DALLAS - This year's Cowboys team has a great deal of potential. This franchise has drafted very well in recent years, giving it a young core that is the envy of most teams in the NFL. But of all the Cowboys, who's the most important to them? Who could they least afford to lose? Four of us took a stab at this question with our own roster rankings, combined the results... and voila. Today we finish out the Cowboys players not quite in the top ten.
Previously: Our Top #20-#16 Dallas Cowboys players
#15: Jaylon Smith
Jaylon sat out his first season in the NFL due to the horrific knee injury he sustained in playing in the 2015 Fiesta Bowl. Drafted in the second round due to injury concerns, Smith was a consensus top five overall pick prior to the bowl game injury.
Slowly but surely, Smith has been making strides in his recovery, and now has onlookers buzzing in the California Sun. According to team officials, the nerve endings in his knee are finally responding and he is on track to contribute in 2017.
The Dallas defense craves a playmaker in the "Mike" spot to complement Sean Lee and stuff the run. The thought was that the Cowboys had struck gold when Rolando McClain returned from the wasteland a few years back. If Smith's work in coverage is anything like it was at Notre Dame, Jerry Jones, ever the wildcatter, may have found him some glory hole once again.
You can expect the Cowboys to treat his return carefully, so he won't start for the team at Middle Linebacker breaking camp. When Smith starts contributing regularly this season, the 2016 Dallas draft class will rival any in its storied history.
#14: Dan Bailey
Bailey tied his career long field goal distance of 56 yards on opening night last September, foreshadowing another excellent year for the robot in disguise. After making his first Pro Bowl in 2015, Bailey's Field Goal accuracy regressed from 93.3% the previous season to 84.4% in the same number of attempts (32).
Those numbers don’t tell the entire story. Bailey was a perfect 17 for 17 in field goals 39 yards or shorter and made all 12 field goal attempts when his team was trailing. While he was 7 for 9 from 40-49 yards out and 3 for 6 in attempts over 50 for the year, two of those field goals missed were in the same game against Tampa Bay in December, when he attempted six field goals overall and accounted for 12 points for the Cowboys in a 26-20 Victory.
Dan Bailey is currently second in Field Goal accuracy among active players with 89.52% over his career. Dallas trusts Bailey unequivocally to take those difficult shots, what more can you ask for in a kicker?
#13: Orlando Scandrick
If it feels like Scandrick has been on the team for forever it's because he has been. Working the nickel since being drafted in the 5th round out of Boise State in 2008, Orlando is the longest tenured member of the Cowboys defense.
To Scandrick's credit, he has shown noticeable improvement as his Cowboys tenure progressed, but injuries have plagued him his entire career. He is one of the Cowboys leading tacklers when he has been on the field, but he has made it through a full 16 games just once since 2010 and missed the entire 2015 season with ligament tears in his right knee.
The Cowboys have surrounded Scandrick with young players. Amid rumors that he is on the trading block, he will need to stay healthy to keep his starting job over the promising Anthony Brown, and with the way Brown has looked, he may not keep it anyway.
#12: Cole Beasley
We stand in the presence of Cole Slot-born of House Beasley, Khal of the Great Grass Turf, Protector of Third Downs, The Mover of Chains.
After averaging 43 receptions the previous three seasons, 'Cole World: The Sideline to Sideline Story' ran himself into a career year in 2016 with 75 receptions for 833 yards, surpassing his previous season high in receptions by 23 and eclipsing his previous yard total by almost 300.
Beasley was the Cowboys leading Receiver for 2016 with Dez Bryant missing three games, and the difference showed rather quickly. With a new quarterback in place, Beasley became Prescott's security blanket, missing out on being targeted 100 times by just two throws.
For 2017, his role on the team is set. Beasley will continue to be targeted in critical situations because he has earned it. Dez and Ezekiel Elliott pulling the defenses attention means another year of feasting in the slot. His first 1,000 yard season no longer looks impractical, it looks probable. If Dez leaves a little meat on the bone, Cole will be there to eat up.
#11: La'el Collins
Collins went undrafted in 2015 due to a then ongoing homicide investigation that he was later cleared on. The timing rendered him a liability, but he was able to dictate which team he would start his career with. There was a bidding war, and naturally Jerry won.
The Cowboys were rewarded with a player with a first round grade looking to clear any misconceptions over his character. Named the starter at Left Guard over Ron Leary early into his career, Collins lasted just three games into the 2016 season before succumbing to injury.
After Leary left for Denver in free agency and Doug Free unexpectedly retired following a decade of service, Collins received an extension that takes him through the 2019 season, Collins staying healthy will pay dividends for the line with uncertainty at Left Guard on who will break camp as the starter.
Collins has the front office firmly behind him and is entrenched at Right Tackle for the foreseeable future, but he will be 27 by the time his new deal ends, and his position change will only increase the price for the next negotiation.
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