The Dallas Cowboys have had two weeks of training camp and, as of last night, one preseason game to help bring some clarity to the 2016 roster.
I released a 53-man roster projection as training camp started, which you can view here. There have been several developments, both with injuries and performances, that have changed the landscape. Here's where I'm at today:
QB: Tony Romo, Dak Prescott (2)
CHANGES: Removed Kellen Moore
Moore's lower leg fracture will keep him out until at least late into the regular season, with some speculating he can't return at all. Dallas can put him on Injured Reserve and has the option of bringing him back sometime after Week 8.
If Prescott keeps playing like he did last night, though, Moore will be forgotten. The big question will be if they want to keep Jameil Showers on the active roster or are happy with him on the practice squad again. So long as Prescott keeps playing at that high level, I think Dallas will just keep the two quarterbacks and use the roster spot elsewhere.
RB: Ezekiel Elliott, Alfred Morris, Lance Dunbar, Darius Jackson (4)
Darren McFadden's future remains in question as he's still recovering from a fractured elbow. Morris is getting valuable time with the first unit while Elliott nurses a hamstring injury. The more Morris shows, the more McFadden's value drops.
The guy I'm least sure about on this list is Dunbar. I just don't know if there will be the same opportunities for him in 2016 that he was getting early last year. Elliott is a good receiver and now we're seeing Lucky Whitehead used in some of the ways that Dunbar was.
Still, Dallas knew about Dunbar's injury and chose to re-sign him anyway. They clearly want him around for something.
FB: Rod Smith (1)
CHANGES: Added Rod Smith
Two weeks ago I projected that Dallas wouldn't have any fullback. However, last night we saw Smith being used to lead block and even take a pass out of the backfield. His versatility to serve as a bruising tailback, blocker, and even a receiving option is a textbook way to make a team.
WR: Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Brice Butler
Lucky Whitehead (5)
I was ready to add Andy Jones to this list before last night's game, based on the hype coming out of Oxnard. But then he had two bad drops against the Rams.
Jones isn't the first receiver prospect to make noise in training camp. Through the years there's always seemed to be one standout WR who gets talked about a lot, but then doesn't show up much in preseason and never makes the team. Jones started down that road last night.
Obviously, there's plenty of time for him to turn it around. There are also other guys who could make their own push for a roster spot.
TE: Jason Witten, Gavin Escobar
James Hanna, Geoff Swaim (4)
Hanna was a surprising addition to the PUP list when camp started. He is having knee soreness but could be back very soon.
Last night was rough for Swaim, who had two drops on easy passes but then redeemed himself a little with a contested catch later. Like Andy Jones, Swaim was getting a lot of praise in camp but did not live up to it in Los Angeles.
Rico Gathers was nowhere to be seen last night, and there's probably a reason for that. I would guess that Dallas is hoping to sneak him to the practice squad.
OT: Tyron Smith, Doug Free, Cam Bradfield, Chaz Green (4)
CHANGES: Moved Green from G to OT
Nobody had a worse night in Los Angeles than Chaz Green. Starting at left tackle while Tyron Smith got a night off, Green drew several penalties and was getting beaten often. Oddly enough, his best play came early in the game against the Rams' better players. That speaks to a conditioning problem.
Green is still like a rookie in many ways. He missed all of last year's camp and preseason with a hip injury suffered in college. He got some practices in last last year but this was his first true offseason with the team.
Dallas will show the former third-round pick some patience, but last night told me he likely won't be ready to serve as the swing tackle. That means Bradfield, or some other veteran they bring in, will probably have the job in 2016.
G: Zack Martin, La'el Collins
Ron Leary (3)
A trade partner for Leary could still emerge as teams suffer injuries or start to get worried about what they have at guard. For now, there's no indication that the Cowboys are actively trying to move him.
If Chaz Green continues to struggle at tackle then we may see him end up back at guard. He was seeing some practice time there last year.
