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Top five Cowboys players who are performing much better than expected

Things haven’t been all bad in Big D.

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Cleveland Browns v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

This has been a horrible year; 2020 can’t get over fast enough. In fact, the latest Elf on a Shelf just arrived, and I must say...I’m a little unsettled.

The 2020 season has been dreadful, and there is nothing more we can do but put on our brave faces to get through these final seven games. Next season will bring a clean slate that will hopefully consist of a healthy and wealthy Dak Prescott behind center. With a new season also brings with it some bright spots from the current one. Yes, there have been some good things this year. Here are five players who are performing a lot better than most people expected.

Honorable Mentions: CeeDee Lamb and Trevon Diggs

The Cowboys top two draft picks have been fantastic this season as they have stepped right into the starters role and haven’t disappointed. Both have had a few growing pains along the way, but it seems favorable that these two guys are going to shine in this league. Lamb has star potential, and Diggs continued to improve with each new game, although that progress will be hindered as he’ll now miss the next 4-6 weeks with a foot injury.

While they have been great, they don’t make our list because we had already placed rather high expectations on them.

5. Cedrick Wilson

This is more of a testament to the coaching staff for getting the third-year receiver involved in the offense. We all expected the big three of Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and Lamb to handle the bulk of the work, and they are. Wilson’s target share pales in comparison to those guys, but he’s done a really nice job making them count. He’s caught 15 passes for 179 yards, and two touchdowns. And thanks to his high-school quarterbacking skills, he’s thrown a touchdown pass to Prescott and had a nice lateral toss on a trick punt return play.

For Wilson, health has been his biggest obstacle. He missed his entire rookie season as well as 10 games last year. But this season, he’s been healthy, and we’ve been able to see what he can contribute to this offense, and it’s been great.

4. Aldon Smith

If this list was put together after Week 3, the veteran pass rusher would be sitting at the top as he led the league with four sacks at that time. Since then, he’s cooled off as his snap counts have gone from 60+ per game to the low 40’s. But even still, the 31-year-old edge rusher has done a great job showing he still has a lot to offer after being out of action the last four seasons.

Smith still leads the team in sacks with five and in quarterback hits with nine. The return of Randy Gregory does create a log jam at right defensive end as the team continues to try to assemble the best pass rushing arrangement. It will be interesting to see what the future holds for him as he hits unrestricted free agency next season, but the Cowboys are certainly getting their money worth this year.

3. Cameron Erving

Let me be the first to offer up my sincere apologies for the immediate disdain I had for this free agent signing. The team gave him a one-year, $2.5 million deal which was fine; however, $2 million of it was guaranteed. This appeared like throwing money away because nothing on his tape recently brought about good vibes that he could handle the swing tackle position. Not only that, but my flag was firmly planted on Team Brandon Knight as last year’s UDFA rookie showed some nice promise when called upon.

Surprisingly, Erving has been really effective this year. A knee injury back in Week 1 (on a special teams play) sidelined him for the first part of the year. He healed up in the nick of time to fill in for Knight, who has missed the last three games with a knee injury of his own. There are moments on tape where Erving loses his matchup, but it’s not often, and it’s not so bad that it stops the offense from functioning.

Honestly, all three of the backup tackles belong on this list as they’ve played way beyond what one could expect. Knight and Terrence Steele are both UDFA’s, so when you combine that with their overall rawness, it’s hard not to be impressed. But credit Erving for holding down the left tackle spot pretty well in recent weeks. This might seem a little too much praise for a guy who has only played three games, but that left tackle position is pretty darn important.

2. Tyler Biadasz

We could do a whole write-up on Cowboys backup offensive linemen who have been thrown into a starting role this season. Go down the line and you’ll find players who have filled in admirably for this team. Wisconsin’s rookie center Tyler Biadasz is at the top of that list. A knee injury to Joe Looney in Week 4 against the Cleveland Browns forced Biadasz into action sooner than expected. There have been a few hiccups as sometimes he’s a little slow snapping the ball to where the rest of the offensive line gets called for a false start. But overall, the rookie has performed well and looks to be a solid fixture in the Cowboys offensive line going forward.

The front office jumped at the opportunity to trade up to land Biadasz after he fell late in the fourth round. It was a wise move. There were much bigger names (Cesar Ruiz, Matt Hennessy, and Lloyd Cushenberry) drafted ahead of Biadasz, but it’s the Cowboys center who made PFF’s midseason all-rookie team.

1. Dalton Schultz

It’s hard to figure out if the Schultz emergence has more to do with something just clicking for him, or if the previous coaching staff just never gave him much of a shot. And to be quite honest, his skill set could’ve easily been hidden again had it not been for the unfortunate season-ending injury to Blake Jarwin in the season opener.

Schultz has been a reliable target for whomever is quarterbacking this team. He’s caught 35 passes for 383 yards, which is already more than Jarwin had in either of his two previous seasons. Granted, Jarwin was stuck behind Jason Witten last year, so that’s not an apples to apples comparison. The only thing we do know is that Schultz has played extremely well as the team’s lead tight end. His ability as a pass catcher was a complete surprise as he’s demonstrated none of those skills in seasons past. He runs good routes, he shows good hands, and he sneaks in over the seam as well as anyone.

It’s not fair to just Wally Pipp Jarwin like that as we never got to see him cut loose in the lead tight end role. Who’s to say he doesn’t flourish? But with what Schultz has shown as a receiver combined with his more skilled ability as an inline blocker, this is one battle to keep an eye on next season.