The hype about the Dallas offensive line is entirely justified. In fact, not only do the Cowboys have the NFL's best tackle (TYRON SMITH), guard (ZACK MARTIN) and center (TRAVIS FREDERICK), but those men are the league's three best offensive linemen, period. Smith is a superior athlete, and it shows in both pass protection and outside zone blocking. Martin is peerless at blocking while on the move. Frederick's mechanics and initial quickness allow him to beat defensive tackles to a spot, sealing them inside—which is the key to much of Dallas's ground game.
• It's possible that the Cowboys will have a fourth elite O-lineman this season: third-year man LA'EL COLLINS, who is moving from left guard to right tackle after the retirement of Doug Free. Collins is a natural at working his run blocks up to the second level.
• DAK PRESCOTT had a tremendous rookie campaign, but he played under perfect conditions. He had an O-line that provided clean pockets, a true No. 1 receiver to influence coverages (DEZ BRYANT), two effective underneath possession targets (COLE BEASLEY and JASON WITTEN) and the league's leading rusher (EZEKIEL ELLIOTT). Prescott will have all of that again in 2017—except when Elliott misses games for his conduct suspension. At some point Dallas will have to lean on Prescott to make full-field progression reads and throws under duress. We'll really find out about him when they do.
• Defensive coordinator ROD MARINELLI diversifies his coverages just enough to avoid being predictable. The Cowboys don't blitz often, but when they do, it usually involves some sort of gap exchange, with defenders starting in one gap but attacking another. Such maneuvers are also a big part of their regular four-man rush.
• When you run as many D-line slants as the Cowboys do, it's imperative that your linebackers have the speed, awareness and technique to scrape outside and cover the area away from the slant. SEAN LEE is great at that. DAMIEN WILSON and JAYLON SMITH are capable as well.
• Dallas will be counting on first-round rookie TACO CHARLTON of Michigan. They badly need his speed off the edge.
"THE COWBOYS HAVE THE THREE BEST OFFENSIVE LINEMEN IN THE NFL; SMITH IS AS ATHLETIC AS THEY COME."
SI'S 2017 PREDICTION
2016 RECORD 13--3
ANDY BENOIT'S 400 MMQB ON.SI.COM/400
11 TYRON SMITH T
18 TRAVIS FREDERICK C
24 ZACK MARTIN RG
29 SEAN LEE LB
56 EZEKIEL ELLIOTT RB
73 BYRON JONES FS
75 DEZ BRYANT WR
79 JASON WITTEN TE
223 DAK PRESCOTT QB
233 ORLANDO SCANDRICK CB
240 ANTHONY BROWN CB
348 DEMARCUS LAWRENCE DE
373 TYRONE CRAWFORD DE
390 COLE BEASLEY WR