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Five Players From The 2015 Draft That Need To Step Up For The Cowboys

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Outside of Byron Jones, last year's group of draftees were less than impressive. Dallas needs a solid sophomore season from as many as possible.

NFL: Preseason-Minnesota Vikings at Dallas Cowboys
Can Ryan Russell have a better second year with Dallas?
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There is a lot of excitement about the newest draft class of the Dallas Cowboys. The team and its fans are hoping for a lot of good things from this group. Of course, it is all just that, hope, at the moment (although first round pick Ezekiel Elliott looks like the closest thing possible to a sure thing of any player taken by anyone this year). But last year's draft class was largely a disappointment. Outside of first-round pick Byron Jones, the class was a group of non-factors last season. Randy Gregory has, of course, been suspended for the first four games of this year after having been hampered by injury during the early part of 2015. His future in the NFL is largely dependent on keeping himself straight with the substance abuse program and making some kind of contribution when he gets back on the field. But there are five other members of that draft class that need to also show that they were deserving of being picked (one, Laurence Gibson, was waived at the end of camp and signed with the Kansas City Chiefs, and was released by them on May 10th.)

Chaz Green

There is already talk about Green challenging Doug Free for the starting right tackle position. This strikes some as premature given that he never saw action last season. But he does not have to beat out the wily veteran to make a significant contribution, because Dallas is now without a reliable swing tackle. Green was drafted because he has a lot of positive attributes for the position, and the upcoming training camp will be his opportunity to display them. While it would be great for him to win the starting job, Free's experience is not something anyone should be eager to part with, and he is still a very capable part of possibly the best offensive line in the league. The best outcome may be for Green to put some pressure on Free and show that he is ready to be the heir to the position in 2017 or 2018.

Damien Wilson

The Cowboys tried to duplicate the success they had in 2014 with fourth round pick Anthony Hitchens by taking another Big 10 linebacker in Wilson. They also taught him all three linebacker positions, but Wilson did not have a rookie year that was nearly as impressive as Hitchens'. He only recorded 15 total tackles on the year, although he tied for the lead in special teams tackles. With Jaylon Smith expected to miss all or at least most of the season as he recovers from his injured knee, Dallas needs more depth at linebacker, and Wilson needs to show he can be a positive presence on the field. He especially needs to make sure he is remembered for something other than the blown coverage on C.J. Spiller in the overtime loss to the New Orleans Saints.

Ryan Russell

Russell has become something of a forgotten name among the defensive linemen. With the huge questions about the pass rush, he has a golden opportunity to step up. Another one of the SPARQ standouts the Cowboys like (he was just a hair outside the top third of NFL defensive ends when he was drafted), he needs to put his athleticism to use. As a defensive end he could have one of the biggest impacts of any of the second-year players if he shows an ability to get to the quarterback.

Mark Nzeocha

Nzeocha was also coming off injury from his senior year in college and was not activated to the roster until November 8th last season, seeing action in only two games. But he is another high-SPARQ player, second only in this group to the insanely high numbers posted by Jones. Another thing hampering the German native is that he had such limited exposure to the game of American football before college. Now, with a year's exposure to the Dallas scheme and expected to be fully able to go for OTAs and training camp, there are some whispers from the media types that he is worth keeping an eye on. And with the history of Rolando McClain, another player who has run afoul of the substance abuse program, Nzeocha is needed for depth now as well as being a candidate to become a starter in another year or two.

Geoff Swaim

The Cowboys traded a 2016 pick to get back into the seventh round to take Swaim, and they got almost nothing for the admittedly minor investment. With Gavin Escobar coming off injury and rookie/former basketball player Rico Gathers the very definition of a project, Swaim needs to get his act in gear and provide much needed depth behind Jason Witten and James Hanna. You should never have overly high expectations of any seventh-round pick, but Dallas went after him for a reason, and he now has a chance to show that they were not wrong.

Based solely on the rookie seasons of the 2015 class, it is mostly disappointing. Only Jones lived up to his draft position, while the remainder extended the recent string of poor value from the rest of the draft that has marred the front office's performance. But with two of them coming off injury-limited seasons, there should be some improved contributions from this group, and all five of the listed players above have the chance to become at least good depth players, with Green, Russell, and Nzeocha having at least the raw ability to become future starters. If just a couple of these players really blossom in 2016 it would make the draft class look much better - and would improve the team as well.