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Predicting who will be the Cowboys biggest “X-Factor” this season

What player is going to be the X-Factor in Dallas?

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Arizona Cardinals Billy Hardiman-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys have as much star power as any other team in the NFL. Dallas might not have as much depth as some of the top-tier teams in the league, but the top 10 of the Cowboys’ roster can stack up against anybody.

Although they are a star-driven team, sometimes it’s under-the-radar players that make the biggest impact on a season. What that in mind, we tasked our BTB front-page writers to guess who will be the biggest “X-Factor” for the Cowboys this season.

Let us know who you believe the Cowboys’ “X-Factor” will be in the comments section below.

Now onto our BTB front-page writer responses.....

David Howman

The obvious answer is Dak Prescott, just because the QB is the most important position and we all saw last year how bad things get when you don’t have your star QB. But with Dak aside, I’ll say the biggest X factor is Damontae Kazee/Malik Hooker.

The narrative this offseason has been fairly simple: the offense will be good, but the defense needs to improve at least somewhat for wins to come. Much of the attention for Dan Quinn’s defense is centered around Micah Parsons or Randy Gregory, but the middle of field safety is what really makes things tick. If you don’t have a guy who can patrol the center field and take away deep shots, this type of defense can get beat bad.

We already know Kazee is more than capable of thriving in that role, but he’s suffered a terrible injury since then. How he recovers, and how Malik Hooker fits into this picture after joining late, will determine how much this defense can improve, which will in turn impact the team’s overall ceiling.

Tom Ryle

My X factor is Keanu Neal. We are all excited about Micah Parsons, but his expected starting partner in the nickel defense has the potential to really harass and baffle offenses. He can line up at any level of the defense as required. He can rush the passer, stuff the run, or drop in coverage. Parsons has some of the same flexibility and more speed, but Neal has veteran savvy and should start the season as the best linebacker the Cowboys can put on the field. Other teams are likely to have their eyes on the rookie because of that disruptive speed, which will also put Neal in a position to make an impact. Parsons will surpass Neal, probably by midseason or so, but he still has a lot to learn about the NFL game. And Parsons needs someone beside him he can rely on and trust. I think Neal is that guy, and he will be a driver for the overall success of the defense.

Brian Martin

Micah Parsons, Randy Gregory, CeeDee Lamb will no doubt receive a lot of the votes as to who the Dallas Cowboys biggest X-Factor will be for the 2021 season, but I think that player will be none other than the safety-turned-linebacker Keanu Neal. We may not have seen a lot of him in preseason, but when he did play he made his presence felt in both the run and passing game. He’s proven he can play with the required physicality it takes to play the LB position and his past experience at safety gives the Cowboys defense a player who can match up against running backs or tight ends in the passing game. He has the makings of becoming a true difference maker this year and Dallas’ defense will be better for it.

Matt Holleran

I agree with David that Dak Prescott is the clear X-Factor on this team. If he goes down again, the team is toast. But outside of Prescott, I’m going to say Tyron Smith is the Cowboys X-Factor this season. The 30-year-old has missed at least three games every season since 2016 and missed a career-high 14 games in 2020. The backup options behind Smith are not great. If he is to go down, Ty Nsekhe or Terence Steele will be tasked with filling in for the former All-Pro. If the Cowboys want their offense to be the force that drives this team, they need a healthy Tyron Smith. If they get that, there’s no reason this offense can’t be one of, if not the, best unit in the NFL.

Dave Halprin

There will be a lot more noticeable players out on the field; guys who are making highlight plays or stuffing the stat sheet. But one player might go unnoticed for much of the game and still have a huge impact on how the team performs. Center Tyler Biadasz is that guy. He’ll need to take over the starting center job (in reality, there is hardly another option on the team) and perform like a veteran. Not only will his performance as a run- and pass-blocker be a key component, but as the center he needs to communicate the blocking adjustments at the line of scrimmage. And obviously he’ll need to make quality snaps to Dak Prescott. There is a lot riding on the second-year player making him the x-factor for the Cowboys.