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Ranking the Cowboys roster 11-15: Rising stars with something to prove

The roster rankings continue...

NFL: Washington Redskins at Dallas Cowboys Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Before we get to the top 10 ranked Dallas Cowboys, we take a look at some players who are on the cusp of being one of the top players on the team. Most of these players are late-round draft picks or went undrafted. Many of them are young, upstart guys with still a lot to prove. One of them even literally has a chip on his shoulder.

Before we get to them, here is a recap of players 16 through 70.

Note: We have suffered our first roster casualty since these rankings started as Jeremiah McKinnon was cut last week. And Justin Durant is now on the team and has been slotted 44th in the rankings.

Now on to players 10 through 15:

15 Cole Beasley

Can you believe that Cole Beasley almost didn’t play for the Cowboys. After being signed as a undrafted free agent, Beasley unexpectedly left training camp and considered calling it quits, ending his NFL career before it even started. It was a very overwhelming situation for Cole, but after talking with his father he returned to Dallas. Boy, are we all happy for that.

Beasley was a star at Little Elm High School (which isn’t a school for little people if that’s what you’re thinking) where he played quarterback. That might explain this tight looking spiral he had against the Philadelphia Eagles last year.

Note: Off topic, despite this pass being incomplete, that was a brilliant play call by Scott Linehan.

Beasley would go on to be a star as Southern Methodist University where he made the switch to wide receiver. He would gradually get better and by his junior and senior years, he would post two-straight seasons with over 1,000 yards receiving.

And that is what he’s done in Dallas. Get better. Each year his yardage totals have increased: 128 yards (2012), 368 yards (2013), 420 yards (2014), 536 yards (2015), and 833 yards (2016).

Beasley has become such a reliable target, catching about 75% of all passes thrown to him. It appears the security blanket that was once Jason Witten has now been expanded to also include the Cowboys slot receiver. Tony Romo loved him and Dak Prescott loves him too. And why not, the guy makes them look good.

Beasley is loved by fans. Whether he is slam dunking a basketball or photobombing the Commish, he’s always entertaining us. Here he is sneaking into a picture with Roger Goodell, Jerry Jones, and one of the guys from Alice In Wonderland.

The Cowboys loved what they get from Beasley so much that they went out and got another one. If you’re excited about the potential of Ryan Switzer, great. I am too. And there will be a point where he’ll reach the level of unguardability (is that a word?) as Beasley. But until that happens, Cowboys fans will still be able to enjoy the wide open success of Beasley.

Beasley will enter the third season of his four-year, $13.6 million deal. This pays him an average of $3.4 M per season which ranks 51st of all wide receivers. That’s one hell of a bargain considering he was the NFL’s most reliable slot receiver last season. And if you ever want to know what it means to get sauced, here it is:

14 Anthony Brown

You really have to tip your cap to the Cowboys secondary last year. They made some nice improvements. Some of this had to do with coaching, and some of it had to do with some really strong performances by the team’s defensive backs. And the performance that surprised people the most came from the sixth-round rookie from Purdue, Anthony Brown.

Despite being on the wrong end of some big plays in college, the Cowboys scouting department was able to see the true quality of Brown. The Boilermaker defense was atrocious, but Brown was the one lone bright spot on the entire Purdue team and the Cowboys were able to pounce on him when he slid so far down the draft.

He played in all 16 games last season and due to injuries to both Orlando Scandrick and Morris Claiborne, Brown found himself starting in 10 of them. He performed well, exceeding everyone’s expectations and finished the season as one of the league’s top shutdown corners.

With both Brandon Carr and Claiborne leaving in free agency, the team will be relying on a new cast to hold down the fort this season. New rookies like Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis are nice adds, but it will be the second-year player that will emerge as the defenses top young corner.

Brown’s speed make him a great candidate to play outside. On a team full of quick, twitchy-feet corners, it’s nice to have a player with good overall speed. Like a lot of his teammates, he’s very sharp. He has great awareness and excellent vision to balance between the quarterback and the receivers. He possesses a great closing burst and good hands to come away with the catch. Here, he makes a huge play in the fourth quarter to kill a New York Giants drive.

13 David Irving

Pet cats are beautiful creatures when they pan out to be something special. And that is exactly how things were looking when my favorite pass rusher started turning heads last year. In just 486 snaps, David Irving was able to put up the following stat line:

  • 4 sacks
  • 5 passes defended (most on team by any non-DB)
  • 4 forced fumbles (led team)
  • 1 fumble recovery
  • 26 quarterback pressures (led team)

The most impressive thing about his numbers is how he was able to accrue them by only playing in 45% of the defensive snaps. He had three of those forced fumbles in one game where he only played 19 snaps against the Green Bay Packers. That performance was good enough to earn him NFL Defensive Player of the Week.

Irving would take over another game later in the season when he dominated the fourth quarter against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He just slid people around like they were on roller skates.

After he sprung into the spotlight after flashes of great play, defenses started being more mindful of his whereabouts. On this Tale of the Tape, Benson Mayowa breaks down how he was able to sack Mathew Stafford, but it’s clear to see that having a teammate occupy three offensive linemen certainly helps.

