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Offseason | 2022

5 Second-Year Players To Watch For The Cowboys


FRISCO, Texas – First things first: Let's amend this list to "…besides Micah Parsons."

Last year's 12th overall draft pick was so dynamic last year, so must-see, that you half expected him to leap the ringside railing at AT&T Stadium during Sunday's Wrestlemania denouement, climb the top rope and deliver a crushing elbow drop on some unsuspecting WWE superstar, Macho Man style.

The expectation for the reigning NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year: Top the best rookie season by a Cowboys player since Everson Walls 32 years ago.

We all know Parsons' role on the Cowboys is well defined for 2022. What about some other players entering Year 2?

Roster development is more important than ever if the Cowboys are to build on last year's 12-win season. Mindful of salary cap space, the primary focus has been retaining their own free agents. They've re-signed 12 to this point, most notably wide receiver Michael Gallup, safety Jayron Kearse and tight end Dalton Schultz.

So far, the only outside signings are wide receiver James Washington and defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. to help offset departures by Amari Cooper (Browns) and Randy Gregory (Broncos), respectively.

Although more free-agent moves are possible, it's clear that the club will lean on nine upcoming draft picks -- and necessary progress from last year's class.

Here are five of several players (not named Micah Parsons) to watch:

Jabril Cox

Cox, a fourth-round pick last year, only played seven games and nine total defensive snaps before tearing the ACL in his right knee on Halloween night against the Vikings. His injury rehab is going well, and it sounds like the Cowboys have larger plans for him in 2022.

"Should be a big plus for us this year. Will fill right in where Keanu (Neal) left off," Cowboys chief operating officer Stephen Jones told reporters last month. "A good offseason will be good for him. Really like his upside."

Neal, a converted safety who played about 50% of the linebacker snaps last year, is an unrestricted free agent. There's opportunity for Cox to replace his production. The Cowboys like his coverage skills and range, and one of his nine defensive snaps last year was a terrific goal-line play that stopped Giants quarterback Daniel Jones' scramble to the end zone.

Josh Ball

Let's circle back to what head coach Mike McCarthy said about Ball 360 days ago when the Cowboys drafted the 23-year-old offensive tackle in the fourth round:

"I feel he has left tackle traits," McCarthy said. "That's clearly why he was so attractive to us, particularly at that point. Hopefully he can be a swing tackle because when you get to the 53 (full roster), now the next challenge is how does a player get up to the 48 (game day active roster)? The swing tackle is obviously very important in the eight offensive linemen that you keep up on game day."

The Cowboys never got a full read on Ball's potential last year. He injured his ankle just as the padded practices began in training camp. He spent his entire rookie season on injured reserve. He never got to play in any of the four preseason games, either.

At the moment, though, the Cowboys don't appear to have a clear choice at swing tackle. Terence Steele, a backup for part of last season, is now the projected starting right tackle opposite Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith. Veteran reserve Ty Nsekhe is still an unrestricted free agent. More competition could arrive, but Ball will have another chance to show what he can do.

Kelvin Joseph

Injury didn't derail Joseph's rookie year quite like Ball's season-long absence, but the 2021 second-round pick did miss the first six games with a groin injury suffered in the preseason finale against Jacksonville. Anthony Brown had already edged Joseph for a starting cornerback job by that point, but the injury did delay his progress.

Joseph debuted on Halloween against the Vikings but didn't play regular snaps on defense until Dec. 26 against Washington while Jourdan Lewis was in COVID-19 protocol. Joseph had a tackle for loss and a pass breakup in that game and followed up with nine tackles against the Eagles two weeks later.

Trevon Diggs, Brown and Lewis are all back for 2022, but the Cowboys drafted Joseph in the second round for a reason. They like his competitiveness and believe he's got the cover skills to develop into a starting cornerback.

Chauncey Golston

It looked like a new deal for Randy Gregory was going to happen. It didn't. Gregory went to Denver, and the Cowboys decided to recreate his production (6.0 sacks, 30 pressures) by signing Fowler and re-signing Dorance Armstrong to a two-year deal.

Edge rusher could be a priority at some point in the draft, too. But it's also possible that Golston, a 2021 third-round pick, sees an uptick in snaps after averaging just under 30 in 15 games last year.

Golston missed all of training camp and preseason, plus the first two games of the season, with a hamstring injury. A full offseason should help. And defensive coordinator Dan Quinn likes his versatility, able to play virtually anywhere on the line.

Quinton Bohanna

The Cowboys' run defense was vastly improved from 2020, when they allowed the second-most rushing yards in franchise history, but it can still improve. And there's always a place for a 300-plus-pound run stuffer in the middle of the defensive line.

That's why the Cowboys drafted Bohanna in the sixth round last year: to hopefully occupy two blockers and create space for others to make plays. He didn't have a huge role in the rotation (just under 20% of the defensive snaps) and finished the season with 12 tackles and one pressure. But it'll be interesting to see if he can earn a few more snaps, especially if veteran Brent Urban isn't re-signed and/or the Cowboys don't invest an early draft pick at defensive tackle.

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