The Dallas Cowboys roster has some very recognizable stars. Everyone knows Tony Romo, the quarterback returning from two major clavicle injuries. When healthy, Romo is among the best gun-slingers in football and his impact will be felt immensely if he can stay upright for the season. We know Ezekiel Elliott, the first-round pick that will become a star behind the offensive line. We know Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, and the other weapons on this roster that will draw softer coverages with the impact of the running game. And we also know the offensive line, starred by three All-Pro players that are among the best linemen in football.
But there are other players on this Cowboys' roster that have a big role even though they may not receive as much attention as other players do. Dallas has playmakers on both sides of the football and have built one of most skilled rosters in the league. Let's take a look at five players who could be "unsung heroes" by the end of the year.
While the Cowboys' offensive line plays a huge role into the success of the running game, another player that is a big factor is James Hanna. As the team's backup tight end, Hanna is a guy that doesn't receive the attention Jason Witten or the rest of the offensive line receives, but he's a guy that seals the edge and does a few other things in the running game. On top of being a terrific run-blocker, Hanna is also one of the faster tight ends in football and after getting re-signed this offseason, I'd imagine that he'll become a bigger contributor in the receiving game as well.
Playing in the shadows of Greg Hardy, DeMarcus Lawrence, and Randy Gregory in 2015, the other Crawford on the Cowboys didn't get that much recognition. But when he was called upon, Crawford continued to perform above his expectations. With the impending suspensions to both Randy Gregory and DeMarcus Lawrence, Crawford will get an even bigger role and opportunity to prove himself. If he can manage to hold down the pass-rushing front for the first four weeks of the season, then it will be interesting to see what his role will be once Gregory and Lawrence come back.
Year two wasn't so pretty with Hitchens. But in reality, 2015 as a whole wasn't a great year for the Cowboys and a lot of that has to do with health and players playing in different positions. Hitchens needs continuity and when he was eased into the defense in his rookie season, he performed extremely well. Year three for Hitchens will likely decide his future with the team, but if the team can mirror what it was in 2014, then Hitchens will follow suit.
There are going to be concerns over his weight problems, but Nzeocha has the long-term pedigree to develop into a nice depth piece at the linebacker position. His skillset has the makings of a Sam linebacker and while I believe Hitchens will start and perform in the role, I think that Nzeocha's impact will be felt more in 2016 on both the defensive side of the ball and in special teams as a gunner.
Ladouceur is among the better long-snappers in football. When you think about the Cowboys' special teams, you think about Dan Bailey and Chris Jones. But a lot goes into Bailey knocking in kicks from everywhere on the gridiron. Ladouceur plays a huge role in that. He's been on the team since 2005, making him the third-longest tenured player behind Romo and Witten. You can't rely on all the Cowboys performing up to their abilities each week, but one player that will continuously do just that is Ladouceur.