While the Cowboys have gotten a ton of flack for their lack of free agent additions, there are several current members of the team that can really help them in 2016. And while new players help, player development is key for year to year improvement.
There are 2 key components to getting the most out of these players:
- Figuring out a player's role so that you can maximize what you get out of them
- The player putting in the necessary work both mentally and physically to come back better than they were before
Some of these players will be thrust into bigger roles and others may just need to be given a chance.
Wide Receiver, Brice Butler
When the Cowboys traded for Butler a lot of people were wondering who the player was.
Butler is a freak athlete with the kind of size necessary to play outside wide receiver. He also brings a speed element that this team is so desperate for.
He battled injury after coming to the Cowboys, but when healthy he really flashed in an offense that lacked flash in a big way when led by Matt Cassel.
The intriguing thing is that Butler screams of a guy that Tony Romo can turn into something special. Like Romo did for guys like Miles Austin and Laurent Robinson, Butler seems like a guy who I can see becoming the key number 2 wide receiver for this team.
Seeing Butler work with Romo is one of the things I am most looking forward to for next season.
Defensive Tackle, David Irving
This one can also be huge for the Cowboys and unlike Ryan Russell, we have actually seen flashes from him in games during the 2015 season. The Cowboys poached Irving off of the Chiefs practice squad after their week 3 game versus the Atlanta Falcons.
Irving flashed several times throughout the season by being a real nuisance for opposing teams when on the field. His size and athleticism are particularly noteworthy as he stands 6'7″ tall and ran a 4.84 40-yard-dash with a 1.69 10-yard-split, which is really good.
David Irving didn't play a single game at Iowa State during the 2014 season prior to being drafted. Irving was dismissed from the team after committing fifth-degree theft, disorderly conduct, and criminal mischief. He was also suspended for a game in 2013 for domestic assault, charges that were later dismissed.
Irving's off the field concerns are what led to him going undrafted. The one critique of him from a football standpoint was that he lacked the bulk to play as an interior defensive lineman. In his time with the Cowboys he has used his length and athleticism to make plays both as an interior defensive lineman and off the edge.
Defensive End, Ryan Russell
Perhaps the most important player on this list, Russell will have to play a much bigger role in 2016 than he did in 2015.
It is no secret that the Cowboys value Russell's talent. Throughout training camp Rod Marinelli really ripped into Russell. It became obvious that Marinelli was being extremely hard on him and you have to think that is because he really sees something there.
Russell flashed in college when used as a 4-3 defensive end. When they changed schemes at Purdue that is where Russell's stock fell, but not far enough for him to last past the fifth round where the Cowboys took him.
When watching 2012 Purdue film several scouts noted how Russell caught their attention while watching Kawann Short and Ryan Kerrigan on that same line who are now stars on the NFL level.
If Rod Marinelli can get Russell back to his form from 2012, back at defensive end, he can play a major role at the thinnest position on the Cowboys roster.
Wide Receiver/Returner, Lucky Whitehead
It took a while for the Cowboys to completely trust Whitehead to return punts. Once he was given the chance he made a real impact back there. He was also used a lot more on offense in a role similar to how Dwayne Harris was used. Whitehead was used primarily for jet sweeps, sometimes taking the ball on a hand off and other times just as a decoy.
Where I think you can really get something out of Whitehead going forward is by actually using him as a receiver instead of making him strictly a gadget player.
While there is a lot you can get out of him by faking hand-offs or actually letting him run the ball, I'd like them to let him go out for passes, particularly the deep pass. Whitehead can be used for screens as well, but I think it is fairly obvious that when the ball is in his hands he can make big plays.
Linebacker, Damien Wilson
We didn't get to see much of Wilson throughout the season. He is probably most known for being the guy that was burned by C.J. Spiller in overtime against the New Orleans Saints.
However, Wilson is a really talented player that I'd love to see get a chance for some playing time.
Wilson seems most like a weak-side linebacker and Sean Lee has that locked down, but he can also play some middle linebacker if necessary.
I in no way want to see a situation where Wilson has to get a large portion of snaps, but I'd also like to see him take a step from year one to year two. If Wilson can take that step, I'd feel really good knowing behind Sean Lee at Will and Rolando McClain at Mike, I'd have Damien Wilson and Anthony Hitchens.
5 Cowboys With Huge Potential In 2016
With the exception of Brice Butler, these are all going to be second year players. As I have laid out before, the Cowboys of late have had a real issue drafting or developing players taken after the second-third round.
With the development of these young and talented players, these can turn into at worst good role players. With real development both from the coaching staff and the players themselves, these can be players who play major roles for this team in 2016.
David Irving and Ryan Russell may come with more expectation than the others due to the need at the position. The Cowboys may actually be counting on them to be major players in 2016 and they obviously know much more than the public about where these players are in their development.
The fact of the matter is that these are all players that have the potential to become something in this league. Will the coaching staff find a way to make it work? Will the players do what is necessary to take themselves to the next level?