5 Sleepers for Cowboys 2017 Training Camp ⋆
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5 Sleepers for Cowboys 2017 Training Camp

Terrell Owens

Dallas Cowboys

5 Sleepers for Cowboys 2017 Training Camp

5 Sleepers for Cowboys 2017 Training Camp

The Dallas Cowboys 2017 Training Camp opens two weeks from tomorrow, meaning you’re about to get bombarded with various “season preview” articles from this site and many others. Various players will be spotlighted as key figures in this year’s camp, be it for their star status or for being part of an intriguing position battle.

Today, I thought we’d look at a few guys who seem to be flying under the radar as camp approaches. Despite this, I think any of these five guys could wind up with spots on the 53-man roster and perhaps even significant roles on this year’s team.

Emmett Cleary

OT Emmett Cleary

Emmett Cleary, OT

Signed last September to replace an injured Chaz Green, Cleary was the swing tackle for 13 games and then started in the Week 17 finale. He had to come in for Tyron Smith during the Week 16 game against the Detroit Lions, playing very well in an important game against a playoff team.

Cleary is a massive 6’7″ and has been floating around the NFL for four seasons. He went undrafted in 2013 and was with five different teams before finally landing in Dallas. Now, with real game experience and plenty of moving parts on the Cowboys offensive line, Cleary shouldn’t be ignored as a contender for a roster spot.

As it stands, Cleary should be very competitive for the swing tackle role. Many are focusing on Chaz Green or veteran Byron Bell, but Cleary didn’t look at all like a liability in the snaps he played last season. That alone should keep him in the conversation through final cuts, if not beyond.

Brice Butler

WR Brice Butler

Brice Butler, WR

Some are projecting that Butler won’t even make the team, losing his roster spot to seventh-round rookie Noah Brown or some other younger player. However, Butler’s experience, 6’3″ frame, and exceptional top seed will make him hard to beat if he has a strong camp and preseason.

The one-year, $1.1 million contract that Butler got from the Cowboys last March speaks to his tenuous status with the team and why people think he could be expendable. At age 27, Brice is certainly in danger if younger players make noise. But with Dez Bryant missing 10 games over the last two seasons, Dallas won’t be quick to cast aside veteran depth.

What’s more, Butler’s role in the offense could be enhanced by the development of Dak Prescott. If the playbook gets opened up and Prescott is willing to take more shots down the field, Butler’s speed could be put to better use. He could provide a vertical threat that compliments the work of Bryant, Jason Witten, and Cole Beasley in the short and mid-range passing game.

Cedric Thornton

DT Cedric Thornton

Cedric Thornton, DT

Last year, Dallas gave Thornton a four-year, $17 million contract to join the defensive line. His playing time was cut short because of the unexpected rise of Maliek Collins and the sudden health of Terrell McClain. With McClain now in Washington, Thornton could finally have the larger role that the Cowboys anticipated when they signed him.

As always with Rod Marinelli’s defense, Thornton will be rotating with other players. One will be free-agent signing Stephen Paea, a former Marinelli pupil in Chicago. Money talks, though, and Paea only got a one-year deal for $2 million to become a Cowboy. That may not mean much depending on how camp unfolds, but it at least shows what Dallas was willing to pay to acquire both players.

Terrell McClain played 500 total snaps last year, leaving plenty of work for new guys to take on. Thornton has the size to play the one-tech role and the athleticism to stay on in the nickel, meaning he could form a nice partnership with Maliek Collins. The Cowboys thought enough of Thornton last year to pay him well, and he should be a major factor in the 2017 plans.

Mark Nzeocha

LB Mark Nzeocha (James D. Smith via AP)

Mark Nzeocha, LB

Held back the last two years with injuries, Nzeocha is a big and athletic player who could be called on for significant duties in 2017. The recent news about Damien Wilson’s legal troubles only increases the potential need.

Last preseason, Nzeocha was looking a dominant player against the Rams’ second-team offense. He followed the ball everywhere and even had an interception. He reminded you of Sean Lee, and there’s no greater praise for a linebacker.

If Nzeocha can finally stay healthy, he could compete for the starting job SAM linebacker. If nothing else, he should be a primary reserve at other positions and appears to have the ability to play any LB spot. With the departures of Justin Durant and Andrew Gachkar, there is less veteran depth to contend with. Now in his third year, Nzeocha will hopefully be ready to become a contributor.

