This power ranking of the Dallas Cowboys is a fun exercise to see where they could stack up against other teams in the division or around the NFL. Are they any closer to the Buffalo Bills roster? Or do they need to rebuild like the Atlanta Falcons?
Heading into Week 1 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Cowboys have most of their players who were expected to play in this game. Besides the devastating injury to tackle Tyron Smith, the Boys have remained relatively healthy.
This list will be evaluated weekly to see if players move up and down the board. Like Stephen Jones always says, "player acquisition is 365 days a year."
This initial ranking is based on how players performed last season and expectations coming into the year. Feel free to play along in the comments and share your roster ranking.
Here are the top ten Cowboys heading into Sunday night football.
Honorable mentions: LB Leighton Vander Esch, RB Tony Pollard,
Leighton Vander Esch returns to Dallas after playing an entire season for the first time since his rookie year. He finished strong in the playoffs against the San Francisco 49ers, collecting a team-high 13 tackles. The fifth-year player will look to be an enforcer against the opposing running backs this season.
Tony Pollard is entering the final year of his rookie deal and might finally be used the way fans have been asking for. He was reportedly getting more snaps out of the slot given the injuries to wide receivers early in training camp. Pollard had a career-high season in 2021, producing over 1,000 yards on offense, scoring two touchdowns, and having a kick return for a touchdown. If Kellen Moore can use Pollard as a mismatch on offense, the Cowboys’ drop-off on offense should not be as much.
10. Jayron Kearse, S
Dan Quinn had a clear vision for Kearse when he took the field. He was a hybrid safety/linebacker, which helped him lead the team in tackles with 101. Not only did he play in the box a ton, but Kearse was also great in pass defense. He had two interceptions and a career-high ten pass deflections.
Kearse signed a two-year deal worth $10 million this offseason, but if 2022 ends with him getting to the Pro Bowl or even in the All-Pro conversation, he might want to hold out for more money next year out of respect for himself.
9. Anthony Brown, CB
Anthony Brown always plays with a chip on his shoulder. Literally. Surprisingly, the seventh-year vet is heading into the final year of his contract. If Brown keeps playing like he did last season, he will make it tough on the team to let him walk out the door.
Brown had three interceptions on the season, returned one for a touchdown, and had 17 pass breakups. He will be tested early in 2022 against the receiving core for the Buccaneers and the Cincinnati Bengals. If Brown can find a way to shut down both teams, expect him to frequent the top ten list this season.
Cowboys CB Anthony Brown is tied for 4th in the NFL with 6 passes defended and tied for 5th with 2 INTs.— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) October 14, 2021
Brown: “I feel like I’m playing the most productive ball I have, and I feel like I still haven’t played up to my standard yet.”
(Video: @NFL) pic.twitter.com/GQOJPFl4HW
8. DeMarcus Lawrence, DE
DeMarcus Lawrence continues to set the tone on defense and be a leader along the defensive line. Lawrence has not been the same player since his All-Pro season in 2017, but looks to reclaim the title of the team's leader in sacks.
He missed ten games last season after breaking his foot in practice before Week 2. When Lawrence rejoined the rotation of Randy Gregory and Micah Parsons, the three were almost unstoppable for the last quarter of the season.
He is also valued as a mentor at this point in his career, but if the Cowboys want to dominate against a weakened offensive line for the Bucs, Lawrence will make sure the dogs get an opportunity.
7. Ezekiel Elliott, RB
Ezekiel Elliott's average yards per game hit a career low in '21, but the man did power through injury all year. That is a testament to his football character and dedication to the team. The former first-round pick finished the season as one of only seven NFL backs with over 1,000 rushing yards. His projected totals would be much higher if he were healthy for all 17 games.
The buzz that he will take a step back this season to Tony Pollard remains to be seen. Unless fans see an even split, Elliott is expected to carry the load for the team in 2022. His ranking on the list will not likely be this low. Owner Jerry Jones said the team would run through Zeke.
He again gets a rough matchup to start the season against the Buc's defensive front. Dallas does have a healthy Zack Martin, who they didn't have for this game a year ago, so hopefully, he will find better success on the right side.
Cowboys begin their season one week from today. A reminder of who RB Ezekiel Elliott was in 2021 before a partial PCL tear. pic.twitter.com/cRb89n7ARB— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) September 4, 2022
6. Dalton Schultz, TE
Heading into the 2020 season, it looked like Dalton Schultz was not developing into an NFL tight end. Now he's playing on the franchise tag and is expected to be a fantasy football darling in 2022.
