DALLAS — The Dallas Cowboys will be trying to win the NFC East and return to the playoffs in consecutive years for the first time since the 2006-2007 seasons. Having some of their key players leave, including wide receiver Amari Cooper, defensive end Randy Gregory and right tackle La’el Collins, could make the task tougher.
To mitigate the losses, the Cowboys didn’t restock their talent through free agency, instead choosing to use the draft, as has become customary for the team in the current era. Without bringing in veteran NFL-level talent to replace what they lost, the Cowboys are hoping to get improvements from some of the in-house candidates.
In addition, the players feel confident that Dallas still has the talent to compete, as quarterback and team leader Dak Prescott has made it clear that he doesn’t believe the team has taken a step back.
That’s good offseason talk, but who are the Cowboys counting on to step up and surprise during this upcoming season? Here are five names that could contribute more than expected in Dallas:
Neville Gallimore, defensive tackle
The Cowboys selected Gallimore in the third round of the 2020 draft and he looked to be ready to break out in his sophomore season. Unfortunately, Gallimore suffered an elbow injury in the preseason that limited him to just five games of 2021.
The defense survived and pushed Gallimore’s coming out party to this season. Gallimore has the strength to push the pocket from the interior and is a solid run stopper in the middle. After having just half of a sack in his rookie season, Gallimore picked up 1.5 sacks in limited games in 2021, proving that he is on the come up to be Dallas’ answer at defensive tackle.
The team drafted the versatile Osa Odighizuwa and Quinton Bohanna last year, and John Ridgeway in 2022 to help at the position, but they didn’t retain Brent Urban after just one season with the Cowboys. It could be a sign that Gallimore is ready to be the answer on the interior with Dallas expecting a big season just around the corner.
Simi Fehoko, wide receiver
The Cowboys drafted Fehoko in the fifth round last season, but he failed to catch a single pass during his rookie year. Fehoko has the size to make an impact at 6 feet, 3 inches and 220 pounds. The Stanford product is a player that can be expected to win on jump balls which could make him a valued red zone target, an area that the offense struggled with at times last season.
There also seems to be some positive buzz about Fehoko this offseason, who is earning his opportunity. The second year wide receiver has been working with the first-team offense in OTAs and could be ready for a larger role.
Fehoko has also been training with Prescott with the hopes that they can develop a rhythm. There’s a void at receiver that the Cowboys will need to fill early in the season with starting wideout Michael Gallup out and it’s an opportunity that Fehoko is aiming to seize.
Malik Hooker, safety
The Cowboys re-signed Hooker this offseason to a modest deal in the hopes that the former first-rounder can pick up where he left off from the 2021 season. It took some time, but the veteran safety played his best football at the end of the year and became a starter for three games.
Hooker’s modest stats of 44 tackles and one interception weren’t near the team lead for the Cowboys, but it was a step in the right direction in his first season after torn ACL in 2020. Injuries and inconsistency has marred Hooker’s career thus far but after finding his sea legs with Dallas, he could be unlocking his potential.
Jabril Cox, linebacker
Micah Parsons was a standout as a rookie, but Cox was also on his way to earning a starting role before a torn ACL cost him the second half of his rookie year. After joining the Cowboys as a fourth-round pick, Cox worked his way into the linebacker rotation before the injury. Assuming that he is ready to go, he’s expected to be a starter heading into his second season in Dallas.
Cox was a standout in coverage during his college career and those skills looked like they translated to the NFL, and his speed was evident on the field as a rookie. If Cox can pick up where he left off before his injury, the Cowboys are in a better position at linebacker than most observers believe.
Dorance Armstrong, defensive end
The Cowboys weren’t able to bring back Gregory, but they did keep Armstrong, who is an ascending player. Armstrong had his best season in 2021, picking up five sacks, which was double his career total, in just 13 games. He’ll be just 25-years old heading into his fifth year, so the best could yet to come with Armstrong.
If Armstrong can continue to improve, the Cowboys should have a very good pass rusher for a modest price. There is work to do in other aspects of his game, but Armstrong is a solid piece as a rotational pass rusher.
Armstrong is a name to remember as the Cowboys prepare for the upcoming season and don’t be surprised if he makes a larger impact than expected.
Which Cowboys player do you think is next up for a breakthrough campaign? Share your thoughts with Ben on Twitter @BenGrimaldi.