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.
What might the 2018 roster look like when the Cowboys head Charlotte, NC on September 9th for the season opener against the Carolina Panthers?
Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush, Mike White (R)
With no questions about Dak’s role in 2018, the intrigue here is in the two backups. Rush and White will certainly be competing for the number-two spot on the depth chart. Could the loser find himself off the roster completely?
The Cowboys have typically tried to keep just one backup QB on the roster, freeing up a spot for another position. While they did carry three to start 2017, they eventually cut Kellen Moore once there was a need and they were confident enough in Rush to handle the job.
Cooper’s back this year looking to build on his unexpected rise from undrafted rookie to preseason darling. But now he’s got to fight off Mike White, a fifth-round pick who many felt was a tremendous value with major potential.
Whether both guys make the roster or not could depend on who wins the backup job. If it’s Rush, Dallas probably still keeps White on the 53 to preserve his four-year rookie deal. But if White beats Rush, the Cowboys might decide they can afford to risk him on the practice squad.
Running Back (5)
Ezekiel Elliott, Rod Smith, Tavon Austin, Bo Scarbrough (R)
Jamize Olawale (Fullback)
We all know who the bell cow will be for the Cowboys offense next year. Hopefully with all personal issues in the rear view, Zeke returns to retake the throne as the league’s best RB. One might wonder how many carries will be left for the other backs.
Rod Smith emerged last year as a very capable reserve, mixing power and athleticism and even flashing receiving skills at times. He could be especially dangerous behind Elliott, able to exploit a battered a defense with fresh legs and versatility.
But if you want to batter a defense, Alabama’s Bo Scarbrough is a wrecking ball. At almost 240 pounds, he could be a menace with the lanes that the Cowboys’ offensive line can create. Some of his tape reminds you of Marshawn Lynch.
The real change of pace will come when Dallas works veteran Tavon Austin into the offense. Converting to RB, the sixth-year speedster was picked up in a trade for a sixth-round pick. If nothing else, he should serve as the primary return man. But the Cowboys will be looking for various ways to get Austin the ball, wanting to add a speed element to the offense that has been missing for a few years now.
At fullback, Jamize Olawale returns to Dallas after six years with the Raiders. Undrafted in 2012, Olawale was on the Cowboys’ practice squad but got poached by Oakland. He brings more of a receiving threat to the FB position than Dallas had in Keith Smith, plus has the size to play a little tight end. We’ll get to that shortly.
Wide Receiver (6)
With Dez Bryant released and Ryan Switzer traded, the receiver corps for 2018 is already looking very different from what we’d have guessed a few months ago. For those who have returned from last year, how much could their role change?
Allen Hurns, who was clearly signed to be Bryant’s replacement rather than running mate, will hopefully return to the 1,000-yard form he once showed in Jacksonville. But he won’t have an Allen Robinson playing on the other side of the field, so it may be asking too much for Hurns to now be the top target.
In 2016, Cole Beasley was Dak Prescott’s favorite target and the team’s leading receiver. But team’s figured that out and schemed against Beasley last season, which was a key cause for Prescott’s regression. Unless someone like Hurns or Terrance Williams starts to take advantage, it could be another down year for Cole.
Hopefully, third-round pick Michael Gallup will help in the fight. The Cowboys should give the rookie plenty of opportunities to make an early impact. This is a time of change in Dallas and there will be less emphasis on tenure. If Gallup can develop early chemistry with Dak, he could have a large role quickly.
Veteran free agent Deonte Thompson is a wild card here. Like Brice Butler in recent seasons, Thompson has intriguing speed but will have to show he can consistently produce. Thompson has only recently emerged as a solid NFL player when in Buffalo, but is now 29 years old. He was signed to a minimal contract, and may not even make the roster if younger guys show up.
Noah Brown is one of those young prospects who could push into the mix. He looked like a young Dez Bryant at times during the last preseason, bringing physicality once the ball is in his hands. Brown will need to find a role on special teams to secure a roster spot.
Tight End (3)
Geoff Swaim, Blake Jarwin, Dalton Schultz (R)
No, I didn’t forget about Rico Gathers. But I have a feeling that the hype around this kid is misplaced, and many Dallas fans will be disappointed when they find out he’s no longer in the team’s long-term plans.
The Cowboys have a run-focused offense, which puts a premium on blocking ability. Gathers didn’t learn how to take on pass rushers when he was grabbing rebounds at Baylor, and that’s not his fault. But it makes his ability to make any NFL team, and especially one with a more old school approach, a longshot at best.
Because of the ability of guys like FB Jamize Olawale and perhaps WR Noah Brown to play as smallish tight ends, it allows Dallas to keep just three. Swaim is the experienced player who should get the first crack at the starting role, and the unenviable task of trying to fill Jason Witten’s shoes.
The Cowboys liked Blake Jarwin enough last year that they signed him off the practice squad to avoid him being stolen by the Philadelphia Eagles. He will compete with Dalton Schultz, a fourth-round rookie, for the backup role.
There are several known entities like Antonio Gates, Julius Thomas, and Coby Fleener still out there in free agency. Dallas may wind up bringing in one of them before the offseason’s over. But for now, we’ll work with what we’ve got.
Offensive Line (8)
Dallas loaded up on versatile players this offseason, giving them options as they decide on a new starting left guard and backups for 2018.
Second-round pick Connor Williams will likely get the first look as the fifth starter. A college tackle, Williams should move inside to try his hand at guard. But Dallas could also consider moving La’el Collins back to that spot if they feel Connor is the better right tackle.
If the rookie isn’t ready for full-time work, the Cowboys could also go with one of the veteran interior linemen in Looney or Martin. They have both played guard and center during their careers and this will be Looney’s third season in the Cowboys’ system.
It’s also possible that Cam Fleming, probably the most talented of the backups, would be the best option to join the starting lineup. That would also mean moving Collins back to guard, which both he and the team have said isn’t their first choice. But ultimately, Dallas will do what it has to get their five best offensive linemen on the field.
The good news is that the team isn’t trapped. They left themselves several ways of filling the need and bolstering their depth from last season.
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That’s 25 of your 53 players accounted for. CLICK HERE for the defense and special teams.