The “dress rehearsal” game has come and gone. For the Cowboys it felt like any other preseason game with several starters not playing, and a few who didn’t stick around very long.
The absence of those key players was useful in allowing for more sifting through the remainder of the roster. Some changes are reflected in this new projection.
QB: Tony Romo, Dak Prescott (2)
Prescott got a longer night of work in Seattle than perhaps anyone expected. He entered the game after Romo went down with back pain on the third play. Prescott didn’t look any different from the uncannily calm player we’ve seen in the last two weeks. It was his toughest test yet but Prescott still delivered.
If not for Prescott’s confidence-inspiring performances, Romo’s injury scare would likely have us all screaming for a veteran QB to be signed. However, our rare rookie gives Dallas the luxury of getting their backup and developmental player in a single roster spot. Jameil Showers should be back on the practice squad.
RB: Ezekiel Elliott, Alfred Morris
Lance Dunbar, Darius Jackson (4)
Zeke’s debut lived up to expectations and Morris continued to look strong against one of the league’s top defenses. At this point, Darren McFadden has been all but forgotten.
The assumption that Jackson will make the team is fairly universal, but perhaps we need to give it a little more thought. The rookie has some impressive physical gifts but hasn’t been able to show much in preseason behind second and third-tier linemen. The possibility that Dallas will try to sneak him to the practice squad can’t be dismissed.
I’m not ready to project that just yet, but it certainly merits consideration. Dallas may be more inclined to keep McFadden than we realize. Assuming Dunbar still has a role in the offense, Jackson could be closer to the practice squad than we’ve been speculating.
FB: Keith Smith (1)
CHANGES: Added K. Smith, Removed Rod Smith
I’m switching out the Smiths at fullback. I had Rod as the front runner but, as he’s been missing time with an injection, Keith has been doing well with increased opportunities. Not only does Keith give you versatility with his linebacker and special teams experience, but one Cowboys insider said that he has been better as a run blocker.
While I like the idea of having a fullback who could do some thing with the ball in his hands, for which Rod Smith is better suited, it appears that Keith will claim the job based on the total package. Actually being healthy and earning the coaches’ confidence the last few weeks plays a pretty big part, too.
WR: Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Brice Butler
Lucky Whitehead (5)
Barring an explosion in the team’s final preseason game, undrafted rookie Andy Jones appears to have lost whatever foothold he had. I’ve never projected him to make the team but all of the positive reports from camp had him on the radar. After several missed opportunities in preseason play, though, it seems like it’s time to move on.
At this point it doesn’t seem that Devin Street, Vince Mayle, or Rodney Smith are any closer to making the team than Jones. Dallas would likely rather use the roster spot to keep an extra running back or tight end, anyway.
TE: Jason Witten, Gavin Escobar
Geoff Swaim, Austin Traylor
Rico Gathers (5)
CHANGES: Added Traylor
Five tight ends is a lot, but Gathers is only on the team to protect him from being picked off the practice squad. He won’t ever be active.
I’ve added Traylor because he helps fill the void as a blocker that has been left by James Hanna’s injury. The return time for Hanna is still unknown. He will likely start the year on PUP and will be out at least six weeks, maybe more.
OT: Tyron Smith, Doug Free, Chaz Green (3)
Althought he didn’t ace it, Green passed another test last night with overall solid play against one of the league’s best defenses. He still is getting penalized too much and needs to improve his conditioning for sustained performance later in games.
However, Green’s work is good enough that Dallas should ride with him as the swing tackle and hope for continued development along the way. At this point, anyone on the street isn’t going to be much better and likely have much less upside.
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 25 of the 53 roster spots on the offense. Your biggest questions marks are:
- RB: McFadden vs. Dunbar vs. Jackson (2 or 3 kept?)
- 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: Benson Mayowa, David Irving
Ryan Russell, Charles Tapper (4)
CHANGES: Removed Shaniel Jenkins
Weeks 1-4 aren’t going to be pretty. The Cowboys can’t do much about it at this point. They can only hope that the next two weeks of practice and the fourth preseason game give guys some more momentum and development for when the games really count.
The biggest problem now is health. If DeMarcus Lawrence’s suspension wasn’t bad enough, everyone but Russell has some kind of injury. Mayowa, Irving, and Tapper all have nagging issues but should be okay for Week One.
Jenkins is more uncertain. His knee issue is not yet full diagnosed and may be more critical. Has he done enough that Dallas would keep him on the roster to get healthy? I could easily see Dallas cutting Jenkins to make room for someone off another team’s waivers over the next few weeks.
For this projection, I’m cutting Jenkins due to his injury and the fact that they can use Kyle Wilber as a pass rusher. It’s a tough cut given how Jenkins has played, but his injury is awful timing. Besides, he’d likely be cut when Lawrence comes off suspension anyway.
DT: Tyrone Crawford, Terrell McClain, Cedric Thornton, Maliek Collins
Jack Crawford (5)
CHANGES: Moved J. Crawford from DE to DT
Collins made his preseason debut last night but didn’t show much in the game. If he has a slow start to the year, Jack Crawford will likely see a lot more work as an inside tackle.
Nothing really projects to change here. The top three are set and J. Crawford and Collins will share rotating duties.
LB: Sean Lee, Anthony Hitchens
Kyle Wilber, Justin Durant
Andrew Gachkar, Mark Nzeocha
Damien Wilson (7)
I don’t see making any changes here unless a new injury pops up. I think the have to go with seven guys given the health issues and that we may see Wilber getting used as a DE in some formations.
One factor to consider is if they do keep Keith Smith as the fullback, that’s a potential backup linebacker for you as well. I’m not ready to cut any of these guys on the basis of Smith’s presence, but it could help swing a decision if they are really up against it between linebacker or a spot at some other position.
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 had his own injury scare last night but appears to be okay. He returned to the game and there was no mention of it afterwards.
S: Byron Jones, Barry Church
Jeff Heath, Kavon Frazier (4)
Another position that seems fairly certain. J.J. Wilcox doesn’t appear to have a role, unless they just aren’t impressed enough with Frazier’s work to want to keep him. There’s no indication of that at this time.
ST: Dan Bailey (K), Chris Jones (P), L.P. Ladouceur (LS)
Bailey had a rare miss last night, albeit from 52 yards out. Thankfully, preseason misses don’t hurt your career percentage. He’s still the G.O.A.T.
~ ~ ~
So, there are your 53 players for the Week One roster. As a bonus, here are the 22 guys who I think will still be around after the first round of cuts next Tuesday.
|QB – Jameil Showers
FB – Rod Smith
WR – Andy Jones
WR – Rodney Smith
WR – Vince Mayle
WR – Devin Street
C – Jake Brendel
G – Dan Buchholz
G – Boston Stiverson
T – Bryan Witzmann
T – Ryan Mack
|DE – Shaneil Jenkins
DE – Mike McAdoo
DT – Rodney Coe
DE/DT – Lawrence Okoye
LB – Derek Akunne
LB – James Morris
CB – Josh Thomas
CB – Dax Swanson
CB – Jeremiah McKinnon
S – J.J. Wilcox
K/P – Matt Wile
I think that Kellen Moore will be moved to Injured Reserve so that he no longer takes up a roster spot. Also not accounted for here are Darren McFadden and Jaylon Smith, who are still on the Non-Football Injury list. James Hanna is still on PUP. Rolando McClain and Randy Gregory also do not count against the roster as they never reported.
The cuts could begin at any point this weekend. Inside the Star will keep you up to date!