Roster cuts will be coming over the next two days, and it's time to look at our final 53-man roster projection of 2018. Who will make up the Dallas Cowboys as the enter the upcoming regular season?
The preseason revealed some things that we didn't expect a month ago, both positive and negative. We've seen some big swings in stock value on certain players since the start of training camp.
The best thing you can say about the Cowboys' August is that they evaded any major injuries. Travis Frederick's health issue is a concern, but otherwise the team shouldn't be missing anybody for more than a week or town.
One thing to keep in mind with these projections is that we can't account for all of the talent that's about to hit the open market. Only Will McClay and his crew know who the Cowboys may be targeting from waivers and free agency in the days ahead.
That said, we'll do our best to form a roster with what we know and who's currently in house.
Dak Prescott, Mike White
Changes: Removed Cooper Rush
I have wrestled with this one a lot, and I think this comes down to that 53-man limit and needs elsewhere on the team. It also may be a temporary move.
White has outplayed Rush the last two weeks. While he's a rookie, he was also a fifth-round pick. Rush was an undrafted free agent last year.
Dallas will want to preserve White's four-year rookie contract, which would be lost if he was released and re-signed to the practice squad. Unfortunately, Rush's time last year on the active roster makes him ineligible for the practice squad.
The Cowboys may very well wind up with three quarterbacks, perhaps signing or trading for a veteran backup over the next few days. But with other positions where they need to go long due to injury, I think they will make this move to avoid having to make a tougher cut somewhere else.
Running Back (4)
Ezekiel Elliott, Rod Smith, Darius Jackson,
Jamize Olawale (FB)
I am standing by my belief that Jackson gives you more than Bo Scarbrough with his athleticism and kick return value. He just makes more sense as your third RB as Rod Smith has plenty of power as a short-yardage option.
There are only so many teams that are going to value a runner like Scarbrough. He needs an offensive line who can dominate and make lanes for him to pick up speed in. Dallas is one of those few teams, so they have a good shot at getting him to their practice squad.
I'm prepared to be wrong on this one. The Cowboys have cut Jackson once before and could do it again. But keep in mind that this was when they had Elliott, Alfred Morris, and Darren McFadden all under contract. Darius was on the roster in 2016 until McFadden was finally activated.
Allen Hurns, Cole Beasley, Michael Gallup,
Terrance Williams, Tavon Austin, Deonte Thompson
Changes: Added Thompson
Here's one position where I think Dallas goes long, both for current and future reasons. Even still, they have to make a tough cut by not putting Lance Lenoir on the roster this year.
With Beasley, Austin, and Thompson all playing on expiring contracts, and Terrance Williams a likely cap casualty next year, the Cowboys will spend much of 2018 deciding who they value for the future. We're going to see all of these guys used in various ways.
Even though Thompson didn't get to do much this month, missing time with injury, Dallas signed the veteran for a reason. I think they'll want to see what he can offer in games before they cut him loose.
As for Lenoir, I'm sure the Cowboys will hope to get him to the practice squad. He'd make the team most years, but we're unusually deep at WR in 2018.
Tight End (3)
Blake Jarwin, Geoff Swaim, Dalton Schultz
I wouldn't draft a Dallas TE on your fantasy team this year, because Jarwin and Swaim are probably going to be splitting a lot of time. Jarwin's the better receiver, Swaim's the better blocker, and they will be deployed in many different packages.
Schultz was a fourth-round pick and isn't going anywhere. That means Rico Gathers had to push the team to keep four tight ends, and it just hasn't happened. He's still too raw with the finer points of football to justify a roster spot.
In a different year, Dallas could go long if they wanted to give Rico another year to develop and not risk him on the practice squad. But with the health issues on the offensive line and at safety, this just isn't one of those years.
Offensive Tackle (3)
Tyron Smith, La'el Collins, Cam Fleming
This trio had been locked in since the beginning of camp. The starters are set and Fleming was clearly brought in to play swing tackle, making $2.5 million this year in reserve duty.
There is some concern as Fleming hasn't looked great this preseason, but part of that has been the overall failings of the backup linemen. Teams have been throwing a lot of blitzes at Dallas' second string.
Fleming has started a lot of games, including playoffs, for the New England Patriots. He will look better when he's playing with the starters and when defenses aren't as aggressive.
Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, Connor Williams,
Joe Looney, Parker Ehinger, Free Agent TBD
Changes: Added Ehinger, Removed Kadeem Edwards
In case you're wondering who Ehinger is, he's the OL from Kansas City who is reportedly coming to Dallas in exchange for CB Charvarius Ward. This deal should be finalized today.
Ehinger has guard/tackle flex and should be a nice upgrade over Kadeem Edwards. But that still leaves Dallas needing another guy who can play center.
Frederick may only be on the 53 for a day. Dallas has to go through cuts first and then put Travis on injured reserve if they want the option of bringing him back after eight weeks.
At this point, I don't even think they'll go that far. It sounds like he's doing very well with his treatment and could return much sooner than Week 9. I think they'll carry Frederick on the 53 as a gameday inactive until he's ready to go.
That means Joe Looney is starting for a while. Even though Zack Martin can play center in a pinch, Dallas still needs another guy who can handle that spot on their bench until Frederick returns. I think he will come from free agency in the next few days.
Defensive End (5)
DeMarcus Lawrence, Randy Gregory, Taco Charlton,
Dorance Armstrong, Charles Tapper
Changes: Moved Tyrone Crawford to DT
With Gregory's return and how quickly he's reestablished himself, it looks like Crawford is going to play more at his natural position as the 3-technique defensive tackle. That's good news across the board.
Thanks to the young talent showing up, Dallas will cut Kony Ealy. The veteran has not been what they hoped and they have better options at both DE and DT.
Tapper makes it for now but could easily be the guy cut once David Irving comes off suspension in Week 5.
Defensive Tackle (5)
Tyrone Crawford, Maliek Collins, Antwaun Woods,
Daniel Ross, Brian Price
Changes: Added Crawford
One of the big stories this camp and preseason has been the rise of Antwaun Woods, who has taken over the 1-tech and nose tackle role. It's a nice development for the Cowboys as it frees up Maliek Collins to get back to the things that made him a standout as a rookie.
Jihad Ward is the guy that Dallas traded away Ryan Switzer for, but he hasn't impressed. He might make it over Ross or Price, but that would only be if the Cowboys still believe there's some untapped potential left.
As mentioned already, David Irving will be back in October. Injuries will likely play a major factor in who gets cut to make room for him.
Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch,
Damien Wilson, Joe Thomas, Justin March-Lillard
It's been a great summer for the LB position. Lee and Smith are healthy heading into the season, and Jaylon looks ready to be a breakout star.
Dallas now has the luxury of easing first-round pick Leighton Vander Esch into things. Damien Wilson may still start in the base defense for a while as the rookie, who missed time in preseason with a minor groin injury, hasn't had much work lately.
Helping also is the emergence of Joe Thomas and Justin March-Lillard as quality depth options. Both have stood out in preseason and are guy you won't be afraid to play in games if needed. It's arguably the deepest that the Cowboys have been at linebacker in some time.
Chidobe Awuzie, Byron Jones, Anthony Brown,
Jourdan Lewis, Donovan Olumba
Changes: Added Olumba, Removed Charvarius Ward
One reason that Dallas traded Ward to Kansas City, no doubt, is the play of Donovan Olumba. Another undrafted free agent this year, Olumba fits the Kris Richard mold at 6'2" and has been standing out lately among the CB prospects.
Even if Dallas was only keeping four safeties, not having to cover for Xavier Woods' injury, I don't think they'd go any longer here. Whether it's the 10th defensive back or that 9th offensive linemen, these are the spots that I think will cost Cooper Rush his roster spot.
Jeff Heath, Xavier Woods, Kavon Frazier,
Jeron Johnson, Tyree Robinson
Last night's game validated Johnson as a keeper. The veteran safety led the team in tackles and should provide exactly what they need, at least temporarily, while waiting to get Woods back. His experience, but generally and specifically with Kris Richard in Seattle, is a major plus.
I'm putting Robinson on here for now, but I could easily see him being replaced by a waiver wire or free agent acquisition. And if the Cowboys could perhaps finally pull of a trade with the Seahawks for that other guy, even better.
Special Teams (3)
Dan Bailey, Chris Jones, L.P. Ladouceur
Since we don't have much to say about this obvious group of special teamers, how about a quick shout-out to Brett Maher? He's handled kicking and punting duties for Dallas over the last few months while helping Bailey and Jones to keep their legs fresh and avoid injuries.
