The Dallas Cowboys enter the 2017 football with high expectations. Will the ‘Boys repeat as NFC East Champs? Will Dak Prescott cement himself as one of the game’s best quarterbacks? Can the Cowboys reach, and make a run in, the playoffs this year?
Aside from the obvious key players across the roster, here are five players that will have a huge say in how good the Cowboys are this season.
La’el Collins, RT
La’el Collins is tasked with replacing a starter on the Cowboys offensive line from a season ago. Collins was set to be a starter himself along the line for Dallas before injuries ended his 2016 season prematurely.
Doug Free held down the fort at right tackle for years, but his decision to retire during the offseason has led to adjustments in the unit. Instead of replacing the departed Ronald Leary at guard, Collins will instead move outside to anchor the right side of the line.
If the Cowboys want to continue their success along the Great Wall of Dallas, Collins must be able to have a smooth transition on the outside. The LSU product started at left tackle in Baton Rouge over his final two collegiate seasons, so it is not a completely foreign position.
Dallas needs their big right tackle to be productive and to stay healthy this fall if the Cowboys want to repeat as division champs.
Maliek Collins, DT
Maliek Collins enters 2017 with high expectations. After putting together an impressive season that was overshadowed by fellow draft classmates Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott, Collins now has the chance to make a name for himself in the trenches.
Our own DannyPhantom has been driving the Maliek Collins hype train for a while. He says that Collins is the Cowboys ‘best kept secret’ and the team’s “best defensive lineman”:
Maliek Collins is the Cowboys' best defensive lineman. There, I said it. I can’t go back now. The second-year player from Nebraska that was selected in the third round of the 2016 draft had a great rookie season. If it wasn’t for the SportCenter highlight-makers in Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott, the young defensive tackle would be commanding a lot more attention as one of the great finds in the draft. At 67th overall, Collins wasn’t some dark-horse sleeper that emerged from nowhere. He had a great college career at Nebraska and with that type of draft pick investment, one would expect him to come in and make an impact. And that is exactly what he did in 2016.
Will Collins be able to step up and be a difference maker while David Irving and Damontre Moore serve their respective suspensions? If yes, the Cowboys will be sitting in good position.
Orlando Scandrick, CB
Orlando Scandrick is the veteran of the defense. The Boise State product is finally healthy, which is awesome news for the Cowboys heading into Sunday night’s showdown with Odell Beckham Jr., Brandon Marshall, and the New York Giants. While Eli Manning was a sub-par quarterback in 2016, his offense is still loaded with talent at the skill postions. Scandrick says he feels like he is “as good as they can get” when healthy.
"I just control the things that I can control," Scandrick said. "I feel like when I'm healthy and on top of my game, I can compete with anybody. I feel like I'm as good as they can get. I'm confident in my abilities."
A new secondary will rely on Scandrick in the defensive backfield. The tenth-year defensive back will not only be charged with stopping the best receivers that the NFC East has to offer, but he will also be asked to mentor Anthony Brown in his second season, rookies Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis, and all of the young talent on Dallas’ defense.
If Orlando Scandrick can stay on the field and be highly productive, the Cowboys will have more opportunities than not to stack up some W’s.
Jonathan Cooper, LG
Jonathan Cooper enters his first full season on America’s Team. The former first-round draft pick has had trouble finding a home and success in the National Football League, but a huge opportunity potentially awaits the seventh overall selection of the 2013 draft.
With Ronald Leary off to Denver, the Dallas Cowboys desperately need the left guard position solidified. Chaz Green had an opportunity to step up and grab the position, but the injury prone lineman can’t stay on the field. The Cowboys want Green to be the answer at left guard, but Cowboys fans everywhere doubt he will ever be able to stay injury free. The feeling is they have to have a suitable replacement for Green, not if, but when he goes down to injury. We don’t even know if he’ll be able to practice this week for the opening game.
That’s why Cooper is so important to the Cowboys success this year. Most observers are betting that he’s going to have to play at some point. Cooper has had some impressive moments in the preseason, but so far he hasn’t been able to win the starting job. By default, he may end up with it anyway.
Sean Lee, LB
Sean Lee is the heart and soul of the Cowboys defense. He makes the defense go and is the clear leader of the unit. The veteran linebacker is the one that the defense looks up to, and he is the one that is making sure everybody is in correct position in between snaps.
Unfortunately for Lee, he has been given the label of “injury prone” throughout his professional career. While talented and gifted, Lee has had trouble in the past of staying on the field. The 2014 season was a big example of that. Fortunately, Lee was able to stay on the field during last year’s incredible regular season. The former Penn State backer played in and started fifteen games for the Cowboys, racking up a career high 93 total tackles.
We know what we are going to get from the offense, but in order for the Cowboys to truly be successful this season, the defense needs to take it to another level. If that is going to happen, Sean Lee must stay on the field and be a big contributor this year.
If these players all have huge seasons, the Dallas Cowboys will be looking towards a potentially bigger and better year than 2016. Who are your players — other than the obvious Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, etc.— that will have a huge say in how good the Cowboys are this season?