A player can be written off, then come out of nowhere to be a cornerstone of the franchise. Schultz's transformation is an example of how great football can be. Over the past two seasons, the former Stanford product has amassed 1,423 receiving yards, 12 touchdowns, and averaged over ten yards per catch in 2021. For those of you keeping track at home, that's a first down every time he touches the ball.
The offensive line is suspect and could be a problem for Dallas all season. If Dak Prescott needs to get the ball out quickly, he will turn to Schultz, who always seems to find the soft spot in zone coverage. If he's guarded by Devin White Sunday night, look for Schultz to feast all game since he is not the best in pass coverage. (According to PFF, White had a coverage grade of 43.5)
5. CeeDee Lamb, WR
When CeeDee Lamb was drafted in the first round of the 2020 draft, it was only a matter of time before he would become WR1. That time is now.
Lamb will have to carry the load for the offense this season, and he is ready for it. The Cowboys decided not to re-sign Cedrick Wilson and traded Amari Cooper in the offseason. They did, however, sign Michael Gallup, but he is not expected back for a least another week.
He was Prescott's go-to guy all season leading the team with 120 targets. He totaled 1,102 receiving yards and had six touchdowns. His most iconic moment was against the New England Patriots with the walk-off reception, and he had almost 150 yards against a stingy Bill Belichick defense.
With not as many cooks in the kitchen in 2022, Kellen Moore should make it a priority of the offense to get Lamb as many touches as possible. Against the Bucs, there should be more quick passes like fans saw last season in the same game.
4. Trevon Diggs, CB
The top five is pretty apparent with players who the Cowboys cannot afford to miss time this season. Trevon Diggs falls into that category.
The third-year cornerback is coming off an impressive season ending in a first-team All-Pro nomination, league-leading 11 interceptions, and career-best 21 pass breakups. He also tied the Cowboys record for interceptions in a season that Everson Walls set in 1981.
He has firmly established himself as Dallas' No.1 cornerback and starts the season off by going against one of the best in wide receiver Mike Evans. Diggs' historic season did start when the Cowboys played the Bucs in Week 1 last year, so maybe it's a sign of things to come in 2022.
3. Zack Martin, OG
Are we sure there is no loophole to get Zack Martin into the Hall of Fame before his career is over? If any offensive lineman in the league deserves that respect, it is Martin.
Martin may be the best Dallas Cowboys draft pick in the past decade. From day one, he has been a plug-and-play guard and always finds a way to lock down his gap assignments. Martin collected his seventh All-Pro nomination in 2021, and PFF graded him as the second-best guard in the league in pass and run blocking.
The offensive line has concerns heading into this season opener, but with Martin leading the group, fans should feel more comfortable this time. For Week 1 against the Bucs in '21, Martin missed the game due to testing positive for COVID-19. His presence was genuinely missed, as Dallas had zero success running the ball. That should not be the case on Sunday.
2. Dak Prescott, QB
Dak Prescott is the heart and soul of the Dallas Cowboys. That is why Jerry Jones gave him a sizeable paycheck last offseason. Every time he throws a touchdown, it is still puzzling how the NFL let him drop to the fourth round.
The Cowboys are happy to have him after he showed little signs of regression coming off a severe injury in 2020. If it were not for Joe Burrow's success, Prescott would have run away with the Comeback Player of the Year award.
He led Dallas back to the playoffs and had career highs in completion percentage and passing touchdowns with 37. If the Cowboys allow him to run the ball (safely), it can open up the offense even more in 2022. Not sure if Week 1 against the Bucs is the time to do it, but I can see him taking a quarterback sneak in the redzone for a touchdown.
1. Micah Parsons, LB
Does Micah Parsons need a label? His title could be "football player," and no one would bat an eye. The unanimous Defensive Rookie of the Year was a revelation in 2021. The Cowboys have always played against generational defenders, but to finally have one on their side is welcomed.
His All-Pro season ended with 13 sacks and 20 tackles for loss. If Parsons can find a way to stay healthy throughout his career, there is no reason he should not be a perennial Pro Bowler and the catalyst on defense.
With the offense for the Cowboys likely taking a step back in 2022, the defense will be the team's focal point. Parsons accepts the challenge and understands the responsibility to his team. Having Anthony Barr on the team should open the door for Parsons to work on the edge.
Parsons was still trying to figure out how to play at the NFL level when he faced Tom Brady last season. Circumstances have changed. The Lion is ready to feast and should be the difference maker if the Cowboys can find a way to win Sunday night in Dallas.