The 10 players your team can least afford to lose to injury, Cowboys edition

Wait... Doug Free gave up 10 sacks last year and had 10 penalties. He's the 7th most devastating injury the Cowboys could suffer? Really? Yup.

10. Morris Claiborne: I think Brandon Carr will be the better player in 2012, and the Cowboys now have good depth at CB this season, but with Mike Jenkins almost assuredly being on another team in 2013, Claiborne needs to get his NFL sea legs his rookie season. Speaking of Carr, (and I should note that this is not me saying that signing Carr was a bad idea), he’ll average a cap hit of about $10 million per season over the next 5 years.  Anthony Spencer will count $8.8 million against the cap in 2012.  And neither player makes this list.

9. Jay Ratliff: The soon to be 31 year old Ratliff may already be in decline, but he’s still one of the best NTs in the game.  Ratliff’s backup is Josh Price-Brent, a player that I actually like, but we just haven’t seen all that much of.  While Ratliff’s production is down sharply over the last two years (14.5 sacks in 2008-09, 5.5 in 2010-11), he is still very active and capable of getting to the QB on a team that doesn’t have many players capable of getting to the QB.

8. Sean Lee: This should be a big year for Sean Lee, who is entering his third season.  Former ILBs Bradie James and Keith Brooking stunk up the place last year, but they served as the veteran presence of this defense.  Both players are now gone, so Lee will need to take that next step in taking over a leadership role.  When the season begins, DeMarcus Ware will be 30, and Ratliff, as I already noted above, will be 31.  Those guys aren’t going to be around forever.  At some point this will be Sean Lee’s defense.  With so many new pieces in place on the defense, this is a critical year for Lee to play well and earn the respect of the players around him.

7. Doug Free: There are certainly better players lower on the list than Free, and Free definitely did not play well last year.  And yet, the Cowboys are in a world of trouble if he gets hurt due to a complete lack of depth behind him and Tyron Smith at tackle.  The only depth right now at tackle is Jermey Parnell and Levy Adcock. Parnell is a converted DE that has bounced around the practice squads of the Saints and Dolphins, before landing in Dallas.  He has a grand total of 10 career snaps.  They also signed Levy Adcock as an undrafted free agent, who was a player many thought would be drafted in the late rounds.

I should also note that I expect Free to much better on the right side this season.

6. Jason Witten: We don’t know what the Cowboys offense would look like without Jason Witten, who just turned 30.  He hasn’t missed a game since 2003.  Statistically, 2011 may have been Witten’s worst in the last 5 years, and he still racked up 79 catches, 942 yards, 5 TDs, and 47 first downs.  There isn’t much behind Witten.  John Phillips was looking like he might become a really nice compliment to Witten, when he tore his ACL during the 2010 preseason.  I think that was a bigger blow to the team than most people realize.  Post injury, Phillips has yet to show the promise he once had, although now that he is a couple years removed from the ACL tear, this could be the year.  The Cowboys also drafted James Hanna in the 6th round.  Obviously any sort of dropoff from Witten to Phillips or Hanna would be enormous.

4 and 5. Miles Austin and Dez Bryant: I have a ton of respect for Miles Austin, and think he has become sort of a forgotten man this offseason.  In 2012, I fully expect him to return to the explosive receiver he is, provided he stays healthy.

At this point in his career, Dez Bryant is still more raw potential than he is a football player.  He’s kind of like the guy in the Japanese Yakuza on the Simpsons, that Homer doesn’t want to stop watching in case he does something awesome. Marge tries to get Homer to get in the house as the Italian mafia battles the Japanese Yakuza on their front lawn, and Homer whines:

But Marge, that little guy hasn’t done anything yet.  Look at him.  He’s going to do something and you know it’s going to be good.

Bryant has more raw ability than any WR in the bEast, and yet, when you compare him to the rest of the young receivers in the bEast in terms of their first 2 seasons in the league, he’s behind:

Player Team Rec Yards TD
DeSean Jackson Eagles 124 2068 11
Hakeem Nicks Giants 126 1824 17
Jeremy Maclin Eagles 126 1737 14
Victor Cruz (1 season) Giants 82 1536 9
Dez Bryant Cowboys 108 1489 15

I’m not sure if that is a good thing or not.  His numbers are still good, even if he’s behind some of the other receivers noted above.  The optimist will say that if he can refine his game, he’ll be scary good.  The pessimist will say that the mental part of the game is the toughest part, and it’s no sure thing that Dez will ever get to the point where he’ll put it all together.

