We have 26 spots left for the defense after projecting the offensive and special teams positions, which you can see using the link above. As a reminder, we’re not including suspended players (DeMarcus Lawrence, Randy Gregory) or players expected to start the year on the PUP list (rookie Jaylon Smith).
DE: Benson Mayowa, David Irving, Charles Tapper, Ryan Russell,
Jack Crawford (5)
All of these guys should be on the Week One roster. Some have position flexibility like Irving and Crawford, so they may be playing more DT than DE in the long run. However, I would expect them to get more run on the outside during the Lawrence and Gregory suspensions.
The big question is who stays on the roster when the suspensions are over. Four weeks is a long time so injuries may settle the issue over performance. Right now I’d assume that Russell will be on the chopping block unless he shows a lot of development from his rookie year. Crawford, who turns 28 in September, could be a fall guy due to age despite his versatility and value.
DT: Tyrone Crawford,
Cedric Thornton, Maliek Collins, Terrell McClain (4)
If Terrell McClain were to ever stay healthy and play then he could push for a starting job in the base defense. He has the power to play the one-technique but enough explosiveness to try and rush the passer. Dallas has been paying his medical bills for a while and wants to get something for their trouble, but McClain will have to have a rare streak of good health to stick around.
It is very possible that Tyrone Crawford could end up starting the season as the strongside defensive defensive end. Guys like Irving or Jack Crawford could move back inside as needed to allow for that. Collins, a third-round pick, seems ready-made for Marinelli’s scheme and could be contributing fairly early.
ILB: Rolando McClain, Anthony Hitchens, Damien Wilson (3)
The Cowboys’ backup linebackers are all fairly versatile so don’t put much stock in these position listings. Hitchens has started games on the outside before and can player any spot, as can Wilson according to scouts.
The good news for all of these young linebackers is that Dallas didn’t draft anyone, no doubt happy with the crop of talent they already have. I don’t expect any chance from last year’s group, barring injury or a shocking development from undrafted linebacker Deon King. He did lead the nation in tackles last year.
OLB: Sean Lee, Kyle Wilber, Andrew Gachkar, Mark Nzeocha (4)
Not much to add here to what was said above. Right now I’m leaning toward Wilber as the starting “Sam” linebacker but you have a lot of young guys in the mix and any of them could emerge. Hitchens had a sophmore slump but would be a front-runner if he gets back to 2014 form.
Carr’s agreeing to a pay cut makes him a lock for this year’s roster. Claiborne will get his one-year shot at redemption and to stick around in the future. The only way he might be threatened is if Byron Jones ends up playing corner, but I don’t expect that.
I chose Olatoye over Terrance Mitchell because he provides a size a size advantage that our other cornerbacks lack. Plus, Dallas has already cut Mitchell once before in his rookie season.
Sixth-round picks are never guaranteed to make the roster but Anthony Brown had a fourth-round grade, per Stephen Jones, and has 4.35 speed. He should make a nice gunner on special teams.
S: Byron Jones, Barry Church, J.J. Wilcox, Jeff Heath, Kavon Frazier (5)
Jones will likely still be a bit of a hybrid player. I could see him playing corner to match up against large receivers and he will certainly draw the assignment of guarding athletic tight ends. If he does moves to one position, though, I fully expect it to be safety.
Even if one of them loses their starting job I see both Church and Wilcox on the roster. Wilcox is still a nice special teams player and is in the last year of his rookie deal, so his salary is okay for a backup.
Like Brown at corner, the rookie Frazier was also said to have a fourth-round grade. Five safeties may be heavy but not if Jones is still going to get moved around. Of everyone I’ve listed today on both side of the ball, though, Frazier is the guy I’m the least sure about. I could easily see him being released in favor of Terrance Mitchell or another defensive lineman.