Every NFL offseason brings plenty of rankings in various categories. Most of the rankings are focused on the upcoming season, in this case, the 2021 NFL season. But every year ESPN puts out a ranking that tries to project a team’s future over the next three years.
This year, that ranking for the Dallas Cowboys is a decidedly mixed bag. There is good news to be found, and bad news. As such, the Cowboys are directly in the middle-of-the-pack when it comes to their ranking.
First, a breakdown of how the rankings are made.
To project which NFL franchises are in the best shape for the next three seasons (2021 through 2023), we asked our panel of experts — Jeremy Fowler, Louis Riddick, Seth Walder and Field Yates — to rate each team’s quarterback situation, remaining (non-QB) roster, drafting ability, 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. Our experts each wrote a blurb for all 32 teams, hitting on biggest worries, stats to know and what could change in upcoming years.
As noted, the Cowboys are dead center.
16. Dallas Cowboys
Overall score: 76.4
Overall roster (minus QB) 75.8 (NFL rank) 17
Quarterback 88.3 (NFL rank) 5
Coaching 66.0 (NFL rank) 28
Draft 74.5 (NFL rank) 21
Front office 77.5 (NFL rank) 16
Just from that breakdown, it’s easy to see where these particular analysts view the Cowboys strengths and weaknesses.
Without a doubt, they view the Cowboys biggest strength as Dak Prescott. He is their number five ranked quarterback in the NFL, besting the number seven rank he had in a previous ESPN ranking.
Stat to know: Prescott is permanently underrated. Since he entered the league in 2016, Prescott ranks fifth among qualifying quarterbacks in QBR only behind Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson, Drew Brees and Deshaun Watson. Prescott will need defensive help if Dallas is going to be a title contender again, but offensively, the Cowboys should be in great shape. That starts with a QB in his prime who has been more efficient than Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers over the past five seasons.
That’s high praise. Prescott’s lofty status in this particular ranking is balanced out by the generally negative view of the Cowboys coaching staff. Mike McCarthy has something to prove.
Biggest worry: Is coach Mike McCarthy the man to lead this team to success? Does owner Jerry Jones actually let him do his job without significant interference? Has McCarthy made the necessary adjustments to his coaching staff, on the defensive side of the ball in particular, that will allow this team to meet or exceed lofty preseason expectations year after year? Or will the Cowboys disappoint yet again?
The hope is that with all of the pieces of the roster back in place after an injury-riddled 2020, McCarthy will show that he is still of championship caliber, and that his two primary lieutenants, Kellen Moore and Dan Quinn, make this roster look better than it has in recent history, especially on defense.
Speaking of defense, that’s absolutely the biggest x-factor for the Cowboys in 2021.
What could change for the better: The Cowboys are dedicated to solving the issues in the secondary. Trevon Diggs should fight through rookie struggles to become a high-level player, and Dallas loaded up with three corners in the 2021 draft. And don’t be surprised if the Cowboys look for a real difference-maker; there were rumors this offseason that Dallas looked into Xavien Howard, who is unhappy with his deal in Miami.
So the Cowboys future prospects are mixed. With Prescott in place and an array of talented skill-position players at his disposal, Dallas will score points. But if the defense doesn’t turn itself around, every game will be a shootout.
There is one piece of good news to finish this off. At least they are not the rest of the NFC East.