In the Sunday morning news post, OCC led off with the post at Pro Football Focus that named Tyrone Crawford as their "secret superstar" for the Dallas Cowboys. Crawford is indeed a major piece in the plan for the team as they hope to return to the playoffs. But for fans of the team, there is little secret about the expectations for him with better players around him on the defensive line. For us who may have a little problem with our obsession over all things about the Star, there are some other players who may be more of a secret superstar for the team. Here are three names that might be much bigger for the coming season than we think.
Ronald Leary. When the Dallas Cowboys absolutely clowned the rest of the league by snatching UDFA La'el Collins after his incredibly disappointing experience of being passed over in the draft due to circumstances beyond his control, the rampant speculation at the time was that he would oust Leary from the left guard position. But there is one big obstacle in the way of Collins becoming a starter: Leary. According to PFF's own grades, Leary was the 17th best guard in the league, and the seventh-highest graded left guard. He has no intention of going anywhere, and it would take an incredibly impressive showing by the rookie or some misfortune that I will not put into words (because, goatmouth) for him to wrest the starting job away from the veteran. Given that Leary also has that nasty attitude that all really good offensive linemen possess, Collins is much more likely to become the top backup at guard for the first season or two of his career, at least.
And there's nothing wrong with that. Dallas does not have the pressure to start him immediately that would have come if Collins had actually been the first-round pick his talent dictated. He has many years in the league to look forward to. His big payday will come eventually. For now, he can grow as an NFL player, and the long term outlook may be for him to become the right tackle who will replace Doug Free when his career winds down. For now, Leary is the established starter at LG. He is one of the best in the league, and will probably continue to be so for the foreseeable future.
Anthony Hitchens. For him, it is not so much being overlooked as just kind of taken for granted. Given how so many laughed at the Cowboys using a fourth-round pick on him, his success playing and at times starting in all three linebacker positions in 2014 is truly remarkable. Dallas had precious little depth at linebacker last season, and he basically was it. Now he is the expected starter at the SAM position, but his proven ability to ably fill the other slots is just as valuable to the team with the injury history of Sean Lee and the just plain weird history of Rolando McClain. While we all fervently hope Lee and McClain are there for the entire season, one way or another, Hitchens will have an impact for the team. He is a rare find for the Cowboys - the kind that Will McClay and company seem to be making with a gratifying regularity of late.
Nick Hayden. Those howls of outrage at this are not unexpected, but the man that Rod Marinelli calls the Golden Cock has been the rock of the defensive line the past two seasons. Although PFF routinely pans his performance on the field and ranked him dead last among defensive tackles last year, his durability on a team that has seen almost no depth of late is in itself of great value. His job is not to get to the quarterback, and the current plan appears to be to use players like Greg Hardy and Jeremy Mincey to kick inside in his place on passing downs. But don't be surprised to see Hayden keep his starting job and remain a mainstay on running downs. And with some better talent around him, he may not look like such a bad asset this season, even to the jaundiced eyes of the guys at PFF.
Those are three players that have a much bigger role for the Cowboys than most may realize. Left guard, SAM linebacker, and 1-tech DT are not exactly glamour positions, which probably has a lot to do with the relatively low regard that they are held by some, but coaches see things a bit differently than fans and the media do. These three look to play major roles this year. Sometimes the superstars are just overlooked.