5 Cowboys who need to show drastic improvement in 2024

The Dallas Cowboys are going to lean heavily on these five players, who need to show improvement in 2024
Dallas Cowboys, Mazi Smith
Dallas Cowboys, Mazi Smith / Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

On the heels of their third consecutive 12-5 campaign, the Dallas Cowboys are entering a vital year. They've had success in the regular season but under the bright lights of the playoffs, things have been a disaster.

That's the main reason head coach Mike McCarthy enters the year without job security. He's in the final year of his contract and it's a fair assumption to expect playoff success to be the only way he gets an extension.

Dallas also has Dak Prescott and CeeDee Lamb entering their final year under contract and have yet to make much headway with either. Clearly, they want to see how this team performs under this pressure before backing up the Brinks truck for everyone.

If the Cowboys are going to finally make that leap, they need more than just Prescott and Lamb to shine. They also need role players to step up, such as these five who need to show improvement in 2024.

Dallas Cowboys, Jalen Tolbert
Dallas Cowboys, Jalen Tolbert / Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Jalen Tolbert, Wide Receiver

A third-round pick in 2022, Jalen Tolbert was a non-factor as a rookie. He showed marked improvement in 2023, finishing with 22 receptions for 268 yards and two touchdowns. Tolbert stepped up his game as the year went on, even taking snaps from a struggling Michael Gallup.

This year, he will be the No. 3 wideout from the start with Gallup no longer in the picture. That means the offense will rely on him more than ever and he's going to have to answer the call to keep the passing game from going stagnant.

Damone Clark, Dallas Cowboys
Damone Clark, Dallas Cowboys / Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Damone Clark, Linebacker

Dallas's linebacking corps was a problem last year. Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer aims to correct this issue and hopes the addition of veteran Eric Kendricks and rookie Marist Liufau will help.

Even if they live up to expectations, the Cowboys need Damone Clark to improve this season. He fell from the 38th ranked linebacker in 2022 to 54th in 2023. His numbers were fine as he racked up 109 tackles but Clark needs to make more impact plays, especially after Leighton Vander Esch decided to retire.

Dallas Cowboys, Terence Steele
Dallas Cowboys, Terence Steele / Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Terence Steele, Right Tackle

Once an inspirational story, Terence Steele is now a cautionary tale. A former undrafted free agent, Steele developed into one of the top right tackles in the game. Sadly, he suffered a torn ACL late in 2022, ending his breakout campaign early.

Despite coming off the surgery, the Cowboys signed Steele to a five-year extension worth $86.8 million. Steele struggled mightily during his first year under the extension and needs to bounce back in 2024.

Dallas Cowboys, Rico Dowdle
Dallas Cowboys, Rico Dowdle / Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Rico Dowdle, Running Back

A surprise contributor in 2023, Rico Dowdle took advantage of the opportunity afforded by the departure of Ezekiel Elliott.

Dowdle had just 24 yards on even rushing attempts entering the season and finished with 361 yards on the ground and 144 through the air. He scored four touchdowns on the year and should be the RB2 once again in 2024. However, Elliott is back and he's not the same player he was during his prime. That means Dowdle could be their best shot at having a strong rushing attack this year.

Dallas Cowboys, Mazi Smith
Dallas Cowboys, Mazi Smith / Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Mazi Smith, Defensive Tackle

For all the good Dan Quinn did during his tenure, his plan with Mazi Smith was unbelievably misguided. He took a 330-pound nose tackle who excelled in this role at Michigan and asked him to lose 30 pounds. He then put Smith at the 3-tech, where he never found his footing.

Entering his second season, Smith is returning to his natural position. The problem is that Dallas has him penciled in as the starter with no threat to take him place should he struggle. That means if they're going to find any success on defense this year, they need Smith to rise to the challenge.


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Randy Gurzi

RANDY GURZI

Arizona State grad