With the 2018 NFL Draft and the signings of undrafted free agents now behind us, it's a good opportunity to look at the Dallas Cowboys roster and what they have in stock for the upcoming season.
There are still a lot of changes that could come between now and the start of training camp, let alone Week One of the regular season. But the vast majority of the 53-man roster is already here and preparing to participate in mini-camps and other activities in the coming weeks.
Yesterday, we projected 25 players for the offense. With three spots obviously going to Kicker Dan Bailey, Punter Chris Jones, and Long Snapper L.P. Ladouceur on special teams, that leaves 25 more roster openings for the defense.
What might the 2018 defense look like when the Cowboys head Charlotte, NC on September 9th for the season opener against the Carolina Panthers?
Defensive End (5)
DeMarcus Lawrence, Taco Charlton, Kony Ealy
Randy Gregory, Dorance Armstrong (R)
If nothing else, Lawrence is back for 2018 on his Franchise Player deal. In way, not having him signed long-term could be good as it keeps DeMarcus hungry for next year's free agency. But even if a new contract gets done, we should still expect "Tank" to keep excelling as one of the league's premiere pass rushers.
The progression of last year's first-round pick, Taco Charlton, will be heavily discussed in 2018. Whether you're rooting for him or trying to justify your criticism from the 2017 draft, Taco's play will be under plenty of scrutiny. He coming on at the end of his rookie year and should get a lot of playing time.
Dallas signed veteran Kony Ealy to bring some depth and some potential upside. Ealy was misused last year in the Jets' 3-4 scheme and now returns to the type of defense that suits him. The Cowboys wanted him last year but lost out on a waiver claim to New York.
I'm putting Randy Gregory here with the assumption that he gets reinstated. If he still has the potential that made him a second-round pick in 2015, Gregory could give Dallas the edge rusher that it sorely needs to go up against the left tackles. Coming back at all would be a success for Gregory, but hopefully he returns as more than just a depth player.
Another edge rushing option is rookie Dorance Armstrong, drafted in the fourth round a few weeks ago. He will need some physical development to hold up in a 4-3 scheme, but Rod Marinelli must have liked the potential to spend that mid-round pick.
Defensive Tackle (5)
David Irving, Tyrone Crawford, Maliek Collins
Terrell McClain, Jihad Ward
The Cowboys defensive line as a lot of versatile moving parts, so trying to declare anyone a "starter" could be a wasted exercise. In some cases, depending on schemes, guys who get that first snap don't have the highest counts by the end of the game.
Players like Irving and Crawford are really just defensive linemen, potentially playing end or tackle depending on the week, the series, or even each individual play. With some more options at DE now, we may not see them on the outside as much this year as in the past. Hopefully, more talent on the edges will let them wreak havoc up the middle.
Terrell McClain isn't officially a Cowboy again as of the writing of this article, but the veteran free agent is meeting with the team today and a reunion seems highly probably. McClain should walk in as a starting DT, as he was in 2016, and bring some stability to the base scheme and run defense.
Bringing McClain back will allow for Maliek Collins to get back where he belongs as the 3-tech DT, with less double teams and more ability to use his athleticism to get into the backfield. We hope to see him return to the exciting form he showed as a rookie.
Dallas traded WR Ryan Switzer for Jihad Ward, who was a second-round pick of the Raiders in 2016. Tall and athletic, Ward reminds you a bit of Jason Hatcher. In Rod Marinelli's first year in Dallas in 2013, Hatcher exploded for 11 sacks from the DT position. The Cowboys reportedly liked Jihad Ward in the 2016 draft, perhaps seeing the same potential.
The Cowboys have intriguing young talent at DT with guys like Richard Ash, Lewis Neal, and Brian Price. But these guys are all longshots given the numbers and the pedigree of the players above them.
Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch (R)
Damien Wilson, Joe Thomas, Justin March-Lillard
The Cowboys took Vander Esch 19th overall and that automatically puts him in the starting discussion. Damien Wilson has been solid the last few years, but Vander Esch needs playing time and should get a healthy piece of the rotation even if he isn't on the first team
Right now, the safest bets for the depth chart are veterans Joe Thomas and Justin March-Lillard. Along with Wilson or Vander Esch, they round out the position and can cover all three LB roles.
That said, those last two spots are where some unexpected things could happen. Thomas is probably safe after getting signed to a two-year, $3.6 million backup deal. But March-Lillard is on a minimum contract and could be ousted if an undrafted rookie or some other unknown emerges.
