Cowboys players who need to step up in 2024, from Micah Parsons to Jalen Tolbert


One thing that was made clear a couple of months ago when the Green Bay Packers obliterated the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium is that for the Cowboys to reach their goal of winning a Super Bowl — let alone end the near-three-decade drought of reaching a conference title game — they need to be better.

One thing that was made clear in the past couple of weeks is that for the Cowboys to be better, much of the upgrades have to come internally. For some players, that might mean elevating their role. For others who already exist in a role with the brightest spotlight, it might mean taking their game to the next level.

Let’s look at the players who need to step up in 2024 for the Cowboys to have any chance at a successful start to 2025.

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With Parsons, it’s not how much better he needs to play but when he needs to be at his best.

As a rookie in 2021, Parsons had a blistering stretch from Week 9 through Week 14 in which he registered at least one sack in six consecutive games, including three multi-sack games. In his final four games, including the wild-card round against the San Francisco 49ers, Parsons had one total sack, which came in a 56-14 Week 16 win over the Washington Commanders.

In 2022, Parsons had 12 sacks in the first 11 games, by virtue of six two-sack games. In the final eight games, including two playoff games, Parsons had a total of 2 1/2 sacks. Last season, Parsons had at least one sack in nine of the first 13 games, including a couple of multi-sack games. Including the Packers playoff debacle, Parsons had 1 1/2 sacks in his final five games.

Whether it’s staying fresh late in the season or staying mentally sharp, the Cowboys need Parsons to be a bigger factor on the bottom line when the stakes are the highest, regardless of how the game is being called around him. This will be one of the primary tasks for new defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer to facilitate.

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Micah Parsons has 40 1/2 sacks in his first three seasons in the NFL. (Gregory Fisher / USA Today)

Two things are true regarding Prescott from last season: He finished as the runner-up in league MVP voting, and he was a main character in arguably the worst postseason loss in franchise history.

Prescott will be 31 the next time he takes a snap in a game. The patience many outside the organization had in his early days has been fading each season. Signing his first lucrative deal expedited that sentiment a few years ago, and Prescott is now looking for a second monster contract. No matter what Jerry or Stephen Jones says, the fact the Cowboys seem content to even explore the idea of Prescott playing out the final year of his deal shows patience inside the organization is fading too.

When a drought of success extends as long as it has for the Cowboys, the quarterback (and coach) often get saddled with sins of the past. At this point, though, Prescott’s shortcomings are his own, and the sentiment that he’s a regular-season quarterback who crumbles under pressure won’t go away until tangible postseason success is achieved.

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Despite back-to-back seven-plus-sack seasons, the Cowboys were content to let Dorance Armstrong walk to a division rival. Veteran pass rusher Dante Fowler Jr. departed in free agency, too.

The Cowboys have a stud pass rusher in Parsons who demands a lot of the opponent’s attention, and a veteran in DeMarcus Lawrence who is still an effective disruptor. They need a player to step up and be a respectable force who can take advantage of favorable matchups and get to the quarterback while also not being a liability in run defense.

Williams has flashed potential, but the second-round pick from 2022 hasn’t had the unfiltered opportunity on defense like the one he’s in line to get in 2024. Williams needs to elevate those flashes into consistent production and leave behind the boneheaded mistakes, on and off the field.

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Maybe it’s premature to put Bass on this list right now because the Cowboys still have the NFL Draft to fill a couple of gaping holes on the offensive line. Bass might even enter the season as a reserve, but no matter the situation, if the Cowboys can feel confident about Bass in the interior of the offensive line next season, it could open more options.

Perhaps the Cowboys will draft their left tackle of the next decade in April, but if not, it’ll be a lot easier to move Tyler Smith to left tackle if Bass is a capable option at left guard. The starting center for 2024 is likely to arrive in the draft, but should there be any hiccups, shuffling things around will be an easier task if Bass is seen as a viable option instead of a contingency plan.

If you’re a jaded Cowboys fan, you’re probably done hearing about Overshown’s talent based on a few coaches speaking highly of him and some good training camp and preseason reps. It’s understandable to want to see something, anything, in meaningful action before buying in.

That being said, the Overshown hype inside the organization is real, and the belief that his talent can translate to regular-season games is real too. Overshown is coming off a major injury, but a torn ACL is hardly a death sentence anymore. By all accounts, Overshown is rehabbing well and should be ready at some point in training camp.

Despite signing Eric Kendricks, linebacker is a huge position of need for the Cowboys, and Overshown’s emergence could go a long way in filling that void.

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Unfortunately for the Cowboys, Michael Gallup never regained his form following a late 2021 knee injury. There’s no question about what CeeDee Lamb is capable of, and Brandin Cooks was finally coming along as the season progressed and Mike McCarthy’s system became more established. In today’s NFL, an effective third wide receiver isn’t just a depth piece but a part of the formula.

Tolbert showed improvements in 2023 after a rough rookie campaign in 2022, but it was in a sheltered role on offense. Much of the encouraging progress for Tolbert last season was on special teams. As the No. 3 receiver, Tolbert will not only be part of the offense to begin with but will also be the first point of elevation should Lamb or Cooks miss time. If you factor in Jake Ferguson, Tolbert, on a fully healthy roster, could be the No. 4 option in the passing game in an offense that relies on the aerial attack and doesn’t have a fortified solution in the running game.

Obviously, other players also need to step up. Terence Steele, more than a year removed from his injury, needs to be better. Trevon Diggs, who is returning from a torn ACL, needs to get back to his old self. Beyond the players, Zimmer needs to solve the run defense and improve overall too. McCarthy has to be better.

The roster will be a fluid situation in the coming months, with the draft being the main source of talent influx, but the remaining free agents and the post-June 1 market each play a role in improving the team. No matter what the Cowboys do in these windows, some of the main avenues to improve will be from players already on the roster.

(Top photo of Sam Williams: Lauren Leigh Bacho / Getty Images)





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