While 2020 was a down year for the Dallas Cowboys organization as a whole some individuals still managed to raise their perceived value with improved or increased play. Here are the five Cowboys whose value rose the most this season.
Before we dig in, some players who are not on this list like Dak Prescott, CeeDee Lamb, Zack Martin, or DeMarcus Lawrence certainly had good cases. But this is about whose stock went up the most and these guys more lived up to expectations than smashed them.
With that said, here are our top five and in no particular order:
Donovan Wilson, S
Wilson’s ascension into a starting role finally happened in Week 5 and the second-year safety rewarded the Cowboys with a consistent play-making presence. He finished the year with two interceptions, three forced fumbles, and some big hits to raise his profile throughout the NFL.
In fact, Donovan’s play this year makes him the only safety that the Cowboys can currently count on for 2021. Xavier Woods is about to be come a free agent and may not be getting a second contract from Dallas after a poor season.
But that doesn’t mean the Cowboys are settling if they keep Wilson in a starting role. Making big plays has been a consistent trait of Donovan’s since the 2019 preseason. Now we’re seeing that translate into real games and giving Dallas’ defense something it has woefully needed for many years.
Wilson still has a lot of work to do in coverage, which isn’t surprising for a former 6th-round draft pick. But hopefully a full offseason as a starter will help him to increase the fundamentals while maintaining his natural nose for the football.
Dalton Schultz, TE
Going into 2020 it felt like Dalton Schultz was sliding down the depth chart and perhaps off the Cowboys roster completely in the near future. But Blake Jarwin’s Week 1 injury allowed Schultz to finally get consistent opportunities and he delivered in a big way.
Despite being a 4th-round pick in 2018, Schultz got leapfrogged by the undrafted Jarwin and didn’t get to the fill the vacuum left by Jason Witten’s departure. To make matters worse, Dallas signed veteran Blake Bell in the offseason to potentially keep Schultz buried on the depth chart.
But Jarwin’s season ended quickly with an ACL injury in the season opener. And while Bell had way more experience than Schultz, the Cowboys gave their third-year TE prospect a chance to start in the following game against the Atlanta Falcons.
Dalton rewarded Dallas with his best game of the season; nine catches for 88 yards and a touchdown. And while those weren’t jaw-dropping numbers for his season highs, Schultz was consistent all year and finished 2020 with 63 catches for 615 yards and four touchdowns.
A healthy Blake Jarwin still offers potential as an athletic receiving target when he returns and should remain the starter. But Dalton Schultz took this 2020 opportunity and strongly improved his place among the TE group. He should be the primary backup next year and may even give Jarwin a run for his money.
Aldon Smith & Randy Gregory, DE
It’s hard not to talk about these two together given the similarities in their stories. Both were able to make real contributions this season despite past problems and long absences from the NFL, and both should go into 2021 with their careers in much better places than a year ago.
Of course, Smith had the more remarkable story given he hadn’t played in an NFL game since 2015. But he also had proven once to be as good a pass rusher as perhaps had ever been in the league.
Gregory had only been out since 2018 but had never put together the kind of All-Pro work that Aldon did earlier in his career. There was a thought out there with Randy that he just wasn’t worth the trouble anymore.
Neither gave the Cowboys in trouble in 2020, and instead gave some to opposing quarterbacks. Smith played in all 16 games and had five sacks while Gregory had 3.5 in nine games and from a backup role.
Those numbers don’t fully represent the work these pass rushers did in disrupting QBs, forcing them out of the pocket or into bad throws. The Cowboys’ high uptick in defensive turnovers this season was partly due to the pressure that Smith and Gregory helped produce.
Aldon Smith now stands to go into 2021 free agency with film proving he’s still got something to offer. If Aldon does get a deal from another team, Randy Gregory has shown he deserves to move into the starting role with Dallas that Smith would leave behind.
From the NFL’s scrap heap to likely 2021 starters; that’s a big change in value for both players.
Trysten Hill, DT
After being Dallas’ 2nd-round pick last season Hill did little as a rookie to validate the selection. That led the Cowboys to spend a 3rd-rounder on Neville Gallimore in 2020 plus sign Gerald McCoy and Dontari Poe in free agency.
McCoy’s season ended before it really could begin with a quad injury early in training camp. Poe made minimal impact and was released in late October. Gallimore, though he finished the season strong, wasn’t looking good early in the year.
No, it was Trysten Hill who was standing out among the defensive tackles early this season. And though his season was cut short with an ACL injury in Week 5, Hill showed in those games that he could be a difference maker on the field.
We’d heard from training camp that Trysten had come back for his sophomore season with a new motivation and focus. He put that in display with some strong play prior to his injury renewed hope for his future with the Cowboys.
Perhaps still reeling from the Taco Charlton disaster, many quickly labeled Trysten Hill as a bust after 2019. But even with a limited window in which to do it, Hill showed enough that he should be back next year as a key piece of the defensive line and perhaps one of the starters.