The first practice of the Dallas Cowboys' 2018 training camp is today. Therefore, it seems a great time for a new 53-man roster projection.
My last projection was after the draft, and there have been some developments with the roster since then. One defensive lineman got reinstated by the NFL, while another got suspended for the first four weeks. We also have reports from camps in May and June that have given us more clarity about the talent currently in Oxnard, CA.
So, without further ado, let's start the projecting. Along with the current picks and analysis, changes from the previous edition will also be listed.
Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush, Mike White
The days when Dallas only kept one backup QB appear to be over. Given Rush's performance last year, they didn't need to spend a fifth-round pick on White. But they did, and this signifies a move to more of a "pipeline" handling of QB talent.
Of course, this depends on both Rush and White performing well enough to deserve roster spots. The Cowboys could certainly end up cutting one of them if they don't merit keeping.
But given what we've already seen out of Cooper, and the draft pick invested in the rookie, it's hard to see either playing their way off the roster.
Running Back (5)
Ezekiel Elliott, Rod Smith, Tavon Austin,
Bo Scarbrough, Jamize Olawale (FB)
Five sounds like a lot, but remember that we're lumping the fullback into the group. We're also listing Austin as a RB, as the Cowboys official website does, even though he is likely to be a hybrid player both rushing and receiving.
Scarbrough is an interesting case. We're all excited about him getting a head of steam running behind the Cowboys' offensive line. But how much will he actually get to play with the first-team line? Will he get to look impressive behind Joe Looney and Chaz Green?
Helping the rookie is that Rod Smith has an expiring contract, so I think Dallas will find ways to give Bo looks to determine his long-term value. A battering ram is nice as a backup, particularly for later in games after the defense is already worn down.
Allen Hurns, Cole Beasley, Terrance Williams,
Michael Gallup, Deonte Thompson, Noah Brown
I'm still not convinced that Williams makes the team this year. His public intoxication arrest earlier this year, and the general disappointment with his play last season, don't give him job security. His contract is probably the only reason he's still around, as Dallas eats a lot of dead money by releasing him.
But at this point, the Cowboys can afford to eat that cap space if they want to. And depending on what rookie Michael Gallup and other young prospects like Noah Brown, Lance Lenoir, and Cedrick Wilson bring to the table, Dallas might want Terrance's roster spot more than the player.
Veteran Deonte Thompson is another one who I'm not entirely sure about. He only signed a one-year, $1.8 million deal and can be cut easily. At 29-years-old, Thompson has little cushion for performance issues.
Given Tavon Austin's ability to play receiver, Dallas could easily go with just five guys here to free up a roster spot somewhere else. But how much uncertainty there is in the passing game right now, I think they go long to keep their options open.
Tight End (3)
Geoff Swaim, Rico Gathers, Dalton Schultz
Changes: Added Gathers, Removed Blake Jarwin
Only three TEs seems light for the Cowboys, but there are a few reasons for it. One is that they are going long at RB and WR, so the spot has to come from somewhere. Also, FB Jamize Olawale has the size to play some TE and has done so in the past with Oakland.
Another reason is that Dallas is apparently moving to more of a spread offense, thinking it will bring out the best in Dak Prescott. That further alleviates the need for tight ends on the roster.
I'm putting Gathers here on faith right now, hoping that he's going to take the next step this year to capitalize on his athletic potential. Swaim and Schultz are locked into their spots, so it really comes down to Rico and Blake if they only keep one more guy.
Dallas clearly likes Jarwin, having signed him to the roster last year to avoid the Eagles poaching him off the practice squad. But if Rico starts really putting things together this year, his upside is greater.
Offensive Tackle (4)
Tyron Smith, La'el Collins, Cam Fleming,
Changes: Added Green
No surprises in the top three. Your starters are clear and Fleming was brought in to be the trusted swing tackle, having started 20 regular season games with the Patriots plus playoff action.
As much as it pains me, I put Chaz Green on the roster based on a few inescapable truths. He has position flex as a tackle and guard, which gives him value. He also was a former third-round pick, which will make it harder for the team to give up on him.
The way I see it, Joe Looney and Marcus Martin are competing for the backup center position. They both can play guard as well. Having Green as a G/T option is the better value, assuming he has a decent camp and preseason.
Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, Connor Williams,
Changes: Removed Joe Looney
The starters appear set, with two spots obvious and the rookie Williams getting every opportunity to win the job at left guard. How Connor does in that quest could have a ripple effect on the entire offensive line.
If Williams struggles, Dallas may look at Looney or Martin to move into the starting lineup. There's always the La'el Collins option too, but the Cowboys appear committed to keeping him at tackle this year.
