Every year we hear whispers around Valley Ranch about a certain player that is putting together some nice practices. Some times that's all we hear and when the lights come on, nobody is home. Other times, those whispers turn out out be correct and we see it all transpire on Sundays.
This Dallas Cowboys roster has become one of the youngest in the league and with that comes the potential for breakout players. The term "breakout performance" can mean different things when talking about different players. We have to understand that a breakout performance by a starter can be different than breaking the expectations for a role player. With that said, let's take a look at the top Cowboys' breakout candidates looking to make some headway this year.
8. Lance Dunbar, RB
Is this finally Lance's year? At least that's what we've been hearing as of late. Scott Linehan has always had room for the nifty back with good hands. Last season was a bit different due to DeMarco Murray's dominating performance, but the whispers out of minicamp is that Dunbar is ready for increased production. He's been a favorite of the coaching staff for some time now and to his credit, he finds ways to get down the field in a hurry. Nobody is talking about him being the lead back but he can certainly have some moments this year. A lot of fans thought that he would have been used in a role similar to how Reggie Bush was used under Linehan. Maybe this year, we will all get our wish. He's got the quickness and once he's got the ball he can surely break some ankles out there.
7. Morris Claiborne, CB
Yes folks, it's a possibility. So Claiborne hasn't lived up to label that a sixth-overall pick should, but that doesn't mean he can't pull it together. At this point, there is very little pressure on him other than the pressure he's putting on himself. After the surgeries to his patella tendons, he's been a determined as ever to make his way back to the field. Last year, it was only fitting that he would save the game in St Louis after struggling all game. Claiborne could have been on a mission to prove his critics wrong last season, but the very next week he would suffer a season-ending injury. There is still a reason he was a first-round pick and can't miss prospect, if he can get it together, he can help this football team. The best part in all of this is that the expectation is so low, he may just end up being one of 2015's feel-good stories.
6. Joseph Randle, RB
"Joe" has made a few comments that caused a stir early in the offseason but he may not be far off from those sentiments. Randle had some highlight performances last year while Murray stole most of the show. Randle's unquestionable vision and decisive cut-style should translate very well in the Cowboys zone-blocking scheme. Though Randle may not be the all-purpose back that Murray was, there's an element to Randle's game that Murray never had. Where Murray was more focused on making contact, Randle will flat out-run the competition. That "meat-on-the-bone" comment will follow Randle all season long. Yet, if he can continue the progress he showed in games against Jacksonville, Washington and Chicago; then the last laugh will be Randle's.
5. Devin Street, WR
Though we've heard a lot about the maturity of Terrance Williams this offseason. I'm more focused on the increased role for Devin Street. I'm definitely not a Williams-hater as I tend to like guys that score 11 touchdowns regardless of how they bring in the ball. However, there is something to say about the way Street can play. We haven't seen much from him yet, but that should change this season with all the reps he's had this offseason. Street has the pedigree to become a nice target in Romo's arsenal. At Pitt, Street currently leads all receivers in receptions, including one Larry Fitzgerald. He has the abilities to pluck the ball out of the air and has added some necessary bulk to his frame for year two. If he can create a steady rapport with Tony, he's going to be a pretty solid receiver with the potential to overtake Williams behind Dez Bryant.
4. Cole Beasley, WR
Last season, Beasley found out that he and Romo we're not just on the same page but practically the same sentence. Beasley was a conversion machine having caught a ridiculous 13 of 17 passes and 76% rate on third down. Wherever there is space on the field, Beasley finds ways to get there and be open. It couldn't be happening at a better time either, as Jason Witten's numbers decrease, Beasley has supplanted those for him. He's gone from just a piece of the puzzle to a very solid player and contributor. With Witten becoming practically another linemen, Beasley should see an even bigger increase in his playing time. He's got the trust of the quarterback, that alone will take him pretty far.
3. Byron Jones, CB
If any rookie is going to be on this list, it has to be Jones. Though there could be some things said for Randy Gregory or La'el Collins, nobody will get the playing time like Byron Jones. His athleticism was expected but his ability to excel at everything that's thrown at him has been the biggest coup. Jones will be a threat anytime he's on the field because he so intelligent. It says a lot when the guys in your same position grouping like Orlando Scandrick and Brandon Carr are already impressed with what they're seeing. Jones' size and skill could help him translate to a free safety, a position he's comfortable in. Whether he plays corner or safety, I expect him to be a play-maker for years to come in Big D.
2. Tyrone Crawford, DT
I disagree that last year was a breakout performance for Crawford, I assume he would, too. Crawford gave us a taste last season of what he's capable of but never really got to dominate by any means. I fully expect this to change now that the front office has added multiple players to the defensive line. Crawford played Henry Melton out of a job in Dallas, but another offseason with Rod Marinelli could mean the best is yet to come. Crawford learned how to stop hand-fighting the blockers and shed them completely. He plays with a massive amount of power and against New Orleans, he just straight sent six-time Pro Bowl guard Jahri Evans into Drew Brees' lap. It was once a big query whether or not Crawford would have a position but once he settled at the three-technique; all questions ceased. He fits the mold of everything Marinelli looks for: speed, power, and tenacity. He's one of the hungriest players on the team and Tony Romo's prediction last season was pretty accurate.
1. DeMarcus Lawrence, DE
It had to be Lawrence, am I right? He's got a stranglehold on the left defensive end position and should hold it barring any injury. Jon Machota spoke to Rabble and McCool on the podcast about the expectations surrounding Lawrence this offseason and he couldn't be more accurate. There is not a more impressively menacing looking player on the line right now. He's a chiseled, rock-solid, machine waiting for time to be unleashed on the NFL landscape. His surge towards the end of last season only makes you feel better about him this year. Even though Greg Hardy won't be around the entire season, once he returns, Lawrence will be too much to handle over there. Lawrence will certainly be a lot of fun to watch once the pads come on and I can see him terrorizing opposing quarterbacks all season long.