It's been almost three months since my last 53-man roster projection, and boy, have some things changed!
At that time we were just coming out of the NFL Draft. We still thought that Randy Gregory would only be suspended for four games instead of 10 or more. We had no idea that Rolando McClain would also be facing a 10-game suspension. Maliek Collins still had two working feet and Darren McFadden hadn't broken his elbow.
Back then we didn't have as clear an understanding of the health of players like Orlando Scandrick, Lance Dunbar, or Gavin Escobar. They've all made strong recoveries and are now looking good for the start of the regular season.
So, taking all of this new information into account, here is an updated roster projection with Training Camp set to begin tomorrow!
QB: Tony Romo, Kellen Moore,
Dak Prescott (3)
I am very intrigued by a recent statement from Cowboys insider Bryan Broaddus, a former scout who says that Jameil Showers has been outplaying Kellen Moore so far in the offseason. That alone isn't enough to make me put Showers ahead of Moore as the backup, but it now puts Showers on the radar far more than he was previously.
One thing that seems clear is that Moore, Showers, or some other player will be Tony's immediate backup over Prescott. Reports on the fourth-round rookie have been that he's as raw and in need of development as his draft scouting reports said. There seems little chance that Dallas will trust him as the backup quarterback.
RB: Ezekiel Elliott, Alfred Morris, Lance Dunbar, Darius Jackson (4)
CHANGES: Removed Darren McFadden, Added Dunbar & Jackson
McFadden really hurt himself, figuratively and literally, with that broken elbow. Missing training camp and preseason will allow Dallas to get comfortable with not having McFadden in the mix.
Even if they don't cut or trade him, Dallas will likely have the option to keep McFadden on the Physically Unable to Perform list during the first part of the regular season. They can hold him until the middle of the year and then release him if a need hasn't risen. After that many weeks, though, there's no telling what other RB may be on the shelf.
I am keeping the sixth-round rookie, Darius Jackson, on the roster with the assumption that his size and athleticism will make him useful on special teams. Hopefully, new assistant coach Tashard Choice can show Jackson how to make an impact in the kicking game.
WR: Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams,
Cole Beasley, Brice Butler,
Lucky Whitehead (5)
The only way that this group will change is if one of the young WR prospects, such as Ed Eagan or Andy Jones, blows past Whitehead as a receiving option. If that occurs, Dallas will likely have to forego that fourth running back so that they can hang on to Whitehead as their primary return man.
I think Whitehead is the one who is going to find an offensive role. He was already starting to late last year, getting some of the looks that were going to Lance Dunbar early on. In fact, Whitehead's development could allow Dallas to cut Dunbar so that they can hang on to McFadden or use a roster spot somewhere else.
TE: Jason Witten, Gavin Escobar, James Hanna, Geoff Swaim (4)
CHANGES: Removed Rico Gathers, Added Escobar
Back in May I didn't put Escobar on the roster with the assumption that he would start the year on PUP. Now the question is if he makes the team at all, and it isn't as obvious as you might think.
Escobar's future in Dallas beyond 2016 seems doubtful. They've already given Hanna a new three-year deal that's paying him number-two money. Swaim and Gathers are both in the middle of rookie contracts. If Dallas doesn't see re-signing Escobar next offseason then they may opt to just release him now and hang on to younger players.
Dumping Escobar wouldn't necessarily be to make room for Gathers, though. Dallas could also use that roster spot to keep a fullback, such as Rod Smith. With this projection, though, I am assuming that they will utilize a lot of single-back formations and then have tight ends like Hanna and Swaim handle any backfield blocking as needed.
T: Tyron Smith, Doug Free,
Cam Bradfield (3)
CHANGES: Removed Charles Brown, Added Cam Bradfield
Ideally, Chaz Green will blossom in his first real camp and preseason and claim the swing tackle job. However, last year they were trying him at guard because he was struggling too much on the outside. That's not a great sign.
Dallas signed veteran Cam Bradfield to replace the recently retired Charles Brown earlier this week. His experience alone makes him the front-runner to be the swing tackle. Dallas will have several young prospects in training camp but at this point there's no reason to assume one of them will vault Bradfield.
G: Zack Martin, La'el Collins, Ron Leary, Chaz Green (4)
The only change I expect in this group is if Leary gets used in a trade. Dallas has a clear and present danger at defensive end and Leary, who could be a starting guard for many teams, could be their best bet to find help.
I am putting Green here with the logic that, if he's not the swing tackle, he will probably get more looks at guard. Still, he will likely be inactive most weeks.
C: Travis Frederick, Joe Looney (2)
Unless a young prospect like Jake Brendel emerges during training camp, this should remain the same up through final cuts. Looney was signed to be the new Mackenzy Bernadeau; a versatile center/guard with starting experience.
~ ~ ~
WR Randall Cobb Named Cowboys “Surprise Standout” for Offseason
NFL teams have wrapped up their offseason activities with the close of OTAs, especially where the players are concerned, and await the start of training camps next month. In reviewing the last few months, ESPN had their local reporters each pick a surprise standout from their team's practices. Todd Archer, who covers the Dallas Cowboys full time, selected veteran receiver Randall Cobb.
Cobb is in his first season with Dallas after signing as a free agent last March. He's spent the last eight years with the Green Bay Packers and was a Pro Bowler in 2014, but has struggled with injuries the last few seasons.