Kavon Frazier

S Kavon Frazier

 

Kavon Frazier, S

It feel like Frazier has become an afterthought at safety, with many enamored over sixth-round rookie Xavier Woods.  While Woods may be the shiny new toy, we’re only a year removed from Frazier being a similarly-hyped rookie and inspiring hope of a late-round steal.

Along with cornerback Anthony Brown, Frazier was praised by Stephen Jones as being a player that the team had a fourth-round grade on in 2016. We saw what happened with Brown; injuries thrust him into significant playing time right away and Brown performed about as well as the veterans he was replacing. Frazier didn’t those same opportunities with a loaded depth chart at safety.

If Frazier has the same talent and upside as Brown, and now a year of experience, he should be a real factor at the safety position. Dallas signed veteran Robert Blanton for insurance, but he could be the odd man out if Frazier and Woods both live up to their early expectations.

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!

13 Comments
  • Randy Martin

    It is my sincere hope that if Butler fails to meet expectations yet again (yes I said again) that we readers of all things Cowboy never have to read another written word about him. He has a 48% catch rate since joining the Cowboys and didn’t come here with much better other than his prowess as a speedster. It doesn’t matter how fast you are if you don’t catch the football! So, regardless of what you hear in OTA’s or even camp, he has to do it on Sunday….and if he does, then I will update my position on every board I have written a similar rebuttal on Butler. Four consecutive seasons with no development has already shown me who Brice Butler is.

    • Jess Haynie

      Can’t argue with anything you said, Randy. It’s definitely “now or never” for Brice, not just with Dallas but perhaps for his NFL career.

  • John Williams

    I thnk Thornton slept on himself in 2016. Didn’t live up to the contract or expectations.

    I don’t think it’s realistic to expect a whole lot out of Butler. He has some uspide, but his position on the depth chart and his status with the team, will hinder his ability unless there is an injury to Williams or Dez.

    Sean and now you have me all aboard the Cleary Hype train. I could see him being a final roster cut or the swing tackle. That will all be determined by how he plays and who wins the guard job. If it’s Cooper at guard, then I think Green is the swing tackle and Bell is the backup guard. If Green wins the Guard job, I could see Bell, Cooper, and Cleary on the roster. I bet they carry as many as 9 offensive lineman on the 53 while taking 8 to game day.

    • John Williams

      Nzeocha and Frazier just need to play so we can see what they have to offer.

      • Kevin Black

        Nzoecha’s health is what is holding him back now. He gets on a roll and gets the coaches thinking about him, then he gets injured and disappears for a stretch.

        • John Williams

          Totally agree. You can’t be counted on if you aren’t playing. He may have the talent to be the starting SAM, I hope so, cause I’m not wild about Wilber having all those snaps.

          • Kevin Black

            Wilber is serviceable. Nzoecha would be an upgrade athletically, but Wilber does give you some protection position wise with his flexibility. I’m kinda sad that Marinelli came up with any blitz packages with Wilber. I kinda felt that would be pretty natural for Wilber.

          • John Williams

            He’ servicable, but what might have been a strength on the team before Wilson’s arrest is now a weakness in my opinion.

          • Kevin Black

            Not sure how much of a strength the position is until we know about Jaylon Smith, but the arrest did severely weaken the group. Wilson’s decision making ability during the layover to training camp has to be seriously taken into question. First paint ball and now this.

          • John Williams

            At the moment it’s a weakness.

    • Jess Haynie

      I disagree on Thornton. It’s not his fault that Collins and McClain were simply better, or that Dallas paid him what they did You’re talking about two third-round picks versus a guy who went undrafted. He can only do so much against superior talent. There are only so many snaps to go around.

      • John Williams

        But he came in with a lot of noise after having a productive career in Philly. He came in with the reputation of being a good player who was going to help the Dallas run game and was expected to start. He disappointed last year. Needs a big 2017 to prevent being a roster cut in 2018.

  • Don

    Randy I think you’re spot on about Butler. His first season he pulled the Miles Austin and had everyone excited thinking he was going to give Williams a push out,but that wasn’t and hasn’t been the case. I guess when he shows up ever so often and does something to spark the coaches interests they want to hang on. I was done with him last year and they can dump him and Lucky Whitehead too for all I care. As far as the past with Austin I was a big fan, had met him and talked with him ,but when you can’t stay on the field you have to go.

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