The Dallas Cowboys 2020 season showed exactly where the team was weakest: offensive line depth, defensive line and secondary. After a long free agency and draft period, the team loaded up on all three areas.
Eight of the team’s draft picks were on defense and even brought in plenty of quality names from other teams. They signed one offensive tackle and drafted another, reaffirming the need to bolster the line outside of the starters.
With the 2021 season just a few weeks away, it’s likely that these positions will need to be overloaded to avoid a repeat.
It’s likely that all three areas hold 10 or more players. Meaning we’ll see a combined 10 or more defensive ends and tackles, and 10 or more cornerbacks and safeties.
Unfortunately, there are only 53 spots available and this would mean the team would allocate around 30 players for 3 positional groups.
Trust me. It will be necessary.
- The offensive line was plagued with injuries
- The offense was one of the most heavily sacked in the league
- The team only had 31 sacks (20th)
- Allowed almost 400 total yards per game
The good news is the team is full of starters and key role players who can fill up more than one spot. Positional versatility is always a plus in the NFL, but on a team that has huge question marks in spaces it’s even more.
Not only has Tony Pollard shown value as a change-of-pace back, but as a receiver. In fact, Tony Pollard was shown in training camp lining up on the outside.
A casual observer might assume Tony Pollard a slot wide receiver, based on how he moves in and out of breaks. Best separation from anyone during early 7-on-7 period came from Cowboys RB over middle vs. CB Deante Burton.
— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) June 8, 2021
His use as a running back saw him see more carries down the line last season, giving Ezekiel Elliott a break. His ability to be the team’s next slot receiver would mean they would only need to keep five receivers instead of six.
Considering no receiver outside the starting three, Brown and Wilson has stood out, relying on Pollard to be the unofficial sixth receiver would cover a couple of bases.
Make no mistake about it. Tyler Biadasz is the starting center and Connor Williams is the starting left guard.
Not only did Connor Williams have his best season of his career last season, but he was the only starter from the week one group to play the entire season. Ironic considering his career was hit with injuries up to that point.
What’s been surprising has been his usage this offseason has been his usage as the second team center.
In a pregame interview with TV reporters, Jerry Jones said Connor Williams will play LG and Center tonight. "Those are the kinds of things we want to see."
— Calvin Watkins (@calvinwatkins) August 5, 2021
This is interesting after drafting rookie Matt Farniok in the offseason, as well as the Cowboys not showing much interest in upgrading the position. Biadasz is undoubtedly the starter but the coaching staff would rather shuffle the line.
Speaking of shuffling the line…
Connor McGovern played well when he had to come in last season and is easily one of the Cowboys six best offensive linemen. For the same reasons above, Connor McGovern’s value and flexibility would allow Dallas to go light at interior offensive line to focus on tackles.
The best case scenario if any of the five starters were to miss time would look like this:
- Tyron Smith – Swing tackle fills in (likely Ty Nsekhe)
- Connor Williams – McGovern fills in
- Tyler Biadasz – Connor Williams moves inside, McGovern moves to left guard
- Zack Martin – McGovern fills in
- La’el Collins – Zack Martin moves outside, McGovern moves to right guard
Connor McGovern started multiple games at all three interior spots while at Penn State, and having that kind of ability will allow the Cowboys to save a roster spot on the line for the outside, where it’s needed most.
This will depend on how severe Golston’s injury is, as he could be an IR player and be stashed away for the season. However, his ability to play all along the defensive line was one of his stronger abilities coming out of Iowa.
He’s an excellent run defender on both the left right edges, and Dan Quinn has even talked about moving him inside some to play the 3-technique defensive tackle. Similar to the way Tyrone Crawford was used during his career with the Cowboys.
This shouldn’t have any barring on preventing the Cowboys from overloading the defensive line, but it could be as a way of keeping more edges as opposed to tackles.
Obviously Keanu Neal came from Atlanta to join his former head coach Dan Quinn to play linebacker in Dallas. As a former safety, however, he knows the position and he knows the system.
Despite it being made clear that Neal came to Dallas with every intention of strictly playing in the second level, having an emergency safety wouldn’t be the worst thing.
Given the top two free safeties on the roster, Damontae Kazee and Malik Hooker, are both coming off injuries, Donovan Wilson would be the last remaining option of safeties we’re sure will be on the team. Allowing Neal to potentially return where he started would be a better option than who else the Cowboys have left playing safety.
Brent Urban comes in as the only Cowboys defender to come in with a top 50 defensive rush grade, according to Pro Football Focus and he will be shuffled all along the defensive line.
Despite his 6’7″ 295-pound frame, he be a 1-technique, as well as a 3-technique in 4-3 defensive fronts, and a 5-technique in a 3-4 defensive front.
His value in a heavy rotation won’t be enough to keep an another tackle off the roster, but in a similar situation like Chauncey Golston, Urban’s ability to play all along the defensive line could allow them to not have to force an overload on the defensive front with players who can fill a number of roles.