Given his time in the system, Looney may be more attractive as a starter. But if Williams starts, I see Dallas going with Martin for the backup role given that he's three years younger and could have a little more upside.
If Chaz Green is a total bust and gets cut, Dallas should keep both Looney and Martin as reserves.
~ ~ ~
That's 25 roster spots on offense. And with three definitely going to Kicker Dan Bailey, Punter Chris Jones, and Long Snapper L.P. Ladouceur as the specialists, that leaves 25 more for defense.
Mind you, it's not always an even split between offensive and defensive roster numbers. We've often seen one or two more guys on defense given the rotations and need for greater depth. But this year, with the offense undergoing some overhaul, this is how I see it shaking out.
Let's head over to the other side of the ball.
Defensive End (5)
DeMarcus Lawrence, Taco Charlton, Kony Ealy,
Randy Gregory, Dorance Armstrong
Back in May, I had Gregory on the list with the hope that he'd be reinstated. I'm so glad that I can keep him here now his return is official.
For the first time in a while, this isn't a very hard group to predict. Lawrence and Charlton are easy, and veteran free agent Kony Ealy would have to be really bad to lose his job so quickly. I expect Ealy will be far from bad as he returns to the 4-3 scheme and gets to beat up in backup blockers this preseason.
Rounding out the group will be two pass-rushing specialists in Gregory and the rookie Armstrong. We don't know how quickly Randy will get his football legs back under him, but the Cowboys appear very excited for his return. And Dorance needs time to work on his NFL body, but the team spent a fourth-round pick on him. Those guys don't get cut often.
The loser here is Charles Tapper, who is likely to be the odd man out unless he has a stellar camp and preseason. It's been two seasons of health-related disappointment for the former fourth-rounder, but he'll get his opportunity to prove he still has value.
Defensive Tackle (5)
Tyrone Crawford, Jihad Ward, Brian Price,
Richard Ash, Datone Jones
Changes: Added Ash, Price, and Jones.
Removed Maliek Collins, David Irving, and Terrell McClain
So yeah, in May I put McClain on the roster because I was so confident he'd sign with the Cowboys as a free agent. But he went to the Falcons instead. So yeah.
Irving isn't on here because he's suspended for Week 1-4. We'll have to see what happens when he gets out of rehab and if his absence doesn't get prolonged. I also didn't include Collins, who is starting camp on the PUP list, because I have a feeling Dallas may go ahead and let him recover through the start of the regular season.
That means big opportunity at defensive tackle. Jihad Ward, the former second-round pick who Dallas traded WR Ryan Switzer to Oakland for, should get the most work from these absences. The Cowboys clearly believe they can get something out of him that the Raiders couldn't.
Brian Price was working as the 1-tech tackle prior to his injury last year, and Richard Ash did well later in the season. I think both make the squad for as long as Maliek Collins is out.
Lastly there's Datone Jones, who impressed as a late-season signing last year. Jones has versatility to play end or tackle, making him an ideal guy to round out the line.
Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch,
Damien Wilson, Joe Thomas, Justin March-Lillard
Until we see more from this group, these are the names I'm most confident about. The first four are certain, while Thomas and JML have experience.
That said, there are several young prospects who could push their way in. Rookie Chris Covington was a sixth-round pick, which isn't a guarantee but will at least get him some extra attention from coaches. There's also Tre'von Johnson, who was with the Cowboys practice squad most of last year and brought back this season.
Linebacker is a position where there's almost always a surprise. Special teams comes into play and gives some unexpected darkhorse a lot more value then you realized going in. That is where Covington, Johnson, or some other guy has to make an impact to make the team.
Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, Byron Jones,
Anthony Brown, Duke Thomas, Kameron Kelly
Your top four are set and Duke Thomas feels like a virtual lock. He was going to make the team last year if he hadn't been injured during preseason.
The last spot goes to Kelly over Marquez White given his college experience at safety. I have Dallas only keeping three safeties right now thanks to Byron Jones' position flex, but Kelly helps that as well.
A few weeks ago, White was charged with felony assault and we'll have to see how that process plays out. He does have potential, especially with Defensive Backs Coach Kris Richard's preference for physical corners. But Marquez's availability remains in question.
Another guy to keep an eye on is undrafted rookie Charvarious Ward, who came from a small school but is 6'1" with upside. He was considered one of the best rookie talents, league-wide, to go undrafted this year.
Jeff Heath, Xavier Woods, Kavon Frazier
While we're still keep one eye on Seattle for a potential newcomer at safety, the three Dallas already has are pretty interesting.
Heath is now one of the veteran leaders of the defense, with 27 seeming almost geriatric now on this very young Cowboys roster. If he can become more consistent while maintaining his knack for getting interceptions, Jeff could be in line for a breakout season.
