I'll be releasing my pre-training camp projection for the Cowboys 53-man roster next week. As I'm working on that, I thought you might enjoy a glimpse into my thought process behind the numbers that make up the all-important 53 players.
Not to brag but I've come as close to accurately predicting the cutdowns as any Cowboys analyst I'm aware of. I believe that this is due to my system; a focus on filling pre-ordained spots rather than the pure merits of players.
A key factor in knowing what roles to fill is knowing how the Dallas Cowboys like to think. That means knowing what the collective priority and ideology of Jerry and Stephen Jones, Jason Garrett, and Will McClary tends to produce. You only get this over time; the study of their decision making.
For example, let's just look at the offense.
At quarterback, they will only keep a third player if it's for developmental purposes. If rookie Dak Prescott makes a surprising surge to beat, or at least match, Kellen Moore and Jameil Showers then Dallas may just need him and Tony Romo for Week One. They would probably release Moore and perhaps try to get Showers back to the practice squad. That would be great news for guys at other positions; a roster spot opened up.
If Ezekiel Elliott is going to be the workhorse running back then they will only need to keep three. In 2014, Dallas entered the year with just DeMarco Murray, Joseph Randle, and Lance Dunbar. There were barely any touches for Randle or Dunbar with Murray's extensive role in the offense. Elliott projects to have at least as big a role this year as Murray in 2014.
Special teams plays a huge factor in these decisions. Speaking of running backs, we used to have Phillip Tanner who was an average runner but a standout in kick return coverage. He was the kind of guy who could force the team to go long at running back. Could Darius Jackson be the same this year?
Look at how special teams impact wide receiver. We know that Dallas will have their top four; Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Brice Butler, and Cole Beasley. What if a guy like Chris Brown or Andy Jones pushes ahead of Lucky Whitehead? Needing to have Whitehead as the kick and punt return specialist would likely force Dallas to keep six receivers.
Where does that sixth spot come from? Maybe it comes from that third QB you didn't need thanks to Prescott. But as we said, that would be a surprise. So more than likely it comes from your tight end and fullback spot.
Dallas has had a true fullback the last few years but it wasn't long ago that they had one of their tight ends serve as the backfield blocker. You can be sure that James Hanna, Geoff Swaim, and Rico Gathers will get looks in the role to see if they're more effective than Rod Smith. Keeping a fourth tight end and a fullback may not fit the roster math.
As you can see, everything is connected.
You almost start to feel like Russell Crowe in “A Beautiful Mind” when you put it all out on table. You're drawing paths between positions and working everything toward a single goal, the number 53. It's the number that will dominate the thinking of these coaches and front office folks for the next seven weeks.