Yesterday I shared with you five offensive players that need to step up in 2016, and today I thought I would take a look at the other side of the ball and express what defensive players I think need to step up their game for the 2016 season.
In 2015, the Dallas Cowboys defense under the guidance of defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli performed admirably and actually kept the team in games that were close enough to win, if the offensive performance would have been a little bit better. The Cowboys lost a number of games by less than a touchdown and if they can carry that over into 2016, there is no telling how far the team may go.
There are a lot of players that could have been mentioned on this list, but if these players can step their game in 2016, it should improve the overall play of the entire defense.
Here are the five players I would like to see step up their game in 2016:
Rolando McClain, LB (6’4″, 259)
I can’t tell you how frustrating it is at times to watch Rolando McClain play. When he’s on his game, he is one of the better linebackers in the entire NFL, but because of lack of focus or mental breakdowns, he tends to disappear at times.
This will be his third year with the Dallas Cowboys, but the first year he will be able to go through a full off-season program. I’m personally hoping that this will help him be ready both physically and mentally when the season kicks off and that he can maintain that throughout the entire year.
There is no denying that he is a physically gifted player, but he needs to put everything together in order to raise the level of his game and help improve the entire defense. If he can finally put everything together, the Cowboys might just have the best linebacker duo in the entire league with him playing next to Sean Lee.
Tyrone Crawford, DT (6’4″, 285)
Tyrone Crawford makes this list mostly because of the high expectations I expected of him in 2015 after signing a long-term contract extension. He struggled through the majority of the season with a shoulder injury that hampered his effectiveness, but I am once again expecting big things from him in 2016.
Crawford plays the all-important 3-tech in Rod Marinelli’s 4-3 defensive scheme and he is supposed to be a destructive player that makes plays in the backfield.
He only managed five quarterback sacks and 35 tackles in 2015, but he should be much more effective now that he is 100% healthy.
It will be interesting to see if he will remain at the 3-tech while Randy Gregory and Demarcus Lawrence miss the first four games due to violating the league’s substance and abuse policy, or if he is moved to defensive end. Either way, he needs to step up his game and prove that he was worthy of that contract extension.
Benson Mayowa, DE (6’3″, 240)
Benson Mayowa is on this list because he was one of the few free-agents that the Cowboys targeted during free agency to help improve the pass rush and we all know the defense can use as much help in that area as possible.
It will be interesting to see how Marinelli decides to use Mayowa because he really doesn’t have the size to be in every down defensive end, so he will more than likely be a pass rush specialist.
The fact that the Cowboys gave him a three-year contract suggests that they believe he can be a difference maker, but he will really have to prove that he can be effective with more playing time.
I think it would be reasonable to believe that he can get somewhere between five and eight quarterback sacks 2016 and that would greatly improve the performance of the defense.
Byron Jones, S (6’0″, 199)
It appears as if the Cowboys will be moving him to free safety full-time instead of playing him everywhere in the secondary, and honestly I like that move.
The Cowboys have really struggled finding a playmaking safety ever since Darren Woodson retired and I may be hoping for too much, but I think Jones could end up being a similar player.
I think he will only continue to get better, especially now that it looks like he will only have to focus on one position and learning the intricacies of playing that position.
I’m expecting big things from Jones in 2016 and if he can raise the level of his game, he could be a difference maker in the Cowboys secondary.
Orlando Scandrick, CB (5’10”, 195)
Scandrick has always played with a chip on his shoulder and that attitude is contagious. I’m hoping that the entire defense can catch this attitude and that it shows in their performance on the field.
Scandrick was the best cornerback on the Cowboys roster before his knee injury wiped out his 2015 season, and I’m expecting him to pick up where he left off. His value to the defense is undeniable since he can play both outside and in the slot, but that value goes way beyond his performance on the field.
He is a leader on the team and I think more than anything his presence in the meeting rooms and in practice can help improve the defense in 2016.