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There is a lot of talk about how the Dallas Cowboys' defense is less talented and could be worse in 2014 than it was in 2013, but this sweeping assumption is dangerous when trying to predict how the 2014 season will play out.
The term "household name" is defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as "a famous person that most people know", and when we apply that to a football player, I think we can replace the word "people" with "casual fans" to get a good understanding. DeMarcus Ware, Jason Hatcher, and Sean Lee are exactly those kinds of guys. Many people will say that Dallas has lost their "three best players" on defense from 2013, and while that may be true, losing those three guys does not leave a defense completely devoid of talent.
That word, talent, is defined by Cambridge as "(someone who has) a natural ability to be good at something, especially without being taught." And this is the word and the idea the Cowboys fans must find solace in. While it is true that the Cowboys three most recognizable names on defense from 2013 will not be on the field in 2014, those were far from the only talented players possibly available to defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli for this year.
If we use draft status as a proxy for talent, and consider guys drafted in the top three rounds of their drafts to be the most talented players, we see the following list of "talented" Cowboys defenders by position. (The number in parenthesis represents the round in which the player was selected)
Tyrone Crawford (3)
Martez Wilson (3)
Anthony Spencer (1)
DeMarcus Lawrence (2)
Terrell McClain (3)
Amobe Okoye (1)
Bruce Carter (2)
Justin Durant (2)
Morris Claiborne (1)
JJ Wilcox (3)
That is 10 total players, including eight in the "front seven", tabbed to be the worst in the NFL by some, who were drafted in the top three rounds of the draft. They were guys who, as former Cowboys head coach Bill Parcells would say, "Someone, at some time believed they could play." These are all guys who have at least a solid chance to be a part of the Cowboys two-deep rotation in 2014. These guys may not have proven much of anything at the NFL level, but by definition, they are talented players.
Then combine this group with players like Orlando Scandrick, Barry Church, Henry Melton, DeVonte Holloman, Brandon Carr, George Selvie, Jeremy Mincey and Kyle Wilber, all guys drafted in the fourth round or later (if at all), who have shown flashes of very good play, whether for a full season (Scandrick/Church/Selvie-'13, Melton-'12), or for a single game or stretch of games. Add in guys like Ben Bass, Matt Johnson, Anthony Hitchens, and the rest of the 2014 late-round defensive draftees and the potential becomes evident.
At this point, however, potential is all fans have to hold on to, there are no 20 sack individual seasons to look back on. But in this day and age, the NFL is increasingly becoming a league that looks forward, not back, and often, a team can become greater than the sum of its parts.
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