Xavier Woods is one of the most exciting young players on the defense, flashing hard hits and a nose for the ball last season. He is likely to be the other starter, having the best potential to play free safety.
Kavon Frazier shouldn't be ignored, though. After sitting out a lot of his rookie year, Frazier showed up last season isn't far behind Woods in terms of intrigue. Even if the young guys can't force Heath out of the starting lineup, we should see all three a lot this season.
One other name to watch out for is Marqueston Huff, a fifth-year veteran and former fourth-round pick of the Titans. He has experience and could become more valuable if there's an injury to one of the top three.
~ ~ ~
So there you have it. As of now, before all of the camp reports and knee-jerk reactions and injuries that change everything, there's your 53-man roster projection for the start of training camp.
I'll be back with a new projection following the Cowboys' first preseason game.
CIN 21, DAL 14: Dak Prescott Continues Strong Preseason in Loss
The games may not count yet, but Dak Prescott looks ready for the 2018 season. The Dallas Cowboys quarterback continued his strong preseason play in the team's 21-13 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.
Prescott played three series, going 10/15 for 86 yards and a touchdown. He got the offense out of trouble a few times with his feet, avoiding sacks and ultimately getting the scoring pass off on a redzone scramble.
Dak's strong play has coincided with shutdown performances from the starting defense. The Cowboys' first-team defenders have yet to allow a score in two preseason games. Tonight, the Bengals were forced into four punts and two turnovers on their first-half possessions.
Overall, the Cowboys are a combined 24-7 in the first halves of their first two preseason contests.
The second half has been the problem, and for two weeks now Dallas' reserves have squandered halftime leads and given up losses. Thankfully, most of the responsible players will not be on the final 53-man roster.
- There were several concerning injuries for the Cowboys tonight. None was scarier than when All-Pro guard Zack Martin went out with a knee injury, but it does not appear to have been serious. Starting defensive backs Byron Jones and Xavier Woods also got banged up; Byron returned to the game but Woods did not. Defensive lineman Datone Jones also left with a knee injury.
- Even more concerning was the play of the second-team offensive line. Chaz Green was typically awful, but we also saw swing tackle Cam Fleming struggling and just an overall lack of protection for the backups quarterbacks. Green got benched in the second half and may have finally played his way off the team.
- Credit to Terrance Williams for getting open in the endzone to give Dak Prescott a receiver for the touchdown throw. Even with his warts, Williams' two years of experience playing with Dak can't be ignored in deciding who makes the team.
- Tight end Blake Jarwin continues to run with the starters on offense and may have quietly taken the job away from Geoff Swaim.
- Darius Jackson took advantage of some extra playing time tonight after Bo Scarbrough left with a hip injury. He broke off a few nice runs to amass 42 yards on just six carries, plus had four receptions.
- We finally get to see Dan Bailey kick a field goal again, and it was an easy 35-yarder with no issues.
- Shout out to Chidobe Awuzie for one of the pretty interceptions that a Cowboys DB has made in some time. Awuzie had to bend like Beckham (Odell, that is) to get a hand on the ball, then tipped it to himself for the pick.
- Preseason fun continues for the Cowboys next Sunday when they host the Arizona Cardinals on NBC's Sunday Night Football.
#DALvsCIN: Can WR Lance Lenoir Continue To Impress?
Entering training camp projecting who would make the final roster from the Dallas Cowboys wide receiving room was a crapshoot. The combination of misfits from other teams, unproven young guys, and a couple of Cowboys veterans makes this position group the most questioned across the entire roster.
But while Cole Beasley, Allen Hurns, and Michael Gallup were stealing headlines, Lance Lenoir was making a name for himself among the Cowboys faithful.
After serving on the practice squad for the Cowboys a year ago, Lenoir seems to have entered 2018 with one goal in mind: to make the official game-day roster. And even if he falls short of this goal, it won't be due to any fault of his own.
Day in and day out Lance Lenoir has been a consistent wide out, catching nearly everything thrown his way and running some of the crisper routes on the team. Under new receivers coach Sanjay Lal, Lenoir has become a technical route runner and dangerous receiving threat.
Maybe most importantly for his future with the team, Lenoir has developed an obvious chemistry with starting quarterback Dak Prescott. Prescott has continued to compliment Lenoir throughout training camp, and you know that the Cowboys front office is well aware of Prescott's trust in Lenoir on the field.
During the preseason opener against the 49ers, Lance Lenoir caught his first touchdown of the season, dazzling with his toe-tap ability. If he is going to steal a roster spot away from one of the more seasoned wide outs, however, he will have to remain that consistent target.
