A general consensus around the league is that the Dallas Cowboys are going to have a successful 2017. But I argue that nothing is guaranteed after an off-season of suspensions, domestic violence investigations, free agency loses, unexpected retirements, and multiple players recovering from surgery. Not to mention that in order to win games, two second year players (Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott) must yet again, play like seasoned veterans. The Cowboys are facing more adversity this season than most people realize.
Yet I will guarantee you one thing. If the Dallas Cowboys can achieve success during the 2017 season, they wont be backing down anytime soon. The 2017 NFL season will provide the type of adversity that a young team needs to solidify itself.
The 12 Challenges The Cowboys Must Face In 2017
1. If Dak Prescott can improve upon his 2016 campaign – I have faith in Dak Prescott. He has a great arm and an even greater leadership mentality. However I will caution everyone not to “bet the farm” that he repeats his prior success. As impressive as last year was, it was only one season. While I believe he is a franchise quarterback, Cowboys fans must remember that the NFL is filled with one hit wonders of yester-year. If Dak can improve upon, or even repeat last year’s performance (with one of the top-10 most difficult schedules), that should prove to the league that Dak Prescott is here to stay.
2. If the Cowboys can survive a possible suspension to Zeke Elliot – It all depends on how long the suspension is. If the NFL hands Zeke a 1-2 game suspension, then the back field of Darren McFadden, Alfred Morris, and Ronnie Hillman should be able to keep the offense afloat. If the league decides to keep Zeke off the field for 4+ games, then his absence is going to sting much more.
3. If Zeke comes back from his *possible* suspension and balls out – Again, nothing can be guaranteed for Zeke after only one season in the league. However, if Zeke can come back and run wild across some of the best teams in the league (with a new-look offensive line), it will send a strong message across the NFL . If only Zeke could handle adversity OFF the football field…
4. If Jaylon Smith’s nerve continues to regenerate – Reports have been promising, and his rehabilitation has shown tremendous progress. Jaylon Smith was back in pads this week for the first time since January of 2016, a tremendous milestone in his recovery. Yet there is no guarantee that his nerve continues to heal. No promise that he will ever get to play without a brace again. But If he recovers even 90% of his former ability, then the Cowboys’ 2016 draft class may prove to be the best in NFL history.
5. If Sean Lee can stay healthy – It is no secret that Sean Lee is dynamite when healthy. Unfortunately, it is also no secret that Lee has an injury riddled past. Whether or not Lee stays healthy is pivotal to what the Cowboys want to do at the linebacker position moving forward. If Lee is able to put his injury prone ways behind him, it will help make the defensive picture much more clear for D- Coordinator Rod Marinelli moving forward.
6. If Dez Bryant returns to prime form – Dez Bryant led the league in touchdown receptions in 2014, but those days are long past. Yes, Dez is one of the best receivers in football when healthy. The problem is that he hasn’t been healthy the past two seasons. If he is able to return to his prime form after a full off-season of work, there will be little anyone can do to stop him.
7. If La’el Collins can stay healthy – The third year offensive lineman has only played in 12 games the past two years. If he plays the full 17′ season, fans may get to finally see that he has been worth the wait.
8. If Collins can stay healthy, can he transition from guard to tackle – Whether or not Collins can adjust to life as a tackle will determine how badly Doug Free will be missed. If Collins is able to adjust, then the O-Line just got younger and more athletic (no complaints from me, Doug Free drew too many flags).
9. If Johnathon Cooper can replace Ronald Leary – One of the reasons why Dallas didn’t prioritize re-signing Leary during the off-season was because they believed La’el Collins was capable of taking his place. The Cowboys were not expecting Doug Free to retire, creating an additional hole on the offensive line they didn’t see coming. Ultimately forcing Collins to switch to tackle. That being said, Dallas is left with a hole at guard. Whether or not Cooper can replace Leary at LG will determine how elite the O-line will be moving forward. No pressure Johnathon Cooper.
10. If Taco Charlton can improve the pass rush – The Cowboys don’t need a top level D-line in 2017 to be successful. They just need a better one. Any additional help that Taco Charlton can bring will go a long way in determining the outcome of those late December- early January games. I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of losing to Green Bay just because no one can sack Aaron Rodgers.
11. If David Irving Continues To Improve – David Irving proved to be an X-factor for the Dallas defense in 2016. If he is able to continue that trend, then the Cowboys should have just enough depth along the defensive line to get by.
12. If the rookie defensive backs make immediate impact – Will Awuzie, Lewis, Woods, and White sink or swim? If they aren’t able to come in and make an impact right off the bat, it is going to hurt the Cowboys’ defense much more than it would hurt any other team’s. Dallas simply lost too many defensive backs in free agency, and even with the addition of Nolan Carroll, there is no guarantee that there is enough veteran leadership in the Cowboys’ secondary to take the pressure off the rookies. However, if they are able to come in and offer support right from the start, then Dallas just replaced a majority of its secondary in one draft. Talk about a youth movement…
In order to improve upon last year’s success, the Cowboys have to conquer all the challenges listed above. The Cowboys undoubtedly have enough talent to make a super bowl run. However, suspensions and loses during the off season have made a once clear path to a Lombardi trophy, cluttered with drama and bad press.
But one thing is for certain, if the Cowboys can win throughout a difficult 2017 season, there is no telling what they will ultimately accomplish.
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