From Dak Prescott to DaRon Bland: Cowboys’ 10 most important players for second half

Getting a sixth win was the most important part of the Dallas Cowboys’ 49-17 victory over the New York Giants on Sunday. Next on the list was probably that they made it through the game without any notable injuries.

“That is great news,” Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said Monday on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas. “We’re actually a very healthy team right now. We came through the game really well.”

Injuries have led to CB Trevon Diggs and LB Leighton Vander Esch being out for the rest of the season. But for the most part, the Cowboys have a good portion of their roster available and playing well as they begin navigating through the second half of their season.

Judging by how well some are playing and the depth being greater at certain positions, it’s interesting to look at the roster and see who might be the team’s most important players over the next few months.

We recently did that, and came up with the following list.

For the Cowboys to achieve all of their goals, they will need their franchise quarterback to be playing at the level he has over the last four games. It has been extremely impressive to see how Dak Prescott has bounced back from one of the worst performances of his career at San Francisco. Over the last four games, he has completed 101-of-140 passes for 1,354 yards, 12 touchdowns, two interceptions and a 125.1 passer rating. He has also run 19 times for 90 yards and two touchdowns during that stretch. His passer rating has climbed to 105.1, third-best in the NFL.

“He’s playing as good as I’ve ever seen him play,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. “He’s playing with confidence, but knowledge of the offense. He’s playing in sync with his coaching. As good as I’ve seen him play.”

The Cowboys have excellent depth at edge rusher, but their defense wouldn’t be nearly as good without their most talented player. When Micah Parsons isn’t wrecking havoc, he’s often opening things up for teammates because of the attention he commands. Parsons has talked recently about how fresh he feels compared to previous years at this time in the season. If Dallas can have a relatively healthy Parsons entering the playoffs, he could be the type of difference-maker that players like Aaron Donald and Von Miller have been for previous Super Bowl winners.

The hottest wide receiver in the NFL has been exceptional since the loss at San Francisco. His numbers over the last four games: 41 receptions, 617 receiving yards, four total touchdowns. If you averaged those stats out over a full season, CeeDee Lamb would finish with 174 receptions, 2,622 yards and 17 touchdowns. “He’s just amazing,” Cowboys offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said. “If you watch some of the things he’s doing at the line of scrimmage, releasing and things like that, even when he’s doubled (he’s getting open). And there are certain players like that in this league. We believe even if he’s doubled, it doesn’t mean they can cover him.”

He might not even need practice. Because of his injury history, Tyron Smith could be better off not practicing (or being very limited) and just playing on Sundays. He has suffered some setbacks during practice this season. Over the last two weeks, the limited reps during the week haven’t led to any issues in the games. Smith has responded by playing some of his best ball. Prescott’s job is a lot easier when he doesn’t have to constantly worry about who is rushing from his blindside. Dallas’ offensive line depth is an issue. The next-best left tackle option is left guard Tyler Smith. The Cowboys are clearly better when the two Smiths are lining up together.

Cowboys left tackle Tyron Smith is playing his 13th season in the NFL. He’s been selected to eight Pro Bowls. (Bill Streicher / USA Today)

There’s no question that the future Pro Football Hall of Famer belongs on this list. It’s scary to think what could happen to the right side of the offensive line if Zack Martin isn’t available. His work is probably taken for granted. Martin, who has also become a vocal leader for the group, remains one of the game’s best offensive linemen. He seems to be on track to make first-team All-Pro for the third consecutive season and seventh time overall in his career. Pro Football Focus has him tied with Tyler Smith as the sixth-best graded guards this season.

6. Tyler Smith

The plan has been for him to be the team’s starting left guard early in his career and then transition to left tackle after Tyron Smith retires. But left guard might just be his overall best spot. He has been excellent this season. Again, the value of Martin, Tyron Smith and Tyler Smith is elevated by such a significant drop-off in the depth of this year’s Cowboys offensive line.



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Pro Football Focus has him graded as the NFL’s ninth-best interior defender this season. The Cowboys don’t have another player in the top 50 of that category. Osa Odighizuwa is second on the team behind Parsons in several statistical categories, including tackles for loss (6) and QB hits (7). There would be a significant drop-off in the interior of the Cowboys’ defensive line if they didn’t have Odighizuwa.

There aren’t many cornerbacks in the league playing as well as DaRon Bland is this season. He is one of the NFL’s most underrated players. Bland added his fifth interception of the year on Sunday. His 10 over the last two seasons are more than any other player. The Cowboys have been extremely fortunate to have him step up after losing Diggs. Bland ranks as the second-best CB in the NFL this year, according to PFF.



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The goal was for him to take his game to the next level this season as veteran TE Dalton Schultz moved on in free agency. Jake Ferguson appears to be on track. He has separated himself from the other tight ends on the roster, catching touchdown passes in each of the last three games. The trust is clearly growing between Ferguson and Prescott. His pass-catching has improved and he grades on PFF as a top 10 blocking tight end.

The numbers haven’t been there this season, but he will be extremely valuable to this offense if it’s going to get where it needs to go. He’s the clear No. 2 wide receiver on the roster behind Lamb. He has the most experience. It was a good sign that he was able to have a breakout performance Sunday with nine catches for 173 yards and a touchdown. If the Cowboys are going to make a deep playoff run, Brandin Cooks will likely need to be a big part of the offense going forward.

Next 5: DE DeMarcus Lawrence, CB Stephon Gilmore, RB Tony Pollard, K Brandon Aubrey, LB Markquese Bell.

(Top photo of Micah Parsons: Mitchell Leff / Getty Images)

“The Football 100,” the definitive ranking of the NFL’s best 100 players of all time is on sale now. Order it here.

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