescott after the 2020 season is still a major priority.

Then there is the McCarthy Effect.

Top stat to know: Last season the Cowboys ranked 22nd in dropback rate when win probability was between 20% and 80%. But with new Dallas coach Mike McCarthy running the show for Green Bay in 2018, the Packers ranked fourth in the same metric, which means we can expect a heavier aerial attack for the Cowboys. For a team with a good quarterback — and especially after CeeDee Lamb fell into their lap in the draft — that’s a good thing, for 2020 and beyond. — Walder

The conservative Cowboys offense has hopefully exited with Jason Garrett. Kellen Moore likely wants to pass more, and we know McCarthy is big fan of the aerial attack, all of that lines up with the modern NFL.

The four teams ahead of the Cowboys are the Ravens (first), the Chiefs (second), the 49ers (third), and the Saints (fourth). Hard to argue with any of that.

As for the NFC East, the Eagles are hot on the Cowboys tail as they come in ranked sixth. Washington is 26th and New York is 29th.