We're a week removed from the 2017 NFL Draft. With all of the picks and the wave of undrafted free agent signings now known, it's a good time to take stock of the Cowboys roster and see what it may look like after final cuts.
Obviously, a lot will happen between now and the end of preseason. Injuries and surprising play, for good or bad, can move guys up and down the depth chart. What we think of some of these guys now could change dramatically after a big preseason performance.
That said, we'll do the best we can. Here is my best guess, based on current information, at the Cowboys 53-man roster come Week One.
Dak Prescott, Kellen Moore
With no draft picks spent on a developmental QB, Dallas will likely go back to the days of having just two passers on the active roster. They did sign Florida's Austin Appleby and Central Michigan's Cooper Rush as undrafted free agents, one of whom will likely be on the practice squad next year.
Barring injuries or a very unexpected surge from one of the rookies, Prescott and Moore should go unchallenged in their roles. Despite his 2015 struggles and missed time last year, Dallas still thought enough to bring Kellen back and leave him without any real competition for the backup job. It's a vote of confidence from the front office, even if many fans don't share it.
Running Backs (4)
Ezekiel Elliott, Darren McFadden, Rod Smith, Keith Smith (FB)
With Elliott getting workhorse carries it takes some of the pressure off the rest of the depth chart. Once he came off the Non-Football Injury list last year, McFadden was clearly the number-two back and pushed Alfred Morris into oblivion. As I wrote about yesterday, I don't expect Morris to make the 2017 roster.
Rod Smith provides far better value as a third running back than Morris. He has been a strong special teams player and gives a short-yardage option in case Zeke's not available. After last year, he could also serve as a backup fullback.
There won't be any competition at FB this year, though, as Keith Smith emerged as a solid starter. He doesn't get the same number of snaps as some of the top FBs in the league, but Smith shows up as a run-blocker and provides versatility both on special teams and as an emergency linebacker.
The top three were never in doubt. To the surprise of many, Dallas re-signed Williams to a four-year deal and will have all of the same primary skill-position players on the offense. As Stephen Jones said in a recent press conference, they did not foresee being able to draft or sign anyone who could give them an upgrade so bringing Terrance back made the most sense.
Dallas used a fourth-round pick to add North Carolina's Ryan Switzer, who should knock Lucky Whitehead off the roster as the new primary return man. He has been compared to Cole Beasley (and all the other small white receivers) and should compete for targets immediately.
I had a tough time deciding between Noah Brown and Brice Butler. Ultimately, I went with Brown given his raw ability and what he could be after the coaches get their hands on him. Dallas seems ready to move on from Butler, giving him a minimal one-year deal that felt like nothing more than insurance. As long as Brown or another young guy, like Andy Jones, step up then Butler should be gone.
Tight Ends (4)
Jason Witten, James Hanna, Geoff Swaim, Rico Gathers
This foursome has felt set for a while. While Dallas could have used a high pick on Witten's eventual replacement, it's always seemed more prudent to use 2017 to see just what all of these current options can really do. If a young guy like Swaim or Gathers can really blossom, you may have found your answer for a fraction of the cost.
We should not dismiss James Hanna, either. Dallas clearly thought highly of him last year when they re-signed him for almost $3 million per season. Hanna is the best blocking TE and has the athleticism to be dangerous in the receiving game. He will have to fight off the youngsters for his spot, but Hanna has the skills to do it.
Offensive Tackles (4)
Tyron Smith, Chaz Green, Emmett Cleary, Byron Bell
Doug Free's retirement left a big question mark on the right end of the Cowboys' offensive line. I was content with a competition between Green and Cleary for the job, but Dallas also signed veteran Byron Bell as another contender.
Chaz Green will have the advantage as a former third-round pick. Teams are naturally biased towards drafted players, particularly when they went that high. That will be the tiebreaker if everything's even between Chaz and the other two guys.
The nice thing with Bell is that he could also play guard, giving him versatility that should preserve a roster spot even if he doesn't win the starting job. Given Chaz Green's injury history, I see them keeping Cleary around also.
Zack Martin, La'el Collins, Jonathan Cooper
While we may regret having to lose Ronald Leary in free agency, the picture above reminds us that La'el Collins is seen as a first-round talent. This was always his job; only an injury kept him away from it last year. Now he has to play up that level to reward the Cowboys' faith.
