By Cody Strahm @CodyJStrahm on June 26, 2014
Finally getting back to the playoffs won't be easy for the Dallas Cowboys in 2014. Not when an already shaky defense lost so many key pieces. But the club still owns enough firepower offensively to compete and potentially surprise. Here are their top five most irreplaceable players.
Running back DeMarco Murray finally showed what he could do in something close to a full season of action last year. He still missed two games after sitting out six in 2012, but was one of the game's most productive runners, finishing fourth in the NFL in yards per carry with 5.2. Few backs offer the big-play potential Murray does. If he can stay healthy, he should cement his status one of the league's best backs in 2014.
It's difficult not to be impressed with how consistent Jason Witten has been during his career in Dallas. Few players can be relied upon like Witten to produce week in and week out. He's only missed one game and hasn't tallied less than 750 receiving yards in a season since his rookie year. At 32 years old, he's showed no signs of slowing down.
With a leaky defense, the Cowboys project to throw early and often this fall. Thankfully, they possess one of the league's top blindside protectors in Tyron Smith. In 665 pass-blocking snaps, Smith only conceded one sack and three quarterback hits in 2013. He's solid as a run blocker too, grading as Pro Football Focus' 13th-best at paving holes for the run among qualifying tackles. Tony Romo is fortunate to have him.
Say what you want about Tony Romo, but he remains a highly productive passer, capable of leading the Cowboys back to the playoffs and beyond with a little help. If it wasn't for Romo, the Cowboys wouldn't have sniffed .500 in 2013. He kept them competitive throughout. As much as fans complain about him, they'll miss him if the next starter is not only not effective in the clutch, but not effective period.
Over the past two years, Dez Bryant has solidified himself as one of the game's most dangerous receivers. He's capable of taking over a game with an elite blend of size, speed and physicality. He still needs to focus on running crisp routes at all times and can't let his emotions get the best of him on the field, but he's only 25 years old and is clearly trending upwards. The Cowboys would be hard pressed to find a receiver as talented.
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