Predicting the Dallas Cowboys’ Breakout Players at 2024 OTAs and Minicamp

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The Dallas Cowboys lost a significant amount of talent early in the 2024 offseason. Veterans like Tyron Smith, Tyler Biadasz, Tony Pollard, Jonathan Hankins, and Dorance Armstrong all left in free agency, while Dallas was largely inactive in replacing them.

If the Cowboys are going to go on another postseason run in 2024, they’ll have to rely heavily on rookies like offensive tackle Tyler Guyton and center Cooper Beebe. If Dallas gets stronger rookie contributions than it did a year ago, navigating the roster turnover should be manageable.

However, if the Cowboys hope to be better than they were last season—a year that yielded 12 wins but also an early playoff exit—they’ll also need some returning players to step into bigger roles.

Tight end Jake Ferguson was exactly this sort of breakthrough player in 2023, finishing his second pro season with 761 receiving yards and a Pro Bowl nod.

With this in mind, let’s examine three Cowboys veterans who could begin their own breakout campaigns during organized team activities (OTAs) and minicamps.

WR Jalen Tolbert

We’ve been waiting to see receiver Jalen Tolbert claim a prominent role ever since he was taken in the third round of the 2022 draft. He finished his rookie season with just two catches, and while he was more productive in Year 2 (22 catches, 268 yards, 2 TDs), he still wasn’t a regular focal point of the offense.

Dallas Cowboys

That may have to change in Year 3. Dallas parted with receiver Michael Gallup early in the offseason and has done little to replace him—aside from taking Ryan Flournoy in the sixth round.

With Gallup out, Tolbert has a clear path to being the third receiver behind CeeDee Lamb and Brandin Cooks. That doesn’t guarantee that Tolbert will suddenly become a 1,000-yard receiver—tight end Jake Ferguson plays a substantial role—it should get him frequent opportunities on the perimeter.

Dallas may also be more pass-heavy than it was in 2024 since the backfield rotation seems underwhelming at best. The Cowboys replaced Tony Pollard with former starter Ezekiel Elliott, who averaged just 3.5 yards per carry with the New England Patriots last season.

Tolbert has a legitimate chance to double his statistical output from a year ago, and he should start to garner some attention during offseason workouts.

Edge Sam Williams

Dallas used a 2022 second-round pick on pass-rusher Sam Williams, who had four sacks as a rookie and 4.5 sacks in 2023.

While Williams has shown incremental growth as a player since entering the league, he could be in store for a big jump this offseason. The departures of Armstrong and Dante Fowler Jr. should open up a significant role in the pass-rushing rotation behind Micah Parsons and DeMarcus Lawrence.

Rookie second-round pick Marshawn Kneeland will certainly get the opportunity to compete for playing time, but Williams has a big edge in experience. Expect the competition between the two to be a major storyline during OTAs and minicamp.

While Williams was recently arrested for possession of a controlled substance and unlawful carrying of a weapon, the Cowboys don’t believe it will limit his availability in 2024.

“I don’t anticipate this impacting his time on the field,” franchise owner Jerry Jones said, per the Associated Press. “I do have all of the details, and there’s some lessons to be learned there for everybody.”

If Jones is correct, Williams will have a chance to solidify himself as Dallas’ No. 3 edge-rusher this season.

DT Mazi Smith

2023 first-round pick Mazi Smith had a very subdued rookie campaign. The Michigan product struggled to get on the field and finished with just 13 tackles and a sack. He played a mere 28 percent of the defensive snaps.

However, Smith came out of college as a project, and new defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer has a plan for unlocking his potential. It involves Smith putting on weight and performing as more of a block-eating defensive tackle than a penetrator.

“We’re gonna probably play blocks a little bit more, and try not to get reached so linebackers know where they’re supposed to fit,” Zimmer said, per Patrik Walker of the team’s official website. “It’s what he did in college.”

Putting Smith in a more natural role should increase his efficacy on the field. The second-year defender should also have more opportunities to get on the field. With Hankins and Neville Gallimore both gone, Smith has a chance to step into a starting role.

Expect Smith to showcase that new role, and how he fits into Zimmer’s overall defensive game plan, in the coming months.


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