Aaron Rodgers made a great throw to Jared Cook to set up the game winning field goal in the playoffs, but would that have happened if Irving wasn’t illegally mauled by two offensive linemen?

The Cowboys are still trying to find what works best for Irving. He plays inside and outside and has had success at both spots. He looks too lean to play defensive tackle, but he’s strong and with that long wingspan, he can get big in the middle. He can make it hard on the quarterback to get a clear throwing lane across the middle.

Fans have to love the upside of this young pass rusher. While bad news struck when we learned he’d be suspended for the first four games of the season after a failed drug test (PED), this may only be a minor setback. Once he returns, look for the team to get a key member of the defensive line back and you better believe he’ll be ready to reek havoc.

12 Byron Jones

It seems like only yesterday that Jones was the new kid from Connecticut that dazzled everyone at the combine. His athleticism was off the charts:

The Cowboys made him the 27th overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. He was immediately thrown into action playing both cornerback and safety, but the rookie defensive back was often assigned to cover the opposing tight end. And he didn’t disappoint. When he went up against Rob Gronkowski, he held the star tight end to just four catches for 67 yards. Rich Hill over at our sister site, Pat’s Pulpit, handed out some nice praise to Jones:

He (Gronk) caught two passes on slants with Cowboys cornerback Byron Jones clinging like a backpack, and Gronk was able to use his size to box out the defender. He caught a fourth with a rub route.

Watching the All 22, it was clear that Gronkowski never generated consistent separation from his defender to the point where Tom Brady would be able to deliver the ball in the open field. Jones was with him step for step.

Bleacher Report referred to Jones as the only “Gronk-stopper” in the NFL.

While Jones has a great combination of length and speed to cover a lot of space in the secondary, it is his instincts that help make him a quality defensive back. He has great football IQ and knows how to sniff out routes and seldom is out of position. He’s also a high character guy on and off the field. With Barry Church moving on, Jones will now take over a leadership role among the safety position group.

And he may still be one of the younglings on the team, but that doesn’t stop him from standing his ground, even against the great Jason Witten.

While Jones has great closing speed and breaks up a lot of passes, he’s still arrives a little too late to give himself a chance to take the ball away. He’s a lanky safety and his high center of gravity hinders his ability to change direction so it takes Jones an extra moment to get going. Despite that drawback, he’s still all over the place in the secondary and shows no sign of slowing down as he looked impressive during minicamp.

Now if he can just gain an extra step and turn those breakups into interceptions.

11 Orlando Scandrick

There was a time not very long ago when everyone loved Orlando Scandrick. After turning out to be a fifth-round gem in the 2008 draft, the veteran corner has been regarded as the teams top cornerback for several years. But that hasn’t been the case in recent years. After blowing out his knee during training camp a couple years ago, Scandrick was put on the shelf for the entire 2015 season. Last year he returned, but he struggled to stay healthy as he dealt with foot and hamstring issues, limiting him to just 10 games started.

Now, he enters the 2017 season at full health and with some heavy seniority as he’s the only corner that’s been with the team longer than one season. In just over a year’s time, the organization has let two starting corners walk in free agency and has drafted four new ones: Anthony Brown (6th round, 2016), Chidobe Awuzie (2nd round, 2017), Jourdan Lewis (3rd round, 2017), and Marquez White (6th round, 2017).

The Cowboys have reloaded so much at this position that Scandrick’s importance came into question when it was rumored that he was on the trading block during the draft. Jerry Jones refuted such claims, but it didn’t stop some fans from rolling with that narrative as they attempted to ween themselves off his contributions to the team. That’s a mistake.

Scandrick is strong corner for the Cowboys defense. His unavailability and limited effectiveness in recent years has made some people forget how good he is, but he’s healthy now. While he’s been the slot guy throughout his career, his skills allow him to cover the outside on early downs. The two new rookies with twitchy feet may seem like they would push Scandrick off of slot duty, but it’s more likely that O will retain that responsibility and just switch back and forth between inside and out.

While he’s been a good player for the team, he’s never flirted with taking the next step in being a Pro Bowl caliber corner. He doesn’t take the ball away. He has only eight interceptions during his entire eight year career and has never picked off more than two passes in a season. In fact, he has more career sacks than picks which is also a testament to how effective he can be off the blitz.

But while Scandrick doesn’t wow you with stats, he also doesn’t get burned. Quarterbacks don’t challenge him very much. He’s a dependable coverage corner for this team. And even more than that, he’s a valuable mentor for this young group of defensive backs. He brings passion and leadership to the defense.

Do you agree with these rankings? Which players should be higher and which ones am I overvaluing? Make sure to check out the previous installments of this series if you haven’t already.

Ranking The Cowboys Roster 61-70: Which Players Are On The Outside?

Ranking The Cowboys Roster 51-60: Which Players Are On The Bubble?

Ranking the Cowboys roster 41-50: Which players will surprise and earn roster spots?

Ranking the Cowboys roster 31-40: Savvy vets, key backups, and special team aces

Ranking the Cowboys roster 26-30: Players who need to be ready to take on a bigger role

Ranking the Cowboys roster 21-25: Under-the-radar playmakers who you shouldn’t forget about

Ranking the Cowboys roster 16-20: Talented players with unfulfilled potential

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