Football is the ultimate team sport, but that isn’t to say that there aren’t players who play a massive role in a team having success. You needn’t look any further than the Dallas Cowboys of last season to see the impact that the loss of certain players can have. Mike McCarthy’s squad had to play a majority of their season without the likes of Dak Prescott, Tyron Smith, and La’el Collins, plus they also were dealt several injuries to notable players like Leighton Vander Esch.
Injuries are going to happen in the National Football League, but it makes sense that the Cowboys will regress to the mean when it comes to games lost due to them in 2021 (Dallas was 28th in this category factoring in the Covid-19 list last year).
Assuming that their stars will be present for most of the ride this season, there are a number of them that are going to need to have top-notch seasons if the club wants to challenge into the playoffs. In case you didn’t know, one of the episodes on the Blogging The Boys podcast feed features two-time Super Bowl Champion Tony Casillas (the show is called The 75O). On the latest episode he and I discussed players who need to have a big season this year. You can listen above and make sure that you subscribe to the BTB network on Apple devices right here or on Spotify right here.
Who would you say are five important Cowboys in this regard? Let’s begin.
The obvious: Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper
Everybody knows that today’s NFL is a quarterback’s game which means that the better a quarterback is the better that the team he is on will be. Dak Prescott was putting up some pretty gaudy individual numbers before he got hurt last season (they weren’t exactly sustainable long-term, but they were definitely nice and somewhat impressive), but the team was 1-3 at the time of his last start (the Cowboys won that game).
Beyond the obvious reasons why Prescott needs to have success in 2020 there is also a level of new pressure on him as a result of the contract that he signed this offseason. He is the unquestioned leader of the team and they all go as he goes which means that he needs to be going a long way.
Sticking with this theme, we all know the Cowboys wide receiver group to be among the best in the league. The face of that group is Amari Cooper which means that he needs to continue to show up (he quietly had a dominant season in 2020).
Looking beyond that, Cooper might also need to have a big season in 2021 if he wants to stay with the Cowboys. It has been discussed how Dallas could move on from Cooper if they wanted to in 2022 at little cost, a path they could pursue in combination with a long-term contract for Michael Gallup.
A lot rests on this season.
The slightly less obvious: Tyron Smith and La’el Collins
Much has been made about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers returning all of their Super Bowl starters in 2021, but the Cowboys are technically returning all of their offensive starters. At least all of their intended offensive starters.
Tyron Smith played a bit in 2021 before being put on ice, but La’el Collins missed the season entirely. Their play is so pivotal to what the team’s offense is capable of doing, and given that the organization passed on a future tackle in Rashawn Slater twice in the draft suggests a somewhat legitimate belief in their own tackles’ short-term future.
Dak Prescott seemingly agrees with the idea that Smith and Collins need to play well this season. He recently said that they, along with Zack Martin, are the most important Cowboys on the team.
At the four practices open to the media during the Dallas Cowboys’ organized team activities and minicamp, all eyes were on quarterback Dak Prescott.
And for good reason. The last time he was on a football field, his right leg was in an air cast because of a compound fracture and dislocation of his ankle. He had two surgeries. His rehab was intense, but what he did in spring practices would carry weight, especially after signing a four-year, $160 million extension this past March. There was nothing spotted in Prescott’s performance that would suggest the ankle will be an issue when the season starts.
As important as Prescott’s return will be to the Cowboys’ success in 2021, so will the return of three offensive linemen who did not do much on-field work during spring practices: Tyron Smith, Zack Martin and La’el Collins.
And Prescott knows it.
“They’re the most important, if you ask me,” Prescott said. “From the time that I got drafted until now, this offense is built off of those guys. They’re the three most veteran guys on this team, and that’s for a reason. Those guys are walk-in Pro Bowl guys when they’re healthy, future Hall of Famers. Just to have those three guys lead the five guys up front, everything starts with them. The run game, that allows the pass game to open up. When you have those guys back healthy, energized, it’s special.”
Zack Martin is also getting older, but he is far more reliable than Smith or Collins are at this stage. The two tackles need to really play well if this offense is going to realize its true potential, something that never really got off of the ground last year.
The other side of the ball: Trevon Diggs
Much hope rests on the offensive side of the ball for the Cowboys, but the biggest flaw at any point last year was on defense.
One of the more commonly-shared ideas around the football universe is that Dallas doesn’t exactly have to turn into an elite force on defense for the overall team to achieve their goals. Besides not exactly being a practical goal it doesn’t seem like it will be necessary, all that the Cowboys might have to do is tread water so to speak.
DeMarcus Lawrence has already proven himself to be one of the best players on this defense, but the time has come for a second star to emerge. Trevon Diggs exuded a lot of promise last season with his three interceptions (although they all came against the lowly Philadelphia Eagles) and it is fair to expect a jump in his second year.
What’s more is that while it is fair to assume Diggs will be better this season, he has to be. The Cowboys aren’t exactly rich in talent at the moment in the secondary so they will be relying on second-year Diggs to give them some much-needed stability.