There is no exact blueprint for a NFL roster. Every year, teams are put together with different circumstances and philosophies that change the numbers at each position. The Dallas Cowboys are no exception, and 2017 is likely to have different math from last season.
Earlier today we considered some of the changes you can expect in the roster numbers on offense. Now we'll look at the defense to see some other potential shifts.
The Cowboys have several guys in Irving, Tyrone Crawford, DeMarcus Lawrence, and even rookie Taco Charlton who can play end or tackle in their scheme. This makes it hard to talk about DE and DT separately, so we won't try to.
Last year Dallas started thin on the defense line. They had just eight players and one of them, Charles Tapper, was inactive with injuries. DeMarcus Lawrence was serving a four-game suspension to start the season.
In 2017 it will be David Irving who faces a suspension. Still, Dallas has a lot of bodies left with Lawrence, Charlton, Tapper, Benson Mayowa, and free agent Damontre Moore at defensive end. At tackle they have Crawford, Maliek Collins, Cedric Thornton, and free agent Stephen Paea all expected to make the team, not to mention other young prospects at both positions.
The nine names I just gave you are who I expect to make the Week One roster. We might see Moore get released to make room for Irving in Week 5, but injuries and other developments could open up the roster spot some other way. That means Dallas could be using up one more roster spot on the defensive line than they did in Week One last year.
Assuming health at linebacker is a risky proposition given the Cowboys recent history. However, that's what we have to do for now. If everyone is indeed ready to play in Week One, it could open up that roster spot the defensive line needs.
Last year's team started with seven linebackers. One of those was veteran Justin Durant, who was having to be slowly worked back in as a last-minute signing. The other was Mark Nzeocha, who was battling injuries for much of the year. Dallas had to go long for cover for these issues.
The 2017 Cowboys could easily go with just six guys. Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith will have the two key starting spots. Damien Wilson is likely to retain his role as the SAM linebacker. That means Anthony Hitchens will become a versatile backup who has experience at all three spots. That would leave the last two spots for Nzeocha and veteran Kyle Wilber.
The chatter around former Pro Bowler Daryl Washington probably won't change the math. If he's signed, Washington would likely take a roster spot from Nzeocha or Wilber rather than causing the Cowboys to keep a seventh linebacker.
We may not see much change here. Dallas started and finished 2016 with ten defensive backs and could easily do the same now. The question is how they'll balance between cornerbacks and safeties.
We can safely assume that cornerbacks Orlando Scandrick, Anthony Brown, and Nolan Carroll will be making the team along with rookies Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis. Earlier this week I did consider the possibility of Carroll being released, but this isn't what I expect to happen.
At safety, Byron Jones and Jeff Heath should be joined by second-year man Kavon Frazier and rookie Xavier Woods. That gives you nine guys already and, potentially, the only nine you absolutely need. Dallas might be able to run with just these players and free up a spot elsewhere.
If they do keep ten, it likely comes down to veteran safety Robert Blanton or rookie corner Marquez White. That will depend heavily on if Blanton's experience is needed or if Frazier and Woods can inspire enough confidence as the only safety depth.
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