As long as he can stay healthy and motivated, Jonathan Cooper should hold down the backup job. He's a former first-round pick who's had bad luck with injuries and never finding the right fit. If he really stands out, there's potential for him to earn a starting role while Collins gets moved out to right tackle. That's another reason why Byron Bell's potential as an interior player comes in handy.
Travis Frederick, Joe Looney
There's not much to say at this spot. Frederick is as entrenched as they get with his long-term deal and 1st-team All-Pro status. He, Tyron Smith, and Zack Martin will all be Cowboys longer than most guys on the current roster.
Joe Looney feels secure as the backup center but could see competition from Jonathan Cooper. I expect both to make the team, though, as veteran options for a team looking to make a championship run.
Defensive Ends (4)
DeMarcus Lawrence, Benson Mayowa, Charles Tapper, Taco Charlton
Four may seem light but keep in mind that David Irving and Tyrone Crawford have flexibility to play DE as well. These are clearly the top four options as outside rushers, though, and how the snaps get divided will be interesting to track all season.
We've seen Lawrence play at a high level, getting seven sacks in the final eight games of 2015. If he can avoid injury and get back to that then he may still earn a contract extension. However, Dallas didn't spend a first-round pick on Taco Charlton for nothing. Even if Lawrence has a good year, he may still get forced out by the rookie.
Charles Tapper brings plenty of intrigue, as well. Many felt he played out of position in college and will blossom as a 4-3 end. He will get every opportunity to do so as Rod Marinelli will keep tinkering until he finds the most potent mix.
Defensive Tackle (5)
David Irving, Tyrone Crawford, Maliek Collins, Cedric Thornton, Stephen Paea
This position is loaded with solid players but now we need someone to emerge as a star. The best candidates for that are Irving and Collins, who were both flashing greatness last season.
This season could be the last for all three veterans. Both Tyrone Crawford and Cedric Thornton could be cap casualties in 2018 and Stephen Paea was signed to just a one-year deal. If the young players emerge as we hope then these three may all be competing for a single spot as a veteran reserve next year.
Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith, Damien Wilson, Anthony Hitchens, Kyle Wilber, Mark Nzeocha, Jeremiah George
The Cowboys did not add any significant linebacker talent in the draft, as some thought they would, so this group should remain intact. Jaylon Smith's debut will likely be the most anticipated of any new face, even among our 2017 rookies and free agents.
Anthony Hitchens and Damien Wilson should battle for the SAM spot. Wilson was really coming on last year and probably has the edge, especially since Hitchens is in the final year of his contract. I expect Hitch to stick around as a primary backup, though, regardless of what happens.
Given injury concerns for Smith and Mark Nzeocha, I think Dallas will keep a seventh guy on the roster. I went with Jeremiah George given his experience (21 games played) and work as a special teams player. That spot is wide open, though, for a less established prospect to emerge.
Anthony Brown, Orlando Scandrick, Nolan Carroll, Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis
This may be the most interesting position now on the whole roster. The early picks spent on Awuzie and Lewis bring intrigue and competition. The rumblings that Scandrick might get traded could affect his play, for good or bad. And all eyes will be on Anthony Brown as we hope he builds on a standout rookie year to become a top corner.
Even with the youth infusion, I expect Nolan Carroll to stick around as a veteran backup. He signed a three-year deal and should do well in our scheme.
Sixth-round rookie Marquez White could push for a roster spot but, I'm afraid, just can't fight these numbers. Ten defensive backs is already a lot. Dallas will hope they can stash him on the practice squad, but that could be difficult given his profile.
Byron Jones, Jeff Heath, Kavon Frazier, Robert, Blanton, Xavier Woods
Dallas went with five safeties last year, mostly because they were trying to keep Frazier secure as a developmental player. They may be in the same position again with Xavier Woods.
While he will have to fight for it, Jeff Heath should be your Week One starter. Veteran addition Robert Blanton could contend but is more likely to be an experienced backup and special teamer. He will have to outplay Frazier and Woods, though, to earn a job. Dallas would love to open up a roster spot if they can.
Dan Bailey (K), Chris Jones (P), L.P. Ladouceur (LS)
There's little doubt about these three. The one thing to watch is that Jones and Ladouceur are both on expiring contracts. Dallas should bring in young guys as camp bodies, but if one of them really stands out then things might get interesting. Dallas could decide hanging on to the younger prospect is more prudent.
