It was the Dak and Zeke show for the Dallas Cowboys in 2016 after a 13-3 season. Despite the early playoff exit, the duo is expected to continue to shine in Dallas heading into year two. That doesn’t mean all is well for the Cowboys. Ezekiel Elliot has gotten into some trouble and the team also released ace return man Lucky Whitehead. In an uber-competitive division, can the Cowboys repeat as NFC East Champs in 2017?
3 Position Battles To Watch:
- Wide Receiver: Cole Beasley, Ryan Switzer, Brice Butler, Noah Brown, Terrance Williams
Things are getting interesting among the Cowboys receiver ranks. Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams figure to be the outside receivers but the slot job is wide open. Cole Beasley did a heck of a job a year ago but the team opted to draft Ryan Switzer in the 4th round. Switzer was a standout at the Senior Bowl and was a terrific route runner despite being undersized. For now, Switzer likely fills the lost special teams void left by the Lucky Whitehead release.
2. Guard: Jonathan Cooper, Nate Theaker, Dan Skipper
Dallas has the best offensive line in the NFL, period. There’s one big question, however. Who in the world is going to start at guard opposite of Zack Martin? Ronald Leary signed a huge contract with the Broncos, La’el Collins shifted to right tackle, and Doug Free retired. Four of the five lineman spots are flawless, it’s figuring out the last guard role. Jonathan Cooper seems to be the leader in the clubhouse as a former top 10 pick that just hasn’t panned out yet.
3. Strong Safety: Robert Blanton, Jeff Heath, Xavier Woods
The Cowboys secondary looks to be in shambles after the unit was decimated in free agency. Both Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox are gone. Uber athletic Byron Jones is a terrific player at the free safety spot possessing a ton of range. The other safety spot is unclear. My bet is Xavier Woods, the team’s 6th round pick who I had a third round grade on. Woods is a diamond in the rough in a loaded Cowboys draft class.
Ready To Breakout: Jaylon Smith
Jaylon Smith might have been the first pick in the entire draft a year ago if he were healthy. After a devastating knee injury, Smith looks to bounce back as the force he once was at Notre Dame. Smith has the potential to become one of the best linebackers in the NFL. In the Tampa 2 system next to Sean Lee predicated on speed, Smith could be that Derrick Brooks of the Cowboys new era. It might just be a matter of when he’s ready.
Rookie To Watch: Taco Charlton
The name alone makes him noteworthy but the Cowboys first round pick has a huge opportunity in front of him. Charlton hopes to lead the way for a lousy pass rush. I compared Charlton to Chandler Jones leading up to the draft process. Oh yeah, he has the blessing of getting to work with Rod Marinelli as well.
Fantasy Sleeper: Rico Gathers
Let’s have some fun here. How about Rico Gathers. Who? Yes, the former Baylor hoops star turned NFL tight end. Jason Witten is on his last legs and Gathers could find his way into the rotation as soon as this year. There’s not a ton of competition in the room either. James Hanna is basically a blocking tight end and Gathers could be a nice situational red zone threat.