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Cowboys 2016 Roster Projection: Preseason Week 3

Jess Haynie

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Cowboys Headlines - Cowboys 2016 Roster Projection: Preseason Week 3 2

 

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)

CHANGES: None

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.

Cowboys Headlines - Cowboys 2016 Roster Projection: Preseason Week 3 1RB: Ezekiel Elliott, Alfred Morris
Lance Dunbar, Darius Jackson (4)

CHANGES: None

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)

CHANGES: None

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.

Cowboys Headlines - 2016 Breakout Candidates: Brice Butler 1WR: Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams
Cole Beasley, Brice Butler
Lucky Whitehead (5)

CHANGES: None

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.

Cowboys Headlines - Cowboys 2016 Roster Projection: Preseason Week 3

Photo by James D. Smith/Dallas Cowboys

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)

CHANGES: None

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.

~ ~ ~

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.

Cowboys Headlines - Cowboys 2016 Roster Projection: Post-Draft Edition (Part 2)

AP Photo/Brandon Wade

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)

CHANGES: None

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.

Cowboys Blog - Looking Ahead: Free Agents that Need Cowboys Remaining Games

Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY

CB: Orlando Scandrick
Morris Claiborne, Brandon Carr
Deji Olatoye, Anthony Brown (5)

CHANGES: None

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)

CHANGES: None

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.

 

Cowboys Draft - Beyond the Clock: Undrafted Wonder, Dan Bailey 2ST: Dan Bailey (K), Chris Jones (P)
L.P. Ladouceur (LS)

CHANGES: None

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.

~ ~ ~

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.



Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!

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Dallas Cowboys

Dallas Cowboys 2019 Job Security Rankings: Defense

Jess Haynie

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Leighton Vander Esch Lands on List of NFL's Top 10 Rookies
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

When the Dallas Cowboys start training camp in July, there will be various feelings of job security throughout the 90-man roster. Throughout the NFL, players know when they're already locked in to a role on the team or when they're fighting for survival.

Yesterday we broke down the current, pre-training camp job security of the offensive players. Today we turn our attention to the defense.

Remember, these tiers aren't just about making the 53-man roster. It also has to do with the players' roles within the roster. Are you a sure starter, fighting for playing time, or just hoping to avoid the practice squad?

Tier 1 - The Untouchables

DE DeMarcus Lawrence, LB Leighton Vander Esch, LB Jaylon Smith, CB Byron Jones

There is no debating these four players. Three of them are coming off Pro Bowl seasons and Jaylon Smith could've easily been right there with them. They are the new leaders of the defense and will be back in their featured roles in 2019.

None of these players will be challenged for their jobs. Even if Byron Jones doesn't get a long-term extension beyond this season, he will be back as the primary corner and playing for his free agency leverage next year.

These guys are easy. Let's move on.

Cowboys Have Their Version of Tryann Mathieu in Xavier Woods?

Dallas Cowboys S Xavier Woods

Tier 2 - Slightly Touchable

DE Robert Quinn, DT Antwaun Woods, S Xavier Woods

The Cowboys hope that adding veteran Robert Quinn to Lawrence at defensive end will give them their most dangerous pair of pass rusher since DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer. The job is Quinn's to lose; only the decline of age can stop Robert from being a key player in the defense this year.

Maybe putting the Woods boys up here is a little optimistic, but it just seems like the arrow is very much pointed upwards on both Antwaun and Xavier at their positions. If they continue to build on last year, there's little reason to think they won't be starters this season.

Dallas has good reason to be invested in both of them. With Tyrone Crawford and Maliek Collins both likely playing their final seasons here, Antwaun Woods gives them a secured talent going forward. Ideally, Woods and Trysten Hill will be your starters in 2020.

The same goes for Xavier Woods at safety.  Jeff Heath has an expiring contract and George Iloka has just a one-year deal. The Cowboys want Xavier to become a fixture that they can add to going forward.

Assuming all of these players play up to current expectation, they aren't budging.

Leighton Vander Esch Can Prove Value for Good Against High Scoring Saints

Dallas Cowboys LB Sean Lee

Tier 3 - On the Team, But Where?

