The Dallas Cowboys will be having their mandatory minicamp next week, which will be the last major step in evaluating where the team is and what it has before training camp rolls around. There are two parts to this. First, the staff has to look at all the new players that have been brought in. But the team also is going to be looking at returning members of the roster. Last week, I covered two players entering their second season with Dallas who are expected by some to make major contributions to the team. On a related topic, Rabblerousr just put up a post trying to come up with some objective data on how well the Cowboys have been drafting of late. He showed that overall the "sophomores" grade out as one of the better groups in the NFL.
Given the many questions facing Dallas, and the recent struggles with mediocrity under Jason Garrett, the class of 2013 has a great opportunity to make a mark. Because of the injury issues last year, all of the draftees (and the one UDFA who stuck) saw playing time, often in starting positions, so the team has a good baseline of actual on field performance to work from.
Here is a rundown of the Cowboys' class of 2013, with my take on what the team can expect, and whatever I have been able to glean about them from coverage of the OTAs. I did not include Cameron Lawrence in this group, since he was mostly just a special teams player, unlike Jakar Hamilton, who worked his way into significant playing time, despite following a similar path from the practice squad to the roster.
First round pick Travis Frederick - He was one of the players named to the SB Nation "All Sophomore Team". Fredbeard exceeded everyone's expectations (except possibly the Dallas scouting department). The only thing that the Cowboys have to worry about is a sophomore slump, and given all we have heard about his intelligence, attitude, and work ethic, that seems unlikely. OTAs don't provide a lot of good looks for offensive linemen, so there is no real news on him, but he appears to be picking up where he left off.
Second round pick Gavin Escobar - The most controversial, or at least irritating, selection of 2013, Escobar needs to show everyone why the Cowboys thought he was worth a second-round pick. From early reports, he might be well on his way to doing that. After the much-hyped 12 personnel package fizzled last year, Escobar was rather underutilized for a second-rounder, but new passing game coordinator and play caller Scott Linehan gives every sign of intending to utilize Escobar's size and pass catching ability. One intriguing thing that has come out of the OTAs is the use of Escobar in the slot receiver role, where his size will make him a nightmare matchup for linebackers - especially in some kind of rotation with Cole Beasley.
Third round pick Terrance Williams - He joined Frederick on the "All Sophomore" list. He made a major contribution to the team last season, basically covering for the loss of Miles Austin to his traditional injury issues. Reports from practice show that he is making major strides in the two main areas where he needed improvement, his confidence on the field and his habit of catching balls with his body. He is solidly established as the starting number two wide receiver, and will be a big contributor again this season.
Third round pick J.J. Wilcox - Jason Garrett has stated clearly that the team has a lot of faith in Wilcox, and with injuries once again limiting the participation of the Cowboys' player/unicorn Matt Johnson, Wilcox has been lining up next to Barry Church as a starting safety. The team is betting a lot on him, since it passed up on safeties early in the draft based on the belief Wilcox could grow into the job this year. Coming from a small school, it is possible he can show significant improvement with a year under his belt, but a lot of us will be holding our breath until we see how he pans out.
Fourth round pick B.W. Webb - If there is a player that is in trouble from this group, it is Webb. During the most recent Talkin' Cowboys podcast at DallasCowboys.com, the statement was made that Webb better be glad he represented the investment of a fourth-round pick, because his performance on the field has been shaky at best, with UDFA Tyler Patmon singled out as one player who was showing more at the cornerback position so far in the OTAs. With all the issues the secondary had last season, Webb has had plenty of chances to show he is part of the solution for Dallas, but he has not done so. It is still early, but the feeling I get is that there is not a lot of confidence he is going to make it out of camp as part of the 53-man roster.
Fifth round pick Joseph Randle - Randle looks to be in a pretty intense battle for the backup running back job with free agent signee Ryan Williams and UDFA Ben Malena. Those three are also fighting the roster, with a decision still to be made about whether the team will carry a fullback, and how that would impact the number of slots allocated to running back. It sounds like Randle and Williams have been splitting time with the second team, leaving Malena to try and make it as a special teams contributor. Not a lot of information here, but expect this to be hotly contested all the way through camp, with the fate of the three contenders likely to go down to the wire.
Sixth round pick DeVonte Holloman - He is gong to be a part of the mix at linebacker, and will be given a chance at the unenviable task of having to take the place of Sean Lee. He has been a little nicked up in the OTAs, but the team has been very careful with injuries since, well, that Sean Lee thing. You can write him in as part of the linebacking corps.
UDFA Jakar Hamilton - Wilcox is not the only player that the Cowboys are relying on to help out at safety. Hamilton has been getting a lot of work, and has been mentioned as one of the most improved players on the field. He gets especially strong reviews for his work carrying tight ends Jason Witten and Escobar down the field. Another small school player, he seems to be making a very similar showing to Wilcox's during the OTAs - and that looks to be a good thing.
The arrow seems to be pointing up for six of the players, down for one, and kinda sideways for Randle. Although we always want all the players Dallas acquires to be immediate superstars, having 75% of this group make solid contributions this year would actually be a pretty good result. What expectations do you have for the second year vets?