The Cowboys have been busy this offseason as they continue to improve the roster for the 2019 season. Between free agency, the draft, and an unexpected trade - the team has added many new faces. With rookie mini-camp and OTA’s on the horizon, it won’t be long before we start getting a sense of what these new players will bring to the team. There are a lot of different factors that will play a deciding role as to how things all play out. Depth at certain position groups, injuries, and the ability to contribute on special teams can alter how much the team relies on certain players. Only time will tell which of these new guys make the biggest splash.
But why wait? As we like to do every year, let’s pull out our crystal ball and try to predict which new players will have the biggest impact on the upcoming season. Here are the top ten “new guys” that make the biggest contribution in 2019.
10. CB Michael Jackson, fifth-round draft pick
The Cowboys have done a great job finding help in the secondary with late-round draft picks. In 2016, they found Anthony Brown. In 2017, the selected Xavier Woods. Both players were starters in the Cowboys secondary last year, finishing in the top eight in snap counts for the defense. The team is hoping Miami cornerback Micheal Jackson can be another late-round draft success.
The Cowboys main three guys are set in Byron Jones and Chidobe Awuzie on the outside with Brown solidified as the team’s nickel corner. Not much should change here. The competition really begins for the fourth corner spot. Jourdan Lewis saw his snaps significantly reduced from 746 in 2017 to 187 last year, and it wouldn’t surprise me if that number dropped even more courtesy of Jackson. The rookie is bigger, faster, and is more physical in press coverage to where he fits the profile of what Kris Richard looks for in a corner. It might not happen right away, but look for Jackson to have his moments as the season progresses.
9. DT Christian Covington, free agent from Houston Texans
The Cowboys loved what they got from Antwaun Woods so much that they went out and tried to find another one. Similar to Woods, Covington is a relentless pursuer who plays with a lot of power, utilizing violent hands to shed blockers. What separates the two is Woods has better short area burst and can make more plays if he wins, whereas Covington does more of the dirty work to free up others. Woods plays with his head down and can get lost if he gets going in the wrong direction. Covington has good awareness of where he is and is able to change direction to follow the action.
Before the Cowboys started making bigger moves, the signing of Covington was one of my favorites. While the new still hasn’t worn off of Woods and we still love what he gives the team, don’t be surprised if Covington challenges him for playing time, especially on early down reps.
8. WR Cedrick Wilson, returning from injured reserve
After playing with a torn labrum his last year in college, the Boise State rookie re-injured his shoulder in training camp last season and was done for the season before it even started. It’s a shame we didn’t get a taste of Wilson last year as he was such a great selection late in the draft, and many fans were curious to see what he could do.
There’s a lot to like about him. His route-running is pretty respectable and he does a great job changing up his speed, making him a very dangerous vertical threat. Over a quarter of his catches went for 25+ yards so while he might not be a high volume guy, the big play ability is there. Wilson is a high character guy who’s going to do all the right things to earn playing time on this squad. The wide receiver position group is super deep this year, but you’d be wise to pencil Wilson in as part of it.
Bold prediction: Wilson throws a touchdown pass this season.
Cedrick is a former high school quarterback, so don’t be surprised if the Cowboys creative new offensive coordinator has his fellow Boise State alum throw a pass on a trick play.
7. TE Jason Witten, returning from retirement
It’s hard to get excited about a 37-year old tight end who’s last football action was nearly two years ago. So, we won’t. Witten is a first-ballot Hall of Fame player, but right now he’s just a solid piece to the offense. While he’ll log a good share of reps, the team has a couple up and coming tight ends that need to see the field too.
Witten is a reliable target for Dak Prescott that is going to come in handy as a nice little security blanket. As long as Dak doesn’t abuse this luxury and throw six-yard passes on third-and-12, the return of Witten can only make things better.
Record-breaker watch: Witten is the Cowboys all time leader in receptions (1,152) and yards (12,448). If he catches six touchdown passes, he’ll be the leader in touchdown catches as well, passing Dez Bryant (73). Wouldn’t it be great if Witt broke the record with two touchdown catches in a meaningless Week 17 game where the Cowboys already had a first-round bye wrapped up? Now, that’s a way to end the regular season.
6. DT Trysten Hill, second-round draft pick
It might be disappointing to not see the Cowboys top draft selection higher on this list, but there are good reasons for it. And one of those reasons is 308-pound incumbent 3-tech defensive tackle Maliek Collins. The fourth-year DT from Nebraska is entering a contract year and in all likeliness auditioning for his new team. While Hill may be the future, Collins is not giving up his spot without a fight and he’ll be looking for a nice pay day when he hits the free agent market in 2020.
Some people have questioned the Cowboys decision to take Hill, but he’s exactly what the team loves from the position. The burst, the relentless motor, and the athleticism for a guy his size - all make him an appealing option for the defense. But for now, number 96 is going to have something to say about it and that could relegate Hill into a reserve role his rookie season.
