Last week we talked about three players who may surprise you with their performance in 2021. Today, we take the opposite approach and look at three Cowboys that may disappoint you this upcoming season.
Whether it be an inability to stay on the field, growing pains, or just poor performance, these three guys might be taking some heat in the upcoming year.
LB, Leighton Vander Esch
Not many players in the NFL have as much riding on the upcoming season as Leighton Vander Esch. The fourth-year linebacker once again had trouble staying on the field last season, appearing in under 11 games for the second straight year.
Leighton Vander Esch just rocked Carson Wentz. pic.twitter.com/iGb6iZv4Jx— NFL Update (@MySportsUpdate) November 2, 2020
When Vander Esch was on the field last season, his performance was up and down. The former first-round pick had a 50.6 defensive grade from Pro Football Focus, the lowest mark of his career. In just 10 games he missed 10 tackles and recorded just 24 defensive stops, according to PFF. In his rookie year in 2018, Vander Esch had a team-leading 62 defensive stops.
Vander Esch’s inability to stay on the field and find consistent success while on it contributed to the Cowboys deciding not to pick up his fifth-year option ($9.1M) back in May. This was shortly after the Cowboys spent two picks on linebackers, Micah Parsons (first round) and Jabril Cox (fourth round) in the 2021 NFL Draft.
While Vander Esch believes he can still be the guy we saw during his rookie year in 2018, he’s running out of time to show it. In the past two years, we just have not seen the guy the Cowboys envisioned when they selected him in the first round. It’s hard to believe he will just somehow get back to that level this year.
This season will be a monumental test for the Cowboys’ linebacker and his performance will have a huge impact on his future in the league.
OT, Tyron Smith
Let me make this clear. If Tyron Smith is healthy and on the field, he’s a top-five tackle in the league. There’s no question about it. Unfortunately for Smith, staying on the field has become a big problem in recent years.
The star left tackle was once again bitten by the injury bug last season, and he was forced to miss 14 of the Cowboys' 16 games. Smith has now missed at least three games in every season since 2016. Over that five-year span, the Cowboys are a .500 team (13-13) when he’s been unable to suit up.
Protecting Dak Prescott is the Cowboys' number one priority. If Smith is unable to be on the field, it won’t be very easy to do so. Dallas has Terence Steele, Brandon Knight, or Ty Nsekhe as their likely options at tackle if Smith does down with another injury. A huge downgrade from the former All-Pro.
What the Cowboys have to hope for is that Smith has more of a year like he did from 2016-2019. If he’s forced to miss three or so games during the course of the season to keep himself able to play, the Cowboys likely can get by. But if he suffers and injury like last season and is forced to miss double-digit games it could be a huge hindrance to the overall success of the team.
CB, Kelvin Joseph
The Cowboys made an outstanding selection taking Kentucky cornerback Kelvin Joseph in the second round. Joseph was one of the most physically talented corners in the draft and has the potential to be a number one corner at the next level. That being said, don’t expect him to come in and be successful from day one.
Joseph’s rookie year will likely look a lot like Trevon Diggs’ did last season. Diggs struggled in his first six games, allowing 25 receptions for 385 yards and two touchdowns. His average PFF coverage grade for the first six games was just 50.7.
However, Diggs made a big improvement in the back half of the season. His PFF coverage grade in the final six games of the season was an impressive 71.6, and he surrendered over 52 receiving yards just once. Diggs also hauled in all three of his interceptions in that span.
Cornerback is one of the most difficult positions to make the jump from college to the pros at. Joseph likely will go through the growing pains that Diggs did in the first half, but hopefully he can follow in his teammate's footsteps, shake them off and finish on a high note.