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Cowboys roster rated middle of the pack, not even the top one in the NFC East

The Cowboys don’t get a lot of love when it comes to PFF grading their roster.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys Minicamp Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys made some controversial moves this offseason that have elicited differing opinions from pundits and fans alike. The mood around Cowboys Nation has ranged from wait-and-see to what-the-heck-are-they-doing.

Still, through the offseason, most predictions have the Cowboys winning the NFC East again. Although the Philadelphia Eagles certainly have their contingent of believers for the East crown.

If you go by the new roster rankings from ESPN/PFF, then you might want to bet on the Eagles. In their annual rankings of each NFL team’s roster, the Cowboys end up dead in the middle, far behind the Eagles roster. PFF used a variety of grades to come up with an overall strength of roster ranking, including the grades from college for the rookies.

The Eagles finished with the seventh-best roster, while the Cowboys sit all the way down at 16.

16. Dallas Cowboys

Biggest strength: Micah Parsons came into the league as a rookie last season and made a legitimate case for not just the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year but also Defensive Player of the Year. He was PFF’s highest-graded off-ball linebacker and one of the most effective pass-rushers in the NFL when defensive coordinator Dan Quinn opted to use him as an edge rusher. The Randy Gregory loss in free agency is going to hurt Dallas up front, but few teams can send two pass-rushers as talented as Parsons and DeMarcus Lawrence after opposing quarterbacks. Parsons’ ability to fill multiple roles at a high level depending on where he’s needed most in a given situation provides a lot of flexibility to the Cowboys on defense.

Biggest weakness: As good as Lawrence has been up front for the Cowboys over the past five years, the rest of the defensive line has some concerns. Dallas’ defensive tackles combined for a 33.1 PFF run-defense grade last season (30th in the NFL), and the only real addition to the group this offseason was fifth-round pick John Ridgeway. The Cowboys are relying on younger players such as Neville Gallimore and Osa Odighizuwa to take a step forward in 2022.

It’s no surprise that Micah Parsons and all the things he can do is the strength of the Cowboys roster. His abilities elevate the defense as a whole, and allow Dan Quinn to play around with formations and blitzes.

The Cowboys run defense is once again called out as an issue for the team. There are opinions that the uncertainty around the offensive line or the receiver position could be the Cowboys biggest weakness, but we all saw what happened when the run defense collapses, they lose playoff games to the San Francisco 49ers.

One more piece from the Cowboys, the x-factor.

X factor for 2022: Cornerback Trevon Diggs became one of the most polarizing players in the NFL last season due to his boom-or-bust, risk-taking play style. Diggs’ 1,016 passing yards allowed into his coverage in 2021 led the NFL, but he was still a valuable component of the Cowboys’ better-than-expected defense because interceptions are such high-leverage plays, and Diggs came away with 11 of them. The question now becomes how replicable those results are this season.

We’ve certainly spent a lot of time discussing the turnovers and how they are unlikely to be replicated in 2023. Just how much that will hurt the defense is an open question.

The Cowboys do lead the Washington Commanders in roster strength, but just barely as they come in at 17. The New York Giants trail all of the NFC East at 26.