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Cowboys skill positions on offense take a hit in ESPN rankings

The Cowboys offense is under construction.

NFL: JAN 16 NFC Wild Card - 49ers at Cowboys Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

For the last few years, the Cowboys offense has put up some quality stats when Dak Prescott is under center. Just last season they ranked first in a few different volume stats. But, as close observers of the team will note, it was obvious that they had times of inefficiency on offense, and crucially that was the case in the playoff loss, especially in the first half of that game.

Every offseason Bill Barnwell does a ranking of offensive skill position groups for ESPN. In 2020 the Cowboys ranked third, and in 2021 they ranked second, mainly on the strength of their outstanding receiver corps. This year, that group is a little different after the departures of Amari Cooper and Cedrick Wilson.

So just where does Barnwell see the newly-constructed skill position group for the Cowboys heading into 2022? They have dropped to 11th.

11. Dallas Cowboys

2021 rank: 2 | 2020 rank: 3

The league’s No. 1 scoring offense in 2021 won’t be bringing back several key players. Amari Cooper was shipped off to Cleveland for cap space. Cedrick Wilson, who played nearly half of the offensive snaps a year ago, signed with the Dolphins. Blake Jarwin was released after undergoing hip surgery, and while Dalton Schultz emerged as a difference-maker in his absence, the franchise-tagged tight end wasn’t able to come to terms with Dallas on a new deal before the July 15 deadline. I’m assuming Schultz will be on the roster come Week 1, but wideout Michael Gallup probably won’t be ready after tearing his left ACL last December.

Barnwell catalogs the changes made, even the ones beyond Cooper and Wilson. Blake Jarwin is kind of a forgotten name in all of this because of the emergence of Dalton Schultz. He also notes that Michael Gallup will miss some of the beginning of the season. That is quite a bit of change for a group that has put up some very successful seasons.

It’s been suggested that the Cowboys are doing more than just shedding money which is often the reason quoted for Cooper's departure. They may be looking to play a little different style of football. Our own David Howman did a very interesting breakdown of this a few months ago that centered around YAC. The Cowboys might be altering their plans after teams started figuring things out about their offense last year. This is actually a trend going on around the league that has also slowed powerhouse offenses like Kansas City.

Barnwell, like most, sees CeeDee Lamb as the key figure in this rebuild,

While the Cowboys imported James Washington and spent a third-round pick on Jalen Tolbert, the big question now is whether CeeDee Lamb can emerge as a true No. 1 receiver. His 1,102 yards as a sophomore were solid but also inflated by him playing in a fast, pass-happy attack. The 2020 first-rounder ranked 18th in yards per target and 59th among qualifying receivers in target rate. Most everyone believes Lamb is capable of being one of the best wide receivers in football; now, with Cooper gone and Gallup sidelined to begin the year, he’ll have his chance.

The running backs are also part of this equation, and here is an untapped resource the Cowboys could bring to the fore this season.

I wrote at length about Ezekiel Elliott’s 2021 season in May. The Cowboys are blessed to have Tony Pollard as a 1B, and the best move for all parties involved would be a 50/50 split. Given the likelihood of the Cowboys cutting the 26-year-old Elliott to create cap space after the season, both backs are essentially in contract years.

If the Cowboys can creatively use Tony Pollard as not just a runner, but a receiver, they would have another dangerous YAC player in the offense.

In the NFC East, the Giants ranked 30th, the Commanders were 22nd, but the Eagles have now jumped the Cowboys for the top ranking in the East at eighth.