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Cowboys to Camp: Top 5 'Step-Up' Candidates on Dallas Roster

The Dallas Cowboys were one of eight teams with five or more Pro Bowl players in 2022. Some who didn't make it still look to make large impact on the team's success this season.

Being a player for the Dallas Cowboys brings extreme media attention with it. "America's Team" had five Pro Bowl players in 2022, being just one of eight teams with that recognition.

The star players such as Micah Parsons, Trevon Diggs and Dak Prescott usually are at the forefront of the conversation when the Cowboys are discussed. However, there's a handful of players who need more appreciation for this team's success. ... and who have a "step-up'' chance to move into the spotlight this season:

5) Kelvin Joseph, cornerback

Most of the stories regarding Joseph this offseason have been less than positive. Joseph was thrown into national headlines in April when he was identified as a passenger in a vehicle involved in a drive-by shooting. Since, the media and fans have wondered if disciplinary action would fall upon Joseph, leaving a hole in terms of competition at the cornerback spot for Dallas.

Nonetheless, Joseph and the team are just focused on moving on ahead from the incident.

"Based off the information that we’ve been given, we felt it was important to support him, and he’s been here everyday. He’s been having a pretty productive offseason so far," Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy says.

In his NFL debut last season, Joseph gave negative two yards on five targets, while posting impressive film.

If he can stay out of trouble - and if he can accelerate into a real competition with solid first-teamer Anthony Brown - Joseph has the athleticism and skills to make an impact this season across from Diggs.

4) Malik Hooker, safety

In a career plagued with injuries, Hooker played a career high 15 games and 446 snaps for Dallas last season. When he did play, he showed flashes of his ability as well. Hooker posted 44 tackles and an interception in his time with Dallas last season, and impressed McCarthy with his versatility.

"He definitely has the ball skills that you’re looking for, but the thing with Malik is the ability to play up and back. It’s something that I wasn’t 100 percent sure of, just because of the way he played in Indianapolis and he had all the injuries. But he’s become very diverse," McCarthy says.

If Hooker can stay healthy, he has the chance to continue to display the ball skills and diversity that Dallas so heavily covets.

3) Dorance Armstrong, defensive end

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With the departure of defensive end Randy Gregory in free agency, a "war daddy" is required across from Demarcus Lawrence. Armstrong has shown in flashes that he might have the ability to be just that for Dallas.

He posted five sacks last season in just a rotational role for Dallas, and Bleacher Report identified him as Dallas's best kept secret earlier this offseason (and he's thought of as a "best-kept secret'' by some. Armstrong was also second on the entire team in pressures and hurries last season, only behind Parsons.

Rookie Sam Williams is in play here. So is newcomer vet Dante Fowler. But with an expanded snap count and increased opportunities, Armstrong has the ability to be a legitimate contributor on the defense.

2) Michael Gallup

With Pro Bowl wide receiver Amari Cooper now gone, 104 targets have been cleared from the Dallas offense. Enter Michael Gallup.

Gallup played in just eight full games last season due to injury issues, but he made an impact when on the field.

When speaking about Gallup in the past, team quarterback Dak Prescott has been forthright.

“That’s a guy I’ve always counted on,” Prescott said.

With expectations of an increased role in the offense this season, Gallup will look to rack up numbers and rake in receptions from Prescott. Yes, he is expected to miss the start of the season as he rehabs from knee surgery, but he'll be a sneaky contributor for this offense after.

1) Jayron Kearse, safety

Perhaps nobody was more under-appreciated last season on the Cowboys than Jayron Kearse. He posted the lowest missed-tackle rate among all safeties last season, posted two interceptions and double-digit pass deflections. Yet, he doesn't seem to get his recognition.

"He’s given us tremendous flexibility, and the matchup capabilities he gives us, the position flex is outstanding. I’ll be honest with you. The guy’s got great ball skills, too," McCarthy said. "Long levers and his instincts and awareness, smart, tough."

Despite leading Dallas in tackles with 101 tackles, having the league's lowest missed tackle rate and having 10 pass deflections alongside highlight plays like this, he wasn't even a Pro Bowl selection last season. Let the league continue to sleep on Jayron Kearse; he'll soon wake them up. 

Expect Kearse to be a major contributor to the Dallas defense this season - and the No. 1 "step-up'' guy at camp.