Another week and another preseason game have come and gone. Friday’s win against the Miami Dolphins did much more to confirm my projections than cause any adjustments to be made.
However, there have been a few updates with roster moves and injuries that have led to some changes. You can click here to reference last week’s projection.
Here’s where we are as of now:
QB: Tony Romo, Dak Prescott (2)
The Dak Prescott Experience, so far, is more wonderful than any of us could have imagined. It’s too early to talk about him being the future franchise QB, but it’s certainly not early to say he’s cemented the backup job for 2016.
These two weeks couldn’t gotten better for the Cowboys. Not only has Prescott been a sensation but Jameil Showers has stayed under the radar. I think Showers has done the best he can with poor offensive line play and sub-par receiving talent to work with. It works out great for Dallas as they can likely get him to the practice squad and save a roster spot.
RB: Ezekiel Elliott, Alfred Morris
Lance Dunbar, Darius Jackson (4)
The only reason Dallas keeps four running backs is to hang on to Dunbar. Darren McFadden, either by trade or by release, is a goner with the way that Morris is playing.
Dunbar still could fill a unique role. He gives you a different kind of back who can also go line up at receiver. Unless Dallas really wants to hang on to a sixth WR, I think they go with Dunbar for versatility and a less predictable option.
FB: Rod Smith (1)
Keith Smith, a converted linebacker, had a solid night while Rod sat out with an infection issue. Although Keith had a solid night, I still see Rod as the front-runner for now. He has more experience playing out of a backfield and should be the better weapon as a receiver.
However, ultimately this will come down to who does a better job as a run blocker. Dallas doesn’t utilize the fullback enough to be that worried with versatility. They will use the guy who does the best job with the primary function of the position.
WR: Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams
Cole Beasley, Brice Butler
Lucky Whitehead (5)
At this point there doesn’t seem to be any other receiver who could push for a roster spot except Andy Jones. After a bad night in Los Angeles, the undrafted rookie had a better night on offense and also made a nice play in punt coverage.
As said earlier, I think right now Dallas would rather hang on to Lance Dunbar then open a spot for Jones. However, that could change quickly if Dunbar has any kind of injury setback. Jones would do well to keep showing up on special teams.
TE: Jason Witten, Gavin Escobar, Geoff Swaim, Rico Gathers (4)
CHANGES: Removed James Hanna (PUP)
Given that he had knee surgery early last week, James Hanna seems likely to start the year on the PUP list. He will certainly be back at some point as he’s the best blocking TE on the team.
For now, this allows Dallas to protect Rico Gathers. Even if they have to cut him later to make room for Hanna, a mid-season cut can often go unnoticed better than during the league-wide cut days this time of year. The spot could also go to Austin Traylor, who may be the team’s next-best blocking TE after Hanna.
OT: Tyron Smith, Doug Free
Chaz Green (3)
CHANGES: Removed Cam Bradfield
Thing went much better for Green against the Dolphins than the previous week. Starting again at left tackle, Green’s only clear blunder was a holding penalty that brought back an Alfred Morris touchdown run. Otherwise, he was holding up well in pass protection and doing as much as anyone to make the run game productive.
Consistency has been Green’s problem, though. I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt now and say that he keeps building on Friday night and earns the swing tackle job. However, if he falters, then Dallas will quickly work to bring in a veteran journeyman to handle the role.
G: Zack Martin, La’el Collins, Ron Leary (3)
C: Travis Frederick, Joe Looney (2)
We can go ahead and lock this group in until someone gets injured or maybe Leary gets traded. With three first-round talents starting and two solid veterans in reserve, Dallas easily has the best interior line group in all of football.
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Just to quickly recap, we’ve used 24 of the 53 roster spots on the offense. Your biggest questions marks are:
- Lance Dunbar (RB) vs. Andy Jones (WR)
- FB: Rod Smith vs. Keith Smith vs. No FB at all
- TE: Rico Gathers vs. Austin Traylor
- OT: Chaz Green vs. Veteran Free Agent TBD
So, let’s move on to the defense.
DE: Jack Crawford, Benson Mayowa
David Irving, Ryan Russell
Charles Tapper, Shaneil Jenkins (6)
CHANGES: Moved J. Crawford from DT to DE
Guys like Crawford and Jenkins are tweener players; they are just as likely to line up inside as on the ends. However, I felt it was necessary to move Crawford to DE as I think he could be emerging as a starter for at least the beginning of the season.
Jack Crawford seems to always make an impact. In the Rams game he hustled downfield to recover Mark Nzeocha’s fumble after an interception. He was there to help clean up Tyrone Crawford’s sack on Ryan Tannehill against Miami. I think he may wind up starting at DE for at least the four weeks that DeMarcus Lawrence is injured, especially with guys like Mayowa and Irving banged up right now.
Shaneil Jenkins keeps showing up in preseason games and, for my money, has cemented his roster spot for at least Weeks 1-4.
DT: Tyrone Crawford, Terrell McClain, Cedric Thornton, Maliek Collins (4)
CHANGES: Added Maliek Collins
It was previously unclear when Collins would come back from his broken foot. The Cowboys brought him off the PUP list last week and he’s being eased back into practice. He did not play on Friday night.
Collins being able to contribute by Week One would help the Cowboys to cover whatever issues may linger at defensive end. They could focus Jack Crawford and Shaneil Jenkins’ attention there while other guys are missing.
LB: Sean Lee, Anthony Hitchens, Kyle Wilber, Justin Durant
Andrew Gachkar, Mark Nzeocha, Damien Wilson (7)
Keeping seven linebackers isn’t that unusual or “going long” by some perspectives. It appears to be especially necessary for the Cowboys given the current health and general concerns of some key players.
Gachkar was already out with a thumb injury but should be back for Week One. Now Nzeocha has an Achilles strain that could limit him for a few weeks. It’s giving young guys like Derek Akunne and James Morris chances to make noise but nothing that I expect will cost someone a roster spot.
CB: Orlando Scandrick
Morris Claiborne, Brandon Carr
Deji Olatoye, Anthony Brown (5)
This is another position where I don’t expect any changes. The top three are locked in. Olatoye has shown up well in preseason play and brings a unique size and physicality to the group.
Brown has been out with a hamstring issue but before that was getting a lot of positive reports from training camp. He will likely be the main backup to Scandrick as the slot corner.
S: Byron Jones, Barry Church, Jeff Heath, Kavon Frazier (4)
I’ve had J.J. Wilcox not making the team for a while now and he only keeps making it easier with missed tackles and blown coverage. It’s too bad he’s not playing better and could potentially be trade bait; the guy does have a lot of experience and was a former third-round pick.
ST: Dan Bailey (K), Chris Jones (P)
L.P. Ladouceur (LS)
These last three spots are always easy. The Cowboys have the luxury of a solid punter, a perfect long snapper, and the best kicker in NFL history.
Not too shabby.
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Like last week, I don’t really have any big questions about the defense. There’s nobody who I’ve left off this roster that I feel bad about. It would take some pretty huge leaps by one of the prospect players, or an injury, to change any of these picks going forward.
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.