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Cowboys 2016 Roster: Fun With Numbers

Jess Haynie

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Cowboys Headlines - Pre-Training Camp 53 Man Roster Projection

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.

Cowboys Draft - Cowboys Should be Happy to "Settle" for Dak Prescott 1At 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.

Cowboys Blog - Tight End is a Bigger Need Than We Realize 2Dallas 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.

 



Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!

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6 Comments
  • George Jonhnson

    There is no way in God's green earth that Prescott or Showers are going to beat out Kellen Moore. The only way I can see this happening is if one of them is the next franchise QB who is a very fast learner/developer. I haven't heard anyone make this claim about Prescott or Showers. You are way under- estimating K Moore and way over- estimating Prescott and Showers knowledge and development. My understanding is if K Moore can't meet the Dallas standard for a 2nd team QB (which is unlikely) then Dallas will start looking to bring in a veteran QB to be the 2nd team QB.

    • https://insidethestar.com/ Bryson Treece

      Actually, Bryan Broaddus has consistently spoke more highly of Showers than Moore… Most of us consider him a Cowboys expert. hard to argue with him. Especially if you're like me and hate qualifying Moore's performance with things like, "he did really good for a guy of his size." It's never just good or bad with him, is it? Anyway. Just my two cents.

      • George Jonhnson

        Depends on what you mean by "more highly". Can Showers run and scramble better than K Moore? I hope so. Can Showers throw the ball harder than K Moore? No doubt. Does Showers physically look more like an NFL QB than K Moore? Absolutely. Will Showers be able to make some difficult throws in TC that Kellen Moore struggles with because of not having a real strong arm? Probably. Does Showers have more upside potential? Maybe. The same thing can be said for Prescott. On the other hand can K Moore be a better pocket passer including the cerebral/instinctive abilities than Showers and Prescott especially in game situations and especially in 2016? YES absolutely. In fact he will probably always be a way better pocket passer than Showers or Prescott. His college coach by the way said and I quote, " He is the best pocket passer I have ever seen." I assume he has seen Brady, Brees and Manning, but maybe not. K Moore was one of the all time best pocket passers in college history. It is absurd to think in 2016 Showers, a glorified rookie or sophmore who was undrafted and Prescott a rookie who was a fourth round pick, can beat out K Moore who has been in the NFL for four years, has improved each year, knows the Dallas offense/playbook well, has S Linehan's confidence/stamp of approval and has some starting experience in the Dallas offense. Dream on.

        • https://insidethestar.com/ Bryson Treece

          "More highly" was a polite way of saying he puts Showers at #2 before Moore based on practices so far this year and past experiences. And I'm leaving it right there.

    • http://PigskinHub.com/ Jess Haynie

      George, you see that word that I put in in bold and underlined text? "Surprising." That means I DON'T think it will happen. Please read more closely before you rush to post your Kellen Moore love poetry.

      • George Jonhnson

        If you don't think it will happen, why write it. I could be wrong about your motives, but it seems to me to reflect a dislike of K Moore or at a minimum under estimating K Moore and some additional wishful thinking. It is obvious to me Dallas is stuck with three or four QBs on the 53 man roster, as they will need to protect Prescott. Showers will likely end up on the practice squad. It is highly unlikely there will be two QBs on the 53 man roster.

Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys 2018 Breakout Candidates: TE Geoff Swaim

Jess Haynie

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Cowboys Headlines -  76

For the 2018 Dallas Cowboys, the retirement of Tight End Jason Witten was one of the biggest developments of the offseason. It leaves a gaping hole in their offense, and no major free agent or high draft pick was added as a clear replacement. As such, fourth-year veteran Geoff Swaim may be in line for a breakout season.

A seventh-round pick in 2015, Swaim has stuck in Dallas with strong run-blocking and special teams play. His offensive production has been limited to just nine catches and 94 yards, thanks largely to the stranglehold that Witten kept on the TE position. Geoff has only been targeted 11 times in the passing game over three seasons.

But with Witten leaving, as well as veteran backup James Hanna, Swaim is now the elder statesman of the TE group. Even his limited playing time in the NFL thus far puts him way ahead of Rico Gathers, Blake Jarwin, or rookie Dalton Schultz.

Based on reports from the offseason practices and camps, Geoff is getting the first crack at becoming the new starter. It makes sense given his experience edge, but also his proficiency as a run blocker.

The Cowboys will likely lean on Ezekiel Elliott heavily this year, particularly early in the season. The passing game will need time to find itself with Witten and Dez Bryant gone. They'll want to ease Dak Prescott into heavier workloads as he and his new receiving options get acclimated.

Geoff Swaim

Dallas Cowboys TE Geoff Swaim

Geoff Swaim will be one of those new options. And even though his reputation is for blocking, don't take that to mean he's not athletic.

We've seen Swaim on the move as a blocker and also in the passing game, and he's certainly got some wheels. That could make him a deceptive weapon on play-action and other passing plays out of running formations.

In some ways, losing Witten and Bryant makes the Cowboys' offense less predictable than in the past. Defenses will be less sure who to focus on, and that also creates opportunities for the new receivers.

Obviously, Swaim's breakout potential is dependent on Prescott looking his way. But unless Dak has undergone a major change in his playing style, a TE working in the short and middle parts of the field is someone he'll rely on plenty.

With training camp and preseason still to come, calling Geoff the starter right now is just an assumption. There is still time for one of the other prospects to impress and climb the ladder.

But right now, there's clearly no better candidate to claim the spot than Swaim. He has the most critical skill as a blocker, and his potential in the passing game is underrated. It's his job to lose.

