6 Dallas Cowboys Players Who Should See Their Roles Expand in 2014
The Dallas Cowboys will necessarily have some unique players on the field in 2014 simply because the turnover of their roster will force some guys into expanded roles.
The loss of veterans DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher, for example, will open the door for new faces along the defensive line.
The production of the players expected to see more time will go a long way in determining the Cowboys’ fortunes in 2014.
For so long, the roster has been top-heavy with talent.
We know Tony Romo, Dez Bryant and Tyron Smith can play, but it’s the performances of Terrance Williams, Tyrone Crawford and DeVonte Holloman that will matter most.
With that said, let’s take a look at six Dallas Cowboys players who figure to see more playing time than ever in 2014.
WR Terrance Williams
Pro Football Focus (subscription required) indicates that wide receiver Terrance Williams already played 700 snaps as a rookie, so his total snap count will increase only a little.
With Miles Austin out of Dallas and Williams likely moving into the No. 2 receiver role, however, he’s going to see more than the 72 targets that came his way last season.
In 2013, Williams caught 61.1 percent of those 72 targets for 736 yards—10.2 yards per target. That’s a really high level of efficiency that Williams won’t maintain, especially as his targets increase. Working opposite Dez Bryant, though, Williams is going to see a lot of single coverage that he needs to exploit.
For the record, the Cowboys could potentially upgrade the wide receiver spot earlier than most think in this year’s draft. If they land a player like Penn State’s Allen Robinson in the second round, it shouldn’t be a foregone conclusion that Williams will be the No. 2 receiver.
As it stands right now, Williams is probably about 90 percent certain to land that spot.
Prediction: 60 receptions, 900 yards, 5 touchdowns.
DE/DT Tyrone Crawford
The Cowboys had high hopes for defensive tackle/defensive end Tyrone Crawford in 2013, but he went down for the year on the first day of training camp. The fact that he got injured so early in the year means he’s going to be 100 percent for the start of the 2014 campaign.
This will be Crawford’s third year in the NFL, but he’s played only 303 career snaps. Because of that, we basically need to evaluate him as though he’s a rookie—the 303 snaps won’t tell us much.
The 6’4”, 284-pound Crawford ran a 4.89 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, albeit at a lighter weight. He has above-average athleticism, but his length is what’s really going to help him. With 33.75-inch arms, you have to like Crawford’s potential at both defensive end and defensive tackle.
Crawford’s versatility allows the Cowboys a lot of flexibility in the draft this year. They can pretty much select the best defensive lineman available early, then plug in Crawford at the other spot.
In all likelihood, though, they’re going to want him to play defensive end.
Prediction: 30 tackles, 4 sacks.
LB DeVonte Holloman
Linebacker DeVonte Holloman was injured the majority of his 2013 rookie year, seeing only 18 total snaps heading into Week 15. Over the final three weeks of the year, when Holloman did get playing time, he was pretty poor, despite others’ reviews.
According to Pro Football Focus, Holloman’s worst performance came in Week 17, when he allowed five completions for 100 yards and two touchdowns.
However, chances are it was just a fluky poor game. Holloman was outstanding in coverage during the preseason and he allowed only 75 yards and zero scores on the 10 other regular-season throws that came his way.
Holloman is the favorite to play outside for Dallas in 2014, so his development next to Sean Lee and Bruce Carter will be crucial.
Prediction: 45 tackles, 1 interception.
RB Lance Dunbar
Running back Lance Dunbar is so much better than second-year man Joseph Randle it isn’t even funny.
All other things being equal, we want speed in running backs, and Dunbar has it. The last thing we want is a tall, lean back with below-average speed (Randle).
In 2013, Dunbar broke out a little bit with 150 yards on 30 carries (5.0 yards per carry). His 2014 role will really come down to whether or not the Cowboys draft a running back. The best course of action for Dallas is probably to select a late-round running back, let him compete with Dunbar for No. 2 duties and cut Randle.
With DeMarco Murray set to become a free agent in 2015, the team should be searching for its next starter—one who won’t garner a big—or even medium-sized—free-agent deal.
Dunbar could take on an expanded role, especially on third down, if the team is serious about moving on from Murray.
Prediction: 500 total yards, 2 touchdowns.
TE Gavin Escobar
Despite wanting to use more “12 personnel" and possessing the personnel to do that with high-ceiling players in Gavin Escobar and James Hanna, the Cowboys’ two primary backup tight ends saw only 15 targets apiece in 2013.
With Jason Witten producing at about a league-average rate for a tight end in terms of efficiency, the Cowboys need to incorporate their young tight ends into the offense.
Yes, Witten’s bulk numbers still look good, but his efficiency on a per-route basis has declined in five straight seasons.
At 6’6”, Escobar has the potential to be especially useful in the red zone. He took two of his nine 2013 receptions for scores and could potentially find the end zone a lot more in 2014 if he’s used properly.
Prediction: 30 receptions, 350 yards, 5 touchdowns.
S Matt Johnson
Safety Matt Johnson hasn’t been able to stay healthy. We know that. But what if he can?
It’s not like the Cowboys are committing big bucks to him, so there’s no risk in letting him compete to play in 2014 and then just parting ways if he again can’t stay on the field.
In terms of raw athleticism, Johnson is an impressive specimen. His closest comparable is New Orleans Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro, who was selected in the first round last year:
Johnson: 6'1", 215 pounds, 4.52 40-yard dash, 10'1" broad jump, 4.07 short shuttle, 6.84 three-cone drill, 38" vertical, 18 bench press reps.
Vaccaro: 6'0", 214 pounds, 4.63 40-yard dash, 10'1" broad jump, 4.06 short shuttle, 6.78 three-cone drill, 38" vertical, 15 bench press reps.
Actually, Johnson is a slightly more explosive version of Vaccaro. That’s not to say he’s a better player or will have a superior career, but just that he clearly has something special in terms of athleticism.
We really have no idea if he can stay healthy in 2014, but if he does, my money is on him surprising a lot of people.
Prediction: 30 tackles, 2 interceptions.