Our sponsor asks the questions this week: Which player has performed against all the odds this year. You can hop over there to discuss it on a national level, but I decided to look at two Cowboys who played above expectations this year; one on defense and one on offense.
The Dallas Cowboys 2012 season was a mixture of highs and lows, ultimately ending on a distinct low with the loss to the Redskins. Whether the Cowboys should have even been in contention for the playoffs is a debatable question given the injuries and the flaws that are still present on the team. We'll have plenty of offseason time to dissect the team in full, but two Cowboys made a mark for themselves this year. One is an experienced vet who finally broke out, the other is a young kid finally finding some playing time. One is on defense, the other on offense/special teams.
For years, he's been known around these parts as 'Almost Anthony'. Anthony Spencer has taken his fair share of criticism for never putting up the glory stats associated with outside linebackers in a 3-4 scheme. I admit to falling into this trap on occasion. Spencer has been a very rugged run-stopper for Dallas, but it was his 'almost' plays that would drive Dallas fans to distraction. He almost made the sack, he almost recovered the fumble, he almost made the key tackle. After his 2012 season, I think we can officially drop the almost.
Spencer finished 2012 with 95 tackles, 11 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and 1 fumble recovery. More than that, many of his sacks and big plays came in key situations when Dallas needed a stop on defense. He also emerged as a leader on defense, taking on the role of calling the defensive plays after a couple of inside linebackers went down. Frankly, he was the Cowboys best player on defense throughout the campaign. And now, he's a free agent.
Dallas slapped the franchise tag on Spencer last season (causing much consternation among the faithful), but in the end it was a sound choice. Now they must decide if they'll do that again, sign him to a long-term contract or let him walk in free agency. Letting him walk seems like the worst of options although he'll be a huge target in free agency. The Cowboys have to find a way to keep him and should bite the bullet on a long-term deal, even though they'll likely have to overpay.
On the offensive side of the ball, a low-round draft choice from 2011 has suddenly forced his way into serious playing time. Dwayne Harris didn't see much action in his rookie year, and this year started off similarly. For the first half of the season, his offensive contributions were negligible. But in the second half of the year, Harris started laying claim to the 'third wide receiver' title. He only amassed 17 catches for 222 yards and 1 TD, but you could see Tony Romo start trusting him more and more. Harris could find himself as the third WR next year behind Dez Bryant and Miles Austin.
But it was more than just his receiving stats that recommend Harris, he's become a weapon as a punt returner. He scored on one return this season and set up the Cowboys offense with short-fields on multiple occasions, sometimes at key moments when the Cowboys need a push. Harris finds himself as the perfect combination of 3rd WR and punt returner.
Both Spencer and Harris proved in 2012 that they are ready to produce and both need to be in the Cowboys 2013 plans.