How many quality players would you say the Cowboys have heading into the 2014 season? Let’s check out who’s the head of their class.
Quarterback: Tony Romo
Romo is clearly the best player at QB for the Cowboys, but at 34, and two back surgeries, the fan base is increasingly ready to bring in the heir to the throne. The Cowboys bolstered the offensive line when they drafted Zack Martin, and the Cowboys season will hinge on how clean they keep Romo on gameday. If Frederick gave Romo an extra half-second in 2013, then Martin should add to that as well in 2014, and the results could be special.
Running Back: DeMarco Murray
Murray, when healthy can run with the best in the league; but, his inability has been his bane since he came into the league. Despite being labeled “injury prone” by many, including myself, Murray should have another good year behind this revamped offensive line. Murray is still the lead horse in a stable of unproven running backs. Will Williams stay healthy? Will Dunbar be a better, durable player? Is Randle good enough to beat out Ben Melena? For 2014, Murray is the best RB on the roster and could tally another 1,000 yard season.
Wide Receiver: Dez Bryant
Bryant is entering his 5th and final year of his rookie contract, and he has blossomed on the field and off the field. Bryant is an elite player, and he’ll be the Cowboys best wide receiver in 2014. Couple Bryant’s productivity and ability to draw double-teams, and you have a dangerous weapon that keep defensive coordinator up at night. The Cowboys are likely to re-up Bryant for a monster contract, and hopefully before the season starts. Outside of Bryant, the Cowboys have some promising receivers in Terrance Williams and Devin Street, who could make a name for themselves this year. But for now, its the Dez Bryant show.
Tight End: Jason Witten
Witten is the consummate pro in every aspect and his durability has helped him remain a passing threat after all these years. Witten is just one of three “Parcells Guys” on the team, and like the coach that drafted him, Witten is a throwback player. The Cowboys have tried to add a secondary tight end threat, but none of them have been in the same league, not even close, and none have stuck in Dallas. With Witten’s age and window closing, the Cowboys are hoping tight end coach guru, Mike Pope can turn Gavin Escobar into well-rounded player.
Offensive Line: Tyron Smith
Smith has evolved into a Pro Bowl offensive lineman, improving each year he has been in the league. Smith is a physical specimen that blocks with power and high end athleticism. The Cowboys recognize the importance of keeping Smith in Dallas and have picked up his 5th year option; however, its expected the Cowboys will re-sign Smith before that 5th year. A year or two from now, and we could be talking about a 3-way tie between Smith, Frederick, and Martin for the best offensive lineman on the team.
Secondary: Orlando Scandrick
Scandrick was a serviceable player in the slot in the 3-4, but when the Cowboys moved to the 4-3, Scandrick upped his game. Scandrick eventually dethroned former 1st pick Morris Claiborne as the starting CB opposite Brandon Carr. I know the Cowboys say Claiborne will have the opportunity to win back his CB position, but I haven’t seen “it” from him. Scandrick is not going to relent his spot, and I don’t see any other players in the secondary that have this confidence. The secondary is probably the weakest unit amongst the Cowboys. Hopefully an improved defensive line will help out the secondary, and perhaps J.J. Wilcox will become the player we hope and need him to be. We need more play making confident players back there.
Linebackers: Sean Lee
Lee is in the same boat as Murray, in that, he cannot seem to stay healthy. Lee would be in elite status if it weren’t for the injuries. He is always around the ball, and he gets the ball back for the offense. Lee gives the defense the playmaking player they need, but he needs to stay on the field. The Cowboys are likely hoping one of the other young linebackers turn into a playmaker. Keep an eye on Devonte Holloman, and Anthony Hitchens. Will Smith will be in the mix too.
Defensive Line: Henry Melton
Melton is the Cowboys newest free agent addition, and for me, becomes an instant impact player for the Cowboys defensive line. Melton will play in the 3-tech (pass rushing) defensive tackle spot, and should be an upgrade to the departed Jason Hatcher. Melton has commanded double-teams, which should open up the edge rush from George Selvie and DeMarcus Lawrence or whomever Marinelli has in rotation for that matter. The Cowboys have the potential to really have a stout defense if some of these 2014 picks payoff. I’m excited about Lawrence, and Gardner at end. Bishop at the 1-tech DT should be solid, and Davon Coleman may be able to contribute as well. If any or all these guys can be a playmaker, then I love our odds in the NFC East. Let’s live in the backfield baby!
Special Teams: Dan Bailey
Outside of the Cowboys signing Henry Melton, Dan Bailey was the other great free agent signing of the offseason. Bailey was locked up for 6 more years, and will be clutch for us for years to come. Bailey had impressive college career winning the Lou Groza award in 2010, the award given to the best placekicker in college, and he picked up right where his college career ended. The Cowboys got a steal signing Bailey as an undrafted free agent in 2011. I have to give Dwayne Harris an honorable mention here, as he has turned into a legitimate return specialist.