DE Taco Charlton, DE Dorance Armstrong, DL Tyrone Crawford, DT Maliek Collins, DT Trysten Hill, LB Sean Lee, LB Joe Thomas, CB Chidobe Awuzie, CB Anthony Brown, CB Jourdan Lewis, S Jeff Heath, S George Iloka

Most of the Cowboys defensive roster will be filled out from among this group. They should all make the team, but in what capacity? And how much will it matter, particularly on the defensive line, with the rotations that Rod Marinelli uses?

It probably seems odd to have former stalwarts like Tyrone Crawford and Sean Lee listed here, but that's the new reality. I'm actually surprised both are still on the roster at this point, expecting at least one to be released for cap space this offseason. Both veterans will not be as featured as in the past, and I could even still see Crawford being released at final cuts.

Guys like Taco Charlton and Maliek Collins are also fighting for playing time against younger options on the defensive line. Will Dorance Armstrong and Trysten Hill push for snaps, and consequently push the older players into lesser roles?

How will things shake out in the secondary? Will Jourdan Lewis be able to find a larger role after being buried behind the top three corners last year? Will Anthony Brown or Chidobe Awuzie be the number-two CB?  And at safety, who emerges as the second starter between veterans Jeff Heath and George Iloka?

Cowboys Training Camp: 5 Fringe Players Fans Should Follow

Dallas Cowboys S Kavon Frazier (Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports)

Tier 4 - Bubble Players

DE Kerry Hyder, DE Joe Jackson, DT Christian Covington, DT Daniel Ross, LB Justin March-Lillard, LB Chris Covington, CB Michael Jackson, CB Donovan Olumba, S Kavon Frazier, S Darian Thompson, S Donovan Wilson

We've used up 19 of our 25-26 roster spots already. That means only 6-7 of these 11 players will make the team.

Dallas took a flier on Kerry Hyder as a rehab project, and the veteran DE is already impressing in the offseason practices. That could make it impossible for rookie Joe Jackson to make the team, getting crunched by the numbers.

Veteran Christian Covington feels like a solid pickup at DT, but what if he struggles to convert to the 4-3 scheme? A guy like Daniel Ross could be ready to steal the spot out from under him.

At cornerback, are rookie Michael Jackson and second-year prospect Donovan Olumba fighting for the same roster spot? What if Dallas doesn't even keep five corner, like they did last year, and leave both guys out in the cold?

The competition is really heating up at safety. Kavon Frazier's in the last year of his rookie deal and may not be able to fight off Darian Thompson, a former third-round pick, or rookie Donovan Wilson. Any one of these three could emerge.

None of these players listed here are guaranteed a roster spot. Even the newly drafted players will have to fight their way on, thanks to the strong talent acquisition the Cowboys have had in recent years.

Jalen Jelks

Dallas Cowboys DE Jalen Jelks

Tier 5 - Longshots

Considering the potential casualties from the Bubble Players, any of this last group making the roster is going to defy expectations. Even 7th-round pick Jalen Jelks will have a hard time making it, and may have to convert to linebacker to have a chance at competing.

Despite his intriguing 6'4" frame, CB Chris Westry will need to be truly exceptional to push past Michael Jackson or Donovan Olumba. Even if Dallas keeps six corners, he may be stuck as the seventh guy and headed for the practice squad.

It will inevitably happen that reports come from training camp of one of these guys, or some other longshot, making plays and creating a sudden surge of attention. You'll see them start popping up on 53-man roster projections while we anxiously await watching them in the preseason games.

Then maybe nothing will happen, and we'll forget about them all over again. Or maybe they do have some big games, but ultimately are among the final cuts despite all of the hype.

In the nearly two decades now that I've been really analyzing the Cowboys' offseasons, I can't remember a year where there seemed to be less opportunity for a dark horse to make the team. That's unfortunate them, but a great problem for Dallas' perceived roster strength.

We'll find out soon enough how it all unfolds.



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Michael Jackson Could Make Things Interesting at Nickel Corner

Matthew Lenix

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Michael Jackson Could Make Things Interesting at Nickel Corner

In a passing league, you can never have too many bodies in your secondary. By the fifth round of the NFL Draft in April, the Dallas Cowboys had addressed both their offensive and defensive lines, as well as the backup running back position. It was time to add more depth at cornerback and with the 158th pick Michael Jackson was selected.

Currently Anthony Brown has the inside track to be the lead dog at that Nickel Cornerback, but his play has dropped off before in the past. Jourdan Lewis is right behind him still trying to find his place in the team's defensive system. Jackson is in the perfect position to make his move up the depth chart, and here are a few reasons why.

