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Which Cowboys player from the 2019 roster will be the 2020 breakout player?

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In Dallas, the key to success for 2020 may depend as much on young, under-the-radar veterans as it will on the 2020 rookie class.

Sculptor Ignacio Villanueva Works On Huichol Art Amidst Coronavirus Pandemic Photo by Jaime Lopez/Jam Media/Getty Images

Since January, we’ve focused almost exclusively on the new talent the Cowboys acquired, first via free agency in March, then via the draft in April, and most recently via the college free agent signings. And while it’s great fun to contemplate what all these shiny new toys will bring to the Cowboys, it’s also easy to lose sight of another great source of talent for the Cowboys in 2020: the guys already on the team.

It is a widely held belief that NFL players take a quantum leap in performance from their rookie season to their second season. After all, they’ve been through their first full season, they’ve been through an NFL-level offseason strength & conditioning program (even if that is Corono-compromised), they’re hopefully a little more mature, and they’ve had ample time to improve their technique.

But that belief usually only applies to higher-round draft picks. For bottom-roster guys, that leap in performance sometimes doesn’t happen until their third or fourth year in the league - if at all.

  • Barry Church, for example, signed as an undrafted free agent by the Cowboys in 2010, and started just four games over his first three years in the league before emerging as a starter for the Cowboys in 2013. Church went on to start four seasons for the Cowboys and then tagged on two more years as a starter in Jacksonville.
  • Cole Beasley, a 2012 UDFA, played sparingly in his first two years before emerging as the Cowboys’ slot receiver. In 2015, Beasley signed a four-year, $13.6 million contract in Dallas, and followed that up in 2019 with a four-year, $29 million contract in Buffalo.
  • Tyrone Crawford, a third-round pick in 2012, didn’t start a single game in his rookie season and missed his second season with an Achilles tear. Crawford then started 74 of a possible 80 games from 2014-2018 before another injury cut short his 2019 season.
  • And of course, there’s also Tony Romo, who joined the Cowboys as a UDFA in 2003 and didn’t start his first game until his fourth season, yet eventually ended up earning $127 million from the Cowboys in the process, and that’s excluding endorsements and his subsequent broadcasting deal.

With all of that in mind, we’re going to ask you to nominate your Breakout Player for 2020. But before you start typing a response (e.g. “CEEDEE LAMB, SUKKAHHZZZ!”) you can only select players that fit very specific criteria.

Every year, Football Outsiders release their list of Top 25 Prospects, in which they nominate the 25 players they think are most likely to have a breakout year. To qualify as a Breakout Player, the following criteria must be met, and we are going to use the same criteria today:

  • Drafted in the third round or later, or signed as a college free agent
  • On the Cowboys roster in 2019
  • Entered the NFL between 2017 and 2019
  • Fewer than five career starts (alternatively 500 career offensive or defensive snaps)

Football Outsiders haven’t released their list of 2020 breakout players yet, but the table below lists all the qualifying Cowboys players who meet the criteria outlined above.

Name POS NFL Years Games Games Started Drafted (tm/rnd/yr)
NFL Starting Experience
Noah Brown WR 2 21 3 Dallas / 7th / 2017
Dorance Armstrong DE 2 30 1 Dallas / 4th / 2018
Brandon Knight OG 1 7 1 Dallas / UDFA / 2019
NFL Game Experience
Tony Pollard RB 1 15 0 Dallas / 4th / 2019
Ventell Bryant WR 1 12 0 Cincinnati / UDFA / 2019
Donovan Wilson S 1 11 0 Dallas / 6th / 2019
Cedrick Wilson WR 1 6 0 Dallas / 6th / 2018
Luke Gifford LB 1 6 0 Dallas / UDFA / 2019
Joe Jackson DE 1 5 0 Dallas / 5th / 2019
Cole Hikutini TE 3 4 0 49ers / UDFA / 2017
Deante Burton CB 3 3 0 Atlanta / UDFA / 2017
Jordan Chunn RB 1 1 0 Dallas / UDFA / 2018
No NFL Experience
Saivion Smith CB 2 0 0 Jacksonville / UDFA / 2018
Chris Westry CB 1 0 0 Dallas / UDFA 2019
Connor McGovern OL 1 0 0 Dallas / 3rd / 2019
Jalen Jelks DE 1 0 0 Dallas / 7th / 2019
Jon'Vea Johnson WR 1 0 0 Dallas / UDFA / 2019
Mitch Hyatt OT 1 0 0 Dallas / UDFA / 2019
Wyatt Miller OT 1 0 0 NYJ / UDFA / 2019
Clayton Thorson QB 1 0 0 Philadelphia / 5th / 2019

From this list, who would you pick as your 2020 Breakout Player for the Dallas Cowboys?