Here were Archer's observations on how Randall is doing so far with the Cowboys:
Normally a player with Cobb's résumé -- 470 catches for 5,524 yards and 41 touchdowns during his career -- would not be considered for a category like this. But injuries limited him to only nine games and 38 catches for Green Bay in 2018, and it was hard to know what the Cowboys were getting in the veteran receiver.
If the offseason work is any indication, they have found a replacement for Cole Beasley. Cobb's versatility can expand the offense for others, such as Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup. Cobb looked quick in and out of his breaks and fast enough to make plays down the field. Will he put up the 1,287 yards he had in 2014? No, but he gives Dak Prescott a security blanket in the slot who can turn a small gain into a big one.
The notion of Cobb replacing Beasley is a big one. While we'd like to think that Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup will provide plenty of firepower for the Cowboys offense, Dak Prescott has enjoyed a reliable threat from the slot position since he arrived.
Randall Cobb, when healthy, can do more than just make clutch catches. He has good run-after-catch skills and perhaps bring more big play potential than Beasley did.
If Cooper and Gallup do emerge as a dangerous starting duo on the outside, Cobb should have even more opportunities to punish defenses than Beasley did.
If nothing else, it's very encouraging to hear that one of the Cowboys' few 2019 free agent moves is already reaping benefits. Cobb still needs to bring it over a full season to really justify the move, but these early reports are cause for excitement.
BREAKING: Cowboys TE Rico Gathers Receives One-Game Suspension
Tight End Rico Gathers already had an uphill climb to return to the Dallas Cowboys' 53-man roster in 2019. But that climb just got even steeper; the NFL handed down a one-game suspension to Gathers today for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy.
If he does make the team this year, with Dallas or anyone else, Rico will have to sit out Week One of the season without pay.
Cowboys TE Rico Gathers is suspended without pay for the first game of the 2019 regular season for violating the NFL's policy and program on substances of abuse. This is from his arrest in 2018 for marijuana possession.
Gathers' chances of returning in 2019 were already hurt by Jason Witten's reversed retirement. He dropped to fourth on the TE depth chart behind Witten, Blake Jarwin, and Dalton Schultz, and Dallas only kept three tight ends last year.
The Cowboys also added Codey McElroy as a developmental player during the offseason.
While the suspension is news, the incident that led to it is not. Dallas already knew about the arrest, which occurred in early September of 2018, and have kept Gathers around up until now.
The NFL's substance abuse system is pretty formulaic, so the Cowboys likely anticipated this suspension all along. This may not change anything about how they value Rico Gathers for the 2019 season.
Nevertheless, a player who can't help you in Week One and is a liability for ever longer suspensions down the road is definitely a red flag against Gathers' job security.
Antwaun Woods: Cowboys DT is Just Getting Started
Antwaun Woods went undrafted in 2016 coming out of USC. After two years with the Tennessee Titans, he would only see one game of action. In May of 2018, the Cowboys signed Woods to a two-year contract worth 1.05 million. Probably seen as nothing more than a practice squad guy, Woods would quickly show he was much more than that.
The newly acquired Woods started his climb to stardom in Oxnard during training camp, and not for making plays. One day during practice he got into a friendly game of fisticuffs with All-Pro Center Travis Frederick. The team even posted the video on social media, which had fans buzzing and wanting to know who he was.
All-Pro Running Back Ezekiel Elliott echoed those thoughts when he saw Woods during camp. "Honestly, when we first got him, we were like, 'Who is this guy?'. He was giving Travis Frederick, one of our best players, hell all camp. Just trying to figure out where this guy came from," Elliott said.
Once the regular season started it was clear the Cowboys had found a hidden gem. Although the sack numbers won't dazzle you, seeing as he only registered 1.5, you could forget about running the ball anywhere near him. Woods has amazing quickness for a 300 pounder which allows him to extend his arms before offensive lineman can get a hand on him.
How significant is that? It becomes that much easier to bull rush and blow running plays up in the backfield.
When you can get your hands on an offensive lineman immediately when the ball is snapped, he's basically under your control. You can move him around like a puppet on a string. Essential for a 1-technique nose tackle. With that being said, there should be no surprise the Cowboys finished fifth against the run in 2018 with Woods manning the middle.
Woods draws a lot of double teams, and he handles them well. Having the ability to take on multiple linemen frees up your other playmakers. As the anchor in the middle, Woods made life a lot easier for not only his fellow defensive linemen but the team's two young star Linebackers Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch. Allowing them to roam freely like Lions in the Serengeti makes running backs essentially Zebra's carrying the ball, cooked food. So much so that both tallied over 120 tackles and were the only teammates in the NFL to rank in the top 15 in that category.
There's nothing but upside with Antwaun Woods. He's only had 18 games of experience in three years. He's already a stud, but with limited snaps, it can only mean he'll be even more formidable going forward.
The Cowboys have a loaded defensive lineman group with around 15 bodies, plenty of competition. All signs point to him remaining the starter, but it's not guaranteed. Even with that being said I don't expect a complacency from Woods, especially with DeMarcus Lawrence and Robert Quinn looking like the only sure starters on the defensive line. Plus this is a contract year for him, so you know he'll be even more motivated as he tries to maximize his dollars. We've only seen the tip of the iceberg from this raw talent, setting up for a potential breakout year for him in 2019.
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