C: Travis Frederick, Joe Looney (2)
If any of the young offensive line prospects can make the team, it might be center Jake Brendel. We saw him playing there last night while Looney was used at guard. This could be Dallas' fallback plan if they do end up trading Leary.
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Just to quickly recap, we've used 25 of the 53 roster spots on the offense. The major swing factors are the decisions to keep or not keep a third quarterback, a true fullback, Lance Dunbar, and Chaz Green. Everything else feels fairly locked in.
Let's move on to the defense.
DE: Benson Mayowa, David Irving
Ryan Russell, Charles Tapper
Shaneil Jenkins (5)
CHANGES: Added Jenkins
Mayowa will have to prove that he's a starter once he comes off the PUP list, which should be any day now. I am still deferring to him based on what the Cowboys paid to sign him.
Jenkins, just added last week, had the team's only sack last night. That's not enough to necessarily make the team, but for now it's enough to separate him from the pack. He's like Jack Crawford in terms of being strong enough to play inside but also athletic enough to play on the end.
DT: Tyrone Crawford, Terrell McClain, Cedric Thornton, Jack Crawford (4)
CHANGES: Moved J. Crawford from DE to DT
Removed Rodney Coe
If Maliek Collins can heal up quickly enough for Week One, he'll take the roster spot I gave to Shaneil Jenkins. I still think he will begin the year on PUP, though.
McClain has been starting with the first team defense in the base formation. We will see plenty of Thornton throughout the year, though, and likely on all third-and-long plays. I could see Thornton getting more total snaps in 2016.
LB: Sean Lee, Anthony Hitchens
Kyle Wilber, Justin Durant
Andrew Gachkar, Mark Nzeocha
Damien Wilson (7)
Gachkar's thumb injury shouldn't hold him out beyond the preseason. Even if the young guys blossom in his absence, he's still a core special teams player and I expect he will make the team.
Nzeocha was arguably the defensive MVP last night. He seemed to be involved in almost every play and had the interception. I think he's making the team and may be a key reserve backup over some of his more experienced teammates.
CB: Orlando Scandrick, Morris Claiborne, Brandon Carr, Deji Olatoye
Anthony Brown (5)
The last two weeks have only helped Olatoye and Brown separate themselves from the pack. Brown has been a bright spot in camp and will likely be the slot cornerback if something were to happen to Scandrick.
Last night, Olatoye showed the same playmaking potential that he flashed last last season. He hauled in one pick and nearly had another. Throw in his size (6'1, 205 lbs) and he gives the Cowboys a type of corner they haven't had in a while.
S: Byron Jones, Barry Church
Jeff Heath, Kavon Frazier
Last night you J.J. Wilcox's career in a microcosm. He took bad angles and failed to make tackles on a few plays, but then also broke up a long pass with a big hit on the receiver.
Wilcox has gifts but just can't seem to develop them. He's the same player that he was 2-3 years ago. Unless there's a major injury to Heath or Frazier, I think they will finally let him go.
ST: Dan Bailey (K), Chris Jones (P), L.P. Ladouceur (LS)
Matt Wile was being used as a punter last night but only to save Jones' leg and avoid injury. These three positions are set.
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There's really no player I feel bad leaving off the defense right now. That makes this fairly easy and give me confidence in the picks, but there's still time for that to change.
I will be releasing a new projection each week following the preseason games. The first round of cuts are due on August 30th and the final deadline is September 3rd. Dallas will play their fourth preseason game in between.
Cowboys Sign Ryan Yurachek; Fullback Role Changing in New Offense?
The Dallas Cowboys signed free agent Fullback Ryan Yurachek yesterday, who spent last year on the Oakland Raiders' practice squad. It could an easy to move to ignore, but Yurachek's game speaks to how the fullback position may be changing as a whole in the Cowboys offense under Kellen Moore.
To stay under the 90-man offseason roster limit, Dallas waived linebacker Justin Phillips.
The Cowboys signed fullback Ryan Yurachek, who spent last season in Oakland's practice squad and was released in May following knee surgery. To make room for Yurachek, linebacker Justin Phillips was waived. The Cowboys now have two fullbacks on the 90-man roster with Jamize...
