Player development: Best candidates for a breakout season

The addition of impactful talent doesn’t just automatically happen when players are acquired in the draft or free agency. It must also include the development of young players- taking your draft picks and refining them into good NFL players. The Cowboys the last several seasons have become not only one of the better drafting teams in the league, but also one of the better developers of NFL talent. Development is part coaching and part having patience.

Every year, a young player or two emerges from the shadows and becomes a breakout player. I would define a “breakout player” as a someone who has never played a big role with the team who becomes either a starter or role player with impact. Recent examples include Cedee Lamb in 2020, Tony Pollard, Cedric Wilson, Travon Diggs and Terrance Steele in 2021, Tyler Smith, DaRon Bland and Dorrance Armstrong in 2022.

So…Who will emerge this year as the Cowboys’ breakout players who will have impact? Here are my candidates:

  • Sam Williams– he had a good rookie season with 4 sacks and 9 QB hits. And that was accomplished while only playing about 15 snaps a game. He needs to add some off-field maturity as exemplified by his car accident last year. But his talent is obvious. He could be a major upgrade in the pass rush this year.
  • Jake Ferguson- last year’s 4th round pick had a decent rookie year with 19 receptions and 2 TDs. I expect to see major growth in year two, probably doubling his receptions and TDs. The trio of Ferguson, rookie Like Schoonmaker and last year’s UFA surprise Peyton Hendershot, the TE position can be a real strength.
  • Matt Waletzko- a shoulder injury kept him sidelined last year. If he’s healthy, stronger, and has learned more about adjusting to the NFL game, Waletzko could be a key role player for the OL this year.
  • Deuce Vaughn– I know many fans see him as too small and a long shot to even make the team. That could happen. But having seen Deuce play for KState numerous times, I think he can be an impactful player by mid-season.

Who’s on your list of breakout players this year and why?

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