First, he has all the measurables needed to succeed in the Cowboys defensive scheme. At 6'1 210 pounds, with a 40.5-inch vertical, 32.5-inch arms and 4.4 speed he's definitely an early Christmas present for Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli, and more specifically Defensive Backs Coach and Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard. Long and physical corners are what built the infamous "Legion of Boom" in Seattle under his watch.

His ability to be effective in press coverage is a huge tool in his bag. He does an excellent job jamming receivers at the line of scrimmage. So much so, that quarterbacks only completed 5 out of 18 passes on go routes against Jackson last season at Miami. Good for a passer rating of 54.4 and a completion percentage of 27.7, with no touchdowns allowed.

Lastly, his versatility brings his skill set full circle. In addition to playing in the slot, he can also line up on the outside. This gives the Cowboys insurance if something catastrophic happens to the team's starters Byron Jones and Chido Awuzie. It doesn't stop there, however, as his stature gives him the added bonus of transferring to safety if need be. So many possibilities to work with.

The rookie hasn't wasted time impressing Kris Richard as the preparations for the upcoming season have kicked off.

"Very pleased with him. Intelligent. Picks up a lot of things quick. I think he's got corner and nickel combo ability for us. Obviously, the more you can do, the more value you present for yourself," Richard said.

As training camp approaches, Michael Jackson has his opportunity to compete. Every snap must be played like it's his last if he wants to be a big contributor in 2019. There's no lack of skill, only experience, and reps, which he'll get plenty of in late July until the season starts. The stage is set for him to possibly add his name next to starting Free Safety Xavier Woods as another late round steal for the Cowboys secondary.



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Dallas Cowboys 2019 Job Security Rankings: Offense

Jess Haynie

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Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

When the Dallas Cowboys start training camp in July, there will be various feelings of job security throughout the 90-man roster. Throughout the NFL, players know when they're already locked in to a role on the team or when they're fighting for survival.

Today, we're going to look at how secure the Cowboys' players should feel in 2019. This not only applies to if they make the final roster, but also their position as a starter, roleplayer, or developmental prospect.

We'll start with the offense.

Tier 1 - The Untouchables

QB Dak Prescott, RB Ezekiel Elliott, FB Jamize Olawale, WR Amari Cooper, OT Tyron Smith, G Connor Williams, C Travis Frederick, G Zack Martin, OT La'el Collins, OT Cam Fleming

There are no foreseeable issues that could change where these 10 players fit into the 2019 offense. Barring injury or some surprise trade, such as Dallas moving La'el Collins, we know exactly where these guys will fall if they're here and healthy.

Prescott, Elliott, and Cooper are no-brainers, as are your five starting offensive linemen. I also included Fleming as he was clearly brought back to be the swing tackle this season. That could all change in 2020, but for this year at least his role is certain.

You may be surprised to see any fullback in this top tier, but the Cowboys gave Olawale a three-year contract to return this offseason. They made $2.8 million of it guaranteed; you just don't do that if you have any doubts about keeping him on the 53. There's no question that Jamize will be part of the team in 2019.

Some might argue that Connor Williams' starting spot isn't guaranteed, but I just don't see it. They lived the rookie growing pains last year and are hoping for much more going forward. A mid-season switch could occur if he struggles, but Williams will be the Week One starter at left guard.

Michael Gallup

Dallas Cowboys WR Michael Gallup

Tier 2 - Slightly Touchable

WR Michael Gallup, WR Randall Cobb, G/C Joe Looney

I almost put Gallup in the first tier but "sophomore slumps" are a real thing. Until we see him building on last year as hoped, there is room for something to go awry.

That also brings Cobb's role into question. Any slippage in Gallup's game could lead to increased opportunities for the veteran. Really, even if both guys are bringing it in 2019, how exactly the targets and usage get split between them isn't entirely certain. If Cobb is back to his peak form in Green Bay, he will be hard to take off the field.

I also put Joe Looney in this second tier because I think he could be trade bait. If a team is hurting at center before Week One, is there a more attractive trade target in the NFL?

Dallas could afford to trade Looney if they feel good enough about Connor McGovern as a backup center. Adam Redmond could also be in the mix, serving as the backup last year when Looney was starting.

It's very unlikely that Dallas would give up one of the best backup offensive lineman in football. But if a team is desperate enough to dangle a third-round pick in front of them, the Cowboys might have an offer they can't refuse.

