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2016 Breakout Candidates: Cedric Thornton

Though they were relatively quiet in this year the Cowboys did make a significant move at defensive . Dallas chose not to re-sign , who'd started all but one game over the last three years, and instead brought in fifth-year veteran from Philadelphia.

Cowboys Headlines - 2016 Breakout Candidates: Cedric Thornton 1Coming into the league undrafted, Thornton spent most 2011 on the . He became a regular reserve in 2012 as a backup . In 2013, the Eagles switched to the 3-4 scheme and Thornton emerged as a starting .

As Dallas fans know from our time with the , Thornton's performance doesn't show up much in stats. He only had one sack in each of the last three years but that hasn't been his focus. As a 3-4 end, Thornton's job has been to occupy blockers to allow guys like Trent Cole, , and Connor Barwin to attack the . He has been the of their scheme.

Dallas thought enough of Thornton's work to give him a four-year, $17 million contract last March. That pays him a Top-15 salary for defensive tackles despite the lack of production on the stat sheet.

The Cowboys clearly believe that Thornton can thrive in their scheme. They could have made the safe and less expensive choice by bringing back Hayden but see this as an upgrade. Remember that Dallas play the Eagles twice every season, so they've spent plenty of time watching Thornton on tape.

One reason the Cowboys like Thornton is perceived versatility. said the following shortly after Thornton was signed:

“We definitely see him as an interior player, but again in their scheme he's played all along their … You see him play as a zero nose. You see him play as a shade nose. You see him play as a three [technique]. You see him play as an end in their 3-4 alignment. He's been a guy who has a number of different things.”

Nick Hayden was never versatile.  He was a true one-technique tackle with little to offer as a pass rusher. Dallas believes that Thornton can be used in more ways and perhaps even replace if needed. loves versatility in players, as do all coaches, as it allows them to make optimal packages that maximize everyone's strengths.

Cowboys Headlines - 2016 Breakout Candidates: Cedric Thornton 2
Credit: Eric Hartline- Sports

If team are focused on on Crawford and as pass rushers then Thornton could see more one-on-one opportunities, especially if he's playing in the nickel package. I would expect for him to improve on his one-sack average.

The term “breakout” is relative depending on where a player already is and the role they play. For a guy like Thornton it means living up to being paid as one of the 15 best defensive tackle in the game. It means being a consistent starter who makes a visible impact on games far more than Nick Hayden did.

Based on the contract and the break from their recent status as misers, Dallas clearly believes in Thornton's potential.

Jess Haynie
Jess Haynie
Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!

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