Maher hit a 57-yard field goal last night in Houston, make him 4/4 this preseason. Hopefully somebody else took notice and will give the man a job.
Dallas Cowboys Pro Bowlers Show Promise for Future
The next class of players to join the Dallas Cowboys may be on the field at Mobile, Alabama this week for the Senior Bowl, but their young core is well represented in front of the Cowboys coaching staff at the Pro Bowl.
With Left Tackle Tyron Smith and Right Guard Zack Martin not participating, the Cowboys have six Pro Bowl participants. The improved health of their offensive line is still one of the best things going for this team in the early part of the offseason, expecting four-time Pro Bowl Center Travis Frederick to rejoin Smith and Martin as soon as OTAs.
A compilation of the best linemen in the NFC will have to do for Quarterback Dak Prescott and Running Back Ezekiel Elliott - making their second Pro Bowl appearance together. It took the addition of Wide Receiver Amari Cooper for the Cowboys offense to find their expected form under Prescott and Elliott in their third season, as Cooper will appear in his fourth Pro Bowl in as many years.
Both times Elliott's made the Pro Bowl, he's done so as the league's rushing champion.
Hardly on track to reach Orlando with the Oakland Raiders, Cooper put up 725 yards and six touchdowns on 53 catches in nine regular season games for the Cowboys. He followed up this resurgent performance with seven catches for 106 yards in the Wild Card Round vs. the Seahawks and six for 65 and a touchdown at the Rams in the Divisional Round.
The Cowboys shouldn't be done adding talent at wide receiver, with Cooper serving as the bold reminder of what Prescott can do with dynamic talent on the outside. Moving on from Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan already this offseason, the next steps towards building the offense around Dak's strengths is yet to be determined.
Meanwhile, their established strengths will be on display, and not just on offense at the Pro Bowl. Making strides as one of the best young defenses in the league this season, Cowboys rookie Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch will be joined by Defensive End DeMarcus Lawrence and Cornerback Byron Jones.
Though its unlikely their coaching will match the intensity of the season, the best thing these three defenders have going for them is more time under Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard. One of Richard's first moves with the Cowboys was moving Jones to cornerback, where he became a first-time Pro Bowler.
Unable to reach his full athletic potential at safety, Jones was the elite corner the Cowboys needed at a position still in need of depth. His length and range should make him a fixture in Richard's secondary for a long time.
Vander Esch becomes the 11th Cowboys rookie to make a Pro Bowl, the third on the defensive side of the ball. Surely the Wolf Hunter will look forward to another week of football, going from eight man HS player to one-year starter at Boise State and finally a Cowboys fixture at linebacker.
The Cowboys did what was thought to be proved impossible this season by fielding a competent defense (mostly) without Sean Lee. Vander Esch and teammate Jaylon Smith deserve the credit here, with Leighton making a larger immediate impact than ever expected as the 19th overall pick.
Last but nowhere near least is DeMarcus Lawrence, much closer to the Cowboys top priority in free agency this offseason than an afterthought at his second Pro Bowl. Putting together consecutive seasons with at least ten sacks, the Cowboys don't have to see anything further from their top pass rusher to do whatever it takes to re-sign him.
The rest of the Cowboys "Hot Boyz" have a lot of potential and promise, but Lawrence is a rare proven commodity at defensive end with 25 sacks in his last 32 games. Rushing the passer in the Pro Bowl is a relatively futile task, but the Cowboys know Lawrence is capable of saving his best plays for the biggest moments. Also a dominant run defender, there simply shouldn't be a reality where the Cowboys are forced to field a defense without Lawrence at left end in 2019 and beyond.
The Cowboys at the Pro Bowl will tell you they'd prefer to be missing the game in preparation for the Super Bowl. Getting within two games of this feat after a 3-5 start is still impressive enough for the Cowboys to feel great about their future, in large part because of the six players representing America's Team this week.
Handing out Hardware for the Dallas Cowboys 2018 Season
The 2018 NFL season for the Dallas Cowboys was literally a roller coaster ride with as many ups and downs as the Texas Giant. Through the first seven games of the season the Cowboys alternated home wins with road losses to get to 3-4. They made as big of a personnel move as they've made in recent years when they traded for Amari Cooper only to all to 3-5 in his debut on Monday Night Football to the Tennessee Titans.
