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Which Cowboys Player From The 2016 Roster Will Be The 2017 Breakout Player?

The key to success for the Dallas Cowboys in 2017 may depend more on young, under-the-radar veterans than it will on the 2017 rookie class.

NFL: Detroit Lions at Dallas Cowboys
Damien Wilson (57) reacts after a missed Lions field goal
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The second NFL year can be a break-out party for talented NFL players. For some players, that breakout doesn't happen until their third or fourth years in the league.

It is a widely held belief that NFL players take a quantum leap in performance from their rookie season to their second season. After all, they've been through their first full season, they've been through a full NFL-level offseason strength & conditioning program, they're hopefully a little more mature, and they've had ample time to improve their technique. But that belief usually only applies to higher-round draft picks. For bottom-roster guys, that leap in performance sometimes doesn't happen until their third or fourth year in the league - if at all.

  • Doug Free for example, a fourth-round pick in 2007, became a starter in his third NFL season and remained a key piece for the Cowboys O-line until his retirement earlier this year.
  • Miles Austin entered the league as an undrafted free agent and played sparingly in his first three NFL seasons (just 18 receptions for 354 yards) but then put together two consecutive Pro Bowl seasons.
  • Tony Romo joined the Cowboys as a UDFA in 2003, and didn't start his first game until his fourth season, yet eventually ended up earning $127.4 million in the process, and that's excluding endorsements and his subsequent broadcasting deal.

Two weeks ago, we asked you to name your pet cats on the 2017 roster. Today, we're going to ask you to nominate your Breakout Player for 2017. But before you start typing a response (e.g. "THE GODBACKER JAYLON SMITH, SUKKAHHZZZ!") you can only select players that fit very specific criteria.

Every year, Football Outsiders release their list of Top 25 Prospects, in which they nominate the 25 players they think are most likely to have a breakout year. To qualify as a Breakout Player, the following criteria must be met:

  • Drafted in the third round or later, or signed as a college free agent
  • On the Cowboys roster in 2016
  • Entered the NFL between 2014 and 2016
  • Fewer than 500 career offensive or defensive snaps

In 2016, FO didn't have a Cowboys player making their top 25, the year before Joseph Randle made the list. In 2014, the Cowboys again came up empty again, though LB Devonte Holloman did get an honorable mention.

If this list doesn’t appear like something you’d want a Cowboys player to appear on, know that in the 2013 edition, Ronald Leary and James Hanna both got honorable mentions. Since then, the Cowboys got 47 starts from Leary (and likely a fourth-round comp pick in 2018), and 29 starts from Hanna. If the Cowboys can get more production like that out of the ranks of their under-the-radar, lower-round prospects this year, that would be a big success.

Football Outsiders haven't released their list of 2017 breakout players yet, but the table below lists all the qualifying Cowboys players who meet the criteria outlined above.

From this list, who would you pick as your 2017 Breakout Player for the Dallas Cowboys?

Name POS Rookie season Draft Round Snaps
3-year veterans
Edwards, Kadeem OG 2014 5th 0
Smith, Keith FB 2014 UDFA 175
Seamster, Sammy CB 2014 UDFA 28
2-year veterans
Green, Chaz OG 2015 3rd 150
Wilson, Damien LB 2015 4th 316
Swaim, Geoff TE 2015 7th 227
Nzeocha, Mark LB 2015 7th 16
Whitehead, Lucky WR 2015 UDFA 298
Ash, Richard DT 2015 UDFA 66
Smith, Rod RB 2015 UDFA 30
Showers, Jameill S 2015 UDFA 0
1-year veterans
Tapper, Charles DE 2016 4th 0
Frazier, Kavon S 2016 6th 37
Gathers, Rico TE 2016 6th 0
DeBord, Clay OT 2016 UDFA 0
Jones, Andy WR 2016 UDFA 0
Jones, Lenny DE 2016 UDFA 0
McKinnon, Jeremiah CB 2016 UDFA 0
Wood, Zach DE 2016 UDFA 0

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