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.
Maliek Collins Playing Excellent for Cowboys Defense
For the Dallas Cowboys on the interior, a lot of the news consistently surround the availability of Defensive Tackle David Irving, but Maliek Collins is playing excellent right now. While I'm willing to be very patient with Irving because of the elite talent he brings, Maliek Collins should continue to start for the Dallas Cowboys at 3-technique defensive tackle.
Collins has been a player that the Cowboys have bounced between the nose tackle and the 3T position with the hopes of getting their best players on the field, and because of the lack of a consistent presence at the 1-technique or nose tackle position. Well, with Antwaun Woods taking control at the 1T, Collins has been able to play at the position where he's at his best. The 3-tech.
He hasn't put huge numbers in the sack column this season, but that doesn't mean he's been absent from being the disruptive player he's been through his first two and a half seasons.
During the Dallas Cowboys five game winning streak, Maliek Collins has led the Dallas Cowboys defensive tackles in total pressures with 13, according to Pro Football Focus. PFF combines sacks, quarterback hits, and hurries into their "pressures." Collins hasn't recorded a sack during the winning streak, but he has four quarterback hits and nine hurries. He's tied with Tyrone Crawford for third in total pressures behind DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory over the last five weeks.
Over the last five weeks, Collins leads the defensive tackles in solo tackles with five and is tied with Crawford and Antwaun Woods with three run stops on defense, according to Pro Football Focus. Collins has also has two tackles for loss in the last five games and recovered Tyrone Crawford's force fumble on Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Collins had six sacks in his rookie season when he played primarily as the 3T, which allowed him to see more one-on-one blocks against opposing interior offensive linemen. Especially with the way the rest of the defensive line is playing.
With the Cowboys on the road to face the Indianapolis Colts this week, Collins is going to have a tough matchup with a very good Colts offensive line, in particular, rookie Quentin Nelson. Collins ability to get pressure on Andrew Luck on the interior is a huge key for the Dallas Cowboys this week. We know that Gregory and Lawrence will get their pressures, but if Andrew Luck is able to step up into a clean pocket, it will make for a much more challenging game for the Cowboys secondary.
Collins has proved to be up to any task over the last five weeks and if he's able to keep playing at such a high level, he'll make the Cowboys coaching staff, and the rest of Cowboys Nation forget about using other defensive tackles. For the Cowboys to make a deep push in the playoffs, they'll need Collins to be a big time player for them moving forward.
#INDvsDAL: Betting Preview, Trends, And Prediction
For once, the Cowboys are not playing what feels like a do-or-die game on Sunday, needing just 1 win over their final 3 to win the NFC East. This week the 8-5 Cowboys go on the road to face the 7-6 Colts, with each times vying for playoff spots in their respective conferences.
Both the Cowboys and Colts have turned around what looked like dead seasons, but there is no doubt the Colts need this one more than the Cowboys do to keep pace for the 6th seed in the AFC.
Cowboys +3, O/U 47 points.
The once 3-5 Cowboys are now head and shoulders above the rest of their division, after winning their fifth straight in thrilling fashion over the Eagles last Sunday. The team which seemed so disjointed and inconsistent through 8 games has found their identity, and is playing complete team football as of late.
Dak Prescott is coming off a career-best game in terms of yardage, and despite some poor turnovers is still playing some of the best football of his career. This is due in large part to two stars in Amari Cooper and Ezekiel Elliott, who have shouldered the production load of this offense the last 5 weeks.
And, of course, there is the defense which continues to make life a living hell for opposing offenses. Randy Gregory is coming into his own as a pass rusher, getting another sack last week and getting flagged for what should have been his second sack of the day.
Dallas is playing the brand of football they told us they would before the season, and are beginning to make their front office and decision makers look very smart in the process.
At 7-6 and fighting for the final AFC playoff spot, the Colts need this one more than the Cowboys do. Getting shut out by