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How these second-year players are making key contributions for the Cowboys

The Cowboys are getting good production from a handful of players in their second season.

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Dallas Cowboys Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Looking at how fantastic players like Dak Prescott, Micah Parsons, and CeeDee Lamb have been playing this season makes us feel good about this team’s future. All three of these guys will receive a huge contract extension soon. And it feels good that we don’t have to play the “this guy or that guy” game when it comes to who’s staying and who’s walking because we know they will be wearing the star for quite some time, and a big reason for that is because the Dallas Cowboys are very good at drafting players.

While it’s too early to tell what they have with their most recent draft class, we can safely say that last year’s group is coming along well. There are several players making strong contributions this season with a handful of them taking nice jumps in year two.


The team’s first-round draft pick from a year ago surprised people with a strong rookie season as he was asked to step in and play left tackle right from the get-go. This season, Smith has been able to play the left guard spot and it suits him quite well. Smith has gone against some tough competition in recent weeks in Aaron Donald and Jalen Carter and he’s played extremely well. It’s only a matter of time before Smith ventures into All-Pro status.


The Cowboys' edge rushing group is stacked with talent, so it’s hard for Williams to get that much time, but he’s making every snap count. His defensive snap counts have only gone up from 27% to 31% this season, but he continues to make the most of them. Williams is coming off back-to-back games with a sack and now has seven for his career. He’s also found a role on special teams as he’s already blocked a punt and is being used as a gunner. Parsons and Williams are this team’s edge-rushing future and that has a nice ring to it.


If you had told us that Luke Schoonmaker and Peyton Hendershot would only have a combined four catches for 17 yards, we’d tell you that the Cowboys’ tight end situation is probably in dire straits. But it’s not. That’s because Jake Ferguson is handling the alpha tight end job like a boss. Ferguson is the team’s second-leading receiver behind Lamb as he has caught a touchdown pass in each of the last three games. His receiving numbers this year are comparable to Dalton Schultz from a year ago and his blocking has been sharp. This guy is a complete tight end and helps this offense in different ways.


It doesn’t take much convincing to sell you on the idea that DaRon Bland is pretty good. After a strong rookie campaign, he’s back at it again this season. After sliding over to the outside to cover for the injured Trevon Diggs, some wondered if he was up to the ask. Well, wonder no more. Like Diggs, Bland is a ball-hawking machine. In fact, since entering the league last year, no corner has more interceptions than Bland.


Imagine Leighton Vander Esch and DeMarvion Overshown being lost for the season due to injury. Imagine the Cowboys released Jabril Cox and Devin Harper. And imagine they spent zero dollars in the spring to bring in a free agent linebacker. That paints a pretty bleak picture of the Cowboys linebacker position group that one might think is hating life right now. Well, they’re not. That’s because they have a late-round pick and an undrafted free agent holding down the fort. Damone Clark and Markquese Bell are making many highlight-reel plays, but they’re also not making many mistakes. For all qualifying linebackers with at least 40 tackles, these guys are ranked 1st and 2nd in lowest missed tackle percentage.

  • Markquese Bell (1st), 0%, zero missed tackles in 43 attempts
  • Damone Clark (2nd), 1.6%, one missed tackle in 61 attempts

That’s pretty crazy if you think about it.


Thomas had a great preseason and shocked no one when he made the 53-man roster. The Cowboys are super deep at safety, so it didn’t appear like he’d have much of a path for playing time this season, but that hasn’t stopped Thomas from getting on the field. He’s played in at least 20% of the defensive snaps in four games this year. His college experience at cornerback makes him a valuable asset in coverage and the team continues to call upon him to make plays.


After a disappointing rookie season, Tolbert has made a nice jump this season. Despite three other guys seeing the bulk of the playing time at wide receiver, Tolbert has still seen 41% of the offensive snaps. He’s had a couple of games this year with at least 40 yards receiving, including the game against the Eagles two weeks ago where he also scored his first NFL touchdown. He’s also finding a niche on special teams. Four players have played at least 60% of the special teams snaps with Tolbert, Sam Williams, and Juanyeh Thomas being three of them.

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