With the 2016 NFL season rapidly approaching, NFL rosters have started their offseason training with OTAs. Fortunately for the Dallas Cowboys, health is currently on their side as key players like Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, and Orlando Scandrick are all returning from injury. If the Cowboys can stay healthy, a season like 2014 could be in store for this year's version of the Cowboys.
We know the production many players on this roster are going to bring. But for some players the 2016 season will be a chance for them to prove that they are either long-term starter or at least rotational players. Here are five players who need good season to stake their claims at Cowboys staples.
Coming into his contract season, the Cowboys will have a big decision to make regarding whether they would want to bring the Baylor product back. Many people have been continuously frustrated over Williams' development, but he does know the system and the Cowboys may value continuity over anything else. With Bryant coming back, Williams will draw easier coverage and if there is any year for him to explode, it's this year. Having Williams finally get over the 1,000-yard mark would be absolutely huge for this offense and all of the weapons in it.
When the Cowboys drafted Escobar in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft, it brought a ton of controversy and rightfully so. Dallas didn't exactly need a tight end and there were needs on the roster that were much more pressing. Regardless, the addition of Escobar was going to be one that would bring an athletic pass-catcher to the offense. But in three years, Escobar has only caught 26 passes for 303 yards and seven touchdowns. In the last year of his rookie deal, Escobar will need to prove himself this season. It also doesn't help that he will likely start the season on the PUP list as he recovers from injury.
Dallas looks for a specific profile when they add defensive lineman. Russell fits that profile perfectly as a guy who's extremely athletic and equally explosive to go with it. Inactive for most of the season in 2015, this year will be the first opportunity where Russell gets to prove himself. With the suspensions to both Randy Gregory and DeMarcus Lawrence, Russell will get an even bigger opportunity to show off why the Cowboys spent a fifth-round pick on him.
Having him on this list may be a bit unfair because he's only entering his second season in the NFL, but the Cowboys are thin at defensive end and they didn't make the position a priority this offseason because they felt comfortable enough with the current bunch they have on their roster. That's why there needs to be some pressure on the former Purdue player.
Two years have gone by and both years finished on opposite ends of the spectrum for Hitchens. In his rookie season, Hitchens adapted to the defense perfectly, proving to the people that didn't like the Cowboys spending a fourth-round pick on him were wrong. Hitchens' second season was wildly sporadic, but I'm of the belief that he struggled because of the lack of continuity on the defense as well as how unreliable the offense was at sustaining drives.
With an improved defense around him, Hitchens will have some pressure taken off of him and that could lead to dividends for the Cowboys. But if he performs similarly to how he did in 2015, it could mean that he won't have a starting job past this upcoming season.
It seems that each year Claiborne says that he's going to give back to the Cowboys in exchange for the opportunity they gave him and while he got off to a good starter last season, the overall talent on the defense didn't help him perform at a consistent level. Signed to a one-year deal, Claiborne's future truly depends on how he performs in 2016. And after starting to live up to his first-round value at the beginning of last year, if he can prove again that he can make a consistent impact on one side of the field, there is no reason why the Cowboys won't bring back Claiborne to a long-term deal.