Blake Jarwin

Dallas Cowboys TE Blake Jarwin (Kevin Terrell via AP)

Tier 3 - On the Team, But Where?

RB Tony Pollard, TE Jason Witten, TE Blake Jarwin, TE Dalton Schultz, OL Connor McGovern

This tier is dominated by the mysterious tight end position.  How much playing time will Jason Witten really get? How have Jarwin and Schultz developed and how will it all shake out?

Witten should be the ceremonial starter, but what really matters are total snaps and targets. Even if Jason is the first man out on game days, Jarwin could still wind up being the most-used TE of the group. It all remains to be seen.

We are also expecting a lot from rookie RB Tony Pollard this year, but we don't know yet how much responsibility he'll be given. Will he be the true backup RB or more of a gadget player? Will he take the KR and PR jobs aways from Jourdan Lewis and Tavon Austin? Lots to still be determined here.

Another rookie with question marks is third-round pick Connor McGovern. Will he be given a significant job right away or be carried, perhaps with several game day inactives, for development towards 2020? It's doubtful that he could push Joe Looney out of a job, but will he show enough that Dallas is willing to part with Xavier Su'a-Filo?

Mike White

Dallas Cowboys QB Mike White

Tier 4 - Bubble Players

QB Cooper Rush, QB Mike White, RB Mike Weber, RB Darius Jackson, WR Tavon Austin, WR Allen Hurns, WR Noah Brown, WR Cedrick Wilson, TE Rico Gathers, G Xavier Su'a-Filo, OT Mitch Hyatt

In the top three tiers we've named 18 players who are locks to make the 53-man roster. You generally have 24-25 player on each side of the ball, so that means only 6-7 roster spots left on offense. That means some of the guys named here won't make the team.

Will Cooper Rush and Mike White both have jobs? If Rush remains the backup QB, Dallas will probably hang on to White for another year. But if White beats Rush, the Cowboys could easily let Cooper go to save a roster spot for another position.

Assuming Dallas doesn't add any veteran RBs between now and camp, it seems Darius Jackson and Mike Weber are competing for the same job. There's also a chance that neither makes it; the Cowboys could use Jamize Olawale as the emergency third back. They may be happy to stash with Jackson or Weber on the practice squad.

Things get really interesting at receiver once you get past the top three. Do veterans Allen Hurns and Tavon Austin's experience edge lift them above guys like Noah Brown and Cedrick Wilson? Or will Dallas choose the upside of youth and their cheaper contracts? The bottom half of the WR depth chart appears entirely open right now.

The Rico Gathers Experiment seems close to ending, but he's still here and has a chance to change perceptions. The one-game suspension won't matter if the Cowboys like what he has to offer the rest of the season. But keeping a fourth TE could be tough with the numbers at other spots, and Gathers is unlikely to leap above Jarwin or Schultz.

Numbers are also an issue for the offensive linemen. We know the top eight; five starters, Fleming, Looney, and McGovern. If the Cowboys keep nine guys, they may go with Mitch Hyatt as an additional tackle rather than bring Xavier Su'a-Filo back. They already have the interior line covered.

Codey McElroy

Dallas Cowboys TE Codey McElroy

Tier 5 - Longshots

We'll all have our "pet cats" and favorite underdogs over the next two months, but they will all be hard-pressed to make the roster given the current depth.

Maybe a guy like RB Jordan Chunn shocks us by beating out Weber and Jackson, or perhaps a dark horse WR like Jalen Guyton or Jon'Vea Johnson forces his way into the conversation. Crazier things have happened.

But this 2019 Cowboys roster is about as stacked and predictable as it's been in a long time. Strong drafting has give us a lot of young talent with years left on their rookie deals, and those guys are hard to budge.

The key for these players is to be too good to risk losing on the practice squad. Convince Dallas to make room for them, perhaps by keeping just two quarterbacks or going short somewhere else.

Because only 46 guys are active on game days, roster spots 47-53 can be dedicated to securing players and development. These young prospects want to force their way into those spots, and likely cost a veteran like Cooper Rush or Allen Hurns a job in the process.

~ ~ ~

Where players fall in these tiers could change once we start getting some reports form training camp. How expendable you are can shift depending on performance, or if the circumstances change at your position.

We'll hit the defense tomorrow.



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