Seven Cowboys crack Pete Prisco's best 100 NFL players for 2020 but none in top 10
The names are expected, but where some them are ranked isn't
It's not the normal offseason for the NFL, or any other sport, for that matter. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the league into a virtual offseason that is currently ongoing, but progress is being made with teams now being allowed to reopen facilities — albeit to limited personnel that doesn't include coaches or players. While all of that is sorted out, we can all enjoy diving deep into fiery debates that involve everything from regular season predictions to player rankings, with the latter always guaranteed to make splash at the office water cooler (when all are allowed to return to it).
For the Dallas Cowboys, it's another year of having several players ranked among the best in the league, so seeing a total of seven make it to CBS Sports insider Pete Prisco's Top 100 list should be of no surprise to anyone. Despite the team having ended the 2019 season in disappointing fashion, they weren't lacking for talent whatsoever, but rather the inability to execute (coaches included) when their backs were against wall. What is interesting, however, is where Prisco slotted each of the Cowboys' top players — placing not a single one in the top 15.
And with that said, let's have a two-lemonade discussion.
17. RB Ezekiel Elliott
Ranked higher: Christian McCaffrey (5)
Based on how the list panned out, all things considered, Elliott got a fair shake. While he's arguably the best running back in the NFL, the statement is just that: arguable. A case can also be made that McCaffrey is, and he has the stats and film to back it up. Elliott's historic contract with the Cowboys set the stage for McCaffrey to do the same with the Carolina Panthers, and both will continue dominating the league for a very, very long time to come. No other halfback being ranked between No. 5 and No. 17 is quite the compliment from Prisco to Elliott. It means he believes there's only one running back better than the latter and, in his opinion, it's not Saquon Barkley.
46. QB Dak Prescott
Welp, so much for compliments. Prescott lands just barely in the top 50 and as the seventh-best quarterback in the rankings, which feels like a snub for the two-time Pro Bowler. He's coming off a career-best season across the board and fell only a few yards shy of leapfrogging Tony Romo for the most yards ever thrown for in a single season in franchise history, and would've blown past the mark effortlessly if the receiving corps didn't lead the league in drops — which would've also put them in the playoffs. From an individual standpoint, Prescott outperformed both Rodgers and an aging Brady, so those two being ranked higher feels more like a nod to their legacy more than anything else.
Prescott is on the verge of landing the richest contract in Cowboys history, and it's because he's far better than the 46th-best player in the NFL, and at the most important position in football.
50. G Zack Martin
Ranked higher: Quenton Nelson (15)
The perennial All-Pro has shown not only the grit to play through injury, but that he can also still perform at an elite level when doing so. It was a sixth year of dominance for Martin who at this point is a future first-ballot Hall of Famer, but he barely cracked the top 50 on this list. Having missed only two games in his entire career, Martin is hyper-durable and and not-so-arguably the best right guard in the entire league. For perspective on this ranking, it must be noted that Nelson operates left of center in Indy, and considering only two guards made the top half of the list, maybe this is more of a positional devaluation at RG than a direct slight to Martin.
58. DE DeMarcus Lawrence
Ranked higher: Aaron Donald (2), Cameron Jordan (12), Joey Bosa (13), Nick Bosa (24), Danielle Hunter (25), J.J. Watt (32), Cameron Heyward (33), Chris Jones (36), Calais Campbell (39), Myles Garrett (47)
Lawrence is coming off a down season in sack production, but there's a reason for it. Having logged two consecutive double-digit sack seasons going into 2019, opposing offenses were keen on doing all they could to account for him. His presence freed up Robert Quinn to have a resurgent season en route to a mega-payday in free agency, and Lawrence's ability as one of the best run-stopping edge defenders is something the Cowboys routinely benefit from. He was often seen only inches away from taking down the opposing quarterback — his pressure rate again being one of the highest in the NFL — and that's why he's not lower on the list, despite the reduced number of sacks. It's because, to put it plainly, getting sacks isn't the only thing an elite edge rusher does.
77. OT La'el Collins
Considering not all tackles are created equal — i.e., left versus right — and the fact there aren't many offensive lineman named in the top 100, the fact Collins is ranked as a top-five talent just feels right. Quiet as it's kept, the veteran Cowboys protector excelled in 2019 and put on film the best season of his young career, following the signing of a two-year, $15.4 million contract extension. Collins, who logged only three penalties in 1,001 snaps, allowed a career-low 3.5 sacks on Prescott and is a stout lane-carver for Elliott. Collins has made a name for himself as one of the best right tackles in the NFL and is getting better with each passing season. He's a Pro Bowl-caliber talent who simply hasn't been voted to Orlando just yet.
80. OT Tyron Smith
Ranked higher: Ryan Ramczyk (23), Ronnie Stanley (27), Lane Johnson (30), Mitchell Schwartz (41), La'El Collins (77)
Yes, it's odd to see Smith ranked below Collins, but it's also difficult to argue the two should swap places. Although Smith has a Hall of Fame resume and shows no signs of slowing down when healthy, the issue is just that — he needs to remain healthy. The All-Pro hasn't played a complete season since 2015 and he's not getting any younger, which hints at continued durability issues. That said, when he's on the field, he's an absolute terror who routinely rag-dolls supposedly adult men who attempt to get past him. Smith allowed only one sack in 2019 and none — that's right, zero — the year prior. He's far more penalized than Collins though so, again, their position on the list relative to each other is justified.
81. WR Amari Cooper
Ranked higher: Michael Thomas (4), Julio Jones (14), Chris Godwin (29), DeAndre Hopkins (31), Tyreek Hill (43), Mike Evans (45), Davante Adams (48), A.J. Green (63), Odell Beckham, Jr. (64), Keenan Allen (66)
"Oh." – Amari Cooper, probably
The four-time Pro Bowl wideout lands, finally, as the 11th-ranked receiver on the list and only 19 spots from not making it at all. This is despite Cooper having battled a list of lower-body injuries in 2019 and still racking up nearly 1,200 receiving yards and eight touchdowns en route to another free trip to Orlando. His 66.4 percent catch rate was the second-highest of his career, and the Cowboys had seen enough to know they wanted to award him a five-year, $100 million contract this offseason. He has four 1,000-yard seasons out of his five in the NFL, and more Pro Bowl nods than some ranked above him who've been in the league longer.
Still, Prisco isn't convinced, and went as far as additionally putting him behind tight end Darren Waller (79), for maximum "oof."