Realistic Projections for Dallas Cowboys' Projected Defensive Starters
With the 2014 regular season just two days away, everyone is feeling the excitement and promise of a new year. The Dallas Cowboys open up at home against the San Francisco 49ers in a Week 1 matchup that will most likely be very entertaining.
Now, we’ve all read and listened to how the Cowboys defense is going to compete with last year’s unit as one of the worst in league history. Although this could turn out to be true, there’s a reason teams play the games and a trophy isn’t distributed in the preseason.
With that said, Dallas’ defense has a lot of talented young players capable of being better than they’re projected. The problem is many of them will have to do so in order for the defense to improve from 2013.
Let’s take a look at the projected defensive starters and statistical projections for each of them.
2014 Projection: 34 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 1 FF, 5 PD
In his first season as a Cowboy, defensive end George Selvie had a career year. He recorded a career high in both tackles and sacks.
Statistically, I see the fifth-year Selvie taking a slight step back this year. The 27-year-old’s skills shouldn’t be decreasing just yet; however, now teams are aware of his presence on the field.
Selvie is an important player on this team, but his time as a starter remains unknown as well. When Anthony Spencer is fully healthy, Selvie will have to compete to stay on the field.
2014 Projection: 40 tackles, 1 FR, 1 PD
Nick Hayden finds himself as one of the Cowboys’ starting defensive tackles for another year. He’s in no way a spectacular player, but on a defense with so many question marks, Hayden is consistent and someone who stays healthy.
Like Selvie, I don’t really see his stats improving from last year. Henry Melton will draw some attention away from Hayden, although, the former Pro Bowler would need to have a great year to total the numbers Jason Hatcher did a year ago.
If Hayden can start every game, he should be right around 40 combined tackles. If he falters, these numbers could dip with players like Terrell McClain waiting on the bench.
2014 Projection: 40 tackles, 4 sacks, 2 FF, 1 PD
Melton enters this season as someone everyone around the Cowboys is curious about. Can the defensive tackle return to the form that made him one of the most exciting linemen in the NFL?
One major issue for Melton is he’s returning to play with one of the worst defensive units in the league. There isn’t much around him, and therefore he will face double-teams more often than not.
I truly believe Melton can get back to being an enforcer like he was in 2012, but that depends on him remaining healthy.
2014 Projection: 32 tackles, 3 sacks, 4 PD
Another new face on the defense is end Jeremy Mincey. The seventh-year veteran joins Dallas with hopes of posting numbers similar to his days in Jacksonville.
Since 2011, Mincey’s stats have steadily declined. Last season, he played in only 10 games and recorded just 17 tackles and two sacks.
With another opportunity to start, Mincey should ready to go for 2014. But just like Selvie, his time could be limited with a formidable, currently injured replacement behind him in DeMarcus Lawrence.
2014 Projection: 114 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 1 INT, 3 PD, 1 FF
Bruce Carter once again has high expectations around him. Dallas’ linebackers are not strong, and Carter must prove to be more reliable this season if things are going to change.
Drew Davison of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram discussed the situation at the position with Carter. Davison tweeted that Carter said “he’s starting strong side LB with Rolando McClain at MLB and Justin Durant weak side.”
Carter has shown flashes of being a quality linebacker in this league, but he must do it more consistently to be a real impact player. Once again, health is huge. If he can start 16 games, he will help this D.
2014 Projection: 135 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 INT, 7 PD, 3 FF
The biggest wild card in training camp was linebacker Rolando McClain. After a forgettable NFL career to this point, the former first-round pick out of Alabama has earned himself a starting job.
General manager Jerry Jones brought the middle linebacker into camp with hopes that he could regain his passion for the game. Piecing together a replacement for Sean Lee isn’t an easy task, but McClain’s performance has created optimism.
McClain has the right size (6'4", 259 lbs) and skill to be a true playmaker. Rookie Anthony Hitchens will compete for snaps, but if McClain plays well, he won’t be going anywhere.
2014 Projection: 100 tackles, 3 PD, 1 FF, 1 FR
Even though Justin Durant took the majority of reps in the middle at camp, the Cowboys will be better with him on the weak side. He’s a player the Cowboys need on the field, and clearly the coaching staff feels he’s better off on the outside.
The veteran will provide some much-needed leadership with plenty of inexperience around. Durant has only played in all 16 regular-season games once in his career, so health will be vital.
Like many others on this defense, the Cowboys would love for Durant to play to his potential.
2014 Projection: 65 tackles, 3 INT, 18 PD
Brandon Carr was paid to be a star on this defense, and that just hasn’t happened yet in Dallas. Despite starting every game and having six interceptions through two years, Carr simply hasn’t been as dominant as we’ve once seen.
It doesn’t help that the Cowboys have had bad defenses around him. Last year the team ranked in the bottom of the league in sacks, limiting turnover opportunities for the secondary. If a few players can emerge up front, Carr and the other corners will benefit.
There are certain players who defenses rely on. Carr is one of them.
2014 Projection: 125 tackles, 2 INT, 6 PD
In his first full season as a starter, Barry Church was surprisingly one of the best players the Cowboys had on that side of the ball. He led the team with 135 tackles and was a leader for 16 games.
I’m expecting the secondary to be improved this season, making things easier for Church in the back. He has a nose for the ball and will be able to make plays around the field.
There are a lot of reasons to believe the 26-year-old will get better in 2014.
2014 Projection: 90 tackles, 3 INT, 10 PD
J.J. Wilcox should have a much heavier workload this year after solidifying himself as the starting strong safety. He played in 13 games last season, recording 38 tackles.
His role will significantly increase in 2014 because he shouldn’t be sharing the field with players like Jeff Heath as often. Wilcox has shown he has talent, and this season his numbers should reflect that.
If the corners in front of him play well, look for Wilcox to make several important plays.
2014 Projection: 54 tackles, 4 INT, 12 PD
The other starting cornerback on the Cowboys is former first-rounder Morris Claiborne. He enters the year with high hopes once again in spite of missing the entire preseason for the second straight season.
Claiborne has yet to pan out as the high selection Jones traded up to acquire. This year could prove to decide the corner’s future in Dallas.
The talent is there; he just has to execute and stay on the field.