Yurachek was a prolific pass-catcher as a tight end at Marshall. He had 10 touchdowns his senior year, which was one short of the NCAA Division I leaders for tight ends in 2017. Ryan was also named the team's offensive captain as a senior. Over his four years with The Herd, Yuracheck had 143 catches for 1,354 yards and 26 touchdowns.
Listed at just 6'1", Yurachek converted to fullback to attempt an NFL career. He was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Green Bay Packers but was released later that month. The Raiders signed him and kept him on the practice squad through the 2018 season. Oakland released Ryan last month after his had to have his knee scoped.
It's Yuracheck's background as a TE, especially with those receiving numbers, which intrigues me. It makes me think, and hope, that the Cowboys are going to start looking for more creative ways to utilize their fullbacks.
Before he joined the Cowboys last year, Jamize Olawale had seasons in Oakland where he got around 30 touches. Last year, Olawale had zero carries and was targeted just four times for two catches in the passing game.
That usage is consistent with how former Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan saw fullbacks throughout his tenure in Dallas. We had Keith Smith as a pure blocker, and before him it was Tyler Clutts. From 2014-2019, Cowboys fullbacks have had just 12 total receptions and even fewer rushing attempts.
I know the FB is a dying breed in the modern NFL, but that's also what we thought about run-first offenses for a while. The Cowboys, Seahawks, and some other teams have proven that so-called "old school" approaches still work, and in no small part because modern defenses are more focused on stopping the pass.
The biggest complaint about Linehan's system was its predictability. We're all hoping that new OC Kellen Moore will bring a more dynamic style, and a big part of that could be better utilizing players with versatile skills.
Even if Ryan Yurachek is just here as a camp body to take some work off of the veteran Olawale, his arrival could be a sign that the Cowboys are looking to get more out of their fullbacks in the receiving game. Even if they remain a low-volume part of the offense, as they should, anything that keeps opposing linebackers and safeties guessing is a positive.
2019 Dallas Cowboys the Best Roster of the Jason Garrett Era
It's still very early in the evaluative process for the Dallas Cowboys' coaches and scouts, but all things point to this being the best roster during Jason Garrett's tenure as head coach. The 2014 and 2016 teams had the best finishes of the Garrett era, but on paper, this 2019 roster looks like a team that can contend for a Super Bowl with few glaring weaknesses on offense or defense.
It may be a stretch to suggest that this team is better than the 2014 Cowboys that went 12-4 or 2016 team that went 13-3. Both of those teams were a couple of plays away from heading to the NFC Championship. However, those team had holes and weren't nearly as deep as this 2019 squad appears to be. Neither team fielded a defense as good as the players the Cowboys will put on the field in week one.
In 2014, the offense was one of the best in the NFL, scoring the fifth most points at 29.18 points per game. They were seventh in total yards. Tony Romo had the best season of his career while DeMarco Murray led the NFL in rushing. Dez Bryant was prime Dez Bryant catching 16 touchdowns and averaging 15 yards per reception. And Jason Witten was still a great player for the Cowboys averaging more than 10 yards per reception. In his most recent seasons of 2016 and 2017, Witten's seen that number dip below 10 yards per reception.
2014 was the first season we saw the combination of Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, and Zack Martin on the field together and it provided a glimpse of what an elite offensive line could look like. Doug Free at right tackle and Ronald Leary at left guard were no slouches either. Though they didn't get as much positive publicity as the rest of their offensive linemates, they were effective in their own right and were a big part of the reason why DeMarco Murray and Tony Romo were able to have the seasons they had.
