By Chad Lesher
It happens every year for every team. There is always a pleasant surprise or two on each team as the season wraps up. The player that was not really on anyone’s radar but they wind up having a breakout year with surprising stats. On the flip side, you also have the players that are expecting to be Pro Bowl bound but end up letting us down. I thought I would give a “breakout” and “breakdown” player on both sides of the ball. Let’s start with the offense.
Breakout Player – Offense
It is very difficult to find a guy on this offense that people don’t already expect big things. My choice is La’el Collins. Some are really concerned about La’El taking over for veteran Doug Free and moving from left guard to right tackle. Most people know that La’El played tackle at LSU his senior year. He was on the left side at LSU (first guard and then tackle) so it is really different for him to play on the right side. There are also concerns about La’El’s arm length and his technique at the tackle position. Here’s the thing though…this guy is a freak athlete. He can be extremely dominant at times. Don’t get distracted by his penalties in the Raiders game…focus more on how well he handled the Raiders defensive line. La’El will be an upgrade at right tackle because he is more athletic, younger and stronger than Free. There may be some growing pains from time to time, but he will open up some big running lanes and protect Dak in the pocket.
Breakdown Player – Offense
I’m going to cheat and pick anyone at running back not named Elliott. I am concerned about our running game if we lose Zeke for any period of time. There, I said it. To say that anyone can run behind that line and get us 11 straight wins is being naïve. For people to say that McFadden and Morris are 1,000 yard rushers and can do it again are ignoring that they are older and their production has dropped dramatically over the past few years. Zeke is elite. He is one of the top 3 running backs in the league. He’s young. He’s hungry (feed him please). You can’t replace all that easily. If we lose Zeke for six games this year, our offense will struggle some and Dak will need to be at a higher level than he was in 2016.
Breakout Player – Defense
If you follow the Cowboys closely, my pick for breakout player on defense is too easy and too obvious. But, I really think Maliek Collins is going to be truly dominant on the inside of the defensive line this year (and I’m far from alone on this). His size and power gave our offensive line problems in training camp and that’s no easy feat. It may not jump out of you on the stat sheet, but Maliek is going to be a disruptive force. He could get 7-8 sacks and that’s big at the defensive tackle position. If our defensive ends can increase their sack total, it will be partly due to Maliek Collins causing problems. He can slow down the opponents’ running game and get quarterbacks nervous as the pocket collapses. If a quarterback feels pressure on the outside, you can step up and make a throw. Pressure on the inside is tougher to deal with and Maliek can do that for our defense. I expect him around the ball a lot and a Pro Bowl year is not out of the question. *Honorable mention – Xavier Woods
Breakdown Player – Defense
People don’t have high expectations of our defense so there are quite a few players to choose from. But, I’m going to go with Demarcus Lawrence. Every year, we get our hopes up for Lawrence to take the next big step and become our sack leader. There are just so many instances where he disappears. I can remember watching a full game and trying to remember if Lawrence even played. I think he was drafted too high, been suspended and a few injuries to top it all off. Demarcus has the physicality to become the Breakout Player on defense and I hope that he is. But, I think our expectations need to be lower and then we can stop being let down with mediocre play. We took a shot with a second-round pick on Lawrence and I fear that we missed. Now, we have to hang our hopes on Taco being the answer to help us with some sacks.
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