Obviously, all of this is secondary to the goal of having Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith stay healthy and blossom as a duo. Particularly in the nickel scheme, these two could become one of the league's most dangerous pairs of linebackers. If it happens, we won't be too worried about what's behind them.
Jourdan Lewis, Chido Awuzie, Byron Jones
Anthony Brown, Duke Thomas, Kameron Kelly (R)
When was the last time that Dallas felt this loaded at cornerback? You'd have to go back to 2012 after they added Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr to Orlando Scandrick and Mike Jenkins.
Hopefully, this turns out a lot better.
With Byron Jones moving back to CB, you have an exciting young foursome with Jourdan Lewis, Chidobe Awuzie, and Anthony Brown. With Lewis and Awuzie already looking like studs, second-year progression could mean Dallas has one of the better CB tandems in the NFL this season.
Duke Thomas was an emerging player last summer before an injury ended his year. If he's healthy, he should hold down that fifth position on the depth chart.
As you'll see below, I'm only keeping three safeties to open up a sixth CB spot. Right now I'm giving it to Kameron Kelly, an undrafted free agent with the size and style that Defensive Backs Coach Kris Richard likes. His experience as a safety in college also lends itself to a roster spot.
If not Kelly, last year's late-round pick Marquez White could get the job. He's also got prototype size and maybe could be looked at for a safety conversion at some point.
Jeff Heath, Xavier Woods, Kavon Frazier
With two corners who have safety experience in Byron Jones and Kameron Kelly, plus some potential use there with Chidobe Awuzie, Dallas can afford to go thin. They still have nine total defensive backs, which is typical for many teams.
Barring that Earl Thomas trade you keep hearing about, two of these three guys will be your starters. Heath is the veteran but has likely tapped out his potential. Woods and Frazier bring the upside and intrigue.
Much of this will come down to the new Defensive Backs Coach Kris Richard and what he likes in these players. Not only is he bringing a different philosophy to the secondary, but Richard is likely a year away from being the Defensive Coordinator. He will have some serious pull in the roster decisions.
No matter how it shakes out, you'll have your starters and a quality backup. You'll also have several options from the corners who could move over in a pinch. If Dallas does acquire Thomas, the roster spot would come from that sixth CB rather than anyone from this group.
Cowboys 2018 Preview: Which Offensive Starting Jobs Are Open?
We're still about a month away from the start of the Dallas Cowboys 2018 Training Camp. However, even now, we have a good sense of what starting jobs are open and which ones have already been decided for the upcoming season.
Before we get into the open positions, let's look at the ones that appear to already set. Barring injuries or some other unpredictable occurrence, here are the guys who you can bet on starting this season:
- QB - Dak Prescott
- RB - Ezekiel Elliott
- FB - Jamize Olawale
- WR - Allen Hurns
- OT - Tyron Smith, La'el Collins
- G - Zack Martin
- C - Travis Frederick
Even with these probable and assured starters, there are a few considerations to be made.
For example, Allen Hurns may be the team's highest-paid receiver and the assumed replacement to Dez Bryant. But he's still brand new to this team, so chemistry with Dak Prescott and system familiarity make him a little risky early one.
La'el Collins will be a starter, but are we sure it's at right tackle? If nobody impresses at left guard, Dallas could still elect to move Collins back inside and start veteran Cam Fleming at tackle.
Still, these aren't likely. So, of the 22 primary positions on both sides of the ball, we have 12 players who are safe bets to start. What about the other 10 spots? What's are the possibilities and probabilities there?
Today, we'll focus on the offense.
Given his previous success and chemistry with Dak Prescott, Cole Beasley could seem an easy bet for the WR2 position. But there are several factors to consider.
Third-round rookie Michael Gallup is more of an all-around receiver and his play already in OTAs and minicamp has impressed. He also gives the Cowboys a young WR to form a new trio with Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott; an offensive nucleus they would hope to build on for years to come.
If Gallup keeps excelling, Dallas won't hesitate to give him a starting job. Beasley is a free agent next year and the rookie is locked up for four seasons.
There's also Terrance Williams to consider, all of his recent personal shenanigans aside. He offers system familiarity and exceptional run blocking, which is good for a starting role. You want Williams on the field when the ball is going to Ezekiel Elliott on early downs.
This speaks to the reality that being the starter may not necessarily lead to getting the most targets. Beasley could be the slot receiver and still easily get more passes than the WR2 by the end of the season.
