Pro Football Focus’ Ben Linsey recently reviewed the rosters of each NFL team and compiled a list of the top three players on each team. His ranking of the Cowboys roster raised some eyebrows as there was a glaring omission that can’t be ignored.
Linsey wasn’t explicit in his description of the criteria he used to grade each roster. But he did mention the players he chose were who each franchise is building around.
PFF listed the following Dallas players, in no specific order, as the best three:
Guard Zack Martin
In most cases, being drafted in round one means you’re expected to be a day one starter on your new team. The Notre Dame alumni has lived up to those standards and some from the beginning, earning pro bowl and first team all pro honors as a rookie.
In the seven seasons since, Martin has tacked on six more pro bowl appearances and four more all pro honors.
The best ability is availability, and Martin has been able to avoid significant injuries through his career. In the regular season, Martin has missed only nine games in eight seasons.
Left Tackle Tyron Smith
Like Martin, Smith was a first round draft pick and has been starting since his rookie campaign in 2011. Both linemen are especially important considering they’re tasked with protecting the two players occupying the most salary cap space for Dallas this season: Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott.
Unlike Martin, Smith has had trouble staying off the injury report in recent seasons. Martin is actually about one month older than Smith, but Smith was drafted three seasons before Martin. That extra wear-and-tear is clearly impacting Smith heading into year 12.
In 2020, Smith only played in two games after neck surgery ended his season. In 2021, it was a combination of a high ankle sprain and time spent on the COVID reserve list that limited Smith to 11 games. But this didn’t stop him from earning a selection to the pro bowl last season.
If healthy, Smith is undoubtedly one of the most valuable players for Dallas. But it’s hard to list him as a top building block for Dallas when hasn’t played a full game since 2015.
Linebacker Micah Parsons
This is the most interesting selection because unlike the players previously mentioned, Parsons is still very green in his NFL career.
His 2021 season was impressive not just by rookie standards, but by those set for the league’s best pass rushers. Parsons recorded 13 sacks, the sixth most in the NFL. Two more sacks and Parsons would’ve set the record for the most in a season by a rookie.
The biggest question now is can Parsons replicate his dominance in year two? Now that Cowboys 2022 opponents have a season’s worth of game film to find his weaknesses, can he improve his game enough this offseason to negate that?.
You could argue that even if Parsons has a sophomore slump or misses time due to injury, Dallas has enough talent defensively to cover his absence.
Prescott Should’ve Been In Over Smith Or Parsons
Quarterback is arguably the most important position in sports. It’s easy to say they’re over-glamorized or overrated considering there are 10 other offensive players lining up with the QB. But there’s a reason why they consistently win NFL MVPs and Heismans in college.
In 2020 when Prescott played in only five games due to a season ending injury, Dallas went 4-7 in his absence. In 2021 when Dak returned, the Cowboys went 12-5.
You can’t discredit what Parsons and the rest of Dallas’ defense did last season, but without Prescott healthy the offense can’t keep up with opponents.
The two-time pro bowler will especially be needed in 2022 with question marks at wide receiver after the departure of Amari Cooper this offseason. Dallas has young, unproven receivers that will need veteran leadership from Prescott if the Cowboys hope to repeat as NFC East champions and make a postseason run.