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.
~ ~ ~
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.
~ ~ ~
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.
Ezekiel Elliott vs Byron Jones Part II: The Case For Paying Zeke
It's a debate that has raged on social media for some time now and it likely won't slow down as the offseason progresses and the Dallas Cowboys begin to hand out massive contracts to their top players. Pay Ezekiel Elliott? Pay Byron Jones? If you could only pay one, which would you pay?
This week fellow Inside The Star Staff Writer, Kevin Brady took to Twitter to poll the populous and his results were a bit surprising to me.
if you can only pay one it should be
The results inspired me to see what would happen if I put the same poll on my timeline.
Inspired by my teammate @KevinBrady88, if you can only pay one, which would it be?
On Monday, Kevin wrote a piece looking at one of the difficult decisions facing the Dallas Cowboys this offseason or next. If the Cowboys could only extend Byron Jones OR Ezekiel Elliott, who should they choose? Kevin, as am I, is a firm believer in Byron Jones ability and says the Cowboys should extend them, and I agree. But let's look at the other side of the argument.
To begin, the Cowboys should and probably will get both guys contract extensions either this offseason or next. It's not impossible with the cap continuing to increase at a rate of about $8-12 million per year that the Cowboys will have the space to get the deals done that they need to get done. Ezekiel Elliott and Byron Jones included.
Byron Jones settled in nicely at cornerback during his first full season at cornerback and knowing what we know about Jones, he won't be satisfied with a second team All-Pro appearance. Expect him to get better. However, if there's a single player that represents the current identity of the Dallas Cowboys, it's Running Back Ezekiel Elliott.
The Cowboys made him the fourth overall pick in 2016 and haven't looked back in their plan to establish the running game. For his career Elliott has averaged 26.9 touches per game over the course of his 40 games.
Here's a look at what Elliott's per game and per 16 game paces look like through the first three seasons of his career.
As you can see from the table above, Ezekiel Elliott is averaging 131.2 total yards per game for his career. In his rookie season he had 1,994 total yards and he sat out the week 17 game against the Philadelphia Eagles when the Cowboys had the NFC and home field advantage locked up. In 2017, Elliott sat out six games and still had nearly 1,000 yards rushing. In 2018, Elliott broke through the 2,000 total yard barrier after seeing a huge increase in his targets and receptions.
Ezekiel Elliott has been everything the Dallas Cowboys could have hoped for and more. With the leadership role he's taken with the team, he's a player that leads both vocally and by example. There are few players on the Dallas Cowboys that give as much effort as he does each snap. How many times has it looked like Elliott was about to get dropped for a two or three yard loss only to grind through tackles to pick up a four yard gain? How many times has he bounced off tacklers to get to the first down marker? Ezekiel Elliott is the human personification of dirty yards, but don't let that fool you into thinking that Elliott can't take it to the house every time he touches the ball. Elliott's is a game breaker who threatens the defense every time he steps on the field.
In 2018, Elliott led the NFL in yards after contact, per Pro Football Focus. His 949 yards after contact in 2018 would have ranked 13th in the NFL in rushing, which was better than David Johnson's 940 yards rushing last season.
Not many running backs effect a football game like Ezekiel Elliott does.
Few players outside of the quarterback position are as much of a focal point for their offense while being an attention grabber for opposing defenses like Ezekiel Elliott is. In 2018, he saw eight or more men in the box on nearly 25% of his carries in 2018. Some of that is related to the Dallas Cowboys insistence on using two tight ends on 50% of their running plays (per Sharp Football), but the other aspect is related to how much they respect the Dallas Cowboys running game. Since the 2014, the Cowboys have been synonymous with running the football. DeMarco Murray, Darren McFadden, and now Ezekiel Elliott have been the faces of that running game behind the Cowboys elite offensive line.
Even in a down year for offensive line play from the Dallas Cowboys, Elliott still managed to lead the NFL in rushing for the second time in three seasons. Elliott made the Pro Bowl for the second time in three years as well. Were it not for the railroad job done by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in 2017, there's a really good chance that Elliott leads the league in rushing three years in a row and that the Dallas Cowboys make the playoffs all three seasons.