This Saturday, Lenoir gets another shot to prove why he's not only deserving of a roster spot, but of a starting spot. Sure, it might be a bit of a stretch, but if he continues to play like he has during camp and preseason, Lenoir could find himself working with the 1's more frequently.
Look out for Lance Lenoir against the Bengals this week, as he makes it harder and harder for the Cowboys to cut him by the second.
Cowboys en Español: ¿Es Tavon Austin Más Importante de lo que Creemos?
Cada vez más cerca de la verdadera acción en la NFL, tuvimos una oportunidad de ver a los Dallas Cowboys en el campo contra los San Francisco 49ers hace una semana. Francamente, a pesar de perder la ventaja en los últimos segundos del partido, la actuación del equipo dio una muy buena señal a los aficionados de la Estrella Solitaria.
Todavía quedan tres partidos por jugar, empezando por el enfrentamiento contra los Cincinnati Bengals este sábado. Hay muchas cosas que ver de parte de los Dallas Cowboys y quizá algunas de ellas las veamos este mismo fin de semana.
Una de las cosas más interesantes esta semana fue la conversación de los wide receivers (receptores abiertos). Lance Lenoir se ha mostrado como un candidato real al roster de 53 jugadores, pero esa es sólo una pequeña fracción de la conversación de receptores.
Hay muchos receptores de que hablar, y el día de hoy, eso haremos en Cowboys en Español.
¿Cole Beasley es realmente el receptor #1?
A lo largo de todo el offseason, se ha manejado la narrativa de que "los Cowboys no tienen un buen WR." A pesar de que Dez Bryant es un nombre difícil de olvidar, esta aseveración sobre los receptores en Dallas me parece errónea.
Si bien es cierto que Bryant es uno de los mejores WRs en la historia de los Cowboys, también es cierto que Jason Garrett y compañía tienen un mejor grupo de lo que la afición considera. Si somos sinceros, un trío titular de Allen Hurns, Cole Beasley y Michael Gallup no suena mal.
La pregunta será: ¿quién es el #1? Comentarios de Dak Prescott han hecho referencia a Cole Beasley como el dueño de dicho rol. ¿Realmente puede fungir como el receptor líder del equipo siendo un jugador de 1.73 metros?
Se ha hablado mucho de Beasley jugando fuera de los números e intentando vencer a los defensivos por fuera. Es intrigante, pero sin duda un poco difícil de creer.
Tavon Austin: ¿Es un arma más importante de lo que creemos?
Los Cowboys dejaron ir a Ryan Switzer y obtuvieron a su aparente remplazo con el ex-WR de los Rams por una selección de sexta ronda. Tavon Austin ha tenido un viaje extraño con el equipo. Fue listado en el roster como un corredor pero utilizado como un receptor.
Lleva poco tiempo en Dallas pero ha sorprendido en training camp y ha sido utilizado como más de lo que esperábamos. Desde que llegó al equipo, empezamos a compararlo con Lucky Whitehead y Ryan Switzer. Ambos talentosos, pero destinados a ser un jugador "gadget" que fueron utilizados casi exclusivamente en jugadas "en movimiento" o los famosos "jet sweeps."
Pero Austin puede ser más que eso y lo ha demostrado en training camp. No parece que Tavon vaya a tener el mismo destino que Switzer, sino que tendrá un rol mucho más involucrado en la ofensiva constantemente. Bien puede ser un factor sorpresa para la ofensiva en Dallas.
¿Puede Terrance Williams perder su trabajo?
A pesar de que el coraje puede llevar a los aficionados a criticar a Terrance Williams un poco más de lo que merece, la verdad es que Williams está en riesgo de ser cortado por los Cowboys antes de que inicie la temporada en septiembre.
Es uno de los WRs con más experiencia, sí. Pero durante su estadía en Dallas, cada vez que Dez Bryant ha caído lesionado, Williams ha tenido la oportunidad de surgir como un receptor #1 capaz y preparado. Y nunca lo ha logrado.
Con un roster lleno de talentos jóvenes como el de Lance Lenoir y Noah Brown, es probable que la administración y los coaches opten por el potencial joven en vez de Williams, quien ha tenido problemas para demostrar que puede ser un jugador constante.
Los Dallas Cowboys tienen que conseguir que su ofensiva sobreviva las pérdidas de Jason Witten y Dez Bryant y tendrán que comenzar en la posición de WR. A pesar de que Williams esté en el equipo, Cole Beasley será el único en repetir titularidad del año pasado en Dallas esta temporada.
Dak Prescott tendrá un rol enorme cuando la ofensiva trate de emprender su marcha y definitivamente será responsable del éxito de esta. Es ahora o nunca para Dak.
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