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Gut Feeling: Who Will Be This Year's Jayron Kearse?

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FRISCO, Texas – If the Cowboys are going to be successful in 2022, we all pretty much know the cast of characters who will lead them.

Counting on guys like Dak Prescott, Micah Parsons, Zack Martin, CeeDee Lamb and Trevon Diggs – to name a few – is a good start.

Others such as Tank Lawrence, Dalton Schultz and Jayron Kearse should be included as well.

But let's focus in on Kearse specifically. It was just one year ago when the veteran safety was a surprise to some to even make the 53-man roster. He was a rather unknown player who had been with the Vikings and Lions, but managed to not only make the team or find a role, but eventually led the entire defense in tackle in 2021.

Now, Kearse re-signed on a two-year deal and is considered one of the biggest leaders on this team.

So, who is this year's Jayron Kearse? Which player needs to take that kind of leap in 2022 to help the Cowboys get over the hump once again.

Our writers have each picked a player the Cowboys desperately need to that kind of step.

Rob Phillips: I still think the offensive line is the biggest X-factor for the offense, but if we're talking about a single player who could emerge with a breakout season, Noah Brown would fit that criteria better than anyone. This is his sixth NFL season. To this point, he's never started more than two games or had more than 16 catches in a single year. And yet, Brown looks poised to enter Week 1 as the No. 2 receiver after a terrific training camp. He's looked leaner and quicker and very reliable for Dak Prescott. "You want to find a guy who's the epitome of being a professional, it's Noah Brown, on and off the field," Prescott said. Could Year 6 be a light-switch year for Brown, sort of like Year 4 was for Miles Austin in 2009 when everything came together for him? Sure, it's possible. The offense definitely needs it, especially in the early part of the season.

Patrik Walker: For all of the justifiable discussion surrounding the absence of Tyron Smith - one that will require rookie first-round pick Tyler Smith to leave his competition at left guard with Connor McGovern and take the reins as starting LT to open the season - there is also a sizable question mark at center. Tyler Biadasz, a former fourth-round pick who is basically the first successor to the greatness that was Travis Frederick, is entering the most pivotal season yet. As he walks into his third year in the NFL, he does it with lots to prove. Biadasz must finally end issues with errant snaps and become one of the best centers in the league - in both pass and run protection - if he's to stave off Matt Farniok as his possible replacement in the near future; and if the Cowboys offense is to stand any chance at matching serve with their elite defensive counterparts.

Nick Eatman: I've toyed around with different options here – looked at the defense, but I went back to the offense and special teams. For years and years, I've been begging for the Cowboys to get a speedy weapon at receiver and while they sort of backed into it, I'm going to focus on KaVontae Turpin. Sure, all we've seen is two returns – but they were amazing and happened like 20 minutes apart. If Turpin can give the Cowboys anything close to what he showed that night in Los Angeles, it will be a weapon that can have lasting effects to the rest of the team. Field position is so important when the games are close and a guy like Turpin can not only flip the field in a hurry, but he can scare teams away from kicking his direction. That alone can create good field position, too. And if Turpin provides anything on offense – just someone on the outside who can stretch the defense both vertically and horizontally – it can open up lanes for the running attack. Yes, it's a stretch considering he was in the USFL this summer, but if he continues to dazzle like this, it could be a huge lift.

Mickey Spagnola: For my big leaper, give me Tyler Smith. That's right, Tyler Smith, especially since he is starting from scratch. There is a reason the Cowboys spent a first-round pick on the offensive tackle, the 24th pick overall. Think about it this way. If the Cowboys didn't have Tyron Smith anymore, say he surprisingly retired, the Cowboys still would have spent a first-round pick on a tackle, and at 24 for sure, Tyler Smith. He would have been considered the Day 1 starter. Well, he is the Day 1 starter now. Tackle is not foreign to him. Played it in high school, North Crowley in Fort Worth. Played it for 2½ seasons in college, at Tulsa. His only drawback being very little to no work at tackle during training camp and preseason, working at left guard. Only tackle in the offseason, but remember, with the first team. All along we've been told he's a "left offensive lineman." Well, he's now as left as left is on the O-Line. This guy's grit will get him through to the surprise of many.

Kyle Youmans: It would be hard to take one of the team's most improved players from a year ago and expect more out of them. That's exactly the case around cornerback Anthony Brown. There was a considerable jump in Brown's play from 2020 to 2021, but now he enters another year where the success of the Cowboys will depend on the stability in the secondary. His career best season still came with its ups and downs, with most of the downs coming on Thanksgiving against the Raiders, so consistency will be the goal this season. If Brown can neutralize an opponent's number two threat on a consistent basis and combine that with Trevon Diggs' playmaking, Dan Quinn's unit will be a nightmare for offenses. If he takes similar jump he did last year, again in 2022? Brown could be the piece that holds it all together on defense.

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