At the mid-point of the 2016 season, itâ€™s hard to imagine the Dallas Cowboys being in a much better position than where they currently sit. Their seven-game win streak has earned them a two-game lead in the NFC East, along with sole possession of the best record in the NFC and a tie with the New England Patriots for the best record in the league as a whole.
All of this in a season in which quarterback Tony Romo has yet to take a regular season snap due to a back injury suffered in the pre-season. This run was as unpredictable as it has been extraordinary, and with it, come many individuals worthy of acknowledgement.
Offensive MVP - Ezekiel Elliott
There are many people you could argue are deserving of this award, as the Cowboys have been virtually unstoppable on the offensive side of the ball. But the primary driver in the whole thing has been the play of Ezekiel Elliott. Sure heâ€™s running behind the best offensive line the game as seen in quite a while, and they are playing at a very high level. But Elliottâ€™s patience, creativity, and skill as a runner has taken the Cowboysâ€™ running game, and the rest of the offense to a different level.
Although he didnâ€™t seem quite up to speed for the first two weeks of the year, Zeke has averaged over 126 yards on the ground in his last six contests, averaging 5.56 yards per rush over the same period. Heâ€™s rushed for more thanÂ 130 yards in four of the teams eight games, and has made several plays as a pass catcher, along with big blocks as a pass protector, showing that he has been everything in his first half of a campaign that the team envisioned when they selected him fourth overall in Aprilâ€™s NFL draft.
Honorable Mention: The Offensive Line
Defensive MVP - Sean Lee
Similarly to Elliott, Sean Lee had a relatively slow start, despite netting double-digit tackles in the first two games, to the naked eye, Leeâ€™s impact through three weeks seemed to have decreased. But over the last handful of weeks, Lee has been a man on fire who has set the tone for a surprisingly effective Cowboysâ€™ defense. He has played sideline to sideline, made tackles for loss, been an effective blitzer, and disrupted would-be completions all over the field.For a player at the “Will” linebacker position in Rod Marinelliâ€™s defense, this is exactly what is expected, and necessary, and Lee has been exactly what theyâ€™ve needed him to be.
Honorable Mentions: Morris Claiborne, Terrell McClain
Biggest Surprise - Dak Prescott
When the Cowboys selected Prescott with the 135th overall pick in this yearâ€™s draft, they did so with the long-term future in mind, hoping that he could eventually develop into a quality starting quarterback at the point when Tony Romo no longer held that perch for Americaâ€™s Team. However, through a series of unforeseen, and what seemed unfortunate events, Prescott was first elevated to the primary back up role when Kellen Moore was injured in practice and the teamâ€™s efforts to acquire another veteran fell short. Then he performed wildly well in extensive time in the first two pre-season games, bringing comfort to the organization.
Then when apparent tragedy struck, and Romo suffered a compression fracture to his lower back in Seattle on Aug. 25, Prescott became the starter before his rookie season even began, and through out, he has answered the bell at every opportunity.
It hasnâ€™t been perfect, but he has been a vital part of the Cowboys nearly unstoppable offense, and NO ONE saw that coming six months ago.
Biggest Disappointment - Demarcus Lawrence
After serving a controversial Â four-game suspension for violating the leagues performance enhancing drug policy, many Cowboys fans, and seemingly the teamâ€™s front office and coaching staff, expected Lawrence to show up and be a consistent disruptive force as a pass rusher, and to rack up enough sacks to compensate for a lack of apparent talent at other spots on the defensive line. However, outside of some pressures in limited snaps in his first game off suspension, Lawrence has been largely rendered ineffective as a pass rusher.
Additionally, he has yet to register an official start, and has only four total tackles in his four games played — hardly the impact the team hoped for from a guy who had eight sacks in 2015.
Honorable Mention - Tyrone Crawford
Co-Rookies of the Year - Anthony Brown/Maliek Collins
Considering that two rookies hold down two of the categories above, it would be easy to give either Elliott or Prescott the nod as rookie of the year as well, and it would be difficult to criticize. But the play of Brown and Collins through the first half of the year has earned recognition.
Collins, the teamâ€™s third-round pick suffered a foot injury in the offseason that cost him most of training camp, causing many people to wonder if his rookie year might be a wasted one. However, all the young defensive tackle has done in his first half season is displace a highly paid veteran as the starter at the important “under tackle” position, register two sacks, and be one of the more consistent contributors on the Dallas defensive line.
Brown, a sixth-rounder, has been forced into significant duty in every game, after the Cowboys have seen one injury or another (Orlando Scandrick or Morris Claiborne) cost them a starter at corner almost weekly. The secondary has been the strength of the Dallasâ€™ D and Brown has been extremely important to that by playing both in the slot and outsideÂ — carrying the torch successfully at both spots — while playing effective coverage and showing up physically in the run game.