Cowboys Wishlist: Connor Williams Turns It Around
The Dallas Cowboys are on the road again as they travel to Indianapolis to face a hot 7-6 Colts team that's trying to sneak into the AFC Playoffs. It will be a tough challenge for a team that's struggled when playing out of AT&T Stadium but the Cowboys have changed a lot since they were a 3-5 unit. This time, they're one of the hottest teams in the NFL and are one win away from clinching the NFC East.
We surely are in for a great game. Without further ado, I hope you enjoy this week's edition of "Cowboys Wishlist."
Wish #1: Leighton Vander Esch Outplays Darius Leonard
As impressive as Leighton Vander Esch has been for the Dallas Cowboys, he's not alone in the Defensive Rookie of the Year race. On today's game, he'll meet his match in Colts LB Darius Leonard. A second rounder himself, Leonard leads the league in tackles with 135. He also is responsible for 11 tackles for loss, seven sacks, four forced fumbles and one interception.
Vander Esch, otherwise known as "Wolf Hunter" doesn't have such incredible stats, but playing time is a big reason why. His play has been pretty impressive, though. Ranked as the top rookie linebacker by PFF, hell be out there to prove who's the better player. I really wish he outplays Leonard en rout to the DROY award.
Wish #2: No Turnovers From Dak
455 yards, three touchdowns and another game-winning drive were more than impressive from Dak Prescott. I really have faith in him as the Cowboys' QB. But we can't ignore the three turnovers he was responsible for in such a close game versus the Philadelphia Eagles.
This game will be different. The Colts are a legit threat in the NFL right now and the Cowboys won't be the home team. Without Martin on the field, Prescott is likely to be pressured. If that's the case, he needs to watch out and avoid fumbles in the pocket.
It's really important the team takes care of the ball if they want the win versus Andrew Luck and company. I specifically wish Dak Prescott has a good game and does something he's done fairly well throughout his career: take care of the ball.
Wish #3: Connor Williams Turns It Around
Expectations were sky-high for second round pick Connor Williams. A starter in week 1, injury and poor play sidelined him in favor of Xavier Su'a-Filo. With Zack Martin out for the game, Williams has another opportunity to shine. This time he'll be lining up as the team's right guard between C Joe Looney and RT La'el Collins.
It's very important to remember Williams is only a rookie. Just because we're used to offensive line rookies to have immediate success for Dallas doesn't mean every one the team brings in will be as great starting off. A rough start is not the end of the world for Williams. Also worth noting, the majority of his playing time came under now-fired OL coach Paul Alexander. I'm convinced he'll turn things around and will become an important player for the Cowboys soon.
For now, I wish he takes advantage of the opportunity to play and does a great job to be considered again for the LG spot once Martin returns.
Wish #4: Amari Cooper Keeps It Up
The impact Amari Cooper has had on this team is quite frankly unbelievable. He should really be seen as this season's savior for the Cowboys. While the defense is winning games, without Cooper the offense would still be terrible and results wouldn't be the same. He has more than justified the first round pick the Jones traded away to get him.
In a big, road game like this one, I hope he keeps it up and has another huge performance. Whether it is multiple scores or a 100-yard game, I simply want to see him shine again.
Cowboys, Colts Week 15 Injury Report
The Dallas Cowboys can clinch the NFC East with a win this week, while the Indianapolis Colts are fighting to stay alive in the AFC wild card race. Only one team can accomplish their goal, and both have some big names on the Week 15 injury report.
We'll begin with the visiting Cowboys, who could be getting at least one star player back while another is already confirmed to miss the game.
- TE Geoff Swaim (wrist) - OUT
- G Zack Martin (knee) - OUT
- DL David Irving (ankle) - OUT
- WR Tavon Austin (groin) - Questionable
- WR Lance Lenoir (illness) - Questionable
- OT Tyron Smith (neck) - Questionable
- DE Randy Gregory (personal) - Questionable
- LB Sean Lee (hamstring) - Questionable
Yes, sadly, Zack Martin will be out tomorrow. The good news is that Connor Williams got the entire week to practice with the starters at right guard. You can read much more about this situation and it's impact on the game here, courtesy of our own Sean Martin.
Also ruled out, as they have been for a while now, are TE Geoff Swaim and DL David Irving. Swaim is still recovering from wrist surgery but has not been placed on injured reserve, so the team must feel he could be back for the playoffs. Irving could return as soon as next week.
