This week, the Dallas Cowboys reporting for training camp means the NFL season is right around the corner. Fans will finally get to see the Cowboys play real football for the first time since their playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers.
The Dallas roster that took the field in the playoffs looks very different from what will be in training camp. Randy Gregory, Amari Cooper, La’el Collins, Connor Williams, and Greg Zuerlein are all members that played prominent roles and are no longer with the team.
Production like that has to be replaced somehow. Thankfully, stars like linebacker Micah Parsons and cornerback Trevon Diggs became cornerstones for the Cowboys’ defense. The front office is also putting a lot of faith in a younger, more inexperienced receiving core. The biggest question now is which players will elevate their game heading into the new season? Here are three Dallas Cowboys players who are poised for a breakout season in 2022.
Jonathan Garibay, Kicker
When the Cowboys decided to move on from Greg Zuerlein in the offseason, the decision was met with resounding acceptance from the fan base. It was not just a move owner Jerry Jones and Co. made without some reasoning.
According to Pro Football Focus, Zuerlein was tied for 10th among kickers last season in field goals made and PATs. The 10-year veteran will always be remembered in Dallas for being consistently inconsistent for two seasons.
Enter the undrafted rookie free agent kicker out of Texas Tech, Jonathan Garibay. The former Red Raider was 15-of-16 in field goal attempts last season and 49-of-50 in PATs. He also had a 62-yard game-winning kick against Iowa State.
Kickers are not often the topic of conversation when talking about breakout stars, but the position is vital for this team. The Dallas offense allows their kicker to score in extra points or field goal attempts. The Cowboys had 65 red-zone attempts, with only 41 being for touchdowns. Zuerlein scored 82.9% of his field goals, ranking 25th in the NFL. A truly unacceptable number for a former All-Pro.
Being able to capitalize in field goal range is what the All-Big 12 first-team kicker was brought in to do. As one of the best kickers in the FBS last season — being 14 of 14 on kicks within 50 yards — it will be his job to lose. As Lirim Hajrullahu is the only other placekicker on the roster.
The last time the Cowboys started an undrafted rookie free agent kicker was Dan Bailey, and it worked out well for them. Garibay looks to follow in those footsteps.
Dante Fowler, defensive end
Jerry and Stephen Jones were prepared to give Randy Gregory a five-year $70 million deal with about $28 million guaranteed. Both sides reportedly agreed upon the deal until the star pass rusher decided to pivot and sign with the Denver Broncos for the same contract.
Regardless of how it went down with Gregory, the Cowboys were in the market for signing pass rushers. Dallas did re-sign free agent Dorance Armstrong, but there needed to be more proven depth at the position.
The Cowboys decided to take a chance on pass rusher Dante Fowler. The former first-round pick does have familiarity with the defensive scheme. Defensive Coordinator Dan Quinn worked with Fowler at the University of Florida and signed with the Atlanta Falcons when Quinn was the head coach in 2020. Unfortunately, Quinn was let go after going 0-5 and never had a full season to work with Fowler.
Now the former Florida Gator is back with Quinn in his system and is excited to get to work.
Fowler’s contract is also team-friendly for just one-year worth $3 million. Even though he is not making top-of-the-market money, fans should expect elite production on the field.
Over the past two seasons, Fowler has had 7.5 sacks in just 19 starts. Injuries have affected his decline in production, but Fowler did register 11.5 sacks in 2019 with the Los Angeles Rams. Quinn was able to get the best out of Gregory last season. If he can do the same for his former recruit, fans should expect Fowler to have a dominant season.
Tony Pollard, running back
It is no secret that running back Ezekiel Elliott is not the same player he was in 2016. It took until the final game of the season for the former All-Pro to rush for over 1,000 yards. Since his rookie season, Elliott’s rushing yards per game have been steadily declining from 108.7 to 58.9 in 2021.
The Cowboys need an explosive runner in the backfield, and Tony Pollard should capitalize on that this season. Last year was Pollard’s best season to date. He totaled 719 rushing yards and 337 receiving yards. Now his touchdown total is not jumping off the page, but what does is his rushing yards per game from 2020 to 2021.
Pollard did look like the better running back in certain games last year on the team. The fourth-year back increased his average from 27.2 yards to 47.9 yards. Now more opportunities should increase that average, but only if the player performs well on Sundays.
The coaching staff is also starting to notice Pollard’s talent on the field. Head coach Mike McCarthy will use Pollard in other ways on offense to get his hands on the ball. During mandatory minicamp, Pollard took reps at wide receiver, and McCarthy said he “looks very natural” at the position.
As the backup running back enters the final year of his contract, he is open to any opportunity to help his team and remain a productive player on offense. “I mean I’m open to anything ya know, just being on the field and being able to make the most of my opportunities. If I have to line up in the slot a little more, whatever it takes, I’m ready to do it.”