Is The Class Of 2012 The Key For The Dallas Cowboys In 2014?

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

Does the Cowboys 2012 rookie class hold the keys to the team taking the next step in 2014?

As the ever awesome OCC pointed out Monday morning, in spite of the constant discussion in 2014 about who the Cowboys will add this off-season to increase their chances of improving on the triumvirate of 8-8 seasons under Jason Garrett, the Cowboys need guys from those 8-8 teams step up in a major way in 2014. I would argue the greatest chance for that comes from the rookie class of 2012.

That 2012 class was made up of the following players who are still around (aka haven't fallen victim to the goatmouth):

Morris Claiborne - (1st rd #6 overall) - Dallas traded their first- and second-round picks to the St. Louis Rams and selected the corner from LSU who the Cowboys lauded as "The best defensive player in the draft" and the "highest graded corner since Deion Sanders." His ceiling was considered out of this world for the player who came to be known around BTB as Pick-6. However, largely due to injuries, and possibly attributed to the Cowboys change in defensive coordinators after his rookie season, Claiborne has been marginalized to this point in his NFL career. He has been inconsistent in every sense of the word, unable to practice regularly, failing to always be in the right position in coverage, and failing to play the ball the way he showed the ability to at LSU. There have been flashes (fumble recovery for a TD vs PHI his rookie year, and his INT of Peyton Manning in 2013) that have shown the great potential the Cowboys saw before the draft.

Tyrone Crawford - (3rd rd #81 overall) - Drafted out of Boise State, where he played mostly in a 4-man line, he made the transition to a DE in an Odd (3-man) front under Rob Ryan his rookie year, and showed potential in playing significant snaps in the later half of the 2012 season. He was considered to be one of the more promising members of the defensive line group when the switch the the 4-3 was made going into 2013, however, the dreaded Achilles injury in the first set of non-contact drills in training camp robbed him of his sophomore season, and the team and its fans from seeing how he might have developed.  Now, almost a year later, Crawford is back, and is again seen as a potential impact player inside and outside on the defensive front.

Kyle Wilber - (4th rd #113 overall) - When he was drafted as a 3-4 OLB out of Wake Forest, the player who has been coined as "Wilberforce" by OCC's auto-correct, was seen as a project to play some rotational snaps early on while preparing to replace the great DeMarcus Ware as the primary pass rusher in Dallas. However, when the team switched to the 4-3 in 2013, it left Wilber largely without a position. Although many thought him to be too light to play DE full time, that is where he started the season in 2013. He made a couple of pretty big plays from that spot, but eventually the rash of injuries at the LB position forced him to the Sam LB spot, where he seemed to find his niche playing the last several games at that position. Holding up well at the point of attack and making some big tackles put him in a position to compete for the starting job at that spot in 2014, while using some of the pass rushing ability he showed in college and at points in 2013 in Nickel rushing duty.

Matt Johnson - (4th rd #135 overall) - The man who has become known around BTB as "The Unicorn" has been a personal pet cat for two full seasons. His college tape shows the ability to fill a role desperately needed in the deep middle of this Cowboys defense but he simply has not been able to get on the field, whether to practice or play. Hamstring injuries cost him his entire rookie year, while a foot injury cost him his sophomore year. Extreme caution by the coaching/training staff, as well as another hamstring tweak has cost him some reps in the off-season this year, and at this point his roster spot is extremely fragile. The team has shown patience with him for a reason, and if he can stay on the field through training camp and the pre-season I believe fans will see why.

James Hanna- (6th rd #186 overall) - This speedy tight end out of Oklahoma was drafted as late as he was because he was seen as an athletic pass catcher at the TE position, who happened to struggle catching the ball. Although reports from training camps and other practices have detailed him being extremely successful with his hands in his time with the Cowboys. However, he has failed to consistently be used in a field-stretching capacity, relegated mostly to blocking and catching underneath passes and TE screens, his greatest talent has been marginalized. Combining that with the second-round selection of Gavin Escobar a year later, and it seems as though the writing is on the wall for this player. He is likely relegated to special teams duty (which he has been successful at) and will likely be replaced with a cheaper option once his initial contract expires.

That's five players, from a class of seven selections, three of which have major opportunities to be big time players for a defense needing exactly that in 2014, with the other two likely being major contributors in the kicking game, this draft class which has been largely unproductive could be a difference maker for the Cowboys in 2014.

Combining these five guys with 2012 Undrafted Free Agent signees Cole Beasley, "change of pace" runner Lance Dunbar, and 2013 starting left guard Ronald Leary, gives the Cowboys a great shot at having eight players from a single rookie class who play significant roles in their third seasons.

That would be an infusion of talent the Cowboys desperately need.

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