5 Dallas Cowboys Players Who Will Surprise During Training Camp
Training camp is right around the corner for the Dallas Cowboys, and like every team around the NFL, they’re hoping that certain "unknowns" step up and surprise with quality play. I’ve mentioned in the past that I believe multiple players will find themselves at both ends of the spectrum—both surprising in good ways and bad—just because Dallas has so many players with uncertainty surrounding them.
That uncertainty has been taken for weakness, and while the Cowboys aren’t composed of one of the league’s most talented rosters, I don’t think they’re in any worse of a position than in recent seasons. Losing players such as defensive end DeMarcus Ware and defensive tackle Jason Hatcher isn't a positive, but it isn't going to hurt as much as you might think.
With that said, here’s a look at five Cowboys players who will surprise (in a good way) during training camp.
WR Chris Boyd
The Cowboys have three rookie receivers they’re hoping step up in Devin Street, L’Damian Washington, and Chris Boyd. They’re all tall, lean players who didn’t necessarily dominate in college. They’re also all big question marks because they have both positive and negative predictors in regard to their NFL fortunes.
Boyd is my favorite of the bunch, though, because he’s the biggest (6’4”, 205 lbs) and was the best in college. Boyd played only two seasons at Vanderbilt, but he managed 13 touchdowns and 15.4 yards per catch on 81 receptions, according to Sports-Reference.com. He didn't post devastating numbers, but he did it at ages 19 and 20.
Boyd’s lackluster 4.73 in the 40-yard dash initially scared me, even though I value weight more than speed in receivers because it better predicts success. However, Boyd also ran as fast as 4.56 in the 40 during the predraft process, so there’s good reason to think he possesses at least enough explosiveness to take advantage of his size in the pros.
DE/DT Tyrone Crawford
We’ve been tantalized by defensive lineman Tyrone Crawford’s potential during his rookie season and in camp last year, and this is the year that I think he’ll cash in.
Crawford told Bryan Broaddus of DallasCowboys.com that he’s still not sure if he’ll play defensive end or defensive tackle, although he’s versatile enough to excel anywhere along the line. His versatility also gives him a high floor because Crawford has more chances to succeed.
I think Crawford’s most natural fit would be next to Henry Melton as another pass-rushing interior lineman. If the Cowboys prefer, they could start Terrell McClain on first down and then use Crawford next to Melton in passing situations.
Either way, Crawford’s 6’4”, 284-pound frame and 33.75-inch arms are a big plus.
TE Gavin Escobar
Second-year tight end Gavin Escobar underwhelmed in his rookie season with just nine catches, but he still showed off some of his potential, particularly with a jaw-dropping diving touchdown against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 17.
With veteran Jason Witten declining, there should be more snaps available for Escobar. The Cowboys have traditionally relied on their once-elite players for too long (see Marion Barber, Jay Ratliff, etc.), but Escobar could still see significant snaps if the Cowboys commit to more two-tight end sets.
Escobar’s ability to help Dallas in the red zone could be particularly valuable. The 6’6”, 249-pound tight end had two touchdowns in his rookie year and could very well approach seven or eight this season if used properly.
S Matt Johnson
Is safety Matt Johnson going to make it through training camp without suffering another injury? That’s really tough to say, even if we think Johnson is indeed injury-prone (which we can probably conclude is the case at this point).
The thing is, injuries are infrequent and random enough that 1) it’s difficult to label anyone as injury-prone, even after they’ve suffered multiple injuries, and 2) even if that player is injury-prone, you probably wouldn’t expect an injury over a period of a month or two.
Johnson is a special case because he just can’t stay on the field at all for any significant period of time, but this is just a matter of risk/reward. The risk surrounding Johnson is actually quite small since there’s no money riding on his health, while the reward is huge; he’s likely Dallas’ most athletic safety and probably possesses the highest ceiling as a football player.
I have no idea if Johnson will make it through camp, but I’m choosing him as a breakout candidate because, if he hits, I think it will be in a big way.
RB Ryan Williams
What’s to like about a third-year back who, like Johnson, is probably injury-prone and also ran a 4.61 in the 40-yard dash? Well, there’s not much we (or the Cowboys) can do about whether or not Williams suffers another injury this year, but there’s reason to think that his lackluster 40 isn’t representative of him as a player.
If you look at Williams’ other combine measurables at NFL.com, you see a 40-inch vertical and 10’3” broad jump. Both are elite numbers and suggest that Williams is a powerful running back. And let’s not forget that in his first year playing college football at Virginia Tech, Williams ran for 1,655 yards and scored 22 total touchdowns, according to Sports-Reference.com.
With 58 career NFL carries, Williams’ college numbers and physical traits still matter when assessing his NFL future.
Another reason to be bullish on Williams is that he has a great frame at 5’9”, 207 pounds. That’s important because there’s a negative correlation between height and 1) NFL success and 2) injuries at the running back position. That is, in most cases, the shorter the running back, the more NFL production and the fewer the injuries.
Expect Williams to take Joseph Randle’s job as the Cowboys’ No. 3 running back.