I recently completed my sophomore year of college here in New Jersey at Montclair State University. You may have heard me chatting about sports on our campus radio station once a week and seen my Cowboys themed portion of my dorm room.
Now home for the summer and missing football like the rest of us, I started my “Cowboys Sophomores” series a few weeks ago to bring Cowboys Nation up to speed on the second-year players that will significantly impact the 2016 Cowboys’ season.
Training camp is quickly approaching for the Dallas Cowboys, and with it will come plenty of heated position battles. To conclude my Sophomore Series, I decided to put all of these profiles in one place. Additionally, I have graded all ten players into categories based on their overall job security for the 2016 season.
Class is in session!
Honor Roll Cowboys
The following players are not only locks to make the roster this season, but players that will carry some high expectations with them. With most of my “Cowboys Honor Roll” players coming on the defensive side of the ball, it is safe to say that Rod Marinelli will be up to the tough task of preparing his unproven and youthful squad each and every week.
Jones, Russell, and Collins should all be starters come September 11th when the Dallas Cowboys host the New York Giants in their regular season opener. Jones’ expectations may be the highest of this group, as the now full-time safety will be asked to cover up a lot of potential deficiencies around him in the backfield.
Russell has taken great strides early on this summer to put his name in the running at left defensive end. Even if he is not named the “starter” on that side of the field, with DeMarcus Lawrence set to return from his suspension in week five, we know that the Cowboys’ pass rush is built around it’s depth – and Russell seeing and making the most of a significant amount of snaps will help that depth get to the quarterback more.
Lastly, there is La’el Collins, who will be asked to make a seamless transition into his first full season as a starter at left guard for the Cowboys. Dallas’ offensive line is going to get a lot of attention this season based on the performance of rookie Ezekiel Elliott, and Collins will have to prove with some consistency that he deserves to be the newest face starting alongside the likes of Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, and Zack Martin.
With Rolando McClain suspended for the first ten games of 2016, the Cowboys’ linebacker position has gone from a perceived strength to another uncertainty defensively. Wilson and Nzeocha will lead the young talent that Matt Eberflus has at his position to work with, as both will get opportunities in the middle of the field at MIKE, boosting them into spots on the “honor roll”.
Wilson was one of my “pet cat” players last off season, so I’ll be hoping that the sophomore can find some time at any of the three linebacker spots for the Cowboys this season. Likewise, Nzeocha could project well at SAM if he is not the starter at MIKE.
Cowboys with Passing Grades
The next group of four players that I chose to put together are Cowboys’ who will all likely be with the team in 2016, but their role is relatively undefined.
Like DeMarcus Lawrence, Randy Gregory will serve a four game suspension to start the 2016 season. Many in Cowboys Nation are already growing tired of the troubled edge rusher, and the reality is that you may not see him on the field a whole lot after week four.
Gregory has yet to do anything that proves he is an every down player (which is already rare in the Cowboys’ current defensive scheme), and has opened the door for the likes of Benson Mayowa, Charles Tapper, David Irving, and others to take away more of his snaps on the edge.
If Gregory comes out of his suspension truly determined and ready to showcase all of his skills though, he is going to be an invaluable piece of the Cowboys’ defense this season.
So much has been said about Chaz Green in his short time with the Dallas Cowboys. The most recent chatter about the 2015 third round pick came just before OTAs, where rumors spread that the coaching staff was going to push Green to beat out Doug Free as the starter at right tackle.
While I highlighted why this is far from a reality in the article, Green still can provide valuable and much-needed depth to the Cowboys offensive line. His focus must remain on staying healthy and furthering his development.
Lucky Whitehead is undoubtedly a fan favorite player, and has a chance to bring a special element to the Cowboys offense and return game in 2016. However, undrafted free agent WRs Andy Jones, Chris Brown, and Ed Eagan, are all also here to try to carve out their own niche roles in this offense.
While I personally think that Whitehead will earn his job on this team pretty safely, it is going to take a few weeks of training camp practices to see how Scott Linehan plans to really utilize all of his skills.
Cowboys In Need of Extra Credit
Of all the position battles that the above players find themselves in, the backup QB spot that Jameill Showers, Kellen Moore, and Dak Prescott will fight for is probably the most uncertain at the moment.
As you’ll see in the article, I have a high level of respect towards Jameill Showers as a Cowboy, but unfortunately had to group him into a category of his own due to the steep competition ahead of him.
Which of these second year Cowboys are you particularly excited about?! Let us know! Share your thoughts on this entire series and the final rankings by commenting below or emailing email@example.com!
You can also talk Cowboys with me on Twitter at any time by following me @ShoreSportsNJ!