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The 2020 Dallas Cowboys entered the season on a tear offensively. With new coach Mike McCarthy and a hot start for Dak Prescott and his cadre of receivers, the Cowboys appeared to be on a historic pace. But the wins were harder to come by. Even with a hot offense, the team started 1-3. Then the injuries started to pile up, Prescott was lost for the season and suddenly the Cowboys were 2-7, out of it in the NFC and even in the lowly NFC East. The offense cooled and the team limped to a 6-10 finish, wondering what might have been.
The Cowboys had some tough decisions to make this off-season and did it. While most of the focus was on repairing a porous defense, the biggest move might have been re-signing Prescott. He signed a four-year, $160 million deal that locks him in as the franchise quarterback for the foreseeable future. The banged up offensive line is healthy and the Cowboys are still loaded at the skill position, giving great optimism about the offense in 2021.
But what about the defense? The Cowboys parted ways with Mike Nolan and brought in Dan Quinn to lead the defense. While some veterans headed out, it was mostly an off-season spent bringing in talent for the Cowboys. They added veteran safeties Keanu Neal and Damontae Kazee who played for Quinn in Atlanta. The team also added veteran linebacker Tarell Basham.
But it was the draft where Dallas put the focus on defense, spending the team’s first six picks and eight of 11 picks overall on defensive players. The First-Round selection was Penn State Linebacker Micah Parsons, viewed as the best prospect at the position in the draft. The Cowboys also added secondary help with cornerback Kelvin Joseph in the Second Round and snagged Nashon Wright in the Third Round. All the new faces should help as Quinn looks to turn around the Cowboys’ defense in 2021.
Prescott is a great option at the position. Despite appearing in just four and a half games in 2020, he finished the season as QB33 overall. With a full season, he should meet or eclipse his 2019 numbers, when he threw for 4,902 yards and 30 TDs. I expect more than 5,000 yards and at least 30 TDs in 2021. He figures to be a Top 5 option at the position and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him finish as QB1.
In the backfield, Ezekiel Elliott had a tough 2020. He struggled with injuries, was behind a decimated offensive line and played most of the year without Prescott. Despite that, he rushed for 979 yards and 6 TDs, finishing as RB9. I think he’s Top 10 again in 2021, with better rushing numbers. I like Tony Pollard, but he’s still a handcuff to me with unstable week-to-week value.
Among receivers, CeeDee Lamb, Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup are all back. Each saw more than 100 targets in 2020 and that figures to continue. Lamb and Cooper finished as WR2s in 2020, while Gallup was on the cusp of WR3 range. With Prescott back, I think Lamb takes a year two leap. I think Lamb can jump into the Top 12, while Cooper remains a high-end WR2. Gallup will likely remain in the 36-45 range. At tight end, Blake Jarwin was injured to start the season but Dalton Schultz stepped up and finished as TE11. Both are back in 2021 and figure to split. It’s possible both finish as TE2s but I think Jarwin ends up with the slightly higher season finish.
I love the Cowboys’ talent; the question is whether they can put it all together. The defense seems poised to improve while the offense remains among the best in the NFL. The Cowboys haven’t had great success since the late 1990s but I think this team wins the NFC East and makes a decent playoff run.
Matthew Fox is a graduate of the Radio, Television and Film program at Biola University, and a giant nerd. He spends his free time watching movies, TV, and obsessing about football. He is a member of the FSWA. You can find him @knighthawk7734 on Twitter and as co-host of the Fantasy Football Roundtable Podcast.