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.
Here is a quick look at some of the positions where you can expect change on offense. We’ll see where roster spots are opened up, but also where they may be consumed.
You can read about the changes on defense here, or using the link at the end of the article.
Last year, Dallas carried three guys as they worked through Tony Romo’s injury situation. Even once Romo became healthy, Mark Sanchez remained on the 53-man roster for the rest of the season.
There is little doubt right now that the Cowboys will have just two QBs in 2017. Dak Prescott is the clear starter and Kellen Moore, re-signed in March, is expected to be his backup. There is no young developmental player who projects to earn that third spot, which would only be used if Dallas didn’t want to risk losing someone on the practice squad.
Granted, things could change between now and Week One. Injuries can change the landscape quickly. Also, some young guy could wow us more than Alex Tanney or Dustin Vaughan ever did to force his way onto the roster. However, if that happens, he might be good enough that Dallas decides they don’t need Kellen Moore after all.
Still, the most likely scenario is that Dallas will keep just two quarterbacks. That opens a roster spot for another position in 2017 which we didn’t have last year.
Dallas opened 2016 with four halfbacks and two fullbacks on the 53-man roster. That is highly unlikely this year, which should open up at least one or two spots for other positions.
One big change is the role that Lance Dunbar occupied. At this point, receivers like Lucky Whitehead or Ryan Switzer are likely to get the looks on offense that Dunbar did, which came primarily as pass catcher. You will see how this may push Dallas to keep a sixth receiver in 2017, using up one of these RB roster spots.
At fullback, Keith Smith seems to be entrenched now as the starter. Rod Smith is still around and made the team early in 2016 to compete at FB and play special teams, but he should only make the squad now as a halfback.
With Ezekiel Elliott and Darren McFadden looking solid as the top two guys, a third halfback should be all the team needs. They only carried Darius Jackson last year as a drafted player who they didn’t want to risk on the practice squad, never actually playing him in a real game. That is unlikely to happen again.
Dallas only kept five receivers in 2016: Dez Bryant, Cole Beasley, Terrance Williams, Brice Butler, and Lucky Whitehead. All five are back and the Cowboys just added two more in the 2017 Draft.
It is highly possible that Dallas will keep six receivers in 2017. The top four guys all have roles to play and bring their own element to the offense. Rookie Ryan Swizter is a virtual lock to make the team, already being seen as the front-runner to be the return specialist and to have a niche role on offense.
Noah Brown, drafted in the seventh round, could be carried as a gameday inactive to protect him from practice squad poachers. He could be good enough to push Brice Butler off the roster, but it’s too soon to project that. The same can be said for Andy Jones, a promising undrafted player from last season.
It’s also too soon to dismiss Whitehead from making this year’s team. Many assume that his roster spot will go to Switzer, but both could make the squad depending on the roles they’re best suited to fill.
However it shakes out, receiver is looking like a position where Dallas can easily go longer than last season. Here comes another one.
Dallas only kept three TEs last year. Would they have kept four if James Hanna hadn’t been injured? It’s hard to say; Gavin Escobar might have been released if Hanna and Geoff Swaim were both active.
Regardless, the Cowboys could easily be keeping four guys this season. Jason Witten’s back to play his 27th season, or something like that, and you have the experienced backups in Hanna and Swaim. The fourth man is Rico Gathers, the highly intriguing draft pick from 2016 who spent last year converting from basketball to football on the practice squad.
If Gathers was able to develop enough, and there is plenty of chatter that he has, then Hanna and Swaim might be fighting for one spot. However, 2017 could easily be Jason Witten’s last season. Dallas may be using this season as a year-long audition for all of these guys to show who might be able to start in 2018.
Camp and preseason will hopefully give us some clarity here. For now, I’m betting on Dallas going long and keeping the options open as the season progresses.
Dallas opened 2016 with just eight offensive linemen on the roster. They had more stability then, though, with veterans Doug Free and Ronald Leary in the mix. The exit of those two players has potentially created the need for some additional bodies.
The move of La’el Collins from guard to tackle appears to be final. That leaves a starting spot at left guard open with several contenders: Byron Bell, Emmett Cleary, Jonathan Cooper, Chaz Green, and Joe Looney.
It’s too early to say there’s a favorite. How all of these guys continue to compete should be the story of training camp for the offense.
However it unfolds, though, you could have some players with troublesome injury history in key positions. Collins had a foot injury which cost him most of last year. Cooper, a former first-round pick, has had his NFL career nearly derailed by health problems. Green has battled injuries the last two years.
These question marks could easily prompt Dallas to keep some extra depth, at least nine players over eight, at the start of the year. Even if health isn’t the concern, they may still not be settled at left guard or with some of the reserve spots and want to keep evaluating guys into the regular season.
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