With training camp just around the corner, it is time to start making predictions for the upcoming NFL season. The Dallas Cowboys will once again have high expectations as a team, so let’s look at who the difference makers will be on both sides of the ball.
Offensive Player of the Year:
I have picked this award under the pretense that all positions are of equal importance and are equally scarce throughout the league (otherwise this obviously would’ve been Tony Romo) I am going with Tyron Smith for the following reasons:
1) As a rookie he was borderline dominant at RT, except against Jason Babin. It is often thrown around that RT is a far easier position than LT because you don’t face the same caliber of pass rusher most weeks, but this is overblown for the most part. Kerrigan, the aforementioned Babin, Matthews, Tuck, Umenyiora, Robison, Mathis, Dumervil, and Hali all rush predominantly from the opponent’s right side. The list goes on. Most teams play their best rusher on the offense’s left side but there are lots of good pass rushers coming from the right. The difference in performance between sides for the same player is not usually great.
2) Also, for most players, the biggest jump they make is from year 1 to year 2.
For these reasons I expect Smith to have an all-pro year and jump into the conversation as one of the best LT’s in the game.
Other candidates include: Tony Romo, Miles Austin, Jason Witten, and Demarco Murray. I think with an improved defense this year, Romo stands a good chance of winning some playoff games and shaking off the choker label. Austin has struggled with injuries the last couple of years, but if he can stay healthy he could have a great year. Witten was second on my list. He had a down year blocking last year, but most importantly was as good as ever as a receiver, which I fully expect to continue. Demarco Murray has a small sample size, but showed huge potential, putting up huge numbers even when his offensive line wasn’t dominant. In saying this, the chances are his YPC regress to the mean somewhat.
Defensive Player of the Year:
This one’s easy – DeMarcus Ware. What do I need to say? Ware is going to be a first ballot HOF, has a strong case as the best pass rusher EVER http://www.footballperspective.com/random-perspective-on-the-2012-dallas-cowboys/, and going off of last year isn’t slowing down much (if at all). Other candidates include Sean Lee, Jay Ratliff, and Morris Claiborne. I could easily see this being Lee but due to his boom or bust nature in pass coverage last year I chose Ware as the more likely bet. Ratliff saw a drop-off in play last year, only really playing dominantly against Kielce of the Eagles (a rookie 6th round pick, albeit quite a good one), but he could bounce back. I threw Morris Claiborne in there because he has the potential to get a heap of picks and/or be a dominant player this year. I am in no way expecting that though, he is less likely to get this award than the other players mentioned.
Player that most exceeds expectations:
Brodney Pool. Brodney Pool is an underrated player; he is a good FS that has consistently rated out as above average in coverage according to PFF and posted strong coverage numbers. Barry Church is no threat to unseat him in the starting line-up. Church is a run stuffing strong safety type that struggles in coverage, the type of player with little value in this league anymore. Sensabaugh is also a SS, so will not play in place of him. I’ve heard good things about Matt Johnson but he is a rookie 5th round pick, the chances of him beating out Pool for the starting FS job aren’t great.
Other candidates: Marcus Spears, Kenyon Coleman, Mike Jenkins. Spears has a shot at this as he has claimed his poor play last year was due to a position change from LE to RE, and that he will be moving back to LE thus year. Let’s hope this is true. Coleman is listed because a lot of people have speculated he could be on the roster bubble due to his age and salary, but many don’t realize he played quite well last year. The assumption seems to be that Jenkins will be the fourth CB this year, but I see no reason (other than the terrible contract given to him) Scandrick shouldn’t have to compete for his job, he consistently shown himself to be an average player whilst Jenkins has at least shown flashes of good play, albeit inconsistently and durability is a big factor for him.
Most likely to disappoint:
Dan Connor. Dan Connor by all accounts is a two down run stuffer. In his limited snaps in the NFL he has consistently graded out well against the run and poor in coverage by PFF. A recent fan post on BTB echoed this sentiment with the caveat that he didn’t even look impressive in run defense (albeit this post was not by a scout, but they did watch multiple games). Bradie James and Keith Brooking were both heavily criticized for their play last year, mostly in pass coverage. It was the popular consensus that they no longer had the required agility and acceleration to play significant snaps in the NFL anymore. So to solve our woes we’ve signed a heavy footed LB with a similar style of play. Not to mention the fact that he wasn’t even a starter for his last team, the Carolina Panthers. Hopefully he can play impressively in run defense and be solid enough in coverage until Bruce Carter has shown enough to take the majority of snaps, but until then, I wouldn’t hold my breath.
11-5. Last year the Cowboys were held back by their pass defense. With Claiborne, Jenkins, Scandrick, and Brandon Carr fixing the gaping hole at CB, to go along with Lee’s development coupled with Bruce Carter’s emergence as at least a solid coverage player the Cowboys should be able to field at least an average pass defense, if not far better. That along with an already good offense should mean great things for Cowboys fans this year.
This is Ben Fitzgerald’s first article for sportdfw.com. Follow him on twitter: @Ben24626