With one game to go, the Cowboys could still end up with a winning record in back-to-back seasons for the first time since they had a five-year run from 2005-09. Yet, by failing to make the playoffs a year after leading the NFC with a 13-3 record, there’s no question 2017 has been a disappointing season.
Still, there were also some bright spots. Who surprised the most? A top 10 list.
I’m going to lead with La’el Collins, who started the season a bit rough, but came on strong as the season went on, despite playing on a bad back that caused him to miss a lot of practice time. Going into the next two years with Collins under contract should give Dallas renewed confidence in their offensive line.
I had high hopes for Jourdan Lewis, and he didn’t disappoint. For most of the season, he was the rookie producing the most out of this class. Once Chidobe Awuzie finally got healthy, he looked to be second best, but that’s still pretty good. And he also held down an edge job, when most projected him strictly as a slot corner. A promising building block for the next few years.
I had very low expectations for Morris, given his steadily declining yards per carry numbers and lack of burst. But he turned in some adequate to good games when Ezekiel Elliott was out, especially against Washington. I wouldn’t keep him, however, now that he’s a free agent.
Hitchens was a monster in training camp, so it was a big blow when his injury kept him out of the early part of the season. When he returned, he showed his value, and is in critical need of being re-signed this offseason.
The Cowboys’ coaches did everything they could to keep Jonathan Cooper out of the starting lineup, but once Chaz Green got hurt (again), they had no choice but to turn to Cooper to play left guard. He did a solid job there. He was also just about the only successful free agent signing for Dallas in 2017. If he doesn’t demand a big contract, expect the Cowboys to re-sign him for the next few years. He’s only 27.
No one knew what to expect of the slimmed-down Smith as a running back. He proved quite capable of pairing with Alfred Morris when Zeke was out, is a good receiver, and had a monster game against the Giants. Expect him to be the primary backup to Zeke next year.
It’s hard to be surprised by Sean Lee, but we saw quite clearly this year how much of a difference maker Sean Lee is for the Cowboys defense. Without him, the Cowboys defense often gets manhandled. With him, they are quite stout.
Switzer made less of an impact than Lucky Whitehead on offense, but he showed his value as a return man, with a TD return against Washington, and several other returns that gained Dallas valuable field position. We all hoped for that kind of impact, but it’s still nice to see it in his rookie season.
Woods came to Dallas as a safety, but was pressed into service as a slot cornerback in a few games due to injuries to Orlando Scandrick and the rookie cornerbacks. He missed a few plays, but he also made some plays.
We listed Awuzie among the disappointments because he couldn’t get himself healthy. We’re listing him here too, because when he finally did play, he was outstanding.