Now that the NFL Draft has come and gone, the task of projecting the 2021 53-man roster begins to take center stage. Yesterday, here at InsideTheStar.com, Senior Writer Jess Haynie took his first shot at projecting the Dallas Cowboys' active roster for the start of the 2021 season.
While projecting a roster four months ahead of time can be difficult, it gives us a basis from which to work as the team goes into OTAs, minicamp, and training camp.
Here are my thoughts on Jess Haynie's projection.
1. Special Teams Will Take Priority
CJ Goodwin isn't a player that you expect to give you high-level snaps at cornerback. Frankly, if you're having to play Goodwin at corner, you've had some terrible injury luck. But that's not why he's here. He's one of the best special teams players in the NFL and someone you have to keep on your roster simply for his prowess covering kicks.
The same could be said for Jayron Kearse, the safety the Dallas Cowboys signed this offseason. He's a strong safety by nature, playing well in the box and against the run, but he's also a really good special teams player.
On Haynie's projection, he opted to go with rookie Israel Mukuamu as the back up to Donovan Wilson at strong safety. That's certainly possible, but I think Kearse's special teams ability will push him past the rookie for the final spot on the safety depth chart.
2. The Right Two Quarterbacks
While there was a lot of discussion about bringing in a veteran to backup Dak Prescott at quarterback, I think Jess made the right decision keeping Garrett Gilbert to serve in that reserve role.
Gilbert showed in his start against the Pittsburgh Steelers that he was capable of putting together a solid performance if needed in a pinch. With Andy Dalton not yet back from injury, the Cowboys added Gilbert just before their game against the Philadelphia Eagles. Because Gilbert wasn't ready to play, the Cowboys had to start Ben DiNucci. That did not go well.
So expectations were tempered when it came to Gilbert's start against the Steelers. He was solid, going 21 of 38 for 243 yards, one touchdown, one interception, and added 28 yards on three carries. He showed poise in the pocket and the Cowboys had a lead late in that game. It took 15 points from the Steelers to pull out the win, including a touchdown with just over two minutes remaining to pull out the win.
Sure it wasn't a stellar performance, but he gave you exactly what you want from your backup quarterback; a chance to win the game.
With roster needs elsewhere, the Cowboys will likely need to go light at quarterback and keep a third backup on the practice squad.
3. Offensive Line Flexibility Incredibly Valuable
Connor McGovern's ability to play several spots along the offensive line gives the Dallas Cowboys some roster construction flexibility. Jess left the team without a true backup at center, but McGovern can play center, guard, and tackle and is a perfect backup offensive lineman for the gameday roster.
That flexibility will likely lead to a reserve role if all things are equal between he and Connor Williams. The Cowboys would likely opt to keep Williams experience on the field and McGovern's flexibility on the bench to use on the interior if they get in a pinch.
This is why Brandon Knight will get a spot on the roster even though the Cowboys brought in Ty Nsekhe to play offensive tackle as well. Knight's ability to play guard helps give the Cowboys some flexibility in the reserve roles. They can carry just eight offensive linemen to the gameday roster to allow more players at other spots.
Terence Steele is the notable absence on the 53-man roster after playing nearly the entirety of the 2020 season. It was an up and down season for him and the Cowboys may opt to let Steele continue to develop on the practice squad. His main competition for a roster spot comes from fourth-round pick Josh Ball.
4. No Fullback, No Problem
As the NFL continues down the path of passing the football, the traditional running game has evolved as well. The Cowboys, like a lot of teams in the NFL have shifted to running 11-personnel as their base offense. Therefore the fullback is getting much less run than they did even 10 years ago. In situations where the Cowboys would use a formation calling for a fullback, it's likely they would use Dalton Schultz or offseason signing Jeremy Sprinkle to act as the defacto fullback in the formation.
5. Quinton Bohanna No Matter What
As you look at the 53-man roster, it's hard to figure how they're going to be able to keep Quinton Bohanna on the roster with the depth they have along the defensive line. They've got a lot of depth on the interior as well.
Between Carlos Watkins, Brent Urban, and Neville Gallimore, they've got three guys that can help at 1-technique defensive tackle. The struggle I have with leaving Bohanna off of the 53-man roster is leaving that size and strength on the sidelines when you know the struggles that the Cowboys have had controlling to trenches. Bohanna doesn't offer much as a pass rusher, but that's not why the Cowboys drafted him.
Haynie does hedge with the possibility that Bohanna could bump a guy like Carlos Watkins off the roster with a strong training camp but states he'll have to prove it.
If I were the Dallas Cowboys and was constructing the roster, I would do whatever it took to have the rookie from Kentucky on my gameday roster. This team has struggled too much against offensive lines that are quick to the second level like the Rams, Browns, and Vikings. Bohanna would slow the offensive line's ability to climb to their second-level blocks, which allows this group of linebackers to do what they do best and that's run and hit.