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? Four of us took a stab at this question with our own roster rankings, combined the results... and voila. We're proud to present the first of four installments of WFAA's 2017 Cowboys roster rankings. Enjoy!
#20: David Irving:
The David Irving we saw late last season was perhaps the Cowboys' second-best defender. For moments, he was a terror; a pass-rushing demon sent from the football gods to terrorize quarterbacks for past sins. He single-handedly took over against Jameis Winston and the Buccaneers, helping to put away a close game.
However, we don't always see that David Irving. We won't see him for the first four games of this season, as he's been suspended by the NFL for a performance enhancing drug that he says he wasn't aware qualified as one (check your supplements, kids). Irving could vault into the top 10 by the middle of this year, and he could fall off entirely. The Cowboys can only hope their 6'7 lineman channels his late-season magic over the course of 2017. If he does, he'll receive a serious paycheck.
#19: Chidobe Awuzie
No unit on the team saw as much turnover as the defensive backs. Brandon Carr, Mo Claiborne, Barry Church and JJ Wilcox all found greener (as in the color of money) pastures, and the team replaced them by throwing half their draft at new defensive backs. Chido Awuzie, taken 60th overall, is the jewel of that class. Projected as an early 2nd-round talent by most, Awuzie fell due to the richness of the cornerback position in this year's draft. In four years at Colorado he was a versatile, productive performer who lined up all over the secondary.
By all accounts, the Cowboys have been duly impressed by his work - Awuzie has spent significant time with the #1 defense early in training camp, even matching up with Dez Bryant on occasion. He'll likely get the majority of his snaps as a cornerback, but should also play some safety.
#18 Terrance Williams
Terrance Williams is an underrated player. The hometown kid has been a consistently healthy, reliable #2 receiver for Dallas since being drafted in 2013. But his flaws always left fans wanting more, rather than appreciating what he is. Williams is a productive deep threat who has never missed a game, rarely drops passes and comes free of the off-field issues several other Cowboys receivers have dealt with recently.
The advanced stats recognize his contributions - last year, Williams ranked fourth among wide receivers in
Football Outsider's DVOA stat - an illustration of his efficiency when involved in a play. Williams was targeted 61 times last year and totaled 594 yards - 9.7 yards per attempt. Dez Bryant was targeted 96 times for 796 yards - 8.3 yards per attempt. Obviously, nobody's arguing about who's better. Bryant faces tougher coverage and more attention, creating opportunities for players like Williams. But T-Will is a very solid player and a positive part of this team.
#17 Anthony Brown
The Cowboys' 2016 draft will go down in history as one of their best. Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott got most of the love, but there was also Maliek Collins. There was Jaylon Smith. And way back in the sixth round, Anthony Brown.
Brown didn't come in with a lot of fanfare. He performed well at the combine and rode the wave of a strong senior season at Purdue, but for whatever reason he was not on many teams' radar. With Orlando Scandrick and Mo Claiborne sidelined early in 2016, Brown got his opportunity - and he did not disappoint. For most other teams, Brown might have been the standout rookie of their class. He played significant snaps and never looked out of place. He might be a better fit covering slot receivers than outside, but Brown has the speed to run with most and should only improve going forward.
#16: DeMarcus Lawrence
It's put up or shut up time for Demarcus Lawrence. The pass-rusher known as 'Tank' has flashed great potential during his time as a Cowboy, but just as frequently he's had stretches of looking slow or confused. He's also spent large chunks of seasons injured or suspended, making him a fourth-year player with 32 NFL games to his name.
Lawrence's 2015 season drives the optimism. He had 8 sacks that year and was a rare bright spot for an underperforming Cowboys team. But his 2016 failed to live up to expectations and he ended the campaign with a single sack. Nobody's sure what to expect from Demarcus Lawrence, but in the last year of his rookie deal, he has a significant opportunity to prove himself - and profit handsomely as a result.