The spiraling Dallas Cowboys need to find snaps for their younger players
Sitting at 2-7 on their bye week, the Dallas Cowboys need to start thinking about the future. That means focusing on the development of their younger players by finding them snaps wherever they can.
While the Cowboys’ record looks (and feels) bad (they are currently slated to pick third in this year’s draft), they still aren’t out of contention in the woeful NFC East as the Philadelphia Eagles lead the division with a 3-4-1 record.
Especially following a stronger than expected showing against the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers, it’s not totally outside the realm of possibility that Dallas could rattle off a couple of wins and catch up with the Eagles.
However, with an upcoming slate of opponents that includes the rest of the NFC East in addition to the Minnesota Vikings, Cincinnati Bengals, Baltimore Ravens, and San Francisco 49ers, it feels very unlikely that the Cowboys will be able to wrestle away the lead that Philadelphia has developed over the rest of the division.
So, what should the Dallas Cowboys do? Well, they need to start focusing on developing the younger players on their roster who have yet to see significant playing time. This is the only way the team can truly take stock of who they have in-house and see if some of the players they’ve previously drafted could become quality NFL contributors.
The Cowboys already took a step in this direction when they traded away edge rusher Everson Griffen to the Detroit Lions, and cut underperforming veterans like defensive linemen Dontari Poe along with cornerback Daryl Worley last month. Now it’s time to get these younger guys on the field.
Here are three players that the Dallas Cowboys should prioritize finding more snaps for:
1. Edge Rusher, Bradlee Anae
Bradlee Anae is an edge rusher out of Utah. The Cowboys drafted him in the fifth round this year and so far he’s seen limited opportunities. He’s been active for seven of the team’s nine games and has spent the bulk of his playing time on special teams while earning just six snaps on defense.
While at Utah, Anae exploded his senior year to finish second in the PAC-12 with 13 sacks, a total that nearly matched the 14.5 that he combined for during his sophomore and junior seasons. In 2018, his 7.5 sacks tied two other players for the conference lead.
He plays hard and has a high motor that ensures he always fights through the whistle. However, there were concerns that he might not have the raw athleticism necessary to become a star in the league.
It feels like every year Dallas selects a pass rusher on day three of the draft who oozes potential but needs time to develop. Charles Tapper, Joey Ivie, Jalen Jelks, Dorance Armstrong Jr., the list goes on and on. The problem is that these players rarely, if ever, get the playing time that they need to be able to grow.
Of the aforementioned players that the Dallas Cowboys have drafted since 2016, only Armstrong Jr. remains on the active roster. He’s also seen by far the most playing time, earning 29% of the team’s snaps this year rushing off the edge. The rest have all either been waived or have since retired.
The Cowboys shouldn’t make the same mistake with Anae. While edge rushers Aldon Smith and DeMarcus Lawrence have both been two of the bright spot on the Cowboys’ defense this season, and Randy Gregory has looked solid upon his return from suspension, there is still room to work in young pass rushers and give them time to develop.
The effort on Dallas’ defense has been in question all season, and a younger player with a high motor who finishes every play could help to give a spark to the rest of the roster. Anae may never become a 15 sack a year at the pro-level kind of player, and if Lawrence and Smith stay with the Cowboys and continue to play well, he won’t need to be. But the more snaps he can get now the better.