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Star Evaluation: Wilson Showed Promise As Strong Side Linebacker

The roster turnover is about to begin. Free agency opens Thursday, and the 2017 NFL Draft isn't far behind it. Over the next two months, the Cowboys will lose and replace a sizable portion of their roster.

For every new face, however, there are dozens of familiar ones that will return to begin a new campaign. From established veterans to second-year players, the vast majority of the Cowboys' 2017 team is already on the roster. In the coming weeks, the staff of will preview those players, analyzing where they've been and where they're going.

The series continues with third year linebacker and former fourth-round pick Damien Wilson.

What's Been Good: It's impressive to examine Wilson's snap count during the course of the 2016 season. He played a grand total of 10 defensive snaps during the first five weeks of the season and was mainly used on special teams. Then, in Week 6, the coaches gave him an opportunity to start on the strong side in base defense, and he didn't look back. Wilson managed 273 defensive snaps in the remaining 11 games for an average of about 25 snaps per week. He finished the year with 35 tackles and four tackles for loss in just five starts.

What's Been Bad: It's worth wondering how much better Wilson could have been if not for a mishap during the summer. The Mississippi native sat out the first two weeks of training camp because he injured his eye playing paintball. The injury wasn't overly serious, but missed practice time is never good for a younger player. Given how limited he was during training camp, it's not surprising that it took him several weeks to get going once the season started.[embeddedad0]

2016 Highlight: Wilson played arguably the best game of his career in the Thanksgiving Day win against Washington. He played 42 of 75 snaps on the day and finished with six tackles. He also threw in 19 special teams snaps in the 31-26 win, further proving his versatility.

What's Next:There are a lot of unknowns about the Cowboys' linebackers at this point. Sean Lee is an All-Pro and a given on the weak side. The front office has expressed that Jaylon Smith will play this year, but it's anyone's guess how effective he'll be. Justin Durant and Andrew Gachkar are headed for free agency. That leaves the trio of draft picks – Wilson, Anthony Hitchens and Mark Nzeocha – to fill in the gaps. All three players have experience and have flashed ability, but it's hard to label any of the three of them a sure thing. It would be great for this defense if Wilson can build on his 2016 momentum and seize control of the SAM linebacker job.

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