Whichever way you lean, both Bryant and Austin HAVE TO stay healthy, this year more than any other.  The Cowboys already don’t have a player currently on their roster that is a surefire 3rd receiver.  If they lose one of their top 2 WRs, defenses can load up on the remaining WR and Witten, leaving Romo to have to win throwing to unaccomplished players.

3. Tyron Smith: Here’s what I wrote about Trent Williams when I did this same exercise for the Redskins:

A sampling of some RDEs/ROLBs the Redskins’ LT will face this season: Adrian Clayborn (7.5 sacks, 3 FF), John Abraham (9.5 sacks, 4 FF), Jared Allen (22 sacks, 4 FF), Jason Pierre-Paul x2 (16.5 sacks, 2 FF), James Harrison (9 sacks, 2 FF), Charles Johnson (9 sacks, 1 FF), Trent Cole x2 (11 sacks, 1 FF), and DeMarcus Ware x2 (19.5 sacks, 2 FF).

Some teams are strong across the rest of their OL and can afford to give their LT additional help.  This is not the case in Washington.  There will be no shortage of times when Trent Williams will be asked to handle the above players one-on-one for long stretches of games.  Last year, when Williams was lost for the last 4 games for failing a drug test, Willie Smith was awful.  Williams needs to not only grow up, but begin to play like the enormously talented player that he is, and stay on the field.  With the golden child in town, the stakes are higher.

The same rationale about Williams having his share of 1-on-1 matchups due to a weak interior OL largely applies to Smith as well.  The difference between the two players, however, is that Tyron Smith is already a stud, and at 21 years of age is already all growns up.

Oh, and see the explanation next to Doug Free about the complete lack of depth at OT.

2. Tony Romo: I really struggled picking the #1 spot between Romo and Ware.  I didn’t want to be the guy that picked a another player over one of the QBs, just because putting the QB at #1 for all four teams is boring.  That is known as “Peter Kinging it.” But I really think this is the order.  Obviously, if the Cowboys lose Romo, it’s a killer.  But in the Cowboys’ case, unlike the rest of the NFC East, they undeniably have a top 5 backup QB, and maybe even the best one in the league.

1. DeMarcus Ware: If Ware goes down, opposing QBs will have all day to hang out in the pocket and pick the Cowboys’ defense apart.  For as bad as Dallas’ defense has been at times over the last two seasons, I can’t even imagine how ugly it would have been without Ware rushing the passer. The Dallas secondary will of course be better this year (can’t see how it could possibly get any worse than what Terence Newman gave them last year), which would soften the blow of a Ware injury.  But clearly, DeMarcus is rare force that is going to cruise into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot whenever he hangs them up… and he’s very much still in his prime.

42 Comments

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  8. johan jensen says:

    Hey There Bloggingthebeast,
    Interesting Thoughts, San Diego State’s 2010-11 basketball season has deeply memorable. The Aztecs emerged as a surprise national championship contender early in the season. But is the program’s greatest season?
    BTW great blogpost

    1. brisulph says:

      At least it is talking about sports this time…

  9. DerfDiggy says:

    Interesting convos going on here in the comments section…

    I need to get some popcorn ready……

  10. Seanrude says:

    You are not “peter kinging it” unless you misnomer your paragraphs, include at least two paragraphs about coffee, one about train travel, and 37 paragraphs about your favorite baseball team.

    The bot who commented above me has more talent than Peter King

    1. Seanrude says:

      misnumber, not misnomer

  11. rational says:

    *Dez has the same amount of years in the league as Victor Cruz but is two years younger. However, how many people actually think that Cruz will continue to have seasons like he did last year without facing that Dallas secondary from last year two times a year. Cruz is the type of guy who gets scouted and comes back to earth because he does not have any particular physical trait that allows him to dominate who covers him other than the fact that he doesn’t see very much double coverage because Nicks is on the other side. I think Dez draws more attention than even Miles Austin (and Cruz, of course). I look forward to that guy coming back to earth. But I do believe that the Giants will run the ball better this year.

