Three down-roster players from 2023 looking at a breakout year in 2024

Since January, we’ve focused almost exclusively on the new talent the Cowboys acquired, first via free agency in March (ha ha ha), then via the draft in April, and most recently via college free agent signings. And while it’s great fun to contemplate what all these shiny new toys will bring to the Cowboys, it’s also easy to lose sight of another great source of talent for the Cowboys in 2024: the young guys already on the team.

It is a widely held belief that NFL players take a quantum leap in performance from their rookie season to their second season. After all, they’ve been through their first full season, they’ve been through an NFL-level offseason strength & conditioning program (even if surgeries complicated that for some players), they’re hopefully much more familiar with the playbook, and they’ve had ample time to improve their technique.

But that belief usually only applies to higher-round draft picks. For bottom-roster guys, that leap in performance sometimes doesn’t happen until their third or fourth year in the league – if at all.

  • Barry Church, for example, signed as an undrafted free agent by the Cowboys in 2010, and started just four games over his first three years in the league before emerging as a starter for the Cowboys in 2013. Church went on to start four seasons for the Cowboys and then tagged on two more years as a starter in Jacksonville.
  • Tyrone Crawford, a third-round pick in 2012, didn’t start a single game in his rookie season and missed his second season with an Achilles tear. Crawford then started 74 of a possible 80 games from 2014-2018 before another injury cut short his 2019 season.
  • More recently, 2019 sixth-round pick Donovan Wilson played just 18 defensive snaps in his rookie season before emerging as a starter at safety in his second NFL season and has started 43 of 55 games since.
  • Similarly, Dalton Schultz (fourth round, 2018) played sparingly in his first two NFL seasons with just 13 receptions over two years, but emerged as a starter in his third season with the Cowboys, tagged on two more starter seasons on top of that and then left for Houston.

Today, we’re going to ask you to nominate your Breakout Player for 2024. But before you start rattling off the names of recent first- or second-round picks, the players you select have to fit a very specific profile.

The now defunct Football Outsiders used to release a list of Top 25 Prospects annually in which they nominated the 25 players they thought most likely to have a breakout year. To qualify as a Breakout Player, the following criteria had to be met:

  • Drafted in the third round or later, or signed as a college free agent
  • On the roster in 2023
  • Entered the NFL between 2021 and 2023
  • Fewer than 500 career offensive or defensive snaps
  • Age 26 or younger in 2024.

To take the guesswork out of which players do or don’t match the criteria above, here’s a list of all players that qualify as a Breakout Player candidate by this admittedly limiting definition.

Name Age on
Games Games
Drafted (tm/rnd/yr)
NFL Starting Experience
Nahshon Wright 26 CB 3 32 3 269 Dallas / 3rd / 2021
Israel Mukuamu 24 S 3 33 3 248 Dallas / 6th / 2021
Peyton Hendershot 25 TE 2 25 3 457 Dallas / UDFA /2022
Brock Hoffman 25 C 2 20 2 221 Cleveland / UDFA /2022
T.J. Bass 25 G 1 17 2 343 Dallas / UDFA /2023
Juanyeh Thomas 24 S 1 16 1 190 Dallas / UDFA /2023
NFL Game Experience
Josh Ball 26 OT 2 13 0 41 Dallas / 4th / 2021
Matt Waletzko 24 T 2 4 0 8 Dallas / 5th / 2022
Asim Richards 23 OL 1 8 0 39 Dallas / 5th / 2023
Deuce Vaughn 22 RB 1 7 0 61 Dallas / 6th / 2023
Jalen Brooks 24 WR 1 7 0 77 Dallas / 7th / 2023
Malik Davis 25 RB 2 15 0 79 Dallas / UDFA /2022
Hunter Luepke 24 RB 1 17 0 153 Dallas / UDFA /2023
Tyrus Wheat 24 DE 1 12 0 31 Dallas / UDFA /2023
Princeton Fant 25 TE 1 2 0 0 Dallas / UDFA /2023
No NFL Experience
DeMarvion Overshown 24 LB 1 0 0 0 Dallas / 3rd /2023
John Stephens 25 TE 1 0 0 0 Dallas / UDFA /2023
David Durden 25 WR 1 0 0 0 Dallas / UDFA /2023

This is not a particularly awe-inspiring list, and frankly, most players listed here will struggle to make the 53-man roster this year, never mind warrant consideration as breakout players. Nevertheless, here are three players that probably have the best chance of seeing considerable playing time in 2024:

OC Brock Hoffman: With the departure of Tyler Biadasz in free agency, Hoffman briefly made headlines when the mothership “reported” Brock Hoffman was ready to ‘be that guy’ at center in 2024. That of course was before the Cowboys drafted Cooper Beebe, whom many have now penciled in at center. The job is Hoffman’s to lose, and we’ll have all of training camp to figure out who’ll get the nod at center.

LB DeMarvion Overshown: To have Overshown, coming off an ACL tear and with zero NFL snaps, near the top of this list probably says more about the quality of this list than about Overshown himself. Still, he has his third-round pedigree and a paper thin depth chart at linebacker going for him. And he did impress in last year’s training camp.

TE John Stephens: Stephens suffered a torn ACL in the same pre-season game as Overshown. Up until that point the UDFA had a very impressive training camp and was as close to a roster lock as an UDFA can be at that point.

Stephens, a converted wide receiver from Louisiana and TCU, flashed serious potential during training camp to the point it seemed improbable the Cowboys would cut him next week and risk exposing him to waivers. As he works to grow as a blocker, his overall developmental upside is considered as high as any member of the club’s rookie class.

Over to you: From this list above, who would you pick as your 2024 Breakout Player for the Dallas Cowboys?


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