The Cowboys finished their second week of the preseason with a loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. Between player performances and some injury news, we have some new things to consider in our roster projection for 2018.
Like last week against the 49ers, Dallas dominated the first half. The starters look ready to contend against any team in the NFL.
But depth is now looking like an issue. Some guys have been hurt and could miss the start of the regular season, and the players behind them are why the Cowboys have now lost two games they led at halftime.
How did these things impact the projected 53-man roster?
Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush, Mike White
After two unproductive preseason games, Mike White is starting to draw some criticism and questions a bout his job security. As I've mentioned many times, the Cowboys have often kept just two two quarterbacks on the roster to save a spot for another position.
But when you consider how bad the offensive line play has been when White's in the game, you have to consider what opportunity he really has to show anything. We all saw what Chaz Green was doing out there, to the point that he finally got benched.
Just remember how Dak Prescott looked in Atlanta last year when he was running for his life. You've seen it from some of the game's best QBs. If it can happen them, it can certainly happen to a fifth-round rookie playing in his second preseason game.
Dallas didn't spend that pick on White lightly. They're not going to cut him, and lose his four-year rookie contract, without being truly sure he has no value. I think it's too soon to know that, and especially given what's been going on around him.
Running Back (4)
Ezekiel Elliott, Rod Smith, Darius Jackson,
Jamize Olawale (FB)
Changes: Added Jackson, Removed Bo Scarbrough
Jackson was one of the highlights of the last game, showing his ability to make things happen even in limited space. It also showed why he may give the team more use than Bo Scarbrough would.
Scarbrough is a thumper, but is he really going to get playing time over Ezekiel Elliott AND Rod Smith? Is he going to take goal-line carries away from both of those guys, who also play with plenty of power?
Darius, on the other hand, has the speed to take one carry to the house. And with the Cowboys clearly trying to add more juice to the offense this year, Jackson fits that agenda.
Remember, Dallas spent a sixth-round pick on Jackson in 2016. That's a round higher than when they took Scarbrough this year. Jackson was on the roster until December of that year, when he was waived to make room for Darren McFadden.
The team liked Darius to bring him back this season. He provides a more explosive element and, I think, more overall value than Scarbrough. Unless there's some tremendous different in blocking ability or special teams play, I think he'll hang around.
Allen Hurns, Cole Beasley, Michael Gallup,
Terrance Williams, Tavon Austin, Lance Lenoir
Changes: Added Williams, Removed Deonte Thompson
I'm convinced that one of either Terrance Williams or Deonte Thompson won't make the roster, thanks largely to the rise of Lance Lenoir. At this point, I'm shifting to it being Thompson.
Terrance reminded us of his value on Saturday night. This is his third year playing with Dak Prescott, and that showed in the redzone scramble as Williams got open and gave Dak somewhere to put the ball. Plus, his contract remains a tough cut with $7.25 million in dead money.
Dallas brought Thompson in to be a speedy vertical threat, but they now have that in Tavon Austin and perhaps Lenoir. They also get special teams value out of Lenoir that the veteran Thompson doesn't offer.
The bottom of the depth chart generally comes down to special teams, but also long-term value. With Deonte being 29, he doesn't offer either. And with only a minimal veteran contract, he's much easier to cut than Terrance.
Tight End (3)
Blake Jarwin, Geoff Swaim, Dalton Schultz
Changes: Removed Rico Gathers
Rico Gathers is going to keep doing things that make you do a double-take. He has so much raw athleticism for a player of his size. But ultimately, he doesn't do enough of the little things.
When you see the way a guy like Blake Jarwin has come in a leapfrogged the depth chart, you get why Dallas may be ready to give up on Gathers. Jarwin was an undrafted free agent but he's developed himself into a guy the Cowboys are comfortable with as a starter. Rico in his third year and hasn't had much growth.
Sure, you'd like to have Rico out there as a redzone target. But he has to do enough things to actually be on the active 46, let alone the 53-man roster. At this point, there's just no indication that he's there.
Offensive Tackle (3)
Tyron Smith, La'el Collins, Cam Fleming,
Fleming has had ups and downs throughout camp and preseason, but he's still a massive upgrade as the swing tackle from Chaz Green last year.
This trio seems fairly locked in. Dallas will likely keep additional depth in the interior line given the recent injury scares with Zack Martin and Travis Frederick. With both Tyron and Collins in seemingly great health, they can roll with just the swing tackle for now.
Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, Connor Williams,
Joe Looney, Kadeem Edwards
Changes: Removed Marcus Martin
Dallas should have a much better idea of Martin's Week One availability by finals cuts. If he can't go, they will probably have to keep an extra guy here while Joe Looney gets the start.
Kadeem Edwards is the kind of guy who probably makes it past final cuts but could easily be gone once Dallas starts looking at new free agents from around the league. He's the best option for now, but that can change once all these other teams start releasing players.
Similarly, if Dallas decides to keep an extra lineman because of health concerns, it will probably come from other team's cuts. I can't fathom that Chaz Green makes the team again after what we've seen the last two weeks.
Defensive End (6)
DeMarcus Lawrence, Tyrone Crawford, Randy Gregory,
Taco Charlton, Dorance Armstrong, Charles Tapper
The only guy I'm not sure about here is Tapper, who may be one pass rusher too many. With Randy Gregory on the way back and Dorance Armstrong being one of the standouts of training camp, they may not have need for a sixth guy.
Tapper's roster spot could easily go back to the offense, perhaps for that extra offensive lineman we talked about. It could also be how they hang on to Rico Gathers.
Or, as we'll get into now, it could go to keeping another defensive tackle.
Defensive Tackle (5)
Maliek Collins, Antwaun Woods, Daniel Ross,
Brian Price, Jihad Ward
Changes: Added Collins, Ross. Removed Datone Jones
With Maliek Collins back from PUP and Daniel Ross moving up the depth chart, a tough cut is coming. Right now, I'm dropping the axe on Datone Jones.
For one, we have yet to hear the extent of Jones' knee injury. Doesn't sound like it's serious, but it could cost him valuable practice reps and preseason game time. That may be all it takes.
Datone has value as he can play both inside and outside, but Dallas already has that in several other players. He's also 28 years old, so there isn't much upside there compared to the majority of their linemen.
Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch,
Damien Wilson, Joe Thomas, Justin March-Lillard
The confidence in this group just keep growing, doesn't it? Jaylon Smith looks like everything we'd dreamed, and the depth is also showing up in preseason.
Joe Thomas nearly had his second interception of the preseason and appears to be a real steal from our free agency additions. Damien Wilson is still running with the starters and that could be the case in Week One, too.
With none of the teams other prospects really showing much so far in preseason, this six feels locked in. Barring injury, I wouldn't expect any changes over the next two weeks.
Chidobe Awuzie, Byron Jones, Anthony Brown,
Jourdan Lewis, Charvarious Ward
The only real question here is who is that fifth corner. I went with Ward last week and nobody really emerged in the last game to make me think differently. Still a lot that could happen in the next few weeks, though.
I do want to take a minute to discuss Jourdan Lewis. It's hard to say what's wrong with him right now, but he strikes me as a guy who's letting discouragement take him in the wrong direction.
Dallas may want to consider finding a trade partner. It was just a year ago that some saw Lewis as a first-round talent and he only dropped because of a pending legal issue. Might be a good time to get something for him while you still can.
Jeff Heath, Xavier Woods, Kavon Frazier,
We don't know if Xavier Woods will play in Week One according to the most recent updates about his hamstring injury. That keeps the safety position, and a certain trade possibility with the Seahawks, in the spotlight.
Another option just became available as the Bengals released veteran George Iloka. He was a college teammate of Tyrone Crawford at Boise St. and has been playing in a similar scheme to what Dallas runs.
Woods' injury doesn't appear severe enough that it will put him on IR, even temporarily. Dallas might even be okay with starting Heath and Frazier for a week or two.
But if they were already looking at Earl Thomas, they just got a lot more motivated.
Special Teams (3)
Dan Bailey, Chris Jones, L.P. Ladouceur
We finally got to see Bailey kick a field goal. That was nice.
Chris Jones also showed us why he's one of the best with that coffin corner punt. Having this trio of special teamers is one of the great luxuries you can ask for as a football team.
Could Cowboys Have Another “Ezekiel Elliott vs. Jalen Ramsey” Debate?
The debate over "Ezekiel Elliott vs. Jalen Ramsey" for from the 2016 NFL Draft has never really stopped in Dallas. From before that draft until now, Cowboys fans still argue over which player the team should have taken. For the team, could they face that question again in the next few years?