The good news is that the Cowboys have options, which should also mean depth once things shake out.
Arguably the most wide open position on the whole roster, tight end is a massive crater in the offense with the impact of Jason Witten's retirement. Who will fill the void?
While veteran Geoff Swaim is getting the early deference, he's hardly locked in as the starter. Swaim's nine career catches give him hardly any cache over rookie Dalton Schultz or prospects Rico Gathers and Blake Jarwin.
It truly is a four-man race for the starting role, which makes things fun but also tense for the next two months. The reality that none of these guys will likely be able to perform on Jason Witten's level is also scary.
Thankfully, though, they may not have to. Dallas appears to be moving to more of a spread offense better suited to Dak Prescott's style, which may reduce the expectations of the TE position from the last 15 years of Witten.
As we mentioned before with Terrance Williams, Geoff Swaim is a proficient run blocker. Couple that with his experience and he's the best bet to start, but we could see a steady rotation throughout the year as Dallas tried to figure out which guy is best suited for the long term.
Second-round pick Connor Williams will get the first crack at being the new starter at left guard, but rookies rarely have a guarantee when it comes to any first-year role. Throw in that he'll be transitioning from tackle to guard, and Connor has some clear question marks.
As mentioned already, Dallas could decide to flip La'el Collins back to LG and start someone else at right tackle. Ironically, that could also be Connor Williams. The Cowboys might decide that the rookie is better at his college position. It could also be the aforementioned Cam Fleming.
Also competing for the job at guard will be veterans Joe Looney and Marcus Martin. Both have position flex as centers or guards, meaning one could start and the other could be your top interior reserve. That versatility is nice for them and for the Cowboys, allowing the best man to win.
Chaz Green is also still hanging around, and surprisingly got first-team reps ecently when Zack Martin was missing camp. The Cowboys have invested a lot in Green and are understandably desperate to still get something for their trouble. He may get more of a chance to compete here than we'd have guessed.
But still, this should be Connor Williams' job to lose. A second-round pick is no small thing, especially for a guy expected to play interior line. Those picks are made with the goal of finding a starter, and Williams will get every chance to prove if he can handle it or not.
~ ~ ~
As you can see, there's going to be some real turnover in the Cowboys offense this year. But this is only half the roster, and there's even more opportunity on the other side of the ball.
Come back tomorrow for a breakdown of the open starting jobs on defense.
Dallas Cowboys Hoping to Bring Scouting Combine to The Star in Frisco
When the Dallas Cowboys opened their world-class headquarters in Frisco, affectionately named The Star, the possibilities were endless for the franchise that embraces football being bigger than life in a state where that's certainly the case.
Not only have the Cowboys hosted more football than ever with AT&T Stadium serving as their home and the Ford Center at The Star being a shared practice space with local high schools, but they became the first team to host the NFL Draft from their stadium in April.
Just as the draft has become a spectacle for fans and media alike, the all-important Scouting Combine that leads up to the draft each year is a fully televised event now. Held in Indianapolis since 1987, the Cowboys will have to prove they're well prepared to handle the burden of a Scouting Combine while disrupting the continuity that Lucas Oil Stadium has provided.
The biggest advantage that Indianapolis has held through years of the Combine's development is their stadium's proximity to local hospitals. Any scout or draft analyst will tell you that the most important thing draft prospects go through during the Combine is their medical checks, something they can now do at The Star without setback.
Across the street from The Star is now the Baylor, Scott & White Sports Therapy & Research center, a brand new medical facility that spans 300,000 square feet. The Cowboys will even have their time to work out the kinks of potentially hosting the Combine, with Indianapolis still under contract to host the event through 2020.
The Combine also serves as a key point in the NFL offseason where executives and coaches from every team are together, often leading to trade talks that impact the following draft. Imagination can run wild with the Cowboys hosting the Combine on campus at The Star, and rival head coaches meeting in a Sushi Marquee, Cow Tipping Creamery, or Luxe Eyewear.
These are merely three of the hundreds of auxiliary features in place at The Star, ready to take the Combine to the next level, as Dallas already did with this year's NFL Draft.
Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch and Left Guard Connor Williams became the first players to be drafted in the stadium they'll call home. Within a few years, prospects fortunate enough to get the call from America's Team may feel an even deeper connection to the Cowboys, going through their job interview that is the Combine at the team's headquarters.
