The Cowboys are no strangers to finding diamonds in the rough. There is a lot of rough to work with this offseason but the front office is certain that they put together a potential winner. We'll soon see if that's the case but they certainly seem to be banking on the development and play of some young talent on the roster. You typically know the efforts that you're going to get out of the usual suspects. However, there are moves they made and didn't make that would lead you to believe that they got some youngsters they plan on counting on quite a bit. Who are those players that the coaches are banking on that the upside will equal great production?
DeMarcus Lawrence, DE
By now, we all know that he'll likely be facing some sort of suspension, we have yet to find out how long it will actually be. Still, the Cowboys expect big things from Tank Lawrence in 2016 after he posted eight sacks last season. They believe that he can be the pass rusher that they hoped he would be when drafting him a few years ago. However, that's hardly a guarantee. Rod Marinelli stated that he faced more one-on-ones than any defensive end in the league with Greg Hardy on the opposite side. The vision all along has been to have Lawrence as the premier right end but that could be a spot more fit for Randy Gregory, who's also on the shelf for four games.
Lawrence has done a great job transforming his body into the defensive end Marinelli covets. In many ways, the team believes that he can become a special player but you have to see it happen. They know what he does well and needs work on but with all the questions surrounding the pass rush, Lawrence is the guy with the best chance at double-digit figures in the sack department. You better believe that they expect this young man to take his play to the next level in 2016, regardless of circumstance.
David Irving, DL
He may be the guy that they find the most interesting as he was effective in the limited time he played last season. Marinelli has discussed having him play left end while they sort out these suspensions and they seem to think that he has a real shot to do something. Irving is a huge athlete at 6' 7", 270+ pounds, most of his best production has come from the middle of the line. He may be moved back to tackle before this is all said and done with. However, right now they need fresh guys on the outside because it's a crowded party in the middle. If he can show that he can bend the edge, that's a huge win for this staff. He's been working a lot with Leon Lett on technique and learning pass rush moves that will help get lose from blockers.
Irving will be thrust into the fire early and they will see if he can handle the heat. It's imperative that they get production out of their young pass rushers and Irving is one they have more confidence in as he's spent a year in the system. A full offseason in the program may be the right medicine to get him to reach his potential. They need bodies along that leaky defensive line and Irving fits that physical bill, but can he produce? One thing is certain, they are counting on him to make his way.
Morris Claiborne, CB
Claiborne has been on these lists every year, but, at least, this time, there is actually something to possibly be excited about. He's finally in an offseason where he isn't rehabbing one injury or another. Sure, he's on a one-year prove-it deal, that doesn't mean that they don't expect to be rewarded for re-signing him. He's also said to have his weight up to 195 or so, which is an improvement from the 180 he was playing at last season. He actually wasn't all that bad last year and seemed to play with a lot more confidence. That's the key ingredient that was missing from him in the past and that's imperative for an NFL cornerback to have.
The one part of his game that the Cowboys hope he gets back is the ability to make big plays on the ball. For all the doubts that everyone has had in his abilities, his calling card to the NFL was the big play potential. It certainly looking more like he was surrounded by great players, but scouts will say if they have seen it once, they want to see it again. This is another contract year for him and one where he could really set up his future.
Benson Mayowa, DE
The defensive linemen are dominating this list, but it's true. The Cowboys did practically nothing in free agency to address defensive end. Instead, they went after a restricted free agent that they have had a crush on since he came into the league and went to Seattle. Mayowa has the measurables and speed around the edge to be a fit at right end but is rather inexperienced. Still, Dallas offered him a contract that the Raiders didn't match and now he's a Cowboy. Like every player on this list, he's young and has shown some flash potential to be really good. The question is - Mayowa can handle a heavier workload. Does he have the skills to be successful at this level?
Well, he certainly did a fine job against the Broncos last season. He's got the quickness off the edge and the push to be a load for offensive linemen to deal with. He just needs more time in the position and the hope is that he'll make a significant impact this season. They'll at least be counting on him in the interim, and much like Irving, they need some youth to shine through. There is something here that the Cowboys really like and believe will benefit this team, Mayowa has Broaddus excited, so there's that.
Anthony Hitchens, LB
They didn't get near as much out of Hitchens last season but the whole team kind of imploded after week two. Hitchens may be looked at by some as a luxury player but this is a guy that has made some plays with his impeccable recognition. He can play all of the linebacker positions but will compete for the SAM linebacker position again this year. When he's at his best is when he's allowed to see and react. I distinctively remember the fourth down stop against the Rams that was just incredible.
He's smart and reliable, he's always shown that he can make the most of his opportunities. He's been one of Matt Eberflus' guys since day one and now he'll have to fight off some younger guys. It could be one of the more competitive positions this offseason and their banking on his ability to stand out above the rest.