The guy with only nine career catches could get that in a single game this year. Therefore, Geoff Swaim is clearly one of the major breakout candidates for the 2018 Cowboys.



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Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys 2018 Breakout Candidates: LB Jaylon Smith

Jess Haynie

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#DALvsIND: 5 Cowboys Storylines To Watch In Preseason Week 2 1

No single player on the Dallas Cowboys roster right now may be more primed for a breakout season than Linebacker Jaylon Smith. His ascension as a player isn't just a big gain for the Cowboys defense, but it may be vital to their success in 2018.

Smith joined the Cowboys as a high second-round pick (34th overall) in the 2016 NFL Draft. Potentially a top-five elite talent in that class, Jaylon's stock fell after a severe knee injury in his final college game. It was unknown if he could ever play football again, but Dallas took the risk based on Smith's incredible upside.

After Jaylon sat out his rookie year to fully rehab. In 2017, he was able to play all 16 games and started in six. That alone was a huge win for Smith and the Cowboys.

Jaylon's performance last year wasn't great,  but understandably so after all the missed time. He also had to regain confidence in his knee, which is critical for a linebacker with all of the directional changes during plays.

Still, Smith got better as the season went. And even amidst the struggles, there were flashes of his instincts and potential.

This offseason, reports of Jaylon's improving health are fueling increased optimism. He is now playing without a knee brace and that means more confidence. If Smith fully trusts his body now, it will make him far more dangerous on the field.

5 Positives for Cowboys Heading Into the Off-Season

Dallas Cowboys LB Jaylon Smith

With Anthony Hitchens leaving in free agency, Dallas needs Jaylon to be a bigger factor this year. If he doesn't take the next step, it could leave the Cowboys vulnerable at linebacker in 2018.

True, Dallas drafted Leighton Vander Esch in the first round of last April's draft. But it's always dangerous to ask a rookie to do heavy lifting, and especially one who is seen as a raw talent like Vander Esch.

Ideally, anything Dallas gets from Leighton this year will be gravy. Their goal is to rely on veteran Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith, with Damien Wilson also available as a solid fallback option.

But when you mention Sean Lee, you have to mention health concerns. After two encouragingly healthy seasons in 2015 and 2016, Lee was back to having some issues last year and missed five games.

That is all the more reason why Dallas needs Jaylon to be ready for more this year. If Lee misses time again, Smith is the best suited to take over the roles that Sean leaves behind.

Thankfully, all signs point to big things for Jaylon Smith in 2018. His body appears healed and there's no questioning his work ethic and desire. If the mental aspect of football has also developed, he could be everything the Cowboys hoped when they drafted them.



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Despite Late Push as Rookie, Will Taco Charlton Struggle to See Field in 2018?

Sean Martin

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Despite Late Push in Year One, Will Taco Charlton Struggle to See the Field in 2018? 1
(Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports)

It feels like ages ago that the Dallas Cowboys spent the 28th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft on Michigan Defensive End Taco Charlton. Perhaps this is a result of the constant distancing fans have made from this unpopular pick, or the corresponding moves the Cowboys have made at DE since drafting Charlton.

These moves include using the franchise tag on DeMarcus Lawrence after seeing him explode for 14.5 sacks, spending a fourth round pick this year on Kansas' Dorance Armstrong, and seeing Randy Gregory reinstated in time for training camp.

Across the entirety of the Cowboys roster, there will be plenty of "odd men out" that miss the cut down to 53 players. Defensive end remains one of the most cluttered spots on the current 90 man roster however.

Despite Late Push as Rookie, Will Taco Charlton Struggle to See Field in 2018?

Dallas Cowboys DE Taco Charlton, DT Maliek Collins (Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News)

Prior to establishing the depth the Cowboys now have up front on defense, they did Taco no favors by starting his career at right defensive end. While Gregory may still be a long way from earning the starting role here, similarly styled players like Armstrong have the edge here over Charlton.

This relegates Charlton to the strong side, where he always projected best out of college. By the time the Cowboys realized this a season ago, they also knew a franchise pass rusher was playing his way into the team's long-term plans.

Lawrence's stellar consistency off the edge reduced Charlton's role in the Cowboys rotation of pass rushers. An ideal spot for the rookie to develop with less pressure on him, Charlton's opportunities to continue playing left end may only be reduced this season.

The first-round pick is capable of kicking inside at defensive tackle, a position the Cowboys could certainly use help at. However, asking Charlton to go through another position shift would only halt the progress that took quite a bit of patience from Dallas to see.

It's far from unheard of for the Cowboys to do this with their young players, but for now Charlton remains a defensive end looking to make his impact. The Cowboys are in much better position now than they were at this time a year ago when it comes to setting expectations for him to do so.

Given everything he showed on tape at Michigan as well as in his pre-draft interviews, Charlton is a player that needs to succeed at the task at hand. When this plan is altered, the 6'6" pass rusher is much less effective -- without even considering any athletic struggles that Charlton has compared to other prototypes at defensive end.

As a unit, the Cowboys defensive line has all the pieces to be very effective this season. Taco Charlton is a piece to this puzzle, a backup left end that must find a way to flourish in this role.

For most former 28th overall picks, doing so would be considered a fall from grace. For the Cowboys, it's simply an example of strong roster building that's forced life to come at Charlton quickly. How he responds with a full season under his belt will make or break the hype this deep Cowboys defensive line has garnered, lead of course by the starter at Charlton's position in DeMarcus Lawrence.

Tell us what you think about "Despite Late Push as Rookie, Will Taco Charlton Struggle to See Field in 2018?" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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