You will begin to see a lot of roster and depth projections in the coming weeks as we ramp up for the start of the Dallas Cowboys' 2020 training camp. Today, I thought I'd look at five players who will likely be seen as backups heading into camp but who could wind up as Week One starters once it's all said and done.
There are a variety of reasons that these switches could happen. In most cases it's because the current starter hasn't been stellar, is on the decline, or perhaps has an expiring contract.
In our first case here, it has nothing to do with the current starter. It's just that new guy may simply be better.
WR CeeDee Lamb
Let's be clear; Michael Gallup is one of the better WR2s in football coming off last season. He's done nothing to lose his job.
But Dallas just spent a 1st-round pick on a guy many think was the best receiver in his draft class and has been called “the next DeAndre Hopkins” by some. As good as Gallup is, CeeDee Lamb may simply be better.
In reality, your top three receivers are all “starters” in the modern NFL. Randall Cobb played about as many snaps last year as Jamize Olawale, Blake Jarwin, and Tony Pollard combined. So even if he's still WR3, Lamb will still have a major role in the offense.
But having just paid Amari Cooper a huge contract and now having Lamb locked up for at least the next five years, Dallas may already be planning on a life without Michael Gallup. If they know that they probably won't re-sign him in 2022 when his rookie deal expires, they may even explore trading him before that time comes.
I don't think any of that will happen now, and I do expect Lamb to begin the year behind Gallup on the depth chart. But CeeDee's talent is going to make that decision way harder than you think.
C Tyler Biadasz & G Connor McGovern
Because their positions are so connected let's talk about Biadasz and McGovern together. While most have Joe Looney and Connor Williams penciled in as starter in 2020, these two newcomers will be competitive for their jobs.
McGovern isn't a rookie but is still a fresh face, having missed all of 2019 with an injury. Before he went on injured reserve, there was talk that McGovern might have ousted Connor Williams as a starting guard at some point.
Looney stepped in at center when Travis Frederick missed 2018 and is assumed to do it again now. But even though Dallas made the playoffs that year, Joe wasn't that great. He did just enough and the Cowboys could easily be looking for more.
That also could be McGovern, who played some center in college, or it could be 4th-round rookie Tyler Biadasz. If either of them outperform Looney, or at least make it a narrow margin, Dallas may go ahead and give them the job so they can further develop through playing time.
I don't expect either of these switches to happen right away. Williams is entering his 3rd season and will hopefully be growing his own game. And with the disruptions to the offseason process from COVID-19, Looney's experience will be more valuable than ever.
But Biadasz and McGovern are young talents with prestigious college careers. If they're ready for the NFL then the Cowboys could have major competitions in the works at both center and left guard.
S Donovan Wilson
This may seem like a reach, but the projected starting tandem of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Xavier Woods isn't as secure as you might think. Both are more suited to the free safety role, lacking the size (Woods) or tackling ability (Clinton-Dix) to consistently help down closer to the line of scrimmage.
Xavier is definitely willing to hit but being forced to play down in the box could be bad for his physical well-being. He's also playing on the last year of his contract and hasn't done enough yet for the Cowboys to be forced into re-signing him.
Donovan Wilson was turning heads last year but remained behind Woods and Jeff Heath as a rookie. He's got better size than Woods to play strong safety and has three years left on his contract.
You may scoff at this notion, but keep in mind that Xavier was also just a 6th-round pick in 2017. What says that Donovan can't be any better a safety prospect than Woods has been?
Also remember that we have a brand new coaching staff on defense. They won't feel as beholden to previous starters as the last one might have been.
If Donovan Wilson can build on the play-making potential we saw last August, then there's no reason he can't push for a bigger role in 2020. Maybe he and Xavier Woods would both start over Clinton-Dix, but Wilson should at least make it a conversation.
LBs Joe Thomas & Luke Gifford
Sean Lee turn 34 in a few weeks and is always one play away from missing time. Whether it's by injury or by age, could he lose ground to Joe Thomas this year?
Both Lee and Thomas were re-signed to 1-year deals to return to Dallas in 2020. It was especially surprising to see Thomas come back once they'd signed Sean, but he has history with Mike McCarthy from Green Bay and is an excellent insurance policy against Lee's health issues.
In fact, you could even throw Luke Gifford's name into this conversation. On top of being a young prospect with some intriguing skills, Gifford is bigger and perhaps more suited to play the SAM role along with Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch in the base defense.
But Thomas, like Lee, has shown the ability to handle all positions. His coverage ability would make him a sneaky player from the strong side.
The job is, of course, still Sean Lee's to lose. But even if he still has the tools to perform when healthy, who says he makes it to Week One without an injury?
Thankfully, Dallas has two good options in Thomas and Gifford if there's a need.