Which offensive starter’s job security is at most risk?
Turnover is part of the NFL and every year, We are witness to new faces in new places. Last year, we saw fourth-round picks Dalton Schultz and Tyler Biadasz kick off the year as new starters after starting on the bench at the beginning of the season the year prior. Additionally, UDFA Terence Steele earned starts at right tackle as the coaching staff was unsure of how to handle the veteran La’el Collins.
What should we expect this year?
Today, we’re going to take a look at all 11 offensive players projected to start and evaluate their job security. We’ve grouped them into three categories: marked safe (locks for a starting spot), mostly secure, and those who are at risk. Where they fall depends not only on how good of a player they are, but also on the depth the Cowboys have at their respective position.
This one’s incredibly easy. Prescott has zero competition for the starting gig and it would take an uncharacteristic series of bad performances for people to suddenly start thinking that the team’s $140 million quarterback is not up for the task.
Martin is the team’s most talented offensive lineman and is firmly secured at the right guard position to where only an injury will change that. He has 120 NFL starts which is the most by any Cowboys player since Martin entered the league in 2014.
The veteran tackle is missing more and more action as his career progresses, but all of that is attributed to nagging injuries. Each week will be a game of breath-holding as we hope Smith escapes unscathed, but as long as he’s healthy he has the left tackle spot locked up.
The team’s young receiver became an immediate starter in the opener of his rookie season and with Amari Cooper out of town, Lamb now emerges as the team’s new no. 1 wideout. Even if he doesn’t live up to the inflated expectations placed upon him, there is no chance of him not being in the starting rotation.
The Cowboys re-signed Gallup to a new deal so he’s back with the team. Although he will miss the first part of the season rehabbing his knee, he’ll return to the starting lineup as soon as he’s healthy.
Whether or not he’s the long-term answer at tight end remains to be seen, but for now, he’s the guy. With no real competition threatening his spot, it should be more of the same for Schultz as his contributions as a blocker and pass-catcher keep him on the field.
Last season, Steele was in a heated position battle with La’el Collins for the right tackle position which seemed to change weekly. The Cowboys released Collins so now Steele has that spot all to himself. While there is always a chance he has his moments of struggle, there are no signs that the unproven Josh Ball or rookie Matt Waletzko would be ready to step into a starting role.
From a technical standpoint, you might as well mark Elliott as safe because as long as he’s healthy, he should remain the team’s official starting running back. However, that is not to say that it’s impossible for the workload to shift if the team is getting more production from Tony Pollard. Remember, Marion Barber III didn’t start a single game in 2007, but out-touched Julius Jones en route to a Pro Bowl season. The coaches are claiming we’ll see more of Pollard this year, but we’ve heard that song plenty of times before.
With Gallup missing the early part of the season, the chance of Tolbert earning a starting spot is quite high, but we’re evaluating this situation from the point Gallup returns. This pushes Tolbert down to the no. 3 spot, and there’s a slight chance he could get beat out for reps. The competition isn’t super strong as free-agent signing James Washington and coaches-favorite Noah Brown are his toughest oppositions. Considering Washington does have a 735 yard season under his belt, there’s certainly a possibility the veteran wideout has his share of success in this high-powered offense.
Oddly enough, Biadasz was the only Cowboys offensive lineman who started all 17 games last year. While it would be nice to see an upgrade at the position, the Cowboys’ only new center addition is UDFA Alec Lindstrom. The team also has Connor McGovern and Matt Farniok on the roster who have center flex. While neither of those guys is a big threat to steal the starting center job, they do serve as safety jackets should Biadasz struggle.
The Cowboys drafted Smith 24th overall to make an immediate impact so anything short of starting in 2022 will be a huge disappointment. Draft stock guarantees nothing as Smith will have to show he’s capable of handling his blocking assignments without all the negative plays that plagued him during his final season in college. There’s work to be done, so while the expectations are high long-term, we can’t rest easy and just expect things to work out from the onset. Like with center, McGovern and Farniok are available pieces if it comes to that.