    1. BBI says:

      Cruz has great lateral agility, allowing him to run precise routes and really sharp cuts. He also has a 41″ vertical. Also can’t discount his intelligence. He finds the soft spots in the zone.

      As far as Dez goes:

      “The next two years, I think you will see Dez improve to be the best receiver in the whole division. He will be deadly; I think non cowboys fans in the East are scared of his possible development (he has only played 1 full season of games) and look for anything that could potentially be wrong with the guy.”

      He certainly has the talent to become the best, but he’s got a ton of work to do. Nicks, Maclin and Cruz have both done more than he has to date, and all are almost as young as he is. Of course, non-Cowboy fans don’t want him to develop, and to an extent we could be scared, but if you’re a Giants fan or Eagles fan, you have your own threats that are, at this point, just better.

      “But a receiver that is young and can dominate Darrell Revis sure has an influx of doubters. The kid works hard and has a great attitude toward his team.”

      He does certainly work hard, I’ll give him that, and its going to be his 3rd season so obviously, I look to see that “3rd yr jump” that WRs have. Have to disagree that he “dominated” Revis though…he had 3 catches for 70 yards.

      And of course I think Cruz can replicate (maybe not to the same degree) but as long as he’s got Nicks on the other side to help him out with coverages, why not? The Dallas secondary got better sure, but Carr will probably go on Nicks, and while Claiborne is an excellent prospect, he’s still a rookie. How many rookie CBs do you see making an impact? Not many, and I don’t think he’ll be effective this year. Same sort of thing as Prince Amukamara, Joe Haden, Patrick Peterson, etc.

      1. rational says:

        First off, how can you put Maclin in the same sentence? Cruz does have good lateral agility….but the vertical is not as important as you think. Sure its nice to have….matter of fact, he better have it as his size is not a plus for him. I honestly think Dez’s real breakout year will be 2013. So I know I will probably have to have another year of listening to some doubts as if he will ever meet his potential. I tell you this, the sweetest thing will be if the cowboys win the superbowl in the next 2 or three years. Because they have a realistic chance but there is so much doubt by people like you. It could very well not happen but if it does happen, it will be the sweetest superbowl win in the history of the cowboys because of all of the doubters out there (when there should still be credibility and respect for their potential to do so). The seasons where your team is expected to win it….well, when the teams falls short of expectations its the worst…………Eagles fans, you know what I’m talking about. But when the team is doubted as much as the cowboys are (two or three times a week it seems that there is a segment or article on espn or nfl network that they suck). Even though I complain that you guys are crazy to not acknowledge their talent and possibility to truly contend; I like the lack of pressure that your insults and doubt create. Losses aren’t so painful (let me clarify, the average losses….the giants games, jets, and detroit losses were painful…….the eagles games were just easy to walk away from and forget about because Dallas was murdered….even though the Eagles are the team I hate the most). Its nicer to lose with lower initial expectations (believe me, there were a couple years where the expectations were high that it was very painful) are low, as long as you can maintain your own RATIONAL optimism and not get depressed by all of the negative publicity that is not warranted. So, in a nutshell……….you guys suck. The East will be very tough again…….but that, of course, has nothing to do with how good the cowboys are. Shhhhhhhhhhh……they are a pretty damn good team.

        1. BBI says:

          “First off, how can you put Maclin in the same sentence?”

          I can put Maclin in the same sentence because to date, he’s had a better career than Dez Bryant.

          “Cruz does have good lateral agility….but the vertical is not as important as you think. Sure its nice to have….matter of fact, he better have it as his size is not a plus for him.”

          Cruz has a 41″ vertical and he’s 6’0. Bryant has a 35″ vertical at 6’2. Bryant is not that much taller than Cruz.

          “I honestly think Dez’s real breakout year will be 2013. So I know I will probably have to have another year of listening to some doubts as if he will ever meet his potential.”

          So then the doubt is justified if it takes him FOUR years to reach his potential, is it not? And yeah, when you don’t have a great season, people will doubt you. Dez had a good season, not a great one. Jamarcus Russell had tons of potential, but it means nothing if you can’t act on it. I’m in no way equating Dez to Jamarcus, because obviously he’s not a bust, but the point here is, he has work to do if he wants to become the best WR in the NFC East.

