The 2015 Dallas Cowboy roster has been mostly assembled at this point. A new crop will come through the draft and subsequent rookie free agency, but most of those players rarely pan out, especially in their first season. That makes this a good time to make an educated guess at which players on the current roster could have a breakout season this fall.
With a lot of question about who will replace Demarco Murray as the bell cow back, Dunbar could expand his role as the change of pace back if he can start hitting on those big plays that he teases with every time he touches the ball. While those opportunities are far and few between, they could increase with the returner positions opened up after Dwayne Harris’ departure. In a “running back by committee” scenario, screen passes and big holes could fulfill the lofty expectation teammates such as Dez Bryant see for Dunbar. Like teammate Cole Beasley, he looks too small for the league, but with his speed and the line that will be blocking for him there is no reason to think he can’t become a consistent contributor. Injury and legal questions surround the other backs all but ensuring a chance for Lance Dunbar to become a home run hitter.
A troubling trend seems to be forming at Valley Ranch that sees the Cowboys draft a quality tight end only to see that player kept on the bench by the insatiable Jason Witten. When the player doesn’t have any stats by his name, he ends up a roster sacrifice and on another team where he plays well. Hopefully, this doesn’t happen to Gavin Escobar. He is a serious red zone passing threat, exemplified in a two touchdown game against the Giants. Commitment to the run and an unusually talented offense have limited Escobar thus far, but his tremendous size and soft hands make him a great weapon for Romo. At some point Jason Witten must slow down and it would be a shame if Escobar weren’t there to replace him.
Having learned how to play safety on the job, J.J. Wilcox is coming into his own as a defender. With experience at receiver, the team hopes to utilize his hand skills and turn him into a ball hawk. He has shown a tendency to really lay some wood on opponents and even create some unnecessary contact. The problem in his game so far has been taking poor angles. Game tape should help make that an easy fix and the Cowboys could finally have their replacement for Darren Sharper. Not too many safeties in the league are stars, but don’t doubt that Wilcox could catapult himself into that conversation if he starts taking the right angles and finishing the plays he is always so close to making.
A bit of cheater on this list, Demarcus Lawrence began breaking out last year. After missing most of his rookie season with an injury, he came in when the weather was getting cold and did nothing but improve each game. He eventually took over the end of the Lions game in the playoffs. With another season of training and learning from Coach Marinelli, Lawrence should become what the front office saw in him when they traded up to get him in the second round. He will need an impressive season to warrant the term breakout, but 10 or more sacks is not out of the question for the young fella. Greg Hardy should help alleviate some pressure and show him some tips as he develops into a star.
This is it. His last chance. It’s out on a limb to put Mo Claiborne on this list, but considering the Cowboys have had the best statistical drafting results in the entire league for the last decade, it can’t be thought that the Cowboys traded up so far to get him without good reason. He has had ample time to prepare mentally for Marinelli’s scheme so that will not be an excuse for the questioned mind of Mo Claiborne. The ball skills he showed in college could really help to backfire opposing quarterbacks who target him. He has never been off the charts when measuring his athleticism, but the Marinelli defense doesn’t not require that out of cornerbacks. If Claiborne can’t repair the damaged reputation that his injuries and poor play have earned him, then he will forever be remembered as one of the rare draft busts of this Dallas Cowboys era. No pressure, Mo.