Then the team went on an improbably five game winning streak to put themselves in position to win the NFC East for the third time in five years by mid December. The Cowboys were able to pick up the win in the wild card round over the Seattle Seahawks before being ousted by Todd Gurley, C.J. Anderson, and the Los Angeles -- battering -- Rams' offensive line.
The season always ends with a little disappointment for 31 of the NFL's 32 teams, but this year felt different at the end because of where they were to start the season and after eight games. After the Tennessee game, this team was written off. They were Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant. They stormed back and made the 2018 season a memorable one, even if it didn't end with a sixth Lombardi Trophy.
Let's give out some post season awards to your Dallas Cowboys.
Dak Prescott, Quarterback
Many will scoff at this choice and think it could be Ezekiel Elliott, and I understand, but nobody had a greater impact on the Dallas Cowboys making the playoffs and winning their matchup with the Seattle Seahawks than Dak Prescott did.
Over the final eight games of the season, Dak averaged 278 passing yards per game, 2 total touchdowns, and threw only three interceptions. His numbers down the stretch over a 16 game pace were phenomenal. On 71.6% passing, he was on pace for 4,450 yards, 24 passing touchdowns, eight rushing touchdowns, only six interceptions on the season, with a passer rating of 103.4.
Not to make this about Dak, but I'm going to make this about Dak. 2nd in success rate, 3rd in EPA and EPA/play among playoff QBs. #CowboysNation https://t.co/Evyf73uzJ9
His play in the win over the Seattle Seahawks was instrumental in getting the victory to move on to the divisional round. Though they fell short against the Los Angeles Rams, Dak was able to bring them back from 16 down early in the second half to make it a one score game in the end.
Dak Prescott is still a developing player, and in reality, all players are trying to grow their game. Every season. Prescott is a good quarterback, who is on his way to being great and we saw this season the potential that he has.
He threw for a career high 455 yards against the Eagles and three touchdowns and then threw for 387 yards and four touchdowns against the New York Giants. There's evidence now that Dak can throw the ball, and that should scare teams.
In the playoffs, Prescott stepped up and was a big reason why the Cowboys beat the Seahawks and hung in there against the Rams.
Offensive Player of the Year
Ezekiel Elliott, Running Back
Three years, two rushing titles, and it almost seemed like a "meh" season for Ezekiel Elliott. Sure he had some big games, but only a couple times this season did it feel like Elliott took over the game. Some of that is due to the offensive line injuries and inconsistencies, but some of that may be due to Elliott who saw a much bigger workload than he had in his career to date.
He was much more actively involved in the passing game this season as he more than doubled his previous career high with 77 receptions for 567 yards. Though he won the rushing title, this was the lowest rushing yards per game he's had in his short three-year career. Elliott only scored nine touchdowns this season, which tied with his 2017 total that he accrued in only 10 games.
Elliott struggled some in the red zone because the team struggled in the red zone. Some of those issues related to the offensive line and some because of the play calling, but you'd hope that Elliott would be able to overcome some of that where it mattered most.
Defensive Player of the Year
DeMarcus Lawrence, Defensive End
No player on defense has a bigger impact for the Dallas Cowboys than Defensive End DeMarcus Lawrence. Whether it's in the run game or the passing game, DeMarcus Lawrence is elite in both categories and makes life incredibly difficult on the opposing offense.
On the season he had 10.5 sacks, finishing with double-digit sacks for the second year in a row. While that may not be as impressive as his 2017 total of 14.5, he was doing his thing with much less help along the defensive line. There wasn't another player who flirted with double-digit sacks this season. Though Randy Gregory, Maliek Collins, and Tyrone Crawford performed well, teams gave all of their attention to Lawrence in both the run and pass game.
And he was still amazingly effective.
Lawrence finished fifth among EDGE players -- 4-3 defensive end and 3-4 outside linebackers -- in tackles, fourth in the NFL in Pro Football Focus' "stops" measure with 44, and 15th in total pressures. Pro Football Focus ranked Lawrence as the seventh best EDGE defender, ninth best pass rusher, and the 12th best run defender. J.J. Watt and Khalil Mack were the only other EDGE defenders who ranked in the top 12 as both a pass rusher and run defender per Pro Football Focus.
