Looking at the Cowboys 53-man roster, there are a lot of players to be excited about. There are new faces in new places and it’s going to take a few football games before we get an idea of how these things play out. Some will be disappointments, but some will be pleasant surprises. Let's look at a projected pleasant surprise from each position group.
QUARTERBACK: Dak Prescott
Whether you are counting the days until Tony Romo returns or buying into the Dak Prescott hype, one thing is certain – this is Dak’s team right now. The rookie quarterback is going to get a shot to see what he can do with this offense. There’s a lot of different ways this could go. As defenses commit more energy game-planning for him, he’s going to encounter some bumps in the road. But he’s also got some playmaking ability in him to give the crowd a reason to get on their feet. It’s a tough chore to be a rookie quarterback thrown into action in week one, but at least Dak has a lot of good pieces in place to ease the pain. Some people won’t be that shocked as they’ve already bought up a lot of the Prescott stock. For the rest of us, the surprise will be a pleasant one.
RUNNING BACK: Ezekiel Elliott
It would be real easy to put Alfred Morris’ name here. The free agent running back from Washington comes to town after a career low 751 yards season that followed three straight seasons of rushing for 1,000 yards. At the age of 27, some were already considering him washed up. But it didn’t take long for Cowboys fans to see what he could do back in the zone-blocking scheme. He felt right at home and had an outstanding preseason.
And if you love what you saw from Morris, you’re really going to get a kick out of this Zeke kid. He’s going to run this way and that way and sometimes all the way. He’ll run over people if he needs to. Or go around them by breaking an ankle or two. While everyone has their own number of how many yards he’ll need to be worth being picked fourth overall, there will be one thing all of us will agree on - Zeke is the real deal, and he is spectacular.
WIDE RECEIVER: Lucky Whitehead
The Cowboys receivers all have roles on this team. They do what people expect them to do so it can be hard to surprise people with this group. But one guy who raises eyebrows this year will be Lucky Whitehead. This is a player that approaches the game the right way and that will allow him to max out his potential. While that won’t equate to a WR star in 2016, it will make for a very speedy return threat. Add in some nice special team resources for Rich Biscaccia and the Cowboys start winning some battles in the kicking game.
TIGHT END: Geoff Swaim
The Cowboys don’t have James Hanna, but they have a quality blocking tight end in Swaim. It may have seemed wasteful to give up a sixth-round pick for a tight end that doesn’t catch passes, but the team had a plan for him and it’s materializing nicely. Not only is he coming along well as a blocker, but his receiving game is showing improvement.
OFFENSIVE LINE: La’el Collins
What’s better than three Pro Bowl offensive linemen? Yep, you guessed it – four Pro Bowl offensive linemen. The Cowboys were real fortunate to land Collins’ services last year as it’s not every day that the players you sign as undrafted free agents are blue-chip players. But that’s exactly what happened and the Cowboys will reap the rewards. As has become the norm lately, the game announcers will spend plenty of time pointing out the great play of the Cowboys offensive line, but expect Collins to get in on the praise this season.
DEFENSIVE END: Jack Crawford
DeMarcus Lawrence is the pass rusher everyone can’t wait to get back in week five. Benson Mayowa is the new guy that is supposed to bring new results. And David Irving is the athletic giant that can make a splash play here or there. The expectations are high for those guys, but the consistent play of Jack Crawford will provide a much-needed boost to the defensive line. There will be nothing sexy about his play, but it will be effective.
DEFENSIVE TACKLE: Terrell McClain
While people want to see the new free agent DT signing of Cedric Thornton, he’s taking a backseat to the one they signed a couple years ago. The Cowboys inked McClain to a three-year deal in 2014, but he hasn’t been playing enough for people to see just how good he is. He’d give fans a little taste, only to get himself hurt. Well, he’s back now and for the time being, he’s healthy. McClain has shown some good push in the middle this preseason and can be a valuable asset to the defense if he can stay on the field.
LINEBACKER: Anthony Hitchens
Honesty, anyone not named Sean Lee that shows up and plays decent linebacker will be a pleasant surprise. This isn’t a group that’s overloaded with talent as one guy doesn’t separate himself from the next. But in 2014, two of these guys were playing very well. Both Anthony Hitchens and Justin Durant did a great job helping fill the void of Sean Lee. Unfortunately, Durant’s time was short-lived as he only played in six games before getting hurt. And with his 31st birthday coming up in a couple weeks, it’s not going to get any easier to keep himself healthy. The Cowboys must have good play from the younger veteran, Hitchens.
It would’ve been nice to put Mark Nzeocha name at this spot, but he’s dealing with his own injury that could hinder his contribution in 2016.
CORNERBACK: Anthony Brown
It’s hard to decide what the favorite part was of the Cowboys pick-six against the Houston Texans in the final preseason game. Was it that my pet cat, Anthony Brown, caught it or that Brandon Weeden threw it? Nah, it’s got to go to the rookie. The Cowboys sixth-round pick has been playing well right from the beginning of camp. He’s been strong in coverage and will make a nice fallback should one of the Cowboys starting corners get hurt. While he possesses a lot of good traits to make him a good corner, the most appealing one is that he keeps making a play on the ball. And as he showed us last week, good things happen when you make plays on the ball.
SAFETY: Byron Jones
It’s easy to make the excuse that the coaches overloaded last year’s top draft pick with several different assignments. After bouncing back and forth between corner and safety, Jones has finally settled in as the team’s new free safety. Year two offers up some great progress, especially for a student of the game like Jones.
SPECIAL TEAMS: No one
Nothing this group does will surprise anyone. Stop being so greedy.
(just kidding, see Lucky Whitehead above)
What players do you think will surprise some people this year?