A little over three years ago, the Cowboys drafted Elliott with the fourth-overall pick. In so doing, they also snubbed Ramsey; the cornerback expected to become a Cowboy and wound up going with the fifth pick to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Where you stand on this issue likely has a lot to do with how you value running backs. Some argued in 2016, and still do, that no RB is worth that high of a pick or paying top dollar for in future years. You've seen plenty of those opinions this offseason as talk of a long-term contract extension for Elliott has heated up.
Those same folks would have loved for Dallas to take Jalen Ramsey, who instantly became one of the NFL's top corners. And in 2021, with both players scheduled to become unrestricted free agents, they would probably rather see the Cowboys let Elliott walk away and use that money to add an elite player at a position like cornerback.
We mention Ramsey here because of his very public feud with Jacksonville over his contract. The team reportedly informed him they would wait until next year to do a long-term extension, and Ramsey made it known through social media that he was going to drive the price up. Given his known issues with Jaguars' VP Tom Coughlin, it could lead to a parting of ways.
If Jalen Ramsey hit the open market, and still want to be a Cowboy, could the CB end up in Dallas after all?
Let's hypothesize that both Ezekiel Elliott and Jalen Ramsey have to play 2020 on their fifth-year options. Now the Cowboys are having to decide if they want give Zeke a long-term deal, the franchise tag, or just let him go.
How does the prospect of potentially signing Ramsey, or some other elite talent at another position, sway Dallas' thinking? Could they decide that the best bang for their buck is to spend roughly $15 million per year at RB or at CB, OT, or somewhere else?
The Cowboys already have a Pro Bowl corner in Byron Jones but there's still a lot of uncertainty at the other starting position. Neither Chidobe Awuzie or Jourdan Lewis have been consistent enough and both will have expiring contracts in 2021.
Ezekiel Elliott will turn 26 that year. He will have five seasons of workhorse mileage. And this is the same Cowboys team that decided to let DeMarco Murray walk away a few years ago.
Of course, Elliott trumps Murray in almost every way. He's been elite every season so far, not just one, and has been far more durable. Assuming personal conduct issues don't remain a problem, Zeke will be much harder to let go of than DeMarco was.
However, the salary cap forces teams to think about the entire roster when making personnel decisions. Even if you can justify paying Elliott huge money, that means less for someone else. And even if it makes sense for a year or two, what about when Zeke is creeping closer to 30 years old?
Again, I mentioned Ramsey here because of the intrigue with his contract situation in Jacksonville and connection to Dallas from the 2016 draft. It would be quite ironic if the Cowboys, five years later, were again having to decide between the same two players.
But Jalen exemplifies a greater issue that Dallas faces in the coming years. Does it make sense to tie up so much money at running back and weaken yourself at other positions?
While RBs as special as Ezekiel Elliott don't grow on trees, it's still one of the easiest positions to fill. Assuming the Cowboys still have one of the NFL's top offensive lines in a few years, they will be tempted to try and get solid rushing production with a much cheaper ball carrier.
When Dallas let DeMarco Murray go and then drafted Ezekiel Elliott a year later, some thought it could be the start of a new trend in roster management. Draft a RB high, get 4-5 years out of him, and then let somebody else pay him the big money. Rinse and repeat.
But then Zeke came along and has been the stuff of legends. If he has a long-term career in Dallas, he will be right there with Emmitt and Dorsett in the top-three of all time Cowboys running backs.
Elliott isn't just highly productive but brings personality and excitement. Guys like that are hard to let go of; they are as valuable for marketing as they are on the field.
That said, a lot can change in the next year or two. More issues with the league office, or a major injury, could have a dramatic effect on how we see Elliott's long-term value. It may make the decision much easier.
But assuming Zeke remains as valuable as ever, the Dallas Cowboys could be facing another major quandary between the running back and other elite players like Jalen Ramsey. What most helps the team win, and what has the most value over multiple seasons?
Hopefully, Ezekiel Elliott keeps playing well enough to keep the debate going.
Cowboys OT Mitch Hyatt is an Undrafted Rookie to Watch
Going undrafted is hardly a death blow to a player's hopes of making it into the NFL. We've seen many examples of players who have lengthy careers despite humble beginnings, and plenty of them happened right here in Dallas. Could offensive tackle Mitch Hyatt be the next undrafted success story for the Cowboys?
Hyatt just finished his college career at Clemson as a four-year starter, two-time national champion, and two-time All-American. While not an elite draft prospect, many had Mitch rated as at least a 5th-7th round pick. His going undrafted was a surprise.
While he measures with good size at 6'5" and a little over 300 lbs., Hyatt lacks upper body strength. But he's overcome that deficiency through the years with work ethic, motor, and smarts.
