The Cowboys have drafted fairly well during Will McClay’s eight-year tenure as Vice President of Player Personnel. Over the last eight drafts, Dallas has picked seven players that have gone on to make the Pro Bowl, the third most in the league behind only the Ravens (9) and Chiefs (8). That group of Cowboys Pro Bowlers has combined to make 16 Pro Bowl appearances over that span, second only to the Chiefs (17). The other three NFC East teams have combined for 14.
“Hold it, buster,” the interested reader might interject cordially, “Pro Bowls are a popularity contest, they mean nothing, you fool!”
It is true that, to a degree, Pro Bowls are a popularity contest. But it is a popularity contest that is heavily skewed towards the most successful teams at the end of each season. Simply being a popular team doesn’t automatically guarantee you Pro Bowlers, as the Cowboys found out the hard way last year when they did not get a single Pro Bowl-nod, despite being arguably the most popular team in the NFL. And before last year, being a Cowboy hasn’t been an automatic shoe-in: the Cowboys have oscillated from lows of three Pro Bowlers in 2011 and 2012, to eight in 2014 and 2018, and then none last year.
The long and short of it is that the Cowboys have done petty well at drafting and developing future Pro Bowlers both historically and in the recent past. Too bad it hasn’t resulted in more post-season success recently.
But back to the topic at hand: We’re looking for Cowboys players who could make their Pro Bowl debut this season. And that automatically excludes the 10 players currently on the roster that have already made the Pro Bowl and have combined for 28 Pro Bowl invitations:
- 7 Pro Bowls: Tyron Smith
- 6 Pro Bowls: Zack Martin
- 4 Pro Bowls: Amari Cooper (two with Oakland, two with Dallas)
- 3 Pro Bowls: Ezekiel Elliott
- 2 Pro Bowls: Dak Prescott, DeMarcus Lawrence
- 1 Pro Bowl: Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch, Keanu Neal (with Atlanta), Greg Zuerlein (with St. Louis)
That still leaves a lot of Cowboys players eligible to make their Pro Bowl debut.
The most obvious place to look for Pro Bowl newbies are recent draft picks taken in the first two days of the draft that haven’t been to the Pro Bowl yet. That list is topped by this year’s top two picks, Micah Parsons and Kelvin Joseph, along with CeeDee Lamb and Trevon Diggs from the 2020 draft, and could even include Michael Gallup from the 2018 draft.
There are also two veterans that might warrant inclusion: La’el Collins and Randy Gregory. You may want to add more names for consideration, but I think the names above are a good group from which to narrow down the discussion to four names. So without further ado, here are the four players that could make their Pro Bowl debut this season.
Micah Parsons: Already getting plenty of play as the potential Defensive Rookie of The Year 2021, Parsons first has to show that he can have an impact at the NFL level, and then might still get caught up in a numbers game at inside linebacker: there are only two slots for ILBs on the NFC Pro Bowl team, and Seattle’s Bobby Wagner has dibs on one of them. Both Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith only got in as alternates in their Pro Bowl seasons, and that’s Parsons’ best bet this year as well.
Gil Brandt thinks Parsons is one of the eight rookies in best position to succeed:
It can be easy to forget that team fit and other surrounding circumstances can have as much to do with rookie success as anything.
For a variety of reasons, linebacker play slipped considerably in Dallas last season, and the Cowboys hope installing the 12th overall pick in new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn’s system will reverse that downward trend. Parsons’ skill set will enable him to both play a traditional linebacker role and help DeMarcus Lawrence rush the passer off the edge. The team apparently feels bullish enough about Parsons that one-time Pro Bowler Leighton Vander Esch — who has been slowed recently by injuries — had his fifth-year option declined in the days following the draft.
La’el Collins: Collins should have made the Pro Bowl in 2019, as David Helman of DallasCowboys.com pointed out at the time when asked which 2019 Cowboy had been snubbed:
La’el Collins, for sure. The guy has been fantastic all season, and I feel completely comfortable saying he’s one of the best handful of right tackles in the league. The problem is the NFC Pro Bowl team only features left tackles in Tyron Smith, David Bakhtiari and Terron Armstead. It seems unfair that right tackle isn’t represented. I think the league should change the rules to feature two left tackles and two right tackles.
In 2019, PFF had Collins rated as the fourth-best tackle in the league, and that ranking was for right and left tackles. 2020 should have been his year, but injuries put a stop to that. Will it all come together for Collins in 2021?
CeeDee Lamb: We only got to see the Lamb/Prescott connection for four games last year, but boy, was that exciting.
Those first four games had Lamb on track for 1,200+ yards and eight TDs, and he still managed 935 total yards with some dudes whose names escape me throwing into his general vicinity after Week 4.
A healthy Prescott and a year of NFL experience should see Lamb put up a lot more stats. Enough for a Pro Bowl nod? Lamb may need to beat out some in-house competition for a Pro Bowl berth, as both Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup will be looking for post-season honors themselves.
Randy Gregory: According to John Owning of the Dallas Morning News (via PFF) Randy Gregory had the same pass rush win rate as DeMarcus Lawrence last year.
The NFL reinstated Gregory in early September last year, but he wasn’t allowed to practice until October or play until after the Cowboys’ Week 6 game. With a proper offseason of preparation, could this finally be Gregory’s breakout season? What a story that would be, and in his contract year to boot.
Honorable mentions: Kelvin Joseph and Trevon Diggs along with Michael Gallup.
Who are your choices for the player(s) most likely to make their Pro Bowl debut? Let us know in the comments and vote for one player in the poll below.
Who is the Cowboys player most likely to make his Pro Bowl debut this year?
This poll is closed
The Cowboys suck and I’m only here to mess with this poll.