Cowboys Players Who Can Climb Depth Chart with Impressive Camp
The Dallas Cowboys are looking to bounce back from a disappointing and injury-plagued 2020 campaign. This year, they'll begin the challenge while being filmed for HBO's Hard Knocks—the third time the franchise will appear on the series.
While fans will revel in the documentary series' behind-the-scenes access, the Cowboys will still be going about the task of finding the 53 best players for the 2021 season. For some players, a strong camp and preseason will be the key to making the roster and/or climbing the depth chart.
Stars like Dak Prescott, CeeDee Lamb, Ezekiel Elliott and Demarcus Lawrence are in no real danger of missing the cut, but the same isn't true for some of Dallas' other players. Here, we'll examine three who could potentially push for significant roles ahead of the regular season.
LB Jabril Cox
The Dallas Cowboys used a first-round pick on Penn State linebacker Micah Parson this offseason, and it wouldn't be a major shock to see Parsons secure a starting role immediately. It might be a little more surprising to see rookie fourth-round pick Jabril Cox land a significant role early on, but it could happen.
Between Parsons, Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith, the Cowboys have plenty of big-name linebacker talent. However, Cox can get into the rotation because of his coverage skills. Though slightly undersized at 6'3" and 232 pounds, Cox should, at worst, be a valuable rotational piece.
"If his play strength develops and he becomes more sudden early in the down, he has the potential to be an every-down starter in the league," Justis Mosqueda of the B/R Scouting Department wrote. "If it does not, he may be limited to passing downs as a coverage linebacker taking tight end and running back matchups."
John Owning of the Dallas Morning News believes that Cox's coverage skills will make him a starter within the next few seasons. While we may not see that transpire this year, Cox will have an opportunity to earn playing time in camp and during the preseason.
As long as Cox can prove that his coverage skills translate to the NFL—matching up with the likes of Ezekiel Elliott and Dalton Schultz will provide a stiff test—we should see him on the field plenty during the regular season.
CB Kelvin Joseph
Cornerback Kelvin Joseph, Dallas' second-round selection, might have an easier path to a starting role. High draft picks are often expected to start early, though Joseph will face competition from more experienced corners like Jourdan Lewis, Anthony Brown and Trevon Diggs.
According to Jonny Auping of the team's official website, the Cowboys hope to see Joseph starting on the perimeter sooner than later.
"The hope is that with Jourdan Lewis signed to play the inside cornerback and nickel packages and Anthony Brown available to provide leadership and depth, Diggs and Joseph will eventually be the starting outside cornerbacks of the Cowboys' future," Auping wrote.
Joseph will first have to prove that he can handle the speed and the nuances of the pro game, and he'll have a high degree of difficulty in camp. Facing receivers like Lamb, Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup will provide a real challenge for the former LSU and Kentucky standout
If Joseph passes the test, he could be starting opposite Diggs as early as Week 1.
S/LB Keanu Neal
Keanu Neal spent five seasons as a safety with the Atlanta Falcons before arriving in Dallas this offseason. While he flashed talent at times in Atlanta—he was a Pro Bowler in 2017—he also missed 28 games between the 2018 and 2019 seasons.
With the Cowboys, Neal will look to reinvent himself as more of a linebacker-safety hybrid than a true back-end defender.
"In my heart, I have been a linebacker for a while," Neal said, per ESPN's Todd Archer. "As time went on, I moved to safety. I still have an understanding of what everything entails with playing linebacker."
Perhaps the biggest challenge for Neal will be carving out a defined role in defensive coordinator Dan Quinn's system.
Whether that's as a rotational linebacker, a box safety or simply as a positionless chess piece remains to be seen. However, if Neal can consistently stand out in camp, he's more likely to see extensive playing time during the regular season than not.