The Dallas Cowboys didn't lack star power last season.
On both sides of the ball, the team boasted players that became household NFL names as the season progressed. Which made it even more frustrating for Cowboys fans when a disappointing 23-17 loss to the San Francisco 49ers in the Wild Card round at AT&T Stadium ended what seemed like Dallas' biggest window of opportunity for a Super Bowl.
Headed into the 2022 season the roster has changed, but the biggest remaining names have much to prove in what should be a bounce-back year for Dallas.
Let's take a look at the five Cowboys who bring the most importance to the team's success next season:
Micah and Osa
CeeDee, Dak, and Zeke
Missed the Cut: Ezekiel Elliott
Huh? The league's seventh-leading rusher last season and one of only seven players in 2021 to reach the 1,000-yard rushing mark missed the cut? And he did it all while playing through an uncomfortable knee injury?
Elliott isn't the running back he once was upon entering the NFL in 2016, but that doesn't leave him out of the conversation as potentially one of the best red-zone rushers in the league next season, which is where he should be used if the Cowboys want to maximize scoring opportunities.
Last season, Elliott had just two 100-yard games. He felt invisible at times during the later part of the year as McCarthy and staff lowered his snap count to keep him fresh.
Make no mistake: Elliott's value to the team is undeniable and the offense would be in far worse shape without his presence in a committee role with Tony Pollard. But the remaining players on this list provide a different level of importance with the potential to fill more dire team-needs next season.
5. Tony Pollard
Pollard brought an unrivaled element of excitement to the offense last season. The best part? He barely scratched the surface.
As Elliott dealt with nagging injuries during parts of the season, Pollard stepped in and, at times, was arguably Dallas' most visually explosive player on offense. His 130 carries for 719 rushing yards and just two touchdowns may not show it, but the ability to make the first man miss out of the backfield as a runner and receiver is a weapon that offensive coordinator Kellen Moore would be foolish not to utilize more going forward.
Pollard had eight games of 10 or fewer touches last season. If the Cowboys want to take defenses by surprise, it starts with using the Memphis product's versatility as a primary weapon on offense.
4. Trevon Diggs
Leaving out the league's interceptions-leader from a season ago would be a crime. Some might want him higher, but Diggs comes in at No. 4 on this list due to the more pressing need for better performances next season across the rest of the roster.
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While Diggs' 11 interceptions was tied for fourth-most in a single season, he can't do it all in the Dallas secondary. The defense was ranked in the bottom half of the league allowing the 13th-most passing yards (238.2). A league-leading 34 turnovers as team didn't translate to much when it mattered most, and will be difficult to duplicate.
Cornerback remains one of the league's most important positions, leaving room for an argument that Diggs should be higher on this list. But the Pro-Bowler's inevitable statistical digression entering year three after his historical sophomore campaign puts him outside our top three.
CeeDee and Micah
Micah and Digss
3. CeeDee Lamb
With the departure of Amari Cooper and an injured Michael Gallup out until early in the the season, the receiving load will fall heavily on Lamb's shoulders to begin the year. Despite the occasional drop (Lamb tied for the fourth-most in the NFL with eight), the electric receiver flirted with top-tier production. He was 16th in receiving yards (1,102) and added six touchdowns.
But he went quiet in the final three games of the regular season and had just one catch for 21 yards in the Wild Card game. Now as the clear-cut WR1 in the offense, the Cowboys will need him to reach new heights in order to stay atop the NFC's best.
2. Micah Parsons
Parsons displayed all-world ability as the league's Defensive Rookie of the Year last season. So just imagine the kind of things he's capable of doing starting this fall.
The Penn State product was sixth in the league in sacks (13) and third in tackles-for-loss (20). A game-changer at every spot in the defensive front, Parsons is no doubt one of Dallas' most important players as he enters his second season.
1. Dak Prescott
It might be cliche and boring that the quarterback is tabbed as a team's most important player, but it's hard to argue. Like it did last year, Dallas' success next season likely hinges on Prescott's performance. He was seventh in total passing yards (4,449) and fourth in passing scores (37), which allowed the Cowboys to become the league's second-best passing offense with 282.4 yards per game.
He still has much to prove after a disappointing playoff performance, but given how much worse the team would've been without his regular-season play last year, Prescott is Dallas' most important player for 2022 in a spot on the rankings that many might've seen coming.
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