          “I tell you this, the sweetest thing will be if the cowboys win the superbowl in the next 2 or three years. Because they have a realistic chance but there is so much doubt by people like you. It could very well not happen but if it does happen, it will be the sweetest superbowl win in the history of the cowboys because of all of the doubters out there (when there should still be credibility and respect for their potential to do so). The seasons where your team is expected to win it….well, when the teams falls short of expectations its the worst…………Eagles fans, you know what I’m talking about. But when the team is doubted as much as the cowboys are (two or three times a week it seems that there is a segment or article on espn or nfl network that they suck). ”

          My original reply never really doubted the Cowboys chances, but okay. And I know exactly what that feels like because you were probably one of those guys that kept ripping the Giants all of last year, until they indeed did what you hope to do. And I’m sure you still think the Giants are overrated. So the Cowboys aren’t the only ones with doubters. Every team in the East has its own fair share of “haters” (which is exactly what you did yet again to the Eagles. Imagine that!)

          “So, in a nutshell……….you guys suck. The East will be very tough again…….but that, of course, has nothing to do with how good the cowboys are. Shhhhhhhhhhh……they are a pretty damn good team.”

          You know what? You’re right. Nobody should ever doubt the Cowboys, ye of 1 playoff win in the last 15 years. Might as well chalk it up to you guys who are perennially named NFC East champs before the season begins. If you do end up winning the division and ultimately the Superbowl, I’ll give your props. But until then, no I don’t care for the Cowboys to win the division because guess what, my team won the SB last year and is also a damn good team! Imagine that, people rooting for their favorite teams!

        2. PITTEAGLE says:

          First:
          Nnamdi absolutely handled dez bryant last year the two plays that stands out to me is when dez got owned on the fade in the end zone and the interception because of him (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VSydP_7XEe8). let me tell you some stat lines dez had 3-28-0 in the first absolute blowout vs the eagles and 6-62-0 in the second that was better but not amazing.

          Second:
          I am glad that you have content being the jaguars and never getting your hopes up for your team because it hurts less when they lose.

          Third:
          Your Pretty damn good team could move from third to fourth place in the nfc east with the giants coming off a superbowl the eagles having arguably the best draft in the NFL with the inclusion of Demeco Ryans for essentially a fourth rounder the arrival of RG3 to a team that beat the giants twice last year Mr. “Anti Clutch” Romo has a tough season in front of him.

        3. rational says:

          Maclin just has speed……..He is not a top 25 WR in the league. So don’t mention Maclin in the same sentence. I would love it if you were a GM for the Eagles. Because your evaluations are horrible. You guys do nothing but prove my point by just dragging these excellent players through the mud as if they are about to be run out of the league. And someone is talking about Dallas not winning a playoff game or a superbowl since 1995? Eagles fans should not talk about winning the big one…….because you never have.

          1. BBI says:

            I happen to be a Giants fan, so I know quite a bit about my team winning the big one recently.

          2. PITTEAGLE says:

            http://www.nfl.com/news/story/09000d5d8292b47e/article/cowboys-raiders-tebow-fans-rated-most-delusional?module=HP11_headline_stack

            Everyone knows dallas has the most delusional fans bro.

            And the eagles have 3 NFL championships get your history right.

            I would take maclin every day over dez especially if he is going to keeping bobbling the ball into dbs hands. If nothing else i know that i dont have to worry about maclin fighting lil wayne. Haha dez has talent i like hime especially in fade routs jumping over people but his character concerns are soooooo bad that Sanders GAVE up on him i see him burning out like to with the bills or the bengals in like 10 years and i only say 10 years because i see him being like T.O. where his talent is good enough for him to keep getting a job but his character will keep heavy character teams away from him.

          3. BBI says:

            AND you’re doing exactly what you say we’re doing.

            All we’re saying is that Dez needs to have a dominant season to be considered best WR in the NFC East. You are saying Victor Cruz is overrated despite him owning Dez in one season versus Dez’s two.

            1. Trueblue63 says:

              I’ve got a deal

              Dez can be the best WR in the NFCE

              And

              Giants can keep beating the Cowboys 2times per year and going to the playoffs.

