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.
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.
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