NFL 2018 power rankings countdown No. 15: Dallas Cowboys

EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY - DECEMBER 10: Head coach Jason Garrett and Jaylon Smith #54 of the Dallas Cowboys react against the New York Giants in the fourth quarter during the game at MetLife Stadium on December 10, 2017 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY - DECEMBER 10: Head coach Jason Garrett and Jaylon Smith #54 of the Dallas Cowboys react against the New York Giants in the fourth quarter during the game at MetLife Stadium on December 10, 2017 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) /

A preview of the Dallas Cowboys ahead of the 2018 season.

Check back every day for a new 2018 team preview in this year’s NFL power rankings countdown.

Today’s team is the Dallas Cowboys.

15. Dallas Cowboys

Keegan’s highest rated player: Zack Martin, guard

Biggest strength: Offensive line

Biggest weakness: Tight end

Best offseason move: Drafting Leighton Vander Esch

Worst offseason move: Not finding an immediate replacement for Jason Witten

Game to circle on calendar: Week 10, at Philadelphia

Breakout candidate: Jaylon Smith, linebacker

Key players in contract years: Rod Smith, Jamize Olawale, Cole Beasley, Tavon Austin, Deonte Thompson, Geoff Swaim, Cameron Erving, DeMarcus Lawrence, David Irving, and Kony Ealy

Offensive preview

There are a few reasons to be pessimistic about the Cowboys’ offense headed into the season, but don’t be surprised if this unit is improved from last year’s. The decision to release Dez Bryant will help Dak Prescott in the long run, and Prescott will be closer to his dominant rookie-year self this year.

Prescott losing Bryant will be similar to when Matthew Stafford lost Calvin Johnson; young quarterbacks often improve when they are without needy receivers.

The biggest boost for the Cowboys is getting Ezekiel Elliott back for the full season. Losing Elliott for just a few games last year had a huge impact on the entire offense. He will likely rush for over 1,000 yards this season, but don’t be surprised if Bo Scarbrough and Rod Smith are contributors in this offense.

Allen Hurns was a great addition to this receiving corps, and his ability to stretch the field will add a new layer to this offense. Dallas has a lot more speed at receiver than normal with other players besides Hurns in Michael Gallup and Tavon Austin.

The one concern is the lack of a dominant tight end. Dalton Schultz could be that guy someday, but it’s hard to trust rookie tight ends. Jason Witten‘s retirement will sting this season.

The Cowboys’ offensive line isn’t the juggernaut it once was, but it’s still easily one of the best in the NFL. The addition of versatile lineman Connor Williams will only help this offensive line, and he could make an impact from day one. If Tyron Smith stays healthy this season, watch out.

Defensive preview

The Cowboys’ defensive line should be dependable this year, despite David Irving‘s suspension. The Jihad Ward trade was a good move, and he will benefit from a change of scenery.

The best player on defense is DeMarcus Lawrence, who will be particularly motivated this season playing under the franchise tag. This is a deep defensive line, with talent on all strings of the depth chart.

The strength of this defense lies at the linebacker position. Sean Lee is one of the best linebackers in football (when healthy), and Jaylon Smith‘s talent will be on full display this season as well. The best decision the Cowboys made this offseason was drafting Leighton Vander Esch — he is incredibly versatile with a lot more strengths than weaknesses. This is one of the best linebacking corps in football.

This is a young secondary, but one that has a lot of potential. Chidobe Awuzie will take a big leap in year two, and it’ll be interesting to see Byron Jones at cornerback this season. The Cowboys could use some more depth at the cornerback position, but they should be fine as long as the starters stay healthy.

Jones’ move to cornerback has unfortunately created a void at free safety. Xavier Woods may struggle in a starting role this season. Jeff Heath should provide decent run support at strong safety, but he’s an average starter at best. The safety position is by far the team’s biggest hole on the defensive side of the ball.

Coaching staff/front office preview

If the Cowboys miss the playoffs this year, head coach Jason Garrett could be on the hot seat. The Cowboys have had two franchise quarterbacks during Garrett’s tenure, but they haven’t even reached the NFC Championship Game.

The Cowboys have an untraditional front office, but it’s been pretty effective in the past few seasons. Despite this success, the traditional GM format teams such as the Baltimore Ravens or Green Bay Packers follow is something that is a more prudent option.

This front office, despite its flaws, has built up the best offensive line of the decade, found two diamonds-in-the-rough at quarterback, and has found several All-Pro caliber players with names such as DeMarcus Lawrence, DeMarcus Ware, DeMarco Murray, Dez Bryant, Jason Witten and Sean Lee.

Overall outlook for 2018

There are a lot of reasons to be optimistic about this Cowboys team in 2018, but they will likely just miss the playoffs. The NFC East is incredibly tough, and all four teams will beat up on each other.

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Previous teams:

16. Kansas City Chiefs
17. Seattle Seahawks
18. New York Giants
19. San Francisco 49ers
20. Indianapolis Colts
21. Detroit Lions
22. Arizona Cardinals
23. Chicago Bears
24. Oakland Raiders
25. Baltimore Ravens
26. Washington Redskins
27. Cleveland Browns
28. Buffalo Bills
29. New York Jets
30. Cincinnati Bengals
31. Miami Dolphins
32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers