Cowboys poised for breakout seasons in 2020: Blake Jarwin, three others set to make the leap


As it stands, the NFL is churning along with its plan to kick off the 2020 season as scheduled. That may or may not change due to the current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, but teams like the Dallas Cowboys are simply adapting to today’s reality while hoping they still get to take the field come September. If they’re allowed to, they’ll find themselves in a crucible after finally parting ways with longtime head coach Jason Garrett and bringing in a Super Bowl-winning coach in Mike McCarthy to replace him. 

With McCarthy comes a near-full revamp of the coaching staff, along with a heavy hand in recent free agent signings, siphoning away the toxic air around the organization and pumping in an air of hopeful intrigue. Positions that were once glossed over by Garrett and his staff, namely the interior defensive line, safety position and tight end, have all been upgraded. This is all intriguing for a Cowboys team that didn’t lack for overall talent in 2019, but rather stumbled through questionable coaching decisions and the lack of potency at the three aforementioned positions.

That’s all changed now in Dallas, and these four players are champing at the bit to blast off in 2020.

2020 projection: 4 INTs, 3 FFs, 1 FR, 85 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 DEF TD

It’s easy for some to forget the fact Woods was the 191st-overall selection for the Cowboys in 2017, and mostly because he’s become a definitive NFL starter and makes his presence known on the field far more often than he doesn’t. Playing in the backfield of a takeaway-starved Dallas defense, Woods hasn’t played a single season in which he didn’t land an interception, having five in first three years — including two in each of the last couple. He’s had near misses that could’ve easily raised that tally, and Woods also logged a career-best 77 combined tackles in 2019 with 52 of them being solo. 

He now enters a contract year that will see him playing beside another proven starter in Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, and the tandem could see Woods explode in 2020. If Clinton-Dix can again find the form that made him an All-Pro safety with head coach Mike McCarthy in their time together in Green Bay, opposing teams won’t be able to avoid targeting Woods. That could legitimately lead to more interceptions, more forced fumbles (he had two in 2019 alone) and an overall banner year.

Not bad for a former sixth-round pick.

2020 Projection: 825 yards, 7 TDs

It is time. 

Those three words mean just as much now for Jarwin as they did when Rafiki uttered them to Simba. Not so coincidentally, they carry the same poignant message, because Jarwin is finally being given the nod as the team’s starting tight end in a time when they still had the option of retaining future Hall of Fame talent Jason Witten. Witten made it known he wanted to remain with the Cowboys but with the exit of Garrett came the decision by McCarthy to end the romance and promote the more athletic Jarwin, leading to the 25-year-old landing a three-year, $24.25 million contract extension this offseason. 

The team then signed blocking ace Blake Bell — fresh off of his Super Bowl win with the Kansas City Chiefs — to tandem with Jarwin and truly allow him to focus on utilizing his skills as a playmaker. Jarwin produced a career-best season in 2019 but was stifled by the oddly excessive snap count granted to Witten. He was nothing short of gracious to have had a chance to learn from one of the best to ever play the game, but the reality on the field was Jarwin had proven himself more dynamic and better at tearing off yards after the catch. That makes him a dangerous weapon for McCarthy and Kellen Moore in a West Coast capacity, because he’s always just one missed tackle from a big gainer.

Having averaged 11.8 yards per reception and a 75.6 percent catch rate, Jarwin is as much a red zone threat as he is one who can outrun linebackers and some defensive backs down the seams. All signs point to him making good on his promise, when he told CBS Sports he is “absolutely” ready to be the Cowboys go-to tight end

Jarwin is the latest evidence that an undrafted talent can force an entire culture change at a position. 

2020 projection: 600 rushing yards, 5 rushing TDs, 275 receiving yards, 3 receiving TDs, 650 KR yards, 1 KR TD

The Cowboys went through an offensive overhaul in 2019 and in his first year as offensive coordinator, Kellen Moore turned one of the most stale playbooks into a revamped one that made the offense the best in the league for much of the season. There were growing pains though, and McCarthy’s experience and injection of a more West Coast scheme — à la Hall of Famer Bill Walsh — should immediately elevate Pollard’s impact on NFL games in much the same way it’s set to do for Ezekiel Elliott. Expect fewer disappearing acts for Pollard in the Moore + McCarthy offense, and more targets as a receiver to get him into space; along with more packages that feature both Pollard and Elliott on the field. 

This will lead to increased production in Pollard’s total yards from scrimmage as opposing defenses try to figure out who’ll take the handoff, assuming it’s a handoff at all. 

Pollard’s potential as a kick returner is what’s really slated to mushroom in 2020 though, now working under the tutelage of John “Bones” Fassel, the special teams coach having been poached from the Los Angeles Rams to re-establish a dominant ST unit in Dallas. The rookie jitters that caused Pollard to be hesitant and make mistakes as a returner should be behind him now, and Fassel — who once coached Tavon Austin into being the most dominant returner in the NFL — should have no issue unlocking the full potential of a player who is only one season removed from being an absolute terror as a collegiate kick returner.

His return yardage in 2020 has the potential to be the most in Dallas since Dwayne Harris rattled off 742 in 2014.

2020 projection: 10 sacks, 30 tackles, 3 FFs, 1 FR, 26 QB hits 

Gregory tells CBS Sports he’s “mentally in the best place he’s ever been” after sitting out the 2019 season due to an indefinite suspension for the use of marijuana — albeit in a medicinal capacity to help combat mental illness. The new collective bargaining agreement has now vastly decriminalized the use of marijuana in the NFL, and Gregory wants back in, in a big way. While it’s fair to wonder if the Cowboys can depend upon him to play a full slate of games, what must be understood is — unlike the newly-signed Aldon Smith (who battles alcohol addiction) — the landscape change surrounding marijuana and the fact that’s all Gregory has ever been suspended for makes for a good reason to assume he’ll get back to playing football at a high level.

The Cowboys expect his reinstatement will be granted in 2020 and they’re looking forward to getting back an EDGE rusher who played in 14 games in 2018 and produced six sacks and two forced fumbles in only one start. Gregory will be in rotation with Tyrone Crawford and Smith (assuming Smith makes the final roster) at right defensive end opposite DeMarcus Lawrence, and next to two newly-signed All-Pro talents in Gerald McCoy and Dontari Poe. 

That’s a lot for any opposing offensive line to handle and, barring any unexpected setbacks, it’s mismatches Gregory should be able to feast upon as he did not so long ago. Entering a contract year, and doing so on much more level ground with a much more understanding NFL front office, there’s little to no reason Gregory can’t finally become the terror Jerry Jones has been waiting on. 

The 27-year-old former second-round pick told CBS Sports exclusively he’ll be “back for good” in 2020, and if all goes according to plan, that’s bad news for quarterbacks.





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