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Mailbag: Second- and third-year players the key?


Everyone always looks to free agency and the draft as the primary options for improving the team, but I think maybe the more important option is the elevation of play by second- and third-year role players becoming key contributors, starters and even stars. Do you agree this is just as important or maybe even more important? And who are the players on the roster we need to see make this jump? – David Nystrom/Loudon, TN

Nick Eatman: Well, it has to be more important because free agency has been rather non-existent aside from Eric Kendricks. Clearly, the Cowboys are expecting contributions from other areas and it has to be more than the next draft. So that means they have to rely on past drafts and that's exactly what you're talking about – second- and third-round picks. Guys that haven't really been asked to step up, now must deliver in a big way. That's pretty much the entire 2023 draft class. None of those players had a big impact and many of them will be asked to make a huge leap. It starts with Mazi and Schoonmaker and then Overshown. All three of them need to come up big. I think Junior Fehoko has to show anything, which would be an improvement. The list goes on and on to Asim Richards, Deuce Vaughn, Eric Scott and Jalen Brooks. But the same goes for Jalen Tolbert, who is now the No. 3 receiver. And then there's Damone Clark, Sam Williams, Markquese Bell – all of them need to help out in ways they haven't before. There are probably 10-12 more guys on this list – maybe someone like Juanyeh Thomas as well. Yes, the Cowboys have had a deep, talented roster in the past that has been gutted by free agency. It's time to see just what kind of depth they really have.

Kurt: Improving your own young players is definitely an important facet of building a championship roster, especially for a club like the Cowboys who pride themselves on being a draft and develop team. We always hear talk about players making a jump in their second year after they've had a full offseason to train under the staff's coaching umbrella. The same should be expected from those entering their third seasons. Ideally, they should be primed to take over as key contributors, if they haven't already. Now more than ever, though, Dallas needs to see some marked improvement from their young players. Mazi Smith is probably first and foremost on that list, given that he didn't make much of an impact last season as a first-round pick. Same goes for second-rounder Luke Schoonmaker and really the whole 2023 draft class. However, one player who I think really needs to make that jump from promising contributor to a true defensive threat is third-year defensive end Sam Williams. He recorded 4 sacks in his first season and 4 ½ in his second campaign. And this despite playing just 27 and 28 percent of the defensive snaps, respectively. With Dorance Armstrong and Dante Fowler gone in free agency, someone needs to make up for the loss of their 11 ½ combined sacks. Can Williams finally be that guy? Can he step up and be more consistent, building on the flashes he's shown previously. For this defense to be successful, Williams definitely needs to make that jump.

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