Now that the NFL draft has passed and we wade into the OTA portion of the offseason schedule, it’s a good time to evaluate teams. The draft is the last big hurrah in terms of adding talent to a roster, although every once in a while a trade or a free agent signing in the next couple of months can make a huge difference for a team. Generally, though, the roster a team has now is the one that will battle it out in training camp for the final 53.
One way of evaluating teams compared to each other is through power rankings. Yes, it’s a very inexact science to be sure, but it still a way to see how NFL observers see the teams, and for our case, the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys had a draft that wasn’t viewed as exceptional, but still solid and brought them a specific set of skills, something highlighted by a few of the power rankings. And this is the ability to stop the run, the only real weakness on an otherwise stellar defense.
Let’s take a quick look at the Cowboys position in some national power rankings for the NFL, post draft.
6) Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys made two of the most astute trades of the offseason, adding wide receiver Brandin Cooks and cornerback Stephon Gilmore for pennies on the dollar and fortifying two positions of need.
While we have trepidations about Mike McCarthy taking over as Dallas’ offensive play-caller, given how he performed in the same role at the end of his Packers’ tenure, there’s too much talent on the Cowboys’ depth chart to downgrade them too far. Dan Quinn should keep Dallas’ defense as a top-five unit, especially now that Micah Parsons is becoming a full-time edge rusher.
This one is pretty representative of the Cowboys view, except for the fact it doesn’t address their draft. The additions of Cooks and Gilmore are perhaps the two biggest factors in the Cowboys offseason, filling holes that were problematic for Dallas in 2022. Many observers also bring up caution when it comes to Mike McCarthy’s new role, and that is one that will be there until we actually see him in action as the play-caller.
Draft picks: 8
Previous rank: No. 6
The strength of Dallas’ defense is a fierce pass rush led by Micah Parsons, DeMarcus Lawrence and Dorance Armstrong. Head coach Mike McCarthy believes that strength will intensify after the team used its first-round pick on Michigan run-stuffer Mazi Smith. It marked the first time Dallas has used a first-round selection on defensive tackle since the pick of Russell Maryland in 1991 (that one worked out pretty well). “We have an elite pass-rush group,” McCarthy said, “and just the fact of the matter, when your run defense improves, obviously you’ve got some longer down-and-distances with it, which tilts the field toward our pass rush.” Makes sense to us.
While some observers have come up with flimsy jokes about the Cowboys focus on the run, both on offense and defense, this observation from McCarthy does make some sense, although you could slice up some stats to probably show the other side that it doesn’t matter. But the Cowboys strength is their fierce pass rush, backed up by an opportunistic secondary. If adding Mazi Smith, along with keeping Johnathan Hankins, keeps teams from setting up favorable first-down opportunities by using the run, then the Cowboys pass rush becomes an even bigger factor.
6. Cowboys (7): To the degree it’s possible, is “America’s Team” under the radar a bit? Let’s not forget they scored the fourth-most points in the league in 2022 despite QB Dak Prescott missing five games while LT Tyron Smith and WR Michael Gallup were hurt and WR Brandin Cooks was in Houston. Dallas remains a legitimate threat to Philly.
A focus on the offense? Why not. The Cowboys do hold an impressive array of weapons on offense now with the ascendancy of Tony Pollard and the addition of Brandin Cooks. If Michael Gallup can return to form, and Dak Prescott can quit turning the ball over, the only real concern is the health of the offensive line with Tyron Smith and Terence Steele.
Mike McCarthy takes over play calling for Dak Prescott this season. Adding veterans Brandin Cooks and Stephon Gilmore is big, and they also had a good draft.
Nothing of note here that hasn’t already been covered.
Biggest impact player from the draft: DI Mazi Smith
Pre-Draft Ranking: 6
... it’s clear the Cowboys struggled to stop the run in 2022. So drafting Smith, who posted PFF grades of 75.0 or better in each of the past two seasons, made sense.
This circles back to the Cowboys really needing to do something about their run defense, the weak part of their defense. The more they can turn Micah Parsons and Co. loose to rush the passer, the better the Cowboys will be.
Post-FA ranking: 8
Most improved: Defensive line
With the addition of Brandin Cooks, wide receiver could be the choice, but it’s the defensive line. They selected Mazi Smith in the first round and along with the return of Johnathan Hankins, they now have bulk on the interior.
The Cowboys also re-signed Dante Fowler, who had six sacks last season, to keep core pass-rushers Micah Parsons, Dorance Armstrong, DeMarcus Lawrence and Sam Williams together. They added Junior Fehoko, a fourth-round pick, to the mix of versatile players like Osa Odighizuwa and Chauncey Golston. This is the deepest group the Cowboys have had in ages and might be the deepest in the NFL. — Todd Archer
ESPN filtered their rankings through the lens of the position that was helped the most in the offseason. The Cowboys defensive line is the winner. Dallas can come at you with waves of defensive linemen, and most of them are quality.
The Cowboys ended up sixth or seventh in these rankings. Do you think that’s a fair assessment?