Editor’s note: The following story is a part of the 2019 Cowboys/NFL preview section, which will be included in print editions of The Dallas Morning News on Thursday, Sept. 5.
After reaching the divisional round of the playoffs last season, the Dallas Cowboys are thinking Super Bowl this year. Nevertheless, Lombardi Trophies aren’t hoisted on the back of preseason optimism.
If the Cowboys want to realize their dream of a sixth Super Bowl victory, they need to be vastly improved over last year’s team. Given that they were one of the youngest in the league last year, there’s reason to believe the Cowboys will improve because of the development of their roster.
If players like Michael Gallup, Chidobe Awuzie, Connor Williams and Xavier Woods take another step forward in their development, then there’s certainly reason to be optimistic about the Cowboys’ chances to make a deep playoff run.
Even so, the Cowboys are also hoping that some of the newcomers can step in and make a positive, discernible impact on the team as a whole. And just because the team didn’t make a big splash in free agency or have a first-round pick in the 2019 draft, doesn’t mean its newcomers can’t help push it over the top.
With that in mind, let’s analyze a handful of newcomers who could make a big impact in 2019.
Randall Cobb, WR
After eight seasons in Green Bay, Randall Cobb signed with the Cowboys as a free agent in the offseason.
Typically when a receiver signs with a new team, it takes time for him to develop chemistry with his new quarterback, but if training camp is any indication, Cobb’s experience and detailed route running have helped him quickly earn the trust of Dak Prescott.
The duo has connected often throughout camp and there’s every reason to believe that will continue into the regular season and beyond.
Even though injuries have sapped some of the athleticism that made him elite earlier in his career, Cobb’s detailed route-running has enabled his game to age like fine wine. The ex-Packer does an excellent job of earning separation at the top of his routes, using deception, smooth change of direction and enough explosiveness to put a gap between himself and the defensive back.
Coming into the season, there were questions as to whether the Cowboys could adequately replace Cole Beasley’s production in the slot, but Cobb quickly quieted those concerns once the pads came on. Moreover, he brings the added benefit of a downfield element to the slot receiver position — something the team didn’t get consistently from Beasley.
On top of his ability as a route runner and deep threat, Cobb should also make some hay on screens (tunnel and bubble), fly sweeps and as a return man. He has always been dangerous with the ball in his hands, and even though they aren’t allowed to tackle to the ground at camp, Cobb’s ability to create chunk yards has been evident.
Cobb’s health will likely be the biggest determining factor on the type of impact he makes once the games start to count, having played in all 16 regular-season games just twice in his career (2014-15).
But if he remains healthy, you can bet he will have a large impact on the Cowboys’ offense.
Robert Quinn, DE
Although Robert Quinn will be suspended for the first two games of the regular season, he should have a considerable impact on the defense upon his return. A fractured hand cut his camp short, but he should be fully healed by the time he returns from suspension.
Even though the coaching staff raves about Quinn’s willingness to play the run, his biggest impact will undoubtedly come as a pass rusher. His speed and hand technique around the edge have enabled him to give offensive tackles fits throughout his career.
His days of racking up 12-plus sacks are behind him, but Quinn proved last year that he’s still got enough left in the tank to give any offensive tackle fits — just see his 1.5-sack performance against Green Bay, when he beat All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari twice for sacks.
Quinn may be approaching age 30 (turned 29 in May), but he’s still got more than enough juice to threaten offensive tackles with pure speed around the edge. When you combine his speed with his effective repertoire of pass-rush moves, it becomes clear why he’s easily the second-best pass rusher on the roster.
Much like DeMarcus Lawrence, Dallas’ premier pass rusher, Quinn’s favorite pass-rush move is the cross-chop, where he brings his inside hand across his body (hence the “cross” chop) to knock down the offensive tackle’s outside hand, creating a soft corner to race around on his way to the quarterback. Quinn often finishes the cross-chop with a thunderous club move with his outside hand, attempting to capture the edge and eliminate any chance for the offensive lineman to re-leverage his hands or recover when initially beaten.
The suspension may delay his impact by a couple of weeks, but Quinn’s presence should strengthen the Cowboys’ pass rush to levels they haven’t seen since DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer in 2012.
Tony Pollard, RB
Tony Pollard wasn’t the Cowboys’ first pick in the 2019 draft, but as things stand today, he’s the betting favorite to have the biggest impact of the team’s draft class.
Pollard has impressed at every turn since becoming a Cowboy. Whether it be special teams or an increased load on offense during Ezekiel Elliott’s holdout, the team has thrown a ton of responsibility the rookie’s way and he’s taken it all in stride, dazzling the coaching staff and fans at every turn.
