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.
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.
Byron Jones may just be entering the second year in the NFL, but I'm personally betting that he will raise the level of his game and make a big impact on the backend of the Cowboys defense.
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.
Brice Butler should give Terrance Williams a run for his money for the #2 wide receiver position opposite Dez Bryant.
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.
Ezekiel Elliott vs Byron Jones Part II: The Case For Paying Zeke
It's a debate that has raged on social media for some time now and it likely won't slow down as the offseason progresses and the Dallas Cowboys begin to hand out massive contracts to their top players. Pay Ezekiel Elliott? Pay Byron Jones? If you could only pay one, which would you pay?
This week fellow Inside The Star Staff Writer, Kevin Brady took to Twitter to poll the populous and his results were a bit surprising to me.
if you can only pay one it should be
The results inspired me to see what would happen if I put the same poll on my timeline.
Inspired by my teammate @KevinBrady88, if you can only pay one, which would it be?
On Monday, Kevin wrote a piece looking at one of the difficult decisions facing the Dallas Cowboys this offseason or next. If the Cowboys could only extend Byron Jones OR Ezekiel Elliott, who should they choose? Kevin, as am I, is a firm believer in Byron Jones ability and says the Cowboys should extend them, and I agree. But let's look at the other side of the argument.
To begin, the Cowboys should and probably will get both guys contract extensions either this offseason or next. It's not impossible with the cap continuing to increase at a rate of about $8-12 million per year that the Cowboys will have the space to get the deals done that they need to get done. Ezekiel Elliott and Byron Jones included.
Byron Jones settled in nicely at cornerback during his first full season at cornerback and knowing what we know about Jones, he won't be satisfied with a second team All-Pro appearance. Expect him to get better. However, if there's a single player that represents the current identity of the Dallas Cowboys, it's Running Back Ezekiel Elliott.
The Cowboys made him the fourth overall pick in 2016 and haven't looked back in their plan to establish the running game. For his career Elliott has averaged 26.9 touches per game over the course of his 40 games.
Here's a look at what Elliott's per game and per 16 game paces look like through the first three seasons of his career.
As you can see from the table above, Ezekiel Elliott is averaging 131.2 total yards per game for his career. In his rookie season he had 1,994 total yards and he sat out the week 17 game against the Philadelphia Eagles when the Cowboys had the NFC and home field advantage locked up. In 2017, Elliott sat out six games and still had nearly 1,000 yards rushing. In 2018, Elliott broke through the 2,000 total yard barrier after seeing a huge increase in his targets and receptions.
Ezekiel Elliott has been everything the Dallas Cowboys could have hoped for and more. With the leadership role he's taken with the team, he's a player that leads both vocally and by example. There are few players on the Dallas Cowboys that give as much effort as he does each snap. How many times has it looked like Elliott was about to get dropped for a two or three yard loss only to grind through tackles to pick up a four yard gain? How many times has he bounced off tacklers to get to the first down marker? Ezekiel Elliott is the human personification of dirty yards, but don't let that fool you into thinking that Elliott can't take it to the house every time he touches the ball. Elliott's is a game breaker who threatens the defense every time he steps on the field.
In 2018, Elliott led the NFL in yards after contact, per Pro Football Focus. His 949 yards after contact in 2018 would have ranked 13th in the NFL in rushing, which was better than David Johnson's 940 yards rushing last season.
Not many running backs effect a football game like Ezekiel Elliott does.
Few players outside of the quarterback position are as much of a focal point for their offense while being an attention grabber for opposing defenses like Ezekiel Elliott is. In 2018, he saw eight or more men in the box on nearly 25% of his carries in 2018. Some of that is related to the Dallas Cowboys insistence on using two tight ends on 50% of their running plays (per Sharp Football), but the other aspect is related to how much they respect the Dallas Cowboys running game. Since the 2014, the Cowboys have been synonymous with running the football. DeMarco Murray, Darren McFadden, and now Ezekiel Elliott have been the faces of that running game behind the Cowboys elite offensive line.
Even in a down year for offensive line play from the Dallas Cowboys, Elliott still managed to lead the NFL in rushing for the second time in three seasons. Elliott made the Pro Bowl for the second time in three years as well. Were it not for the railroad job done by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in 2017, there's a really good chance that Elliott leads the league in rushing three years in a row and that the Dallas Cowboys make the playoffs all three seasons.
Sure, the running back position is undervalued in the NFL and rushing yardage can be replaced, but there are intangibles to Elliott's game that are very difficult to replace. His ability to grind out the dirty yards, break big plays, create yards after contact, pass protect, be a threat as a receiver, and his leadership make him a player that is difficult to replace.
Yes, Byron Jones was really good in 2018 and deserves to get paid by the Dallas Cowboys as well, but you'd be hard pressed to find a player on the Cowboys roster who has been as consistent and dominating week in and week out as Ezekiel Elliott has been over the last three years.
BREAKING: Cowboys Sign Ex-Packers WR Randall Cobb
According to multiple sources, the Dallas Cowboys have signed former Green Bay Packers Wide Receiver Randall Cobb to a one-year deal to help bolster their depth at the WR position and potentially become Cole Beasley's replacement.
Cowboys are giving former Packers' WR Randall Cobb a one-year, $5 million deal, per source. https://t.co/8KWFPjSP8T
The Dallas Cowboys met with Randall Cobb earlier this week, but he eventually left Dallas without a contract. He must've had a change of heart or just needed time to ponder the Cowboys offer, but regardless of what transpired in that short time he is now part of America's Team.
During his time with the Packers, Cobb accumulated 470 receptions for 5,524 receiving yards and 41 touchdowns. The eight-year veteran will now be expected to replace some of Cole Beasley's production out of the slot for the Dallas Cowboys.
After years of watching Beasley as the Cowboys slot WR, it will be really interesting to see Randall Cobb in that role. He's not as quick twitched as No. 11, but can be just as dangerous due to his ability to be more of a down the field receiver. He also brings added value in the return game and could compete with Tavon Austin to become the return specialist.
This could mean the Cowboys forgo drafting a wide receiver early in the 2019 NFL Draft, but I wouldn't put it past them. Regardless of what happens, this is an excellent addition.
Welcome to Cowboys Nation Randall Cobb!
REPORT: Dallas Cowboys Re-sign Long Snapper L.P. Ladouceur
L.P. Ladouceur is returning for his 15th season as the Cowboys' long snapper. The veteran free agent was re-signed by Dalals today to a one-year deal.
Thanks to Jason Witten's one-year sabbatical with Monday Night Football, Ladouceur has now been with the Cowboys for more consecutive seasons than any current player. He just turned 38 last week, but Louis-Philippe remains one of the top long snappers in football.
The Cowboys have signed long-snapper L.P. Ladouceur to a one-year deal worth $1.03 million and $90,000 in bonus money, but he will count $735,000 against the cap. This will be Ladouceur's 15th season with the Cowboys, tying Ed "Too Tall" Jones, Mark... https://t.co/2iDsi6RX7e
Retaining Ladouceur is an underrated move for the Cowboys given their situation at kicker.
Brett Maher was only 80% accurate overall on field goals last year. The team could be considering an upgrade in free agency.
Whether they bring Maher back or try someone new, having a long snapper with Ladouceur's performance perfection will make things much easier for them.
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