Five Dallas Cowboys Who Could Be Primed to Break Out in 2013

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistJune 26, 2013

June 11, 2013; Irving, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys cornerback Morris Claiborne works out during minicamp at Dallas Cowboys Headquarters. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Excluding rookies and those who have already made a Pro Bowl or put together anything close to what some might consider to be an "elite" season, here's a look at the five members of the Dallas Cowboys who could be on the verge of breaking out in a big way in 2013:


1. Cornerback Morris Claiborne
Age: 23
Experience: 1 season

The Cowboys will be looking for Claiborne to make the same type of second-year jump that former LSU teammate and fellow Top-10 pick Patrick Peterson made in 2012. Peterson was graded by Pro Football Focus as the eighth-worst corner in the league in his rookie season but bounced back in his second season to earn a Pro Bowl nod as a shutdown corner.

Just like Peterson, Claiborne lacked consistency in coverage as a rookie, but he was plagued by injuries in the lead-up to his first NFL season and life isn't easy for rookie defensive backs in a division like the NFC East. Expect him to take a huge step forward in his second year, just as Peterson and first-round New York Giants corner Prince Amukamara did in 2012.


2. Safety Barry Church
Age: 25
Experience: 3 seasons

The feisty strong safety performed so well last offseason that the Cowboys cut veteran Brodney Pool and made him the starter despite the fact he went undrafted in 2010 and had just one career start under his belt. 

He tore his Achilles tendon in Week 3, but the Cowboys were still confident enough in Church that they gave him a four-year, $12.4 million contract extension with $3.9 million guaranteed. He's delivered as a key backup and special-teamer, but now might be the time for a healthy Church to become a valuable starter in that secondary.


3. Linebacker Bruce Carter
Age: 25
Experience: 2 seasons

Carter's probably further along than anyone on this list, but he struggled while failing to stay healthy as a rookie and missed the final five games of the 2012 season. The 2011 second-round pick did a tremendous job when healthy last year, though, especially after the defense lost fellow linebacker Sean Lee.

After missing only three tackles in his 11 starts, PFF concluded that Carter was the second-most efficient tackler among all inside linebackers in 2012. You also got the feeling he was getting better with each passing game. Carter could be a real nice fit in Monte Kiffin's defense and might be at his best as a 4-3 outside linebacker, so watch for him to become a star in 2013.


4. Left tackle Tyron Smith
Age: 22
Experience: 2 seasons 

It's hard to believe that Smith is entering his third season as he is only 22 years old. After surrendering eight sacks as a rookie, he switched to the (tougher) left side and only gave up three in 2012. However, his overall PFF grade dropped significantly from 24.0 to 3.8. That's because he took 11 penalties in his sophomore season while surrendering twice as many hits and hurries.

He still might suffer from a lack of support elsewhere on that line, but the addition of first-round center Travis Frederick could help Smith's cause. The key, though, is that he's a year older now and is entering his second season as the starting left tackle. Expect the former Top-10 pick to start living up to expectations in a big way in 2013.


5. Wide receiver Dwayne Harris
Age: 25
Experience: 2 seasons 

Rookie third-round pick Terrance Williams could create problems, but Harris should still be considered the early favorite to be the Cowboys' No. 3 receiver in Week 1. If he continues to improve at the pace he was on late last season, he might not give the job up.

Not only did the 2011 sixth-round pick emerge as a solid return man with a bright future in 2012, but he started contributing consistently to the offense during the second half of his second NFL campaign. In fact, he was right there with Miles Austin during the final six weeks of the year. No reason to believe he can't keep pushing forward in 2013.