It’s impossible to say three months before the season begins whether the Dallas Cowboys will have more success in 2023 than they did in 2022. After all, it could easily be argued that their biggest competition in the conference plays in their own division, and as those of us who’ve watched the Cowboys for decades don’t need to be reminded - the Cowboys haven’t progressed any further than they did in 2022 in 27 years. The odds are against them to improve on that finish.
Having acknowledged that - if one simply measures the Cowboys personnel of this upcoming season against the Cowboys of 2022, position by position - they will find it extremely difficult to pinpoint the areas that the team failed to improve this offseason. In fact, the composition of the Cowboys current roster - as of the first day of June - is objectively better than the best versions they were capable of fielding at various times throughout 2022.
Every team in the NFL is going to find players during the course of a season that exceed their initial expectations, and the Cowboys were no different. If we simply compared the Cowboys roster as of June 1st to how they started the ‘22 season, we get some unfair comparisons. That’s not the way we want to play this.
Instead, let’s take the best version of what the Cowboys fielded in ‘22 at their respective positions, including their best second stringers throughout the season, and see if the argument holds up.
We discussed this overall idea on the latest episode of Ryled Up on the Blogging The Boys podcast network. Make sure to subscribe to our network so you do not miss any of our shows! Apple devices can subscribe here and Spotify users can subscribe here.
‘22 - Dak Prescott; Cooper Rush
‘23 - Dak Prescott; Cooper Rush
EVALUATION: Push. Not much has changed here. Dak’s career history indicates that the 2023 version of Prescott will be better than he was in 2022. Another year removed from the horrific injury he suffered that ended his 2020 season, combined with a regression to the mean in terms of interception percentage - his 3.8% INT rate last season was the highest of his career by far, and the first time he’d exceeded 1.8% since his sophomore campaign back in 2017 - provides optimism that he will be improved in 2023. Objectively, though, it’s nearly impossible to say the team is better here from a personnel standpoint, even if you have high hopes for the tweaks Brian Schottenheimer will bring to the offensive gameplan. The position group is a push heading into 2023.
‘22 - Tony Pollard, Ezekiel Elliott, Malik Davis
‘23 - Tony Pollard, Ronald Jones, Deuce Vaughn, Malik Davis
EVALUATION: Better. Let’s face it - last season, it took the Cowboys far too long to give Tony Pollard the respect he deserved, and even when they did, it wasn’t nearly enough. Consider this - Tony Pollard exceeded 15 carries in a game just three times last season in 18 games (despite averaging a team-high 5.2 ypc), and exceeded 18 touches just four times. By comparison, Zeke and his 3.8 ypc average carried the ball 15 times in 12 of his 16 games, and had 18 touches in six games. Simply by virtue of the fact that Tony Pollard is slated to absorb the lion’s share of the touches means this backfield is better on paper than it ever was last season. Sprinkle in Ronald Jones, a dynamic pass-catching back in Deuce Vaughn, and the insurance of still having Malik Davis around, they’re better at the top and deeper as a group.
‘22 - Dalton Schultz, Jake Ferguson, Peyton Hendershot
‘23 - Luke Schoonmaker, Jake Ferguson, Peyton Hendershot
EVALUATION: Worse. For all his faults, Dalton Schultz had been far and away the second best pass-catching weapon the Cowboys have had for two seasons in a row, and that includes a year where he caught 10 more passes than Amari Cooper. Even in what many consider to be a down year last season, Schultz finished second on the team in targets and receptions - as he did in 2021. They will try to replace his production elsewhere, but the list of tight ends who’ve caught more passes than Schultz in the past two seasons consists of just three names - Travis Kelce, Mark Andrews, and T.J. Hockenson. Whatever your expectations are for second-rounder Luke Schoonmaker, they would have to be astronomical to believe he’s going to provide that level of production in his rookie season. There’s hope for the future here, but the future’s not here just yet.
‘22 - CeeDee Lamb, Noah Brown, Michael Gallup, TY Hilton, Simi Fehoko
‘23 - CeeDee Lamb, Brandin Cooks, Michael Gallup, Simi Fehoko, Jalen Tolbert
EVALUATION: Substantially better. You would be forgiven if you didn’t realize that Noah Brown actually had a better season than Michael Gallup did (43-555-3 vs 39-424-4), and that speaks to just how bad they were at the position last year. Swap out Brown for Cooks, who even in a down-year last year had 57 receptions for 699 yards in just 13 games played. Considering the general consensus was that Michael Gallup would likely take at least a season to find his legs again after ACL surgery, if he can even come close to finding any of his old form, this easily becomes the most improved unit on the team from a year ago.
