It seems like almost every report I read about about a potential first-round pick in the 2013 NFL draft contains the words "future Pro Bowler." Historically, the first round hasn't produced quite as many Pro Bowlers as these reports would have me believe. In the 20 years between 1988 and 2007, the first round has produced an average of 11.6 Pro Bowlers.
The Dallas Cowboys, like every other team, would like to make sure they grab one of those future Pro Bowlers, especially after they only sent three players to 2013 Pro Bowl (which featured players from the 2012 season): DeMarcus Ware was selected as a starter, Jason Witten made it as a reserve and Anthony Spencer earned his first Pro Bowl nod as an alternate.
That got me thinking: as nice as it would be to draft a future Pro Bowler, the next few Dallas Cowboys Pro Bowlers are probably already on the Cowboys roster. But which Cowboys players could make their first trip to Honolulu following the 2013 season? Here are the top prospects for your consideration.
On the strength of his 1,382 yards and 12 TDs in 2012, he was already nominated to NFL.com's All-Under-25 Team and USAToday's All-Joe team, which recognizes "first-rate players who receive second-rate recognition."
Bryant played like a man possessed in the second half of the season, and if he can maintain the pace of his last eight games for the entire 2013 season, he'd be on track for a season with 100 receptions, 1,758 receiving yards and 20 TDs - which should be enough to secure him All Pro honors next season.
Another strong candidate for postseason honors is inside linebacker Sean Lee, whose stellar 2012 performance was cut short by a season-ending injury. Despite playing in only six games in 2012, Sean Lee graded out as the sixth best inside linebacker at the end of the season according to Pro Football Focus. Had he maintained his performance from the first six games (+12.1 grade) over the entire season (+32.3), he'd have been the highest rated inside linebacker in the league - by a fairly large margin.
Lee's performance didn't go entirely unnoticed outside of Cowboys circles, and NFL.com nominated Lee for the "All-Underrated" team for 2012, which honors players who didn't receive the attention their performance would have deserved.
You can't talk about Sean Lee without also talking about Bruce Carter. Carter really came into his own when Lee was injured, but his season was in turn also cut short by injury. Last year, the two 49ers inside linebackers garnered the two NFC Pro Bowl spots. Can Bruce Lee give them a run for their money this year?
This may seem like a somewhat odd choice, after all, not many players make their Pro Bowl debut after they turn 30, but Jason Hatcher quietly had the best season of his career, and, unnoticed by most, graded out as the sixth best defensive end (among all 3-4 and 4-3 defensive ends) in the league last year, at least according to Pro Football Focus. And like Lee, Hatcher was nominated for the 2012 "All Underrated" team.
Had Murray not missed 6 games due to injury last year, he'd have been on pace for over 1,000 rushing yards, and would have been the first Cowboys back with more than 1,000 yards rushing since Julius Jones in 2006. Health and improved O-line play could see Murray have a breakout season in 2013.
Like Dez Bryant, Smith was nominated to NFL.com's All-Under-25 Team. Shockingly, Smith is still only 22 and technically will still be eligible for the All-Under-25 Team by the time he's signed his second NFL contract. While Smith struggled with penalties last year, only six starting NFL left tackles allowed less than Smiths three sacks given up.
Bailey's 93.5% field goal percentage led the league among all kickers with at least 20 field goal attempts. Incredibly, Bailey went 29-for-31 and did not miss on a single field goal attempt below 50 yards, with his only two misses coming on a 51-yarder and a 54-yarder. Bailey's 93.5% percentage is the second best in Cowboys history after Chris Boniol's 94.9% (27/28) in 1995. But where Boniol missed on two extra point attempts (37/39) in 1995, Bailey was perfect (37/37) on extra points last year.
It seems somewhat odd that a $50 million free agent hasn't been to a single Pro Bowl, but that's how it is. Carr has started every game in his 5-year NFL career, and he'll enter the 2013 season 27 years old, prime age for a cornerback. Could this be the Carr's year?
Claiborne had an up-and-down rookie season, in past because his offseason wrist surgery impacted his rookie year significantly: he wasn’t able to participate in OTAs and wasn’t able to spend enough time in the weight room to gain NFL-level strength. With a full offseason to prepare, will 2013 be the breakout year for “the highest-rated DB since Deion Sanders”?
Overall, a lot of young talent has been added to the Cowboys roster over the last three years, there's likely more to come in this year's draft and there may be other sleepers already on the roster. But injuries and inconsistent performance has kept many of these players from achieving post-season honors - and ultimately kept the team from making the post-season.
The good things is that if previous seasons are anything to go by, the best chances all of the above players have of getting post-season honors is for the entire team to jump out to an early start - teams with the best records heading into December traditionally get the most Pro Bowl nominations - and that means playoffs, baby!
Which Dallas Cowboys do you think are most likely to make their first Pro Bowl trip next season? Tell us what you think in the poll and in the comments.