Training camp is right around the corner, and before you know it - this place is going to be buzzing with new fan favorites. That’s just how things work this time of the season as the hype builds for certain players with each new practice. In some cases it’s a new guy that starts to get attention, like Antwaun Woods did last year. Or maybe it’s a young player who is finally turning a corner, like Byron Jones last season. Regardless of the circumstances, the stock will start climbing for some players and it’s just a matter of time before they become loved by everyone. Here at BTB, we like to get a leg up on people, so here are four players we are beating the drum for before everyone else jumps on board.
The Draft Pick
Last week, we pondered the question - which rookie will make the biggest impact? Running back Tony Pollard was the top selection. Despite being a fourth-round draft pick, Pollard enters a situation where his playing time floor is much higher than his fellow rookies. Players like Trysten HIll and Connor McGovern, who were both selected on Day 2, are currently slated to be backups. It’s early, and many things can happen to change that, but it’s not unreasonable that the depth at their respective positions pushes them into a role that has them seeing limited snaps their first year in the league.
The same is not true for Pollard. Now, nobody is falling for any lofty touch predictions that the organization might try to sell us on, but the rookie running back should have a definitive role on the team. With veteran days off and limited preseason reps from Ezekiel Elliott, the opportunities will be plentiful for Pollard, and don’t be surprised if the bucket of hype overflows for the team’s new dynamic running back.
With new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore calling the shots, we are all hopeful the creativity of the offense improves, and Pollard is just the type of toy that can make that happen.
Speaking of new toys...
The Free Agent
When you look at the net gain from adds and losses for the Cowboys this offseason, most everyone is pleased with what the organization has done. But there is one area that has some people slightly concerned, and that has to do with losing slot receiver Cole Beasley.
The team stayed thrifty with their money and let Beasley walk, and instead used $5 million to bring in former Green Bay Packers receiver Randall Cobb. The veteran has had some big seasons with the Packers, but he’s been battling injuries in recent years. He only played in nine games last year due to ankle and hamstring injuries. He only caught 38 passes for 383 yards and two touchdowns. If you extrapolate those numbers over a 16 game season, his stats would be very comparable to Beasley (slightly higher in fact), but that’s still a big if considering how he’s had trouble staying healthy.
Cobb’s a couple years younger than Beasley, but he also offers the team more versatility as he can line up in different places. While it took him a little bit to get comfortable with a new system, he is starting to get a feel for Dak Prescott and the Cowboys offense. Cobb’s had a nice camp so far as his stock has already started climbing. His rapport with Dak continues to grow as Cobb possesses many traits that make him a great fit. He’s quick out of his breaks, he catches passes that aren’t always in the perfect spot, and he’s a true professional. These things collectively combined with a healthy season open the door for a very productive year for the Cowboys new receiver.
While the Cowboys are very stingy in free agency, they opened up their wallets a bit to bring in veteran edge rusher Robert Quinn. Technically, he was acquired via trade for a 2020 sixth-round draft pick, but the real investment comes from the $8 million the team is paying him for the 2019 season.
Quinn was selected 14th overall in the 2011 draft. Once he took on a starting role a year later, Quinn had three-straight seasons with 10+ sacks, including his All-Pro season in 2013 where he had 19 sacks. The 29-year-old has slowed down since, injuries caused him to miss a total of 15 games between 2015-2016. But even though he’s declined, he’s had 24 sacks over his last 48 games, so he’s still producing at an eight-sacks-per-year rate.
He’s not the player he once was, but Quinn is a sneaky-good add to the Cowboys defensive line. He’s by far the best player from the outside the team has ever brought over to help the defensive end position under Rod Marinelli. Just look as what these no-namers have done in their first year with the Cowboys.
If Marinelli can get that type of production out of those guys, returning to a 10+ sack season seems very realistic when it comes to Quinn. Get on board now.
The Returning Player
If feels like every year there is some position group that we feel the Cowboys need a major upgrade, only to completely ignore after the offseason finishes up. And more times than not, it turns out the front office knew what it was doing all along by standing pat.
This year, all eyes were on the safety position as there were a few different big name free agents hitting the market; most notably - Earl Thomas. When the team passed in free agency, it felt like a foregone conclusion that the team would invest their top draft resource in one of the top safeties coming out of college as the layout of talent was lining up perfectly for them. But once again - no dice. The Cowboys stayed true to their process and just kept collecting good players. While they did make some moves with the signing of George Iloka, re-signing Darian Thompson, and drafting Donovan Wilson in the sixth round - none of these moves will change the fact that Jeff Heath and Xavier Woods are still their starting safeties.
The Cowboys are fine with that and one of the reasons is what they feel they have in Woods. The young safety had a strong year last season with a passer rating allowed of 62.8 (sixth in the NFL), and he was constantly laying the wood over the middle of the field to break up passes. And when it came to the red zone, he was essentially a shutdown defender.
Xavier Woods forced an incompletion on 80.0% of his red-zone targets this season – that's more frequent than any other safety. pic.twitter.com/ha14VIGrbC— PFF (@PFF) January 20, 2019
His instincts and more familiarity in Kris Richard’s system are certainly reasons to be optimistic about his growth. At least, that’s what the coach thinks:
“[Woods is] on the [come-up],” said Richard this offseason. “He’s going to be in the second year of our system. He’s really grasped a firm hold of assignment responsibility — of physicality. He was a bell cow for us back there, in regards to getting on course and laying heavy on wide receivers and tight ends, and that’s what we’re looking for.
”Obviously the next phase is going to be getting the ball. We think that’s just going to come. It’s going to come with time.”
Woods isn’t sneaking up on anyone as he’s already on our radar, but just how good can he be? If he takes the next step and starts creating Kam Chancellor-type buzz, then the Cowboys are going to look like geniuses for how they handled the safety position. And that shouldn’t really surprise us because let’s face it - they are geniuses.
Just imagine what an already good defense would look like with a Pro Bowl caliber safety.