‘22 - Tyron Smith, Tyler Smith, Tyler Biadasz, Zack Martin, Terence Steele, Jason Peters, Connor McGovern
‘23 - Tyron Smith, Tyler Smith, Tyler Biadasz, Zack Martin, Terence Steele, Asim Richards, Josh Ball
EVALUATION: Better*. They didn’t do much to add to the group personnel-wise outside of the fifth-rounder Richards, but the offensive line is unique in that continuity can play a major role for individuals and units improving from one season to the next. You shouldn’t bet on it, but there is a path that brings Jason Peters back into the fold in a part-time capacity. Even if he doesn’t return, they’re better thanks to the development of Tyler Smith and the “contract year factor” for Steele.
*pending the obvious Tyron Smith health concerns
‘22 - DeMarcus Lawrence, Dorance Armstrong, Sam Williams, Dante Fowler, Chauncey Golston
‘23 - DeMarcus Lawrence, Dorance Armstrong, Sam Williams, Dante Fowler, Chauncey Golston
EVALUATION: Push. I know we probably could (and maybe should) include Micah Parsons as part of this list, but for this exercise, we’ll keep him with the LBs. No significant changes were made to this unit from a personnel standpoint, as the entire band is back again and ready to roll in ‘23. Cowboys fans will be hopeful that Armstrong and Williams continue to develop further - Armstrong in particular had the second-most sacks on the team with 8.5 and the second most sacks + TFL + QB hits w/34.5 (2.5 more sacks and 6.5 more sacks/TFL/QBHits than Lawrence, respectively) - but for now, nothing about them on paper looks better or worse than it did in 2022.
‘22 - Johnathan Hankins, Osa Odighizuwa, Carlos Watkins, Neville Gallimore
‘23 - Mazi Smith, Johnathan Hankins, Osa Odighizuwa, Neville Gallimore
EVALUATION: Better. The best version of the Cowboys interior defensive line didn’t really develop until halfway through the season, thanks in large part to the mid-season trade that brought Hankins aboard and immediately showcased him as the team’s best run-stuffing defender. Now, they add another elite run-stuffer through the draft, and that gives them options down the depth chart. They’re better and deeper at this position heading into 2023.
‘22 - Micah Parsons, Leighton Vander Esch, Anthony Barr, Damone Clark, Luke Gifford
‘23 - Micah Parsons, Leighton Vander Esch, Damone Clark, DeMarvion Overshown, Jabril Cox
EVALUATION: Better. It’s hard to imagine Micah Parsons continuing to improve on his already historic first two seasons, and LVE is a fine player, but one who also may have already reached his ceiling. That being said, they had already shored up their depth with the emergence of Damone Clark, and much like Tony Pollard, the expanded role for him in ‘23 will make fans forget about Barr. Adding DeMarvion Overshown through the draft just further shores up the depth at this position.
‘22 - Trevon Diggs, Daron Bland, Anthony Brown, Jourdan Lewis, Nahshon Wright
‘23 - Trevon Diggs, Stephon Gilmore, Daron Bland, Jourdan Lewis, Nahshon Wright
EVALUATION: Better. By season’s end, Daron Bland had emerged as a legitimate weapon after playing inside and outside, making the loss of Brown this offseason practically an afterthought. Even still, the Cowboys were not content with their cornerback room (no team can ever have enough good ones) and made the move to bring in Gilmore. Similar to the addition of Brandin Cooks and Mazi Smith, adding Gilmore pushed talented players further down the depth chart, ideally putting them in better positions to succeed in 2023.
‘22 - Jayron Kearse, Donovan Wilson, Malik Hooker, Israel Mukuamu
‘23 - Jayron Kearse, Donovan Wilson, Malik Hooker, Israel Mukuamu
EVALUATION: Push. Much like the defensive end group, this was a situation where they just needed to bring the band back together and maintain the standard at the position they held in 2022. They found some versatility in the latter part of the season with Mukuamu playing in the slot, and Cowboys fans should be optimistic that we see even more position flexibility utilized throughout the defense in 2023. Thankfully, they don’t need this group to be much better than they were in 2022, because on paper, they’re no better or worse.
Of the 10 position groups we looked at, six are better right now than they were at the height of their powers in 2022, and there are arguments to be made that the other four could all be better when the season rolls around. Fans might be upset at the downgrade of the tight end group, but the group collectively is extremely young and inexperienced.
How do you feel about the position groups and how the Cowboys have addressed their needs this offseason? Comment below!