Speaking of returns, Sean Lee may be back on the field this Sunday. It's unknown yet how he'll rotate with Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith, but Dallas has the luxury of working him in slowly thanks to the play of their young duo.
Tavon Austin could also return this week, creating another new offensive wrinkle. Austin has been injured since the Jacksonville game and has yet to play since the Cowboys acquired Amari Cooper. Not only could Tavon do some interesting things in the offense, but he should bring some additional sizzle to special teams.
While appearing on the injury report, Randy Gregory missed practice this week for "family reasons" according to Jason Garrett. He could still play tomorrow.
- G Mark Glowinski (ankle) - OUT
- LB Skai Moore (neck) - OUT
- S Mike Mitchell (calf) - OUT
- WR T.Y. Hilton (ankle) - Questionable
- TE Ryan Hewitt (ribs) - Questionable
- S Clayton Geathers (knee) - Questionable
The big name here is Hilton, the star receiver who missed all practice this week with an ankle injury. Indianapolis has not ruled him out, wanting to give Andrew Luck's favorite target every opportunity to play. But it's not looking good, and a bad ankle could limit Hilton's effectiveness even if he goes.
Also hurt among the passing options is starting TE Ryan Hewitt, but he did practice full on Friday and should go. Not playing, however, is starting right guard Mark Glowinski. That means third-year player Evan Boehm should start, who just joined the team in October.
Indy's hurting at safety this week. Not only did starter Clayton Geathers miss the whole week of practice, but veteran backup Mike Mitchell is already ruled out. The Colts would have to rely on undrafted rookie George Odum if neither plays.
Fun fact before we go; former Cowboy Jihad Ward was picked up by the Colts after Dallas included him in their roster cuts to start the season. However, he landed on injured reserve back in October so won't get a chance at revenge.
Zack Martin Out, Connor Williams In at Right Guard for Cowboys at Colts
The Dallas Cowboys offensive line depth will be tested as they play for a chance to clinch the NFC East on Sunday at the Indianapolis Colts. Suffering a knee injury last week against the Eagles, Right Guard Zack Martin will not be able to play. In missing his first career start, rookie Connor Williams rightfully returns to the starting lineup as Martin's replacement.
The 50th overall pick from this year's AT&T Stadium hosted Draft has started eight games this season at left guard. Williams' last start happens to be in the last game Dallas lost, a week nine defeat to the Tennessee Titans. This opened the door for Xavier Su'a-Filo to become something of a sensation for Cowboys Nation as the starting left guard throughout the team's current five game win streak.
Pro Bowl guard Zack Martin has been ruled out of Sunday's game with a sprained knee. Rookie Connor Williams will start in his place.
Zack Martin being unavailable is hardly how Marc Colombo wants to prepare for the Cowboys first road game since week 11. Having both Su'a-Filo and Williams in the lineup will be valuable for the Cowboys moving forward though, as Williams could earn his job at left guard back from the right side.
While he won't nearly be expected to play at the level of Martin, Williams looked poised coming off the bench against the Eagles and helping the Cowboys offense score their final three touchdowns. Williams was on the field for all three of Amari Cooper's scores, as Dallas rushed for 34 yards on 11 carries with him in the game.
Williams flashed some of the traits that made him a top left tackle prospect out of college, flowing to the second level with ease and creating movement with quick feet at the point of attack. The Cowboys have forced him to remain game ready despite losing his starting position by finding a few emergency snaps for him in recent weeks, as well as special teams looks. The team has every reason to believe Williams is an ascending young player still.
The same cannot be said of Su'a-Filo, who simply has to focus on continuing to hold up at left guard again this week. With each passing win, Su'a-Filo's LG spot has become more of a liability in a Cowboys offense in need of a jump-start late in this 2018 season.
Consistent offensive line play is one of the few things that's clearly hurting the Cowboys as contenders in the NFC behind a stellar defense and game breaking wide receiver.
The Cowboys won't be at full strength against the eighth best rushing defense and 15th ranked passing defense in yards per game. With three separate chances to clinch the NFC East starting at the Colts and extending until the end of the regular season, the Cowboys stand to learn all they need to know about the offensive line that will start in the playoffs.
Martin, who's elevated his game to a new level this season despite this lingering knee injury, should be on track to return when the Cowboys come home to play the Buccaneers in week 16.
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