Sure, the running back position is undervalued in the NFL and rushing yardage can be replaced, but there are intangibles to Elliott's game that are very difficult to replace. His ability to grind out the dirty yards, break big plays, create yards after contact, pass protect, be a threat as a receiver, and his leadership make him a player that is difficult to replace.
Yes, Byron Jones was really good in 2018 and deserves to get paid by the Dallas Cowboys as well, but you'd be hard pressed to find a player on the Cowboys roster who has been as consistent and dominating week in and week out as Ezekiel Elliott has been over the last three years.
BREAKING: Cowboys Sign Ex-Packers WR Randall Cobb
According to multiple sources, the Dallas Cowboys have signed former Green Bay Packers Wide Receiver Randall Cobb to a one-year deal to help bolster their depth at the WR position and potentially become Cole Beasley's replacement.
Cowboys are giving former Packers' WR Randall Cobb a one-year, $5 million deal, per source. https://t.co/8KWFPjSP8T
The Dallas Cowboys met with Randall Cobb earlier this week, but he eventually left Dallas without a contract. He must've had a change of heart or just needed time to ponder the Cowboys offer, but regardless of what transpired in that short time he is now part of America's Team.
During his time with the Packers, Cobb accumulated 470 receptions for 5,524 receiving yards and 41 touchdowns. The eight-year veteran will now be expected to replace some of Cole Beasley's production out of the slot for the Dallas Cowboys.
After years of watching Beasley as the Cowboys slot WR, it will be really interesting to see Randall Cobb in that role. He's not as quick twitched as No. 11, but can be just as dangerous due to his ability to be more of a down the field receiver. He also brings added value in the return game and could compete with Tavon Austin to become the return specialist.
This could mean the Cowboys forgo drafting a wide receiver early in the 2019 NFL Draft, but I wouldn't put it past them. Regardless of what happens, this is an excellent addition.
Welcome to Cowboys Nation Randall Cobb!
REPORT: Dallas Cowboys Re-sign Long Snapper L.P. Ladouceur
L.P. Ladouceur is returning for his 15th season as the Cowboys' long snapper. The veteran free agent was re-signed by Dalals today to a one-year deal.
Thanks to Jason Witten's one-year sabbatical with Monday Night Football, Ladouceur has now been with the Cowboys for more consecutive seasons than any current player. He just turned 38 last week, but Louis-Philippe remains one of the top long snappers in football.
The Cowboys have signed long-snapper L.P. Ladouceur to a one-year deal worth $1.03 million and $90,000 in bonus money, but he will count $735,000 against the cap. This will be Ladouceur's 15th season with the Cowboys, tying Ed "Too Tall" Jones, Mark... https://t.co/2iDsi6RX7e
Retaining Ladouceur is an underrated move for the Cowboys given their situation at kicker.
Brett Maher was only 80% accurate overall on field goals last year. The team could be considering an upgrade in free agency.
Whether they bring Maher back or try someone new, having a long snapper with Ladouceur's performance perfection will make things much easier for them.
Dallas Cowboys1 week ago
5 Realistic Free Agents Cowboys Should Sign Before the Draft
NFL Draft6 days ago
Hypothetical La’el Collins Trade Could Recoup Cowboys a 2019 1st-Round Pick
Dallas Cowboys6 days ago
Cowboys Show Interest in Browns DE Emmanuel Ogbah
Player News7 days ago
Chiefs Release Eric Berry, Should Cowboys Be Interested?
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
REPORT: Cowboys Keeping OL Joe Looney, WR Tavon Austin, WR Allen Hurns in 2019
NFL Draft2 weeks ago
7-Round Dallas Cowboys Mock Draft: Post-Combine Edition
Dallas Cowboys6 days ago
BREAKING: Dallas Cowboys Sign DL Christian Covington
Dallas Cowboys1 week ago
Dallas Cowboys Should Take a Run at EDGE Justin Houston