The Cowboys’ third preseason game on Saturday in Arizona will be a great chance to see Monte Kiffin’s first-team defense in action for an extended period. The Cardinals had the worst offense in the NFL last year, but they’ve brought in a few pieces to turn things around, including quarterback Carson Palmer. The Cowboys’ toughest task will be defending Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd on the outside. Thus, the three defensive players to watch this week all play in the secondary.
CB Morris Claiborne
I believe Claiborne is on the verge of a breakout season. He actually played decent football as a rookie, allowing 1.21 yards per snap that he was in coverage. I think that mark will drop to around 1.10 yards per snap in 2013, which would likely rank Claiborne in the top 15 in the NFL. I also have him projected at four interceptions, which might be a floor for the play-maker in a much more cornerback-friendly defensive scheme this year.
It will be interesting to see how Claiborne stands up to Arizona’s physical wide outs. Kiffin’s scheme should allow Claiborne to be more physical at the line this year, but it’s the big, strong receivers like Fitzgerald who stand to give the cornerback the most trouble. Even at his increased weight, Claiborne is still just 5-11, 190 pounds.
S J.J. Wilcox
Wilcox really stepped up last week with a bunch of tackles and a big interception in the end zone. The safety out of Georgia Southern really responded well to adversity after showing poorly in the Hall of Fame game.
On Saturday, watch to see how Wilcox performs when deep. We know he’s best in the box, but it’s how he fares when in the deep half that will dictate his future in the NFL.
CB B.W. Webb
Webb has probably been the worst defensive player on the team thus far through camp. He has reportedly been poor in practice and, through just two games, he’s already been targeted 13 times. Webb has allowed a catch on 10 of those throws, giving up 94 yards in the process.
Because of his quickness, I like Webb’s prospects as a slot cornerback down the line. Right now, though, he needs to prove that he even belongs on the team.
Jonathan Bales is the founder of The DC Times. He writes for DallasCowboys.com and the New York Times. He's also the author of Fantasy Football for Smart People: How to Dominate Your Draft.