Editor's Note:With the understanding that position battles, roster spots and other football questions take a major backseat to the bigger issues that have been presented by COVID-19, our staff will attempt to tackle 20 of the bigger questions that this team and league faces as we get ready for the 2020 season. Today, we continue the series discussing players on the roster who could be emerging stars.
After an 8-8 finish last year, the Cowboys want to make a jump forward in 2020. A return to the playoffs is the obvious goal as a talented young roster looks to continue its development under new head coach Mike McCarthy.
With that in mind, which Cowboys players could be ready to emerge with a career year? The DallasCowboys.com staff debates.
Nick Eatman: We've seen plenty of players shine during their "contract year." So I'm actually predicting that Xavier Woods has a breakout season. Let's see if this new defensive front will change things on the back end. I think having a veteran such as Ha Ha Clinton-Dix will help Woods become even more of a playmaker. The Cowboys have actually been linked to a couple of big-name safeties in recent years and probably had some interest in making a trade. For whatever the reason, it didn't happen. I'm not completely suggesting that Xavier Woods is the reason they didn't make these trades, but to them, the position isn't as bad as others might suggest. I think Woods will have a really good season and I'm even predicting a career-high in interceptions with five. That won't help the Cowboys re-sign him, but it could help them with their defense this season.
Rob Phillips: Sure, one can argue Michael Gallup already had his breakout season in 2019. At 23 years old, he became the third-youngest receiver in Cowboys history to reach 1,000 yards in a season. It's easy to forget Gallup missed two games in late September after a knee scope, because he still managed to post 66 catches for 1,107 yards and six touchdowns. But there's another level Gallup can reach – a Pro Bowl caliber level, even with Amari Cooper as the featured receiver and running back Ezekiel Elliott as the offense's engine. According to STATS, the Cowboys' offense tied for the fourth-most drops in the league last year (24), and Gallup's six drops tied for fourth. (Patriots star Julian Edelman led the league with nine.) If Gallup can finish just a few more plays, who knows how good his numbers can be – even in an offense with this many options. He absolutely has No. 1 receiver type talent.
David Helman: Maybe this is cheating, because Chidobe Awuzie has been a starter on this defense for three years. Still, there aren't many guys on the roster who could use a big season more than him. Obviously, the top priority is that this defense needs some consistency in the secondary. Awuzie has been solid way more often than not in my opinion, but you also can't deny that he got picked on at times in 2019. With Byron Jones off to Miami, the Cowboys need a cornerback they can rely on every week. On an individual level, this is also a huge moment for Awuzie's career. Remember, it was just two years ago that Jones was at a similar crossroad. Then, Kris Richard showed up and helped turn him into an All-Pro corner who is now an $82 million man. Hopefully, Mike Nolan and Al Harris can have a similar impact on Awuzie. If he can take his game to another level, it would help this defense tremendously – and it would also set Chido up for a nice pay day when his contract expires at the end of the year.