The Dallas Cowboys' disastrous 2015 season will hopefully be an afterthought once the 2016 season kicks off. In order for that to happen, though, America's Team will have to rely on some of their players to step up and make a bigger impact than they did a season ago.
I decided to compile a list and came up with six players that should not only have really good statistical seasons, but will help raise the playing level of the entire team as well.
Now, some of these names may be obvious to you, but it's worth the mention to remember that the Dallas Cowboys still have a lot of talented players. That they are better than their 2015 4-12 losing record would indicate.
If we learned anything from the 2015 season, it is that Tony Romo is more important to the Dallas Cowboys than any other player in the organization.
Success for the Cowboys will ultimately come down to how healthy Tony Romo remains. That shouldn't be too much of a surprise for anyone who witnessed what happened in 2015.
Luckily, the word is that Tony Romo was moving around in OTAs and mini-camp better than he has in the past few seasons, and there weren't any lingering effects from his collarbone injuries last year. That is encouraging news for Cowboys fans.
Not only is he my favorite to win Comeback Player of the Year, but he could also be an MVP candidate when all is said and done. I'm predicting another season like he had in 2014 when the Cowboys went 12-4 and made the playoffs.
Much like Tony Romo, Dez Bryant's 2015 season was injury plagued. He was never quite 100% the entire year. Also like Romo, I expect Dez Bryant to return to his 2014 form, where he caught 88 passes for 1,320 receiving yards and scored 16 touchdowns.
Dez Bryant is the Cowboys' emotional and inspirational leader, and his return to form should help the offense once again be one of the better units in the NFL. He also adds that fiery attitude that the team seems to lack without him.
His presence on the field must be accounted for at all times, which keeps opposing defenses from stacking the box when they are trying to shut down the running game.
With the exception of Romo, Dez Bryant returning from an injury plagued season might be the most beneficial to the team's offensive success in 2016.
There are already extremely high expectations for Ezekiel Elliott entering his rookie season. A lot of that has to do with his draft status, but also because he will be running behind arguably the best offensive line in the NFL.
Elliott is one of the best all-around rookie running backs to enter the NFL in perhaps the last decade. He should literally be able to hit the ground running and add a boost to the Cowboys running game in 2016.
If Darren McFadden can run for nearly 1,100 yards for the Cowboys, then Elliott should easily reach that milestone. He is a better fit to run in the zone blocking scheme than McFadden and he is also more talented.
With Ezekiel Elliott as the lead RB, the Cowboys should get back to that blueprint that worked so well for them in 2014 by running the football.
Nick Hayden held down the one-tech on the Cowboys defense for the past three years, but I doubt he will be missed. Although Hayden was solid during his time with the organization, he was really nothing more than an average player, at best.
Cedric Thornton is a major upgrade for the one-tech in Rod Marinelli's 4-3 defense. Not only is he good against the run, but he can also put pressure on opposing quarterbacks from the middle of the Cowboys defense.
Thornton's presence in the middle should help allow Tyrone Crawford to become a more destructive pass rusher from the 3-tech, and hopefully provide the Cowboys with more QB sacks. That will help the entire defense, especially the secondary.
I expect Cedric Thornton to have a big impact in 2016 for the Dallas Cowboys.
Jones will finally be able to focus all of his attention on learning the intricacies of playing free safety in Rod Marinelli's defense. Last year, as a rookie, Byron Jones had a lot thrown at him. He had to play several different positions in the secondary. He responded well, but being able to focus on just one position should allow him to improve as a player.
Byron Jones could be the safety the Cowboys organization has been looking for ever since Darren Woodson retired. He has the same type of skill set to be able to cover receivers all over the field. That means 2016 should be a big year for him.
I'm predicting he will have more interceptions by himself in 2016 than the entire defense did in 2015.
Butler has the size and speed to be a dangerous weapon for Tony Romo and showed flashes of that in 2015. Unfortunately, a nagging hamstring injury didn't allow him to really show what he is capable of, but I think that will change once the 2016 season kicks off.
He will have had a full off-season to develop a good working chemistry with Tony Romo and will have a better understanding of the offense. He has the physical tools to succeed in the NFL. He now just has to put it all together.
Butler's impact might not show up in the stats, but he should definitely keep defenses from double covering Dez Bryant.