              Cause I don’t care how our Giants are rated, I like watching Eli do post Super Bowl interviews. And I’ll miss Mario Manningham, he gave the best interviews ever. Oh Man, Oh Man, he’s cooler than the other side of the pillow … Those moments are priceless.

  12. rational says:

    I believe the loss of Jason Witten is ahead of Dez, Miles and Tyron Smith. Jeremy Parnell has great upside and was a young project that would be a pretty good fill in tackle. But losing Witten really changes how the Cowboys play offense. It was tough to even lose Martellus Bennett (even though I am glad they moved on) as he was an elite blocker but not a respectable receiver. Dallas really lacks depth at Tight End, which is not good as they rely on their tight ends to be responsible for multiple tasks. Also, you guys are hard on Dez as he has been in the league 1 to 3 years less than any of the guys mentioned and has never had the luxury of preparing to learn the offense or fully condition his body in a specific way with a strength coach in an off season for his very young career. The next two years, I think you will see Dez improve to be the best receiver in the whole division. He will be deadly; I think non cowboys fans in the East are scared of his possible development (he has only played 1 full season of games) and look for anything that could potentially be wrong with the guy. Remember that he dominated Darrell Revis as a 2nd year receiver with no-offseason enough to make Tony Romo depend on that match-up at the end of the game. Grant it, Dez didn’t help his quarterback out at the end of the game from letting Darrell grab a pick 6. But a receiver that is young and can dominate Darrell Revis sure has an influx of doubters. The kid works hard and has a great attitude toward his team. It wouldn’t surprise me that he would take a little longer to refine his routes and technique given this situation. Is that reasonable to say? Is it reasonable to say that his criticism is, in a large part, unwarranted?

    1. Eff. I know I’m going to totally regret getting into a whole thing here with you, but when exactly did Dez Bryant “dominate” Darrelle Revis?

      1. rational says:

        watch the game. First Sunday night game of the year. The first half. They could not defend him. Your boy Chris Collinsworth, specifically, was raving about the plays he was making against Revis. They were in awe.

        1. Here’s the danger of saying “Watch the game.” I actually can, and just popped in the tape.

          OK, so… Dez’s stat line for the game: 3-71-1.

          As you noted, he started strong. All of his receptions were in the first quarter.

          His first catch was a quick slant from the slot. The Cowboys caught the Jets with the wrong personnel on the field and Bryant had a linebacker on him. He smoked the LB easily and broke a couple tackles for about 40.

          Second catch was a fade. TD. Cromartie in coverage.

          Third catch was a beautiful back shoulder throw by Romo. Revis in coverage on the play. 24 yards.

          The rest of the game, he was targeted 5 times. No catches, and the big INT by Revis.

          1. Eagle Eye says:

            Lol, journalized.

          2. brisulph says:

            What’s amazing is that rational keeps coming back to get disproven so soundly.

            1. rational says:

              disproven soundly? The Ware thing, was more of a schematic football scenario that I don’t think was fair to single out Ware on….as there are other things to focus on. I maintain that Ware is a dominant run stopper. Maybe Ryan’s approach has less emphasis on that discipline.

              And sorry, I thought the fade pass was on Revis and not Cromartie. Still, Cromartie is probably better at defending fades that Revis (with his length)………a very impressive play. The rest of the game he was in and out with cramps. An offseason would help with that, don’t you think. Revis said during and after the game how much respect he had for Dez………yet he still gets an asterisk from you guys as if he is second tier and will never refine his play from year to year.
              I come back because this website and the followers of it really epitomize the problem with football fans. That they do not appreciate other teams (specifically Dallas) and schematically what they bring. Its always an emphasis on how one players sucks or one is “overrated” or “underrated”. What I have noticed is that just about every player on Dallas is underrated. And it seems like the ones that are overrated are placed there to take away credibility from another player. I’m just tired of it. Hell, even Dallas fans are influenced to think this way. Its annoying as hell.

              1. Look out, NFL. Dez is coming into 2012 cramp free.

              2. BBI says:

                Do you honestly believe fans of the Redskins, Eagles, and Giants are ganging up on solely the Cowboys?

