Can Cowboys Expect More Starters From Class Of 2011?

Tim Heitman-US PRESSWIRE

Many players don't fully develop until their third year in the NFL. Which third-year Cowboys players could emerge this year?

There is a widely held belief, particularly among fantasy football players, that many NFL receivers do not 'break out' until their third year in the league. While there is no statistical merit to this belief whatsoever, the underlying assumption that makes the third-year theory so credible isn't really that far-fetched.

The assumption behind the third-year theory is that many young players need at least two years to develop. They need the time to learn how to hone their craft, understand the playbooks and develop physically and mentally. On paper, this would seem to be particularly true of late-round draft picks or undrafted free agents who join teams when they are usually much less ready to play at an NFL level than their first- or second-round counterparts.

Here's a look at some later round picks and UDFAs on the current Cowboys roster and when they had their 'break outs' as measured by number of starts per season:

Player Draft Round 1st year 2nd year 3rd year 4th year
Bradie James 4th 0 2 16 16
Doug Free 4th 0 7 16 16
Jay Ratliff 7th 1 0 14 16
Patrick Crayton 7th 0 0 6 13
Tony Romo UDFA 0 0 0 10
Miles Austin UDFA 0 0 0 9
Barry Church UDFA 0 0 3* - -

Young players can be mercurial. They can improve suddenly and significantly. But they often need time to realize their full potential. The latest example here is Barry Church, whose 2012 season was unfortunately cut short by a torn Achilles. After two years with the Cowboys, many saw Church as career special teams guy. In 2011, Church played 171 defensive snaps, with the bulk coming at the beginning of the season, and the coaches using him less and less as the season wore on. Yet seemingly out of nowhere, Church emerged in camp last year as a bona fide starter. While his season was cut short, the Cowboys signed him to a five-year contract extension and it looks like he's once again the starter heading into this season.

So can the Cowboys can expect any 'break outs' from the players entering their third year in the league in 2013?

The class of 2011 is of course headlined by the trio of Tyron Smith, Bruce Carter and DeMarco Murray, all of whom were starters last year, just as their draft pedigree would lead you to expect. But while those three alone make the 2011 draft a great success, of the other five draft picks, only David Arkin and Dwayne Harris remain on the roster. But the 2011 rookie class is augmented by a handful of promising undrafted free agents, as the following table shows:

Player Draft Round 2011 2012
Tyron Smith
1st 16 15
Bruce Carter 2nd 0 11
Demarco Murray 3rd 7 10
David Arkin 4th 0 0
Dwayne Harris 6th 0 0
Phillip Tanner
UDFA 0 0
Kevin Kowalski
UDFA 0 0
Sterling Moore
UDFA 3 0
Alex Albright
UDFA 0 1

Are there any more potential starters on this list?

Dave Arkin is a source of great mystery. Ask ten people what Arkin's status is and you'll get 11 different answers. Which just goes to show that nobody has a clue as to his status, and anybody pretending otherwise is just speculating.

Dwayne Harris came on strong at the end of 2012. At the very least, he'll likely be a very solid option at punt returner, but he could just a easily emerge as the next Patrick Crayton.

Phillip Tanner is unlikely to emerge as a starter, with both DeMarco Murray and Joseph Randle penciled in ahead of him on the depth chart, but you never know how these things go. He's drawn a lot of praise in OTAs and looks to have reworked his body heading into his third season.

Kevin Kowalski played in spot duty in seven games in 2011, but injuries stopped his progress in 2012. Is it time to add the 'Killer' back to his name?

Sterling Moore only joined the Cowboys last year after the Cowboys liberated him from New England's practice squad. Moore has one thing going for him that very few others have: He played in a Super Bowl.

Alex Albright is the Swiss army knife of the Cowboys defense, and his versatility could easily see him take on a much larger role than he has had in the past two years.

Many players don't fully develop until their third year in the NFL. Which of the players above do you see taking a bigger role in 2013, perhaps even becoming starters?

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