clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

High expectations are being placed on four Cowboys heading into the 2021 season

The Cowboys are getting a mixture of offseason reactions, including high individual expectations.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles
Will 214 be the force it once was?
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Sometimes there is a consensus about certain NFL teams’ prospects at this time of the year. Other times, it is a decidedly mixed bag. The latter is the case for the Dallas Cowboys. Some question how much Dak Prescott can lift the team, or think Mike McCarthy is really on a hot seat. Others look at some of the players and see tremendous potential. That is certainly a positive sign. Here are some who are getting a lot of pre-training camp buzz.

Dak Prescott

Before he was injured, he was on a record-breaking pace throwing the football. While the debate about the Cowboys’ record in those games remains, others see him poised to make a triumphant return behind center. Some predictions about the MVP race have him as one of the top contenders, such as a recent one from ESPN. Bill Barnwell looked at just about every possible contender, and had Prescott in his group of established, effective starting quarterbacks.

My favorite from this group: Prescott. There were five instances of a quarterback throwing for 450 or more yards in a game last season. Three of them came from Prescott, who only finished four games before breaking his ankle in the fifth. The Cowboys starter was on pace to throw for 6,760 yards after the first four weeks of the season, and while that was partly because the Dallas defense was so horrific, Prescott has the opportunity to post some historic numbers in 2021 given the players around him.

Additionally, the oddsmakers in Vegas have him as the leading contender for comeback player of the year. That bodes well for the team’s chances as a whole. The offense is expected to be the real strength of the Cowboys, and Prescott is the obvious engine that drives it. Not explicitly stated is how much it will help him to have a healthy offensive line ahead of him. That is the expectation, although there are a lot of fingers crossed that it will bear out through camp.

It is some recognition of just how he has grown as a player and ascended in the ranks of NFL quarterbacks.

CeeDee Lamb

Like Prescott, Lamb is getting multiple favorable reviews. First up is the one from Bleacher Report, which named just one player from each position group in the league that was poised for stardom this year. This is their logic for selecting him.

Dallas Cowboys wideout CeeDee Lamb was electric as a rookie last year. The Oklahoma product caught 74 passes for 935 yards and five touchdowns despite playing the bulk of the season without starting quarterback Dak Prescott.

Lamb also returned 14 punts for 172 yards and had a kickoff return for a touchdown. When targeted on offense, he helped provide a quarterback rating of 100.2.

If the bracelet Lamb wore during offseason workouts is any indication, the second-year receiver has even more entertainment in store. According to ESPN’s Todd Archer, it read, “Get your popcorn ready.”

That is a solid foundation and he should be even better with a year’s experience. Another favorable review came from NFL.com, which picked one player from each team most likely to be selected to their first Pro Bowl.

Before Dak Prescott was lost to a grisly ankle injury in Week 5, Lamb averaged 5.8 receptions for 86.6 receiving yards per game. That chemistry hints at a big campaign from the second-year wideout, even with Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup competing for targets. A dangerous weapon out of the slot, Lamb saw action all over the field in minicamp and garnered praise from coach Mike McCarthy, who said: “I see CeeDee making that jump. He is very comfortable, very natural.”

Lamb is part of one of the most dangerous wide receiver groups in the league along with Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup. However, a lingering worry about Cooper’s health could thrust him into an even bigger role for the team. Hopefully that won’t be the case, but Lamb is outstanding insurance to have just in case. In any case, he could prove to be one of the best in the NFL in only his second season.

Ezekiel Elliott

For a change, almost all the pre-camp buzz about the team’s star running back has been about his training regimen and how good he looks. After struggling through COVID in 2020, Elliott signed on with highly respected private RB coach and former player Josh Hicks. It certainly seems to be paying off.

The Cowboys back started training with Hicks in Dallas six months ago, looking to elevate his game and avoid a repeat of 2020, his worst season as a pro.

Elliott last year set career lows for rushing yards (979), yards per attempt (4.0) and yards per game (65.3), and he matched his career low for rushing touchdowns (6).

Has the work with Hicks paid off so far?

“I think I’m definitely in a good spot right now,” Elliott said.

Elliott is eating clean this offseason, we’re told, and his work with Hicks has added a new dimension to his game.

Hicks, a shorter speed back when he played at Purdue, has Elliott on a footwork regimen to add more shiftiness to his running style. It’s been a welcome development for Elliott, who is more of a power back with his strength between the tackles.

Cowboys fans remember fondly how Prescott and Elliott set the league on fire as rookies. The QB has grown in his skills and stature in the locker room, but Elliott has seen a steady decline in his production since then. However, not only did he have health issues last season, the offensive line has also fallen off since that year, almost all due to their own health problems, such as the disease that cut short the superb career of Travis Frederick and the well-documented avalanche of injuries last season. Just like Prescott, Elliott can only benefit if the line is back to more what he ran behind his rookie year. It may be a passing league, but a dependable, more explosive Elliott can only help.

Randy Gregory

Jon Machota of The Athletic came to a different conclusion about who was the most likely breakout candidate - although he did show Lamb some love as well.

This one came down to CeeDee Lamb and Randy Gregory. I think both have the opportunity to have a big year. Since Lamb already had a nice rookie season, I’m giving Gregory my official vote. With Aldon Smith no longer on the roster, Gregory is in position to be Dallas’ starting right edge defender with DeMarcus Lawrence handling those duties on the left. Considering that Gregory has been suspended for more games for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy than he’s played in, he’s become somewhat of a forgotten man around the league. But at 28, he still has plenty of talent to possibly lead the Cowboys in sacks and quarterback pressures. In a recent conference call with reporters, Gregory sounded like someone who is in a great place on and off the field. And considering the former second-round pick is in the final year of his contract, there’s even more motivation to put together his best season.

Gregory has not only shown tremendous potential when on the field, his perseverance and hard work in overcoming his off-field and mental health issues is very admirable. Now he has a chance to show the NFL just what he can do when given a chance.

On paper, that is a lot of star power looking to shine for Dallas. For a long time, there has been a tendency, especially within certain parts of the staff named Jerry Jones, to overstate the talent of the Cowboys’ roster. This time, the high expectations are coming from outside the Star. That is a good thing, and we hope these writers and analysts have it exactly right.