Jon Machota of the Dallas Morning News recently pointed out that the Cowboys have drafted very successfully during Will McClay’s tenure as Vice President of Player Personnel
Will McClay has been in charge of the Cowboys' last 6 drafts. During that time, Dallas has picked 6 players that have gone on to make the Pro Bowl. The group has combined to make 13 Pro Bowl appearances, most of any NFL team. The other 3 NFC East teams have combined for 10. https://t.co/TvYw1IUfmU— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) May 2, 2019
But even before McClay, the Cowboys have been well represented at Pro Bowls. In fact, since 2010 the Cowboys have sent 49 players to the Pro Bowl, just one player shy of the league-leading Patriots and Chiefs, who both sent 50 players to the Pro Bowl so far this decade.
To a certain degree, the Pro Bowl is a popularity contest, but it is a popularity contest that is heavily skewed towards the most successful teams at the end of each season. And being a popular team doesn’t automatically guarantee you Pro Bowlers (the Patriots are pretty popular, but only had two Pro Bowlers last year). And even being a Cowboy is not an automatic shoe-in: the Cowboys have oscillated from lows of three Pro Bowlers in 2011 and 2012, to eight in 2014 and eight in 2018, though the latter included a few Pro Bowl alternates, but who’s counting?
The long and short of it is that the Cowboys have done petty well at drafting and developing future Pro Bowlers both historically and in the recent past. Too bad it hasn’t resulted in more post-season success recently.
But back to the topic at hand: We’re looking for Cowboys players who could make their Pro Bowl debut this season. And that might be a bit tricky, because 14 players currently on the roster have already made the Pro Bowl and have combined for 37 Pro Bowl invitations since 2010:
5 Pro Bowls: Jason Witten (11x Pro Bowler over entire career)
6 Pro Bowls: Tyron Smith
5 Pro Bowls: Zack Martin
4 Pro Bowls: Travis Frederick
3 Pro Bowls: Amari Cooper (two with Oakland, one with Dallas)
2 Pro Bowls: Sean Lee, DeMarcus Lawrence, Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Robert Quinn (with St. Louis)
1 Pro Bowl: L.P. Ladouceur, Byron Jones, Leighton Vander Esch, Randall Cobb (with Green Bay)
That still leaves a lot of Cowboys players eligible to make their Pro Bowl debut.
The most obvious place to look for Pro Bowl newbies are former day one or day two picks who haven’t been to the Pro Bowl yet. That list is topped by former second-rounder Jaylon Smith, but also includes the likes of Chidobe Awuzie, Connor Williams, Randy Gregory (if he’s ever unbanned), Taco Charlton, and even honorary first-rounder La’el Collins, along with this year’s second-rounder, Trysten Hill. And you might even extend it to recent third-round picks like Connor McGovern, Michael Gallup, Jourdan Lewis, or Maliek Collins.
There are also a few veterans who’ve at least been on the periphery of a Pro Bowl conversation before. Last year, the following players were ranked in the top 10 of the Pro Bowl fan ballot at their positions, but ultimately didn’t make it:
- Linebacker: Jaylon Smith (3rd among inside linebackers)
- Strong Safety: Jeff Heath (7th among strong safeties)
- Punter: Chris Jones (7th)
- Special Teams: Jamize Olawale (7th)
- Free Safety: Xavier Woods (8th)
- Return Specialist: Tavon Austin (9th)
- Kickers: Brett Maher (10th)
And there are probably other veterans worth considering. Could one of the defensive tackles benefit from playing between DeMarcus Lawrence and Robert Quinn? Could some of the veteran free agent acquisitions have a career year in Dallas this season?
You may want to add more names for consideration, but I think the names above are a good group from which to narrow down the discussion to three names. So without further ado, here are the three players that could make their Pro Bowl debut this season.
Jaylon Smith: Smith had a very good season in 2018 and an equivalent effort at other positions might have gotten him a Pro Bowl nod. Instead, Smith got caught in a numbers game at inside linebacker: there are only two slots for ILBs on the NFC Pro Bowl team, and it’s hard to pass Luke Kuechly and Bobby Wagner for one of the two spots. Leighton Vander Esch only got in as an alternate last year, and that might be Smith’s best bet this year as well.
Xavier Woods: The Cowboys drafted Woods in the sixth round but had a fourth-round grade on him, and according the Stephen Jones, Woods has been “even better than we thought he’d be.” Woods plays more of a free safety position, and that’s where you’d expect a player to get some opportunities to take the ball away. It can be hard for a safety to make the Pro Bowl if they don’t have some name recognition (last year’s FS Pro Bowlers: Derwin James, Eric Weddle, Harrison Smith, Eddie Jackson), and Woods doesn’t really have much name recognition outside of Dallas. Which means he’ll have to impress with the only stat that counts for the Pro Bowl voters: interceptions.
Woods had just two interceptions last year, but there is hope that an improved pass rush could lead to more takeaway opportunities. There’s no reason why Woods shouldn’t be able to improve on his two-interception total, but will he improve enough?
A yet-to-be-determined defensive tackle. Just like interceptions are the Pro Bowl currency of choice for defensive backs, sacks are the gold standard for defensive tackles. According to Pro Football Reference, 73 defensive tackles made the Pro Bowl since 2010, and about half of them posted more than six sacks in their Pro Bowl season. Six sacks will probably be the minimum entry threshold for a Cowboys DT, an eight-sack total would make any DT a very strong Pro Bowl candidate.
Last year, Tyrone Crawford led all DTs with 5.5 sacks (though some of those came while moonlighting as a defensive end). Maliek Collins (3 sacks), Antwaun Woods (1.5), and Daniel Ross (1.0) also got to the QB, and the Cowboys have now added Trysten Hill. With a little bit of luck, and with the hope of more pressure coming from the outside, one of these DTs might get to that six-sack threshold. But predicting which DT will get the most sacks is next to impossible, though I think Maliek Collins may have the best chance - if he remains healthy.
Who are your choices for the player(s) most likely to make their Pro Bowl debut?