His best asset is his versatility, as he appears capable of producing as a traditional running back and as a receiver — both out of the backfield or in traditional receiver alignments — to go along with his ability to fit into every special teams unit.
Even though he didn’t get many opportunities to do this at Memphis, Pollard has proven to be an effective between-the-tackles runner, showing impressive vision, one-cut ability and burst, as evidenced by his touchdown run against Los Angeles.
Furthermore, despite being labeled a scat or space back, Pollard displays a little power in his game, having done a good job of continually falling forward at the point of contact.
Though Pollard has impressed with his ability between the tackles, he will always be most effective in space, where his athleticism and elusiveness make him a potent weapon.
Pollard is the type of player who can really stoke the creativity of his offensive coordinator, and if camp practices are any indication, Kellen Moore will have more than a few tricks up his sleeve when deploying the rookie running back.
Although the league is doing its best to devalue running backs given the proliferation of the passing game, Pollard is exactly the kind of talent that can carve out a valuable role in a modern offense — similar to Alvin Kamara, though it would be unfair to characterize Pollard as the same caliber of player as the New Orleans Saints running back.
Not only can Pollard be effective from traditional running back alignments, but he can also make an impact when aligned in the slot or out wide. He is a defense’s worse nightmare — too quick and explosive for most linebackers in coverage and too tough to tackle one-on-one for most defensive backs, putting defensive coordinators in quite the pickle.
The great thing about Pollard is that his versatility will allow him to make an impact even when Elliott returns because he can be used in two-running back sets when Elliott needs a breather or be flexed out as a receiver.
Many were surprised when Dallas selected Pollard in the fourth round, as most pundits had him in the fifth round (including myself) or later, but the Memphis product honestly looks like a steal at this point. He should make an impact in a variety of areas once the regular season rolls around.
Alfred Morris, RB
Alfred Morris’ value comes from the fact he provides the team with an experienced bell cow who can help carry the load in Elliott’s absence. Now, it’s likely Elliott will return to the team at some point, but there’s no guarantee his holdout won’t bleed into the season.
Even though we just finished raving about Pollard’s skill set and versatility, it wouldn’t be wise to put the entire weight of the running game on his shoulders, which is where Morris comes in.
Morris is an experienced back who’s an extremely effective ball carrier, especially on zone concepts, which leverage his patience, vision and one-cut ability.
Look no further than the fact the team held Morris out of the first preseason game as evidence of the coaching staff’s belief in him as a runner. The Cowboys know what they’re getting with Morris, and there’s no reason to add more wear to his tires in meaningless preseason games.
Even when Elliott returns, Morris can be an effective No. 3 option who spells him for a couple carries per game in an attempt to keep the star running back healthy for a late-season or playoff run, as running backs with workloads as heavy as Elliott’s tend to get worn down during the latter stages of the season.
Morris may not have the same game-in-and-game-out impact as the other players on this list, but his value as a safety blanket for the Cowboys’ running game in Elliott’s absence cannot be understated.
Trysten Hill, DT
Welcome to the NFL, Trysten Hill. The rookie defensive tackle has been going through his fair share of growing pains throughout camp and the preseason, but it’s much too early to write him off as incapable of making an impact this year or in the future.
Coming out of Central Florida, Hill was a high-variance player who vacillated from backfield penetrator to someone who can’t hold his ground at the point of attack.
When he plays with proper technique, he flashes the freakish ability that made the Cowboys’ front office and coaching staff so excited to select him in the second round. However, those snaps have been much too inconsistent up to this point.
Hill’s biggest issues come from the fact that his pad level tends to swell immediately after the ball is snapped. This saps his explosiveness off the snap and exposes his chest to blockers, and when this is combined with his tendency to play with a narrow base — something that plagued him a lot in college — it causes him to get displaced and turned by blockers too easily. When Hill tries to dance around blocks, he gets into trouble because he lacks the lateral agility to consistently be effective in those situations.
Still, despite his inconsistency, Hill’s draft slot will undoubtedly lead to him getting ample opportunities to make an impact during the regular season. And while he’s not at the point where he can be trusted to play effectively for 25-plus snaps per game, his physical traits could enable him to be effective when used sparingly or on a pitch count.
Hill is at his best when he plays with a low pad level, using his explosive hands, hips and feet to play through a blocker and penetrate the backfield. Like two-time All-Pro Geno Atkins, he needs to build his game off vertical displacement by playing through a blocker’s pads. As a pass rusher, this means Hill should build his entire pass-rush repertoire around a powerful bull rush, which leverages his explosiveness and powerful hands. When Hill plays with the proper pad level and attacks the blocker’s frame, he routinely creates movement both as a pass rusher and run defender.
If Hill can clean up the myriad of technical issues and do a better job of leveraging his physical gifts, he’ll make a big impact sooner than later.
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