5 Dallas Cowboys Poised for a Breakout Campaign in 2014
Rejoice! The 2014 NFL season isn’t too far away from us and that means it’s time to start getting excited.
The Dallas Cowboys are trying to extricate themselves from a three-year stay in an 8-8 purgatory. In order to do that they’ll need some of their younger, still-developing players to step up and make a big impact for the team.
These players don’t necessarily have to be starters; they can also be rotational players or special teams players.
Let’s look at which players are poised to breakout in 2014.
Anthony Hitches was the biggest question mark of the Dallas Cowboys draft class. Yet today, his stock went soaring up.
Starting inside linebacker Sean Lee went down with an apparent leg injury in OTA’s and Hitches appears to be the “next man up” at the position. Given Lee’s inability to stay on the field (missing 13 games in three seasons) Hitchens always figured to have an increased role throughout the season.
Hitchens isn't Lee, not even close, but he is an explosive player who knows how to make tackles. He may not be a superstar but in the absence of Lee he’ll prove to be a viable starter. If Hitchens can pull his weight, it’s possible that the Cowboys would consider keeping him in the middle and moving Lee to the “Will” linebacker position.
There was a lot of excitement about Tyrone Crawford in 2013 before he tore his Achilles. Now that he’s healthy, he’s going to have a great opportunity to make a difference for this defense.
Crawford fits in two spots, 3-technique and left defensive end. His versatility will prove to be an asset for defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli and a front that struggled last season.
Crawford has a combination of strength and speed that could make him a dynamic player. Given the opportunity, Crawford’s ability to play all over the defensive line will cement him as a dangerous weapon for the Cowboys. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that he could amass 10-plus sacks in 2014.
J.J. Wilcox appeared to be the favorite to start the 2013 season at free safety until he took a leave of absence to mourn the passing of his mother. After that, Wilcox always seemed like he was behind and consequently fell behind rookie Jeff Heath on the depth chart.
Heath wasn’t overly impressive in his snaps as a starter. According to Pro Football Focus, he was targeted 32 times, allowing 23 receptions and four touchdowns (subscription required).
With a full offseason under his belt, Wilcox is going to have an opportunity to show his development. A player with good range and tackling ability, Wilcox has a complete skill set and should be an asset for a pass defense that ranked 32nd in yards allowed in 2013.
The opportunity will be there, it’ll be up to Wilcox to take advantage of it.
Though 5’8” and 177 pounds, Beasley plays like an absolute monster when he gets the opportunity. In 2014 the wideout converted 75 percent of his targets into receptions, accruing 192 yards after the catch (courtesy Pro Football Focus, subscription required). He also caught two touchdowns on the season.
Beasley is a mismatch because of his speed, and he's dangerous thanks to the trust Tony Romo seems to have in him. With his reliable hands, Beasley has the potential to break out as a slot receiver who uses his sharp route-running and elusiveness to make big plays.
The Cowboys need someone to step up and complement Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams, and Beasley is going to get every opportunity to do just that.
Last season the team and its fans thought that Lance Dunbar would have a breakout role as a third-down/change-of-pace back. Unfortunately, a slew of injuries took away his opportunities during the 2013 season.
What we did see from Dunbar when he was on the field was an explosive, elusive player who could be a threat anytime he touches the ball. Dunbar is a shifty, capable runner and an even better receiver. He could have a Darren Sproles-like impact for the Cowboys were he to receive extended looks in the passing game.
If Dunbar can stay healthy, he’ll be a big factor in an offense that will try and limit DeMarco Murray’s carries and injuries. Expect big things this year.