DALLAS - This year's Cowboys team has a great deal of potential. This franchise has drafted very well in recent years, giving it a young core that is the envy of most teams in the NFL. But of all the Cowboys, who's the most important to them? Who could they least afford to lose? We took a stab at this question with our own roster rankings, combined the results... and voila. Today look at the very best the Cowboys have to offer with the top five on the roster.
Previously: Our Top #10-6 Dallas Cowboys players
#5: Zack Martin
It's no coincidence Martin has been a Pro Bowler all three seasons he's been in the NFL and is No. 5 on this list. Not your typical interior offensive lineman, Martin has a rare combination of size, strength and agility that makes him an absolute force at right guard. Along with opening running lanes, Martin is adept in pass blocking and has enough quickness to get off his block and be effective on screens.
In two of his three seasons, a Cowboys running back won the league rushing title, with DeMarco Murray and Ezekiel Elliott taking home the hardware in 2014 and 2016, respectively.
Ironically, Martin was not Dallas' first target in the 2014 draft. Instead, the Cowboys reportedly were interested in linebacker Ryan Shazier, who the Pittsburgh Steelers took one pick before Dallas. Shazier just made his first Pro Bowl last season, and has missed extended time every season since he entered the league with injuries. And, of course, owner Jerry Jones famously had to bite his tongue to avoid selecting Johnny Manziel with the pick.
Proof that sometimes things really do work out in the end, as Martin was the final piece of Dallas' reconstructed, dynamic offensive line.
#4: Sean Lee
The anchor of the Cowboys defense, Lee is one of the most dominant and effective linebackers in the NFL when he stays healthy. Lee has torn his ACL three times in his career and has also battled concussions and toe injuries.
Last season, however, Lee managed to evade the injury bug and finished fifth in the league in tackles with 145. He also earned a trip to his second straight Pro Bowl, and was a first-team All Pro selection.
While Lee won't tally a lot of sacks (he only has 2,5 for his career,) he is an every down player and rarely comes out of the game. He is always flying to the ball and seems to be in on every tackle the defense makes.
Above all else, Lee's football IQ is perhaps his biggest asset. His ability to make last second adjustments and blow up plays before they even materialize makes him an invaluable asset to defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli and the Cowboys.
#3: Ezekiel Elliott
It didn't take long for Elliott to begin drawing comparisons to Cowboys legend Emmitt Smith during his record-setting rookie season. Along with taking home the league rushing title, Elliott broke Tony Dorsett's franchise rookie rushing mark, scampering for 1,633 yards in 2016.
Elliott's explosiveness and one-cut, downhill running style make him one of the most lethal backs in the NFL. Granted, his offensive line probably has something to say about Elliott's success, which may be why he bought them all ATVs for Christmas last year.
But even though Elliott is normally running through gaping holes, he is perfectly capable of making defenders miss on his own. Last season, Elliott finished fourth in the NFL in yards after contact, and frequently put defenders on posters with eye-popping hurdles. Elliott can also be used in third down situations with his ability to pick up blitzes and maintain blocks.
Despite his lingering troubles off the field, Elliott is one of, if not the most tantalizing running back in the game today. The Cowboys might be without his services for up to six games this season depending on the outcome of Elliott's suspension appeal.
#2: Tyron Smith
Typically offensive lineman aren't acknowledged much during games unless they're constantly giving up sacks or getting beat – which is why we hardly ever hear about our friend Tyron Smith. Not only is he, in my opinion, the best left tackle in the league, Smith is Dallas' unsung hero and consummate professional. And the one man responsible for protecting Dak Prescott's blindside.
At 6'5, 320 pounds, Smith has enormous size and a grip as strong as a vise. Simply put, when he gets ahold of a defensive end, he just doesn't let go. In 2013, Smith committed only one holding penalty, a tribute to his incredibly disciplined style of play.
So whether it's run blocking or pass blocking, Smith can do it all – the main reason Dallas selected him ninth overall in the 2011 Draft. He's been to four straight Pro Bowls and is incredibly durable, missing only a handful of games in his career.
It looks like he's here to stay, too, as the Cowboys signed Smith to an eight-year, $109M extension in 2014. Good move, Jerry. Cornerstone left tackles don't come around every day.
#1: Dak Prescott
You knew it had be Dak, didn't you? That's right, Prescott comes in as our No. 1 most important Cowboy for a few different reasons.
Coming off a historic rookie season in which he broke Tom Brady's record for most pass attempts to start a career without an interception, Prescott is back for more. Only this time, there's no Tony Romo waiting in the wings. No, this is Prescott's show now, and he has been handed the proverbial reins. This is all especially ironic when you consider this time last year, Prescott was third on Dallas' depth chart and considered a project by many, including the Cowboys.
One year and 13 wins later, Prescott has solidified himself as one of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL, proving doubters wrong at every turn. Dak won't be able to run a pro-style offense? Wrong. Dak doesn't have a strong enough arm? Wrong again. Prescott's efficiency in his rookie campaign was off the charts, tossing 23 touchdowns against just four interceptions while maintaining an 81.5 QBR. In fact, Prescott's QBR was so good, it ranked third in the league behind only Matt Ryan and Tom Brady, who you might remember duked it out for a Super Bowl.
Translation? Prescott is no project. He's only played 17 NFL games, but the future and present of the Cowboys rests squarely on Dak Prescott's arm.
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