Yesterday on ESPN’s The Herd with Colin Cowherd radio show, Cowboys linebacker Bobby Carpenter (why the hell does he get so many interviews?) said that 2009 will be a "make-or-break" year for a lot of Cowboy players. This is likely true for Carpenter himself, and probably teammate Marcus Spears. 2009 looks almost certain to be a "sink-or-swim" type of season for one very intriguing Cowboy wide receiver.
In his two seasons as a Cowboy, Isaiah Stanback has sporadically teased us with his immense athletic ability. Stanback certainly looks the part of an NFL wideout. Standing 6’2" and weighing 208 pounds, he would definitely not look out of place standing next to the likes of Terrell Owens, or Andre Johnson, or Larry Fitzgerald. Fighting through foot and shoulder injuries over the past few seasons, Stanback has appeared in only 10 games. While he just can’t seem to stay healthy, Stanback always does just enough to remind us (and probably Jerry Jones as well) of his frustratingly special athletic talent. Just when you are ready to give up on Stanback he breaks of a 50-yard kickoff return in the preseason. When you have all but written him off he goes sprinting across the field, effortlessly gaining ground on a sprinting Felix Jones just to show you how fast he is. Athletic ability aside, production is what counts in the NFL. At this point in his young career, Isaiah Stanback has to be hoping that the Cowboys will give him just one more chance.
Just simply staying healthy will go along way towards Stanback sticking around for at least one more year. Still, this weekend’s draft will have a lot to do with Stanback’s future with the team. Roy Williams, Patrick Crayton, and Miles Austin will absolutely be on this roster come opening day. Despite recently signing his 1-year tender, Sam Hurd is no lock to make the team, but more than likely will. Hurd’s physical skill set is similar to Williams’, so he seems to be a natural fit to be the backup split end. Guys like Travis Wilson do not realistically figure into the equation, so if the season started today, we would be looking at a receiving corps of Williams, Crayton, Austin, Hurd, and Stanback.
If the Cowboys spend anything more than a top-150 pick on a wideout, things could really get interesting for Stanback. You have to assume that a receiver selected that high will be guaranteed a roster spot for year one at the very least. Hurd and Stanback would be left to slug it out for the fifth spot, unless they both play well enough to force the team to keep six. I for one am not buying into a lot of this "wildcat" talk. However, if the team is at least semi-serious about breaking it out once a game or so, Stanback may have a bit of an edge on Hurd, given his experience as a collegiate quarterback.
Take this into consideration as well. What is Isaiah Stanback? He is an athletically gifted, unpolished young receiver who is entering his third season with an injury history and two career receptions to his name. What was Miles Austin heading into this past season? He was an athletically gifted, unpolished young receiver who was entering his third season with an injury history and five career receptions to his name. Why couldn’t Stanback have a similar progression?
I may be in the minority on this, but I still hold high hopes for Isaiah Stanback. If (emphasis on the "if") he can just stay healthy, he is the team’s best kick return option after Felix Jones. With Jones and Austin poised to take on bigger offensive roles, the team may want to minimize injury risks with both of these players. Though he has little experience with it, Stanback is also physically suited to return punts.
If Miles Austin gets hurt again, to whom will the team turn to help stretch the field vertically? If he can show any kind of polish as a WR this year, Stanback could most certainly do that.
I pull for all of the Cowboys draft picks to succeed, and I am going to continue to pull for Isaiah Stanback to do just that. While I believe the team still needs to bring another young wide receiver into the fold this weekend, I still think that Stanback has a shot to make a solid contribution this season. I trust the team an their player evaluations, but it would sure be painful to watch Isaiah Stanback put it all together somewhere else.