Pro Football Focus Releases their Top 8 list, Cameron DaSilva of Pro Football Focus recently published his Top 101 players in the NFL, and seven Cowboys made the list (six on offense). DeMarcus Lawrence ranked highest at No. 13 overall, followed by Ezekiel Elliott at No. 14, Zack Martin at No. 18, Tyron Smith at No. 25, Travis Frederick at No. 35, Travaris Cadet at No. 52, and Terrance Williams at No. 80.
Jason Garrett Is A Genius
Pro Football Focus (PFF) is a site that employs 21 former NFL coaches and players to grade every player on every play of every game. When they release their top 101 players, you should pay attention. PFF ranked six Cowboys in its top 101, with four of them being offensive linemen.
While offensive linemen have never been at the forefront of football fans’ minds, these rankings demonstrate why Jason Garrett trusts his offensive line so much. Let’s take a look at each of the Cowboys who earned their place among Pro Football Focus’ best individual performances across all positions in NFL history.
Dak Prescott fell five spots to No. 6 in Pro Football Focus’ quarterback rankings, but he received an 87.8 overall grade after leading Dallas to three straight wins following Tony Romo’s injury. Prescott has completed 76 of his last 109 passes for 966 yards and seven touchdowns with one interception during that span (99.7 passer rating). In total, eight different Cowboys players made PFF’s Top 101 list in 2016. Ezekiel Elliott (No. 5), Tyron Smith (No. 14), Travis Frederick (No. 20), Zack Martin (No. 24), Doug Free (No. 43)
Tyrone Crawford (No. 71), Anthony Hitchens (No. 94), and Maliek Collins (No. 97) were honored by Pro Football Focus on Wednesday evening as well. The biggest surprise may have been Martin rising 13 spots from 2015 to earn PFF’s Best-Run Blocker award as well as a top-20 spot on its list overall at left guard.
Elliott is Pro Football Focus’ top-ranked running back in 2017. No small feat considering he’s only played half a season. He leads all qualified backs with 2.79 yards after contact per attempt, which may explain why his overall grade of 90.5 led all qualified rushers and put him fifth among all NFL players (including QBs). He also finished fifth overall among runners with 732 rushing yards on his 134 carries for 472 rushing yards in 2017, scoring five times on offense and helping keep Dak Prescott upright as well.
His 77.7 pass-blocking efficiency was third-best among RBs that have been asked to pass block at least 15 times. That number is tops among rookies who have had at least 10 pass-blocking opportunities so far (both Dalvin Cook and Leonard Fournette are tied for second with 70 PBE). Not too shabby for a rookie first-round pick!
The highest-rated offensive lineman for Dallas, Smith appeared in all 16 games and earned a 90.2 overall grade from Pro Football Focus. It was another incredible season from Smith, who has now graded out as a top-five tackle in three of his five seasons. It’s no surprise to see him on PFF’s list.
He’s been one of the most dominant offensive linemen in football since he entered the league. Now 25 years old, it’s safe to say that Smith is among if not THE best offensive tackle in football today. This year he allowed 10 total pressures on 507 pass-blocking snaps and run blocked for a cumulative 442 yards, per PFF. He also made himself some money by allowing only six QB hits or sacks over 1,053 snaps played.
Frederick was at his best in pass protection and allowed no pressures on 44 pass-blocking snaps. Frederick has graded well overall for much of 2015, but he’s been a star in pass protection, allowing just four total pressures all season long.
He finished as PFF’s No. 2 overall center for Week 6. The Cowboys are trying to get him back from injury after losing their first game without him last week. He’ll be key if they want to return to form in that department. When healthy, Frederick is quite possibly Pro Bowl-worthy.
This past Sunday against St. Louis, he saw 79 percent of snaps, with Travis Miller filling in admirably while Frederick dealt with an illness. (Miller was also impressive.) Either way, it should be good to have Big Tex back out there Thursday night against Seattle. Maybe then we’ll see more balanced play calls and some holes opened up for Darren McFadden behind that new zone scheme?
The second-year guard from Notre Dame tops PFF’s 101 rankings. Coming in at No. 12, Martin has arguably been Dallas’ most consistent performer along a much-maligned offensive line. In terms of pass protection, he allowed just seven total pressures on 338 passing plays over 16 games and zero sacks or hits.
That gives him a pass-blocking efficiency rating of 98.1 (just above league average), which is why it comes as no surprise that he gets top billing among Cowboys linemen on PFF’s list. You can bet your bottom dollar that Martin will be near the top of Dallas’ priority list when negotiating long-term deals with certain players before free agency opens up next month.
PFF’s third-highest graded guard in 2017, Collins allowed just one sack and 16 total pressures last season and ranked fourth among all guards in pass-blocking efficiency. He was dominant as a run blocker as well, providing Dallas with a spark when he took over at right guard from Jonathan Cooper.
Collins averaged a career-high 3.2 yards per carrying block and also graded out as PFF’s top run-blocking guard. The Cowboys are expected to retain him on his rookie deal; they would be wise to make sure they lock him up to an extension sooner rather than later.
Sean Lee led all linebackers with a 91.9 grade, narrowly edging out Bobby Wagner (91.4). Lee was one of only two linebackers to earn an elite overall grade for his performance in 2016 (Luke Kuechly: 94.8). Lee finished first among linebackers in coverage and pass-rush productivity, and sixth in run-stop percentage. He is also seventh in adjusted missed tackles per tackle attempted, at 3.7 percent.
The difference between Lee’s 2015 season and his 2016 campaign? His injury luck. In 2015, he ended up on Pro Football Focus’ injury list four times — including three straight weeks during Weeks 13-15 — after sustaining multiple injuries that knocked him out or limited him to fewer than 10 snaps over that period.