DeMarcus Lawrence is heading into the offseason looking to get a long-term deal done.
Rookie of the Year
Leighton Vander Esch, Linebacker
While Connor Williams and Michael Gallup had really good starts to their NFL career's no rookie for the Dallas Cowboys was as impressive as 19th overall pick Leighton Vander Esch. He led the Dallas Cowboys in tackles and "stops" and had the second highest grade of any defender as graded by Pro Football Focus.
In tackles, he was second only to future Hall of Fame inductee Luke Keuchly and fellow rookie Darius Leonard. Vander Esch did all this while playing a limited number of snaps as the Dallas Cowboys eased him in at the start of the season and then attempted to find a way to have Vander Esch, Jaylon Smith, and Sean Lee on the field together.
It was an impressive year for the former Boise St. Bronco and the sky is the limit for Vander Esch. He's now played just his second season as a starter in 11-man football. If you remember, he didn't start for Boise St. till the 2017 season and had played 8-man football in high school.
I'm really looking forward to seeing what kind of progression Vander Esch can make to his game in 2019. He's going to be a great player.
Most Improved Player
Jaylon Smith, Linebacker
The 2017 season was not kind to Jaylon Smith. It was his first attempt at playing football since January of 2016 when he tore his ACL in the Fiesta Bowl. It was amazing that he was even playing, though he didn't play considerably well.
2018, however, was a different story.
Jaylon Smith could make a case for team MVP. He may not have had as many tackles as Vander Esch, or as many sacks, but by playmaking defensive EPA, he was nearly as effective at making big plays on defense as DeMarcus Lawrence.
Overall playmaking EPA rank among all NFL defenders: 5. DeMarcus Lawrence 7. Jaylon Smith 58. Leighton Vander Esch
EPA measures the effect a play will have on the score. Not all plays are weighted the same, as some weigh heavier because of down and distance, turnovers, etc. Jaylon Smith had an excellent season for the Dallas Cowboys and looks to be the guy that they thought he would be when they selected him at the top of the second round in the 2016 NFL Draft.
Having Smith and Vander Esch roaming around the middle of the field for the Dallas Cowboys moving forward is huge. They're excellent at moving in space and are excellent definitions of "sideline to sideline" players.
Jaylon Smith is one of the players I'm already looking forward to watching again in the 2019 season.
Comeback Player of the Year
Randy Gregory, Defensive End
After sitting out all but two games of the 2016 season and all of last season, Randy Gregory came back this season and had a good year. With only one sack in his career heading into the 2018 season, Gregory had a nice comeback year with five sacks and finished tied for second on the team with 37 pressures according to Pro Football Focus. According to Pro Football Reference, Gregory was second on the team in tackles for loss.
The Cowboys have Randy Gregory under contract for the 2019 season for just under $1 million.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
The Dallas Cowboys have a lot to feel optimistic about as they look to roster build this offseason in preparation of the 2019 season. They have several ascending players playing key roles for them. This team looks primed to contend again in 2019.
Dak Prescott And Amari Cooper Added To 2019 Pro Bowl
As is usual now that 30 teams' seasons have concluded, players on playoff teams are beginning to drop out of the 2019 Pro Bowl. Notably, New Orleans Saints quarterback/wide receiver connection Drew Brees and Michael Thomas each decided they will stay home next Sunday, rather than participate in the NFL's All Star game.
As replacements for these two, Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper have been added to the NFC Pro Bowl roster.
DallasCowboys wide receiver @AmariCooper9 and quarterback @dak have both been added to the NFC #ProBowl roster! → https://t.co/9HYuqBvi7z
For quarterback Dak Prescott this is his second Pro Bowl selection in his first three seasons. While Pro Bowl selections aren't always a great indicator of being a top tier quarterback, especially if added as an alternate, Prescott's selections do show that he has been among the NFC's best for much of his young career.
With Prescott on the NFC roster are Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky and Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, making this a very mobile quarterback depth chart.
This will be wide receiver Amari Cooper's third Pro Bowl appearance, and his first as a member of the Dallas Cowboys.
Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper had instant chemistry after adding the Pro Bowl wide out via trade midseason, and it's exciting to see them added to this All Star game together. Despite what some fans may think, both Prescott and Cooper do "deserve" to be additions to the game, boasting some of the best performances in the conference during the second half of the season.
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