Flashbacks of 2014 have been racing across our TV screens through the first 1/3 of the NFL season as the Dallas Cowboys have gotten off to an unexpected 5-1 start. With rookies scattered all over the field, especially in leadership positions to go along with a darn near nameless defense, most were hoping to be .500 at this point with thoughts of Tony Romo’s return giving the team a shot in the arm. What I’d like to talk about today are five fellas who have made massive contributions to the team’s success, but aren’t exactly being spot lighted. In no particular order:
- Defensive Lineman, David Irving: Let’s start with the reigning NFC Defensive Player of the Week. Irving played only 19 snaps against Green Bay and in his limited time was able to rack up a remarkable stat line. Four tackles, three forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, a sack, and a pass breakup. Irving jumps out at you with his size at 6’5’’ 270, but being in Rod Marinelli’s D Line rotation you’ve only seen flashes of him up to this point. The 2nd year player out of Iowa has more upside than anyone else on the defense.
- Tight End, Geoff Swaim: I know you’re asking yourself, “who?” And even after I tell you that Swaim is number 87, you’re still wondering what, exactly, he’s done as a major contributor. The answer is simple. Between Swaim, Witten, and Terrance Williams you have a crop of guys who’ve had a big hand in Ezekiel Elliott’s success as a runner. Swaim is in his 2nd year out of Texas and time and time again you can see Elliott blowing by a defender who’s handcuffed by the former Longhorn. He may not be a major threat in the passing game (though he did burn Washington on a 4th down conversion), but he’ll have a nice NFL career based on his blocking ability.
- Cornerback, Anthony Brown: Undoubtedly, without question the most underappreciated performer to this point of the season. With Orlando Scandrick nursing his hamstrings, the rookie out of Purdue has been the second most pleasant surprise this season, behind quarterback Dak Prescott. Most rookie defensive backs struggle being consistent tacklers, but not Brown. He’s been air tight in coverage and has made 32’s absence go practically unnoticed.
- Defensive Tackle, Terrell McClain: The big guys in the middle never get any love. Their job is to make others around them look good. McClain has done that while making some eye popping plays in the run game. 97 has always been a good player, but was always hampered by injuries. Now healthy, McClain can be seen blowing up plays in the backfield or holding down a blocker to allow Anthony Hitchens, Justin Durant, or Sean Lee to blow up the gap.
- Offensive Lineman, Ronald Leary: After filling in for the injured La’el Collins, I had the feeling this team would really start to click on offense once Leary was plugged in. Not that Collins is a bad player, or hurt the team. He’s just inexperienced and needs time to get his play to NFL level. Leary also brings a business like approach. No nonsense. He’s a mauler in the run game and solid in pass pro. There were talks in the pre-season about Dallas possibly trading Leary, but that was all media fluff. The Cowboys front office knew all along how valuable 65 is to this team and kept him around for this exact reason. Surrounded by three pro-bowlers, Leary might be making a case for himself to not only be a pro-bowl selection, but also to cash in on a big contract when he becomes a free agent at the end of the season.