5. RB Tony Pollard, fourth-round draft pick
From the moment Memphis running back Tony Pollard turned up as on official 30 visit, it wasn’t hard to like the idea of having a versatile gadget guy on the team. But what some didn’t expect is that the Cowboys absolutely loved him. Why would a backup running back who lacks many important running back traits be so valued? He’s not shifty, he doesn’t have blazing speed, and he’s not a physical thumper to grind out the dirty yards. So, what gives?
What gives is that he’s a playmaker. The exciting thing about Pollard is that he has an uncanny ability to see the action in front of him and moves accordingly to weave through traffic without breaking stride. Once he gets going, he’s becomes extremely dangerous. This is why his yards per touch are so high, and it’s also why he was such a dangerous kick returner.
The likability of this pick really comes down to one person - Kellen Moore. If the team’s new offensive coordinator finds ways to get Pollard into space and let him do his thing, the rookie running back is going to spark the Cowboys offense. He’s the perfect complement to Ezekiel Elliott as they each do different things and can work in unison to spark the offense.
4. G Connor McGovern, third-round draft pick
The front office could not resist taking Penn State guard when he was still available late in the third round. He was the top player left on their board and it wasn’t even close. McGovern is an exceptional run blocker that keeps a wide base and maintains good leverage to punish defenders. He possesses good lateral agility to move around in a zone-blocking scheme. While there are technique issues that he’ll need to work on, the whole body of work paint a colorful picture of a quality interior offensive lineman.
McGovern will either not make this list or be one of the top new guys depending on whether or not he wins the starting left guard position over Connor Williams. Seeing how he’s number four on this list, my money is on the new Connor. The Cowboys are going to get back their dominance along the offensive line and McGovern is going to be a key cog in the machine.
3. WR Randall Cobb, free agent from Green Bay Packers
The former Green Bay Packers receiver has missed games in each of the last three seasons, including seven games last year due to an injured hamstring. That’s a cause for concern, however when he’s healthy - he’s still a very good receiver.
Cobb is a sly player. He is able to figure out defenses before the snap, and he’s fast out of the gate. He’s a good route-runner where every step he takes has a purpose. He’s made a living at hauling down tough catches and once he gets the ball in his hands, he knows exactly where to go. Cobb has quite a large résumé of making big plays and will milk every extra yard he can. He has the ability to play anywhere on the field and will fit nicely into the Cowboys offense.
How much of an impact Cobb makes depends solely on his ability to stay healthy. With Ezekiel Elliott and Amari Cooper commanding so much attention, the opportunity for Cobb to find space should be there. And if he and Prescott are able to develop a nice connection, this free agent signing could end up being a big one.
2. C Travis Frederick, returning from reserve/non-football illness
The Cowboys All-Pro center received a huge blow after being diagnosed with Guillain–Barré syndrome in training camp last year. Frederick had played in all 80 games of his five-year career, but all that came crashing to a halt when his immune system starting attacking his nerves, weakening his body.
The team took a cautious approach and allowed Frederick to work himself back to recovery. It’s different for everyone, but making a full recovery is possible and most people are able to achieve that in a year’s time. Early reports are positive and things are looking promising when it comes to getting Frederick back this season. Jason Garrett weighs in on what it means to get his star center back:
“It’s been great,” head coach Jason Garrett said of Frederick’s return. “He’s done so well. Toward the end of the year he started feeling better and better, and he’s been able to go through our entire offseason program up to this point.
”He was on the field with the guys last week so it was good to see him out there, in his stance, running football plays. He looks really good. Again, he’s an outstanding player and an outstanding person. We’re excited to get him back.”
We don’t know what to expect with Frederick. If he comes back, can he perform at an elite level? Nothing is for certain, but the Cowboys have already benefited from outstanding comebacks from high character players that just know how to do everything possible to defy the odds. I like his chances.
1. DE Robert Quinn, trade with Miami Dolphins
For the first time in what seems like forever, the Cowboys have great pass rushers on both sides of the defensive line. DeMarcus Lawrence turned out to be quite the find, and now the Cowboys have decided to double-down this offseason by giving him another great edge rusher on the other side in veteran Robert Quinn.
Quinn not only has that quick first step you want in an edge rusher, but he exploits that trait by accelerating up field in a hurry, putting the tackle in a precarious position to block him. Upon contact, Quinn has an arsenal of pass rushing moves in his repertoire. He uses his hands really well as he’ll attack the shoulder and rip through the tackle. This, combined with good bend enables him to sneak around the edge on a regular basis. Matt Minich does a great job in the film room breaking down Quinn’s technique.
Quinn doesn’t have the strength to win with power and at times this will cause him to “lose” the play, however you can never count him out. He has great speed and will chase down ball carriers on the other side of the field. Quinn has great closing burst and there are many times where he’ll just show up out of nowhere and make a play. While he’s not the 19-sack guy he was in 2013, he will bring a nice addition to the right side, allowing he and Tank to wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks. It’s going to be wonderful.