For the Cowboys, it's a lot easier to help a guy gain strength than it is to try and improve motivation or intelligence.
Dallas was not the only team interested in Mitch Hyatt once he hit free agency. But from the rookie's own lips, he didn't have a hard decision to make.
“'I received a fair amount of calls. It was a pretty chaotic five to 10 minutes for me,'” Hyatt said. “'I had a whole bunch of people in my ear. But I knew what kind of team the Cowboys were, I knew what they were about.'”
Whether it was the reputation of the Cowboys organization, its vaunted offensive line, or the chance to work with Coach Marc Colombo, Hyatt was clearly drawn to Dallas. Another reason for that may have been the perceived opportunity to make the roster.
The Cowboys seem to already be preparing for life without La'el Collins in 2020, when Collins is set to hit free agency. They gave Cam Fleming a two-year deal which keeps him through next year, plus drafted Connor McGovern in the third round of the 2019 draft. It suggests Dallas isn't planning to pay La'l the significant money he should demand.
If Fleming gets promoted to the starting job at right tackle, that would leave a vacancy for swing tackle in 2020. Mitch Hyatt could be one of Dallas' options for that role.
Even if the Cowboys don't keep Hyatt on the 53-man roster in 2019, they will likely try to put him on the practice squad. Ideally, a year of physical development there will make him a much stronger candidate for the 2020 season.
Of course, the reason we know those undrafted success stories so well is because they aren't typical. The odds are against Mitch Hyatt having any NFL career, but his collegiate success and intangibles speak to a guy who's worth taking a chance on.
If it works out, credit the Cowboys for continuing the tradition of Tony Romo, Miles Austin, Jeff Heath, and other undrafted players who became significant contributors.
Could CB Michael Jackson Prove To Be Cowboys Best Value Pick?
Looking back to the third day of the 2019 NFL Draft for the Dallas Cowboys, running backs Tony Pollard and Mike Weber are the most discussed players among fans and analysts. The front office made some pretty promising selections in the late rounds that could have important roles on the team in the near future. While many thought the Cowboys would be quick to add a rookie safety, it wasn't until the fifth round that the team drafted a defensive back, and it wasn't even a safety. Kris Richard got his guy Michael Jackson, from the Miami Hurricanes.
A few weeks apart from training camp, the 6-1 cornerback has been overlooked by many fans. Although the team got plenty of quality players in the late rounds, Jackson might end up being the best value pick when we look back to this rookie class a year from now.
In college, Jackson started 23 games between 2017 and 2018 as he racked up four interceptions and 10 pass deflections. He seems just like the kind of guy we know DB Coach Kris Richard loves. A tall, long, press cornerback with pretty solid range. Jackson is far from a player ready to start in the NFL, but Richard will have a lot of raw potential to work with.
When the former Seahawks defensive coordinator joined the Cowboys, he let it be known that he saw a lot of potential on Byron Jones. The 2015 first round pick's career was turned around after last season, when the team finally stopped moving Jones around the defensive backfield. As a full-time corner, Jones went on to become a second-team All-Pro last year.
While it would be unfair to compare Jones and Jackson, both of them arrived to the NFL with very different expectations, I can't help but wonder how far can Richard take the Miami product. Although it wasn't discussed as much, cornerback was an important need for the team because of a lack of depth and the uncertainty surrounding Jones' future on the team.
After an impressive 2018 season, extending Jones will be a huge challenge for the Cowboys front office. After all, there's a lot of homegrown talent due for big paydays. Who knows if when the day comes, the team will have what it takes to keep Jones in Dallas. Not to mention, Anthony Brown is entering his contract year. A solid nickel corner for the Cowboys could be gone, leaving Kris Richard's unit with very little depth.
Fortunately for the Cowboys, Michael Jackson has the size and potential to play in any spot in the secondary, giving Richard the chance to develop him at the position he wishes. After all, Richard will be in no hurry to get Jackson on the field. It's tough to imagine Jackson getting an important role for the upcoming season, but he could certainly get a few snaps throughout the year. Having said that, it's in the long run that the All-ACC second-team CB can truly prove his worth.
In an ideal world, the Cowboys would keep their current CB but the cold, hard truth is NFL teams can't keep all of their players all the time. Jackson might have to eventually step up to an important spot on the defense. If Kris Richard develops him properly, Dallas won't be that concerned about a couple of their CBs potentially leaving. We'll see if Michael Jackson is ready when his name is called.
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