Sometimes you have to make lemonade out of lemons. The Cowboys 2020 season was full of lemons from injuries, to poor coaching, to losing a division that was easily winnable. Years from now the two things that most Cowboys fans will remember most from this season is the Dak Prescott injury, and that it was Mike McCarthy’s first go-around as head coach.
There is something that came out of the 2020 season that may be really beneficial to the organization going forward. They had to give playing time to guys who may not have normally got it, and in some cases they might have discovered key pieces of their future. With all the injuries, including the season-ending variety, and in other cases just poor play, a new crop of Cowboys saw the field for extended time. Let’s see how they did.
Note: We’ve excluded the 2020 draft class because it’s normal for them to get a chance to break into the rotation in their rookie year. We’re looking at guys who had already been on the team or were undrafted.
Wilson is one of two players who really broke out in 2020 for the Cowboys. The sixth-round pick in 2019 was rarely used in his rookie year, but was inserted into the starting line up early in 2020 and ended up starting 10 games. He played on 59% of the defensive snaps and still managed to play 42% of the special teams stats. He snagged to two interceptions, recovered two fumbles, and had three and half sacks. He picked up 71 tackles and had a low missed tackle rate. His energy and hard hits were infectious. It appears the Cowboys found their in-the-box safety.
Schultz forms the other half of the duo that broke out along with Wilson above. Schultz was a fourth-round pick from the 2018 draft who had been relegated to a part-time blocking tight end. Blake Jarwin was supposed to be the man at tight end in 2020 until his season-ending injury in the first game of the season. Schultz stepped in and turned in an impressive season with 63 receptions for 615 yards to go along with four touchdowns. He remained a dependable blocker and caught 70% of his targets. The Cowboys now have a one-two punch at tight end.
It’s not exactly a top-line position, but having a good punter is sneaky important in the NFL. The Cowboys may have stumbled on a gem. Old reliable Chris Jones had not been so reliable lately with injury, and finally had to cut short his season. Hunter Niswander likely stole his job. He finished with 26 punts and a 47.2 yards per punt average. He will also save the Cowboys some money on the salary cap. A win-win.
Now we reach some guys who may have not been break-out players on the field, but gained valuable experience for the future while showing the potential to improve their game down the line.
The trio of linemen that fit this description are Brandon Knight, Connor McGovern and Terence Steele. Knight and Steele were forced into action early and managed to keep things going somewhat. Remember that they played a lot of the games early on when Dak Prescott was putting up phenomenal numbers. They did have times when they looked overmatched, but at other times they held their own and seemed to get better as the season wore on, especially Steele who improved tremendously from early in the year. It’s hard to say they are starter material, but they do represent experienced depth now.
Connor McGovern had to play when Zack Martin as injured or playing out at tackle and started to show why the Cowboys were high on him when they drafted him. Now that he has some playing time under his belt, he can certainly be a depth play in the interior and maybe challenge for regular playing time in the future.
Finally, we get to Rashard Robinson on defense. The corner was thrust into action because of numerous injuries and showed that he at least belonged on an NFL field. He started three games for the Cowboys in 2020, and while he gave up a lot of passes, he wasn’t a disaster out there. He’s worth looking at as a depth player who can contribute on special teams.
2020 was a bad season for the Cowboys, but if you squint hard enough, you can see some good in it.