With the NFL releasing its full schedule, we now know who, when, and where the Dallas Cowboys will play this upcoming season. Although they’ll be some familiar faces on the football calendar for the Cowboys, there’s always going to be some newcomers sure to make an impact. Across their 17-game schedule, the Cowboys will play an inter-conference slate against teams in the AFC East. They will also face off against the NFC West, in addition to their six games against the Philadelphia Eagles, New York Giants, and Washington Commanders. Considering the diverse array of teams on the docket the Cowboys will go up against this year, it would be a good idea to get familiar with some of the more unknown and underrated players America’s Team will face this season.
Honorable mention: Defensive end John Franklin-Myers, New York Jets
John Franklin-Myers went from a veteran afterthought to an underrated, supplemental edge player. Once taken in the fourth round by the Los Angeles Rams, Franklin-Myers landed with the New York Jets off waivers and despite a slow start with the Jets, has become a key figure on Robert Saleh’s defense. At 6’4”, 288 lbs., Franklin-Myers has a stout and sturdy build for an outside edge rusher. According to Rivka Boord of Jets X Factor, he could be even better if playing on the interior.
In 2020, Franklin-Myers broke out with the Jets while playing primarily on the defensive interior, recording 76.6% of his snaps inside. On 353 pass-rush snaps, JFM recorded 51 pressures, giving him a 14.4% pressure rate that was more than double the league average for IDL (7.0%). That’s seriously elite-level production; for reference, Aaron Donald’s pressure rate in the 2021 season was 13.0% (though he was at 17.2% in 2020).
The Cowboys do have to shore up the left guard position and a player of Franklin-Myers’ skillset could be troublesome inside. Over the past three years, he has steadily gotten better at rushing the passer and increased his quarterback hits each season, ending with twenty last year. For his efforts, the Jets rewarded him with a four-year, $55M contract in 2021. His incremental improvement is reminiscent of Dorance Armstrong. Like Armstrong last year, Franklin- Myers might break out in a similar fashion in 2023. Do not overlook Franklin-Myers and where he lines up when the Jets face the Cowboys in week two.
3. Running back Chuba Hubbard, Carolina Panthers
The Carolina Panthers backfield had big shoes to fill once they dealt franchise-back Christian McCaffrey to the San Francisco 49ers at the trade deadline. That left Chuba Hubbard and D’Onta Foreman to fill the void left by McCaffrey. Carolina then became a running-back-by-committee, with Foreman serving as the pseudo early down and red zone running back.
However, Foreman left for the Chicago Bears in the offseason and Hubbard looks primed to lead the position in Carolina. As a runner, Hubbard isn’t a small tailback, but he does know how to slip through small creases at the line of scrimmage and burst out of the other side for good gains. Last season, he flourished after the McCaffrey trade and ran for almost five yards per carry, while adding 171 yards on 14 receptions. Overall, he averaged 5.8 yards per touch.
Hubbard will likely only get better and harder to deal with given the recent additions in Carolina. They added D.J. Chark to stretch the field and Adam Thielen to move the chains outside the numbers. Also, rookie quarterback Bryce Young should benefit from Hubbard’s presence. Plus, Raheem Blackshear will spell Hubbard to keep him fresh down the stretch in games. The Cowboys cannot overly focus on the new attractions in Carolina and must be prepared to contain the third-year running back. Hubbard should be a marked man when the Cowboys travel on the road against the Panthers.
2. Cornerback Mike Jackson, Seattle Seahawks
This player should be vaguely familiar. The Dallas Cowboys drafted Mike Jackson in the fifth round of the 2019 draft with the 158th overall pick, but was subsequently waived and plucked off the team’s practice squad. Since leaving the Cowboys, Jackson is on his third NFL team but has certainly made the best of it. The former journeyman transformed into a solid contributor for the Seattle Seahawks last season.
Playing alongside a young Seattle secondary that features Tariq Woolen and Cobi Bryant, Jackson had his best year in the NFL. His scrappy nature put him in position to make plays and last season broke up twelve passes. Quarterbacks only posted a 75.1 passer rating when throwing in his direction and made a name for himself on an unproven Seattle unit. Even though Seattle drafted Devon Witherspoon early in last month’s draft, Jackson won’t go away quietly. Head coach Pete Carroll has already said he expects Jackson to compete with Witherspoon for a starting job and that suits Jackson just fine. Don’t forget about this resilient player in your game program.
1. Safety Kyle Dugger, New England Patriots
As of late there have been a lot of new faces added to the New England Patriots, and it seems like aside from the household names such as Matthew Judon and Jonathan Jones, most of them go unnoticed, However, when you take a closer look at Bill Belichick’s defense, Kyler Dugger is a player that you can help but focus on.
Coming out of a relatively unknown small school, Lenoir–Rhyne, Dugger has progressively earned a larger role for himself in New England. After not seeing the field much during his rookie season, Dugger earned frequent playing the following year and developed a knack for being in the right at the right time. Over the past two seasons, Dugger has recorded seven interceptions and returned two of them for scores.
His versatility is his defining trait. Since joining New England, Dugger has lined up in the slot, as a box safety, a deep safety, and even as an edge rusher. PFF named Dugger as the Patriots’ most underrated player and it’s hard to refute that.
Out of 63 safeties who logged at least 700 defensive snaps last season, Dugger ranked eighth in terms of the overall grade and was one of four safeties to post 75.0-plus grades defending the run (76.7) and in coverage (78.3). Dugger was especially good at making plays defending the run near the line of scrimmage. Out of 65 safeties who played against the run on at least 250 plays last year, Dugger ranked first with an average depth of tackle of 3.87 yards.
Dugger is a do-all Swiss army knife that has been playing a razor-sharp brand of football for the last two years. Dak Prescott and the Dallas offense will need to account for where Dugger is at all times when on the field.