                Most of it is simply putting an asterisk until we actually see production. We’ve done the same sort of thing with every other player in the East. Do you think anybody except Giants fans were excited about JPP after his 4.5 sack rookie season? Hell no! He got the respect when he earned it with a dominant performance this year.

                The biggest thing with Dez is potential. He’s flashed dominance, but he hasn’t put it together yet for a dominant season. In 27 games in his career, he has one 100 yard game. One. And that was 104 yards vs NYG in 2010. Victor Cruz had SEVEN 100 yd games in 15 games. And despite that, you are echoing exactly what you are frustrated about with everyone else….”However, how many people actually think that Cruz will continue to have seasons like he did last year “

              3. DerfDiggy says:

                Here’s where I think Rational is saying….Obviously, Dallas is a big draw in the league. So much so that it’s nearly impossible to be subjective regarding the team or players. The biases of analysts, bloggers, announcers, etc, etc are soooo apparent(for and against Dallas) that everything is magnified. Romo’s either a horrible choke artist QB, or “Top 5″(I just saw a video saying he was..think it was NFL Channel, could be wrong)….There’s no simply…”he’s a good NFL QB that could one day lead the Cowboys to the superbowl”. Some of that’s his fault obviously.

                Dez and the remainder of the team all belong to that category as well. Dez is such a great example of this phenomenon because he’s simply just been a “good” player with flashes of brilliance, and the learning curve for WR’s is so steep in the NFL that it does take a few years for everything to “click”. There is no leeway there, it’s literally..”Dez is too dumb to be an elite WR”…Compare Dez’s #’s thus far to Calvin Johnson’s 3 years into the league. CJ had a “OK” first year….GREAT second year…and then his 3rd year is nearly identical to Dez’s second year.

                So yea…I guess I understand the point Rational was making. The Cowboys have some holes, but every team in the league has holes…although not every team gets discredited like the Cowboys. I’ve never seen a teams strengths constantly get picked at(not just by you JimmyK). Ratliff is still an above average NT until proven otherwise, Ware is still a top 5 OLB in the league..even if the eagles schemed right at him, Romo is somewhere in the top 10 of QB’s, even with his yips…The “Bullies” played well early and faded at the end.

                I guess that’s part of being division rivals though.

                That and being America’s Team…..you have a lot of people that hate the team just because;)

                How Bout them Cowboys?!?!

              4. DerfDiggy says:

                I will also say that Cowboys fans overrate their own players more than any other team as well…

                I can’t even tell you how fans were saying AOA would be the next pro-bowl safety after being drafted.

      2. rational says:

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gCtWpLs0uWM&feature=related

        There is just not a cornerback who can shut him down now. Once he learns the ins and outs of the game………..scary. Especially considering Witten and Austin are on the field as well. You have to get Dallas with pressure up the gut……thats the only chance.

  13. Juz Saying says:

    Dez was killin in his 1st season & ballin til he got injured & missed have of his 1st season.

  14. bula says:

    i would take orton over rexy 100 times out of 100

  15. Redskins Fan says:

    “unlike the rest of the NFC East, they undeniably have a top 5 backup QB”….. um, while I think as a STARTER Sexy Rexy Grossman may be bad, there is no denying that the Redskins ALSO have one of the top 5 backup QBs now that it’s official that RG3 is the starter for the Redskins.

    Campbell, Orton, Grossman and Hasslebeck are (at least nominally) the four top baclups out there.

    1. There are also the following guys that are debatably better than Rexy:

      – Whoever loses out in Miami (Matt Moore or Tannehill)
      – Tim Tebow
      – Shaun Hill
      – Tarvaris Jackson

      Some might have Rexy top 5, and I wouldn’t argue, but it’s not a slam dunk, in my opinion.

    2. AustonianAggie says:

      I don’t really see Rex sticking on the Roster

      1. AustonianAggie says:

        not that I know Shannahan but when he pulls the plug on a QB he really pulls the plug. See Brian Greise and Jake Plummer. McNabb. I’m surprised he hasn’t already been cut

    3. slandog says:

      Haha, you’re funny. Rexy is no where near a top 5 backup. He started out of default last season. He’s an average backup at best.

      LOLskins

  16. ATLeagle says:

    the very concept behind these articles scares the shit out of me. This is just the road map of what will go wrong with your team.

    please , SSHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!! ( at least for the good guys )

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