Dallas Cowboys: 3 sleepers who could surprise in 2021

Dallas Cowboys linebacker Francis Bernard (Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports)
Dallas Cowboys linebacker Francis Bernard (Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports) /

Following the coaching changes that the Dallas Cowboys have made this offseason, most notably the hiring of Dan Quinn as defensive coordinator, speculation about how these moves might impact the team’s performance has run rampant.

While most of the talk seems to surround the defensive scheme, the impact on starters, free agency, and the upcoming draft, there’s been little said about those unknown players who might benefit from the change.

With that in mind, here are three young sleepers we believe could wake up in 2021 following these recent coaching changes.

Bradlee Anae, DE

When Utah pass rusher Bradlee Anae fell to the Cowboys in the fifth round of the 2020 NFL Draft, it was viewed as a potential steal. After all, the then 21-year old was coming off an impressive senior season where he racked up 41 total tackles, 14.0 tackles for loss, and 13.0 sacks.

Unfortunately, under the previous defensive coordinator, Mike Nolan, and defensive line coach, Jim Tomsula, Anae rarely saw the field as a rookie playing in only seven games and recording a total of six defensive snaps. Limited to mostly special teams duties in his first year, the hiring of Quinn could coincide with the emergence of Anae, one of the top pass rushers in last year’s draft class.

Reggie Robinson II, DB

This one baffled Cowboy fans all last season. After using a 2020 fourth-round selection on Tulsa defensive back Reggie Robinson II, Dallas didn’t allow him to make his regular-season debut until Week 13. And he would only play on special teams. That’s despite the team having needs at both the cornerback and safety positions all year long.

Clearly, the previous defensive regime in Dallas didn’t think Robinson was ready for primetime, even after they switched him from cornerback to safety. Teaching didn’t appear to be a strong point for this coaching staff last season and it certainly didn’t do their rookies any favors.

With different coaches now in place, perhaps the team’s new secondary coach and defensive passing game coordinator, Joe Whitt Jr., will be able to take full advantage of the skills and potential Dallas clearly saw in the versatile Robinson that resulted in him being a fourth-round pick just last year.

Francis Bernard, LB

It can be argued that not a single player shined more in training camp last year than rookie linebacker Francis Bernard. And that was after going through a virtual-only offseason training program and participating in zero preseason games. Unfortunately, the linebacker position in Dallas was already stacked with talent before the Cowboys signed the Utah product as an undrafted free agent.

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Francis Bernard was able to crack the active roster and played 13 games for the Dallas Cowboys as a rookie. But the depth chart only allowed him to play seven defensive snaps all season. While the 25-year old earned his bones on special teams, playing 48% of those snaps, perhaps the coaching shakeup in Dallas will grant the undersized linebacker (6-1, 235) more opportunities to shine in his second season.