Jerry Jones has stated that The Star was never designed with the thought of hosting a Combine in mind, but this does not mean preparations will not take place for the Cowboys to be ready following two more years in Indianapolis.
How Did the Dallas Cowboys Fare in This Year’s NFL 100?
Every year, NFL Network releases a "Top 100" list of all the players in the league. What's special about this list is that the voters are actually fellow NFL players. We have tons of rankings from analysts and scouts all year long, so it's fun to see what the persons who actually put on shoulders and helmets week after week have to say about their peers.
However, that's precisely what makes it very controversial among fans. Year after year, we see players getting underrated and players getting ranked way ahead than they should.
Take Dak Prescott in 2017, for example. The young quarterback put on a show as a fourth-round rookie that no one could have expected from him. As impressive as he was, it's hard to defend him being ranked as the fourteenth best player in the NFL, which is how he was ranked in the NFL 100 last year.
This Monday, the 2018 Top 10 will be announced on NFL Network at 7 PM CT, but no Cowboys' name will be mentioned.
So, without getting frustrated about this year's results, let's take a look at how the Dallas Cowboys fared this time around.
#71: RG Zack Martin
2017 Ranking: #58.
I'm pretty sure that Zack Martin doesn't even care about the NFL 100 list, especially after he became the highest-paid guard in NFL history just days ago. For the Cowboys, even with Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick on the same offensive line, Zack Martin might be the best lineman on the roster. At the very least, there's an argument to be made.
It's not very surprising to see Martin all the way at #71. Offensive guard is a very overlooked position by many, so it does make a tiny bit of sense for him to be ranked where he is.
What is surprising though, is the fact that Pittsburgh Steeler David DeCastro is ranked at #44. Both players are great guards, but Martin is widely acknowledged as the best at his position. Maybe playoff success came into account?
#54: RB Ezekiel Elliott
2017 Ranking: 7.
Ezekiel Elliott stumbled quite a bit this year, which is completely understandable. First of all, the 2016 season was electric. The narrative of two rookies taking the league by storm and earning the #1 seed in the NFC was unique.
Things changed for the superstar running back in 2017, though. Elliott had to deal with tons of off-field drama while fighting a six-game suspension that ended up being upheld and Zeke had to miss some time.
This is undoubtedly what made Elliott, who is easily a top three running back in the NFL, fall all the way out of the top 50. Despite having had pretty good years, I can assure you that Kareem Hunt (ranked at 33) and Mark Ingram (43) are not even in the same tier as Zeke.
#39: LT Tyron Smith
2017 Ranking: 18.
I'm not going to lie, I'm not complaining about this one. Just like the rest of the offensive linemen, Tyron may be undervalued here. However, he is the best tackle on the list, so it's certainly tough to be mad about this.
Besides, don't forget Tyron didn't play the entire season after being out for three games. Not saying that makes him a worse player or anything, but it helps make sense of his spot on the list.
With former Cleveland Brown Joe Thomas enjoying retirement, it's easier to see Smith as the clear-cut best tackle in the NFL today. He's a beast. If he finds a way to play 16 games next season, I'm sure he will climb the rankings in 2019.
#34: DE DeMarcus Lawrence
2017 Ranking: Unranked.
Last but not least is the Cowboys' breakout player of the year. Lawrence finally proved his worth getting to the opposing quarterbacks 14.5 times on the year. Not to mention, his game against the run was pretty remarkable and he helped take the defense to another level.
This was the first season in D-Law's career in which he remained completely healthy all along and it showed on the field. Thanks to his performance, the team handed him the franchise tag and hopefully he'll get a big, juicy contract once he continues dominating this year.
Six defensive ends were ranked ahead of him, so we will have to wait and see if he keeps it up in 2018 after being named a second team All-Pro in 2017.
The Snub: C Travis Frederick
The one thing that is outrageous from this year's list is the absence of Travis Frederick. I understand there aren't any other centers on the list, but they should at least include the best at his position, right?
Frederick is undoubtedly one of the most valuable players on the Cowboys' roster and a player that through five years in the league, has been to the Pro Bowl four times. One of the NFL's finest, he definitely deserves to be on that list.
But hey, as previously mentioned, this list is meant to be fun. It's cool to hear what the players (teammates and rivals) have to say about one another during this series. Instead of taking it as an official ranking or anything of the sort, it's better to see it as a fun piece of content by NFL Network.
Let me know what your thoughts on these rankings are on the comments section below or tweet me @PepoR99 to talk some football!
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