At wide receiver, the Cowboys are better than they were in 2014 or 2016. In 2014, it was Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Dwayne Harris, and Devin Street. In 2016, the wide receiver group consisted of Bryant, Williams, Beasley, Lucky Whitehead, and Brice Butler. Heading into 2019, the Cowboys look to have one of the deeper wide receiver groups in the NFL featuring Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, Randall Cobb, Tavon Austin, Allen Hurns, and Noah Brown. Three of the six wide receivers projected to make the roster have at least one 1,000 yard receiving season under their belt. Tavon Austin is as dynamic a player as you'll find if he can stay healthy and Michael Gallup and Noah Brown are young, but ascending players in the NFL.
In 2016, the NFL was taken over by the Dallas Cowboys rookies phenoms. Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott were the leaders on an offense that was led by Cole Beasley at wide receiver. Back in 2016, the Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott led Dallas Cowboys finished fifth in the NFL in points and yardage. Though Dez Bryant was one of the best wide receivers in the NFL in 2014, he was a shell of himself in 2016. Bryant dealt with injuries during the season and was missing during the Cowboys biggest regular season win at the Green Bay Packers. Neither group had the depth that the 2019 team takes to Oxnard.
As good as that offense was, the 2019 group is going to be better. Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott are going into their fourth year in the NFL and are better players now than when they were rookies. Not only are they better, but they have better skill position players than the 2016 team did, which should help take pressure off of Ezekiel Elliott and the running game and make it easier for Dak Prescott to find success.
With a fresh perspective from Kellen Moore and some fine tuning of Prescott's footwork, this offense should be just as good as the 2014 and 2016 offenses.
The offenses in 2014 and 2016 stole the show for the Dallas Cowboys. The defenses, on the other hand, got by without much in the way of talent.
In Rod Marinelli's first season as the defensive coordinator, the Cowboys largely got by with their bend don't break defense. They were a defense that was good enough and was largely carried by their offense throughout the season. 2016 wasn't much different.
The 2014 or 2016 Dallas Cowboys didn't have elite pass rushers like DeMarcus Lawrence and Robert Quinn bookending the defensive line. If you recall, Jeremy Mincey led the team with six sacks that season before DeMarcus Lawrence came on strong in the playoffs against Detroit and Green Bay. Henry Melton was second on the team with five sacks. In 2016, Benson Mayowa led the Dallas Cowboys with six sacks and second on the team was Maliek Collins with five sacks. For perspective, in 2018, Lawrence had 10.5 sacks and Randy Gregory had six sacks.
The 2019 Dallas Cowboys boast six players who've had at least five sacks in a season in Lawrence, Quinn, Gregory, Kerry Hyder, Tyrone Crawford, and Maliek Collins. The Cowboys go two-deep along the defensive line with legit pressure players at every position.
Rolando McClain and Anthony Hitchens were the leaders at the linebacker position for the Cowboys. McClain was excellent in the 13 games he played for Dallas. In 2016, Sean Lee had an outstanding season, which culminated in a First Team All-Pro selection and Anthony Hitchens was good. However, as a unit, neither 2014 or 2016 had as much talent as the 2019 Dallas Cowboys do at linebacker with Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch, Sean Lee, and Joe Thomas. There isn't a better 4-3 linebacker group in the NFL than what the Dallas Cowboys are rolling out there in 2019.
At defensive back, the Cowboys were rolling out Barry Church, J.J. Wilcox, Brandon Carr, Orlando Scandrick, and Sterling Moore as their starting nickel group. I'd easily take Byron Jones, Chidobe Awuzie, Anthony Brown, Xavier Woods, and Jeff Heath. Throw in Jourdan Lewis and the Cowboys probably have the best four-deep cornerback group in the NFL. Even if you aren't a big fan of Jeff Heath at strong safety, he's still a better option than J.J. Wilcox was in that 2014 season. George Iloka and Donovan Wilson provide significantly better depth than the 2014 or 2016 groups at defensive back.
Think about the roster as a whole. They have a perceived weakness at starting strong safety with Jeff Heath, but they were able to make the playoffs with Jeff Heath and the defense was one of the best in the NFL in 2018. The defense in 2019 should finish in the top five in scoring and yards against. They're going to be a disruptive group that constantly puts pressure on the quarterback and if they're able to create turnovers, they'll be the best unit in the NFL.
As much as we fight against it, this Dallas Cowboys roster heading into 2019, is the best they've had since 2011. The defense is definitely better going into 2019 than they were in 2014 or 2016 and the offense has a chance to be just as good as those two successful seasons.
On paper, they're a team ready to contend for a Super Bowl. After not making an NFC Championship game since 1996, the time has come for the Dallas Cowboys to turn all the hype into results. No matter how hard I try to manage expectations for the 2019 season, I can't help but think that this iteration of the Dallas Cowboys is on the verge of greatness.
Michael Gallup is Primed for Breakout Sophomore Season
Heading into the 2018 season the Dallas Cowboys had big questions at the wide receiver position with the departure of Dez Bryant. They elected not to go for the flashy names like Maryland's D.J. Moore or Alabama's Calvin Ridley, but instead took Colorado State Wide Receiver, Michael Gallup 81st overall.
Even without the hype of other bigger named receivers coming out of college, Gallup's resume was enough to impress Head Coach Jason Garrett. "There's a lot to like about him. He's big, he's athletic, he plays the game the right way. He's been a productive player for them, doing a lot of different kinds of things. We feel like he has real upside, too. A lot of qualities that you want in a young receiver, in a developmental receiver. But a lot of production, too. He had opportunities there and took advantage of them throughout his career," Garrett said.
Once the season started, however, it was apparent that it would take some time to build the chemistry and trust with Quarterback Dak Prescott. The lack of a true number one receiver wasn't doing the first talent any favors as he tried to figure out his role on the team. Gallup would be targeted just 15 times in the first 5 games, only registering 6 receptions. But fortunately for the newbie, help was on the way.
During the team's bye week in October, they acquired Amari Cooper from the Raiders in exchange for a first-round pick in the 2019 draft, and it worked wonders for Gallup and his development. Weeks 11 through 14 saw him targetted 27 times. This was significant considering the Cowboys were in the midst of a 5-game winning streak after a 3-5 start. Prescott's trust and belief in Gallup were starting to come together as the team made a run at the NFC East crown and a playoff berth.
He would finish with 33 receptions for 507 yards and 2 touchdowns. Once the postseason rolled around Gallup had firmly established himself as the team's second option behind Amari Cooper.
Gallup would make his first playoff start in the divisional round against the Rams in Los Angeles. Although the Cowboys season wouldn't survive this contest, one of the positives was the play of the first year pass catcher. He finished with 6 receptions for 119 yards, and a tidal wave of momentum heading into 2019.
There's a major change coming to the Cowboys offensive philosophy this season, thanks to newly promoted Offensive Coordinator Kellen Moore. The new puppet master of the offense has made it clear he's open to listening to suggestions from the players and staff on what they feel will take the offense into another orbit. "At the end of the day, work together with everyone. I think that includes the coaching staff, obviously coach Garrett and the rest of his staff. I think you also got to get some input from the players. It doesn't mean you have to go down those roads all the time, but I think it's important that when a player believes in something and they're pretty convinced on it, usually they find a way to make it work," Kellen Moore said.
With a season already under his belt with Prescott, and an open-minded first-year offensive coordinator willing to abandon the prehistoric ways of the Scott Linehan era, Gallup's development will only improve with each snap.
Unlike the beginning of his rookie season, Michael Gallup knows exactly what his role with the Cowboys is going forward. Amari Cooper is the main option, and with him drawing double teams regularly, the opportunities for Gallup to have a major impact in year two are endless. Not to mention, the added addition of Randall Cobb to the Cowboys passing game just made life even easier for him. Now teams not only have to roll coverage to Cooper, but the threat of Cobb in the slot creates a lot of one-on-ones on the outside for Gallup.
The size, speed, and athleticism are all there for this young man. Now, with a more innovative offensive scheme coming into play, and growing trust between himself and Dak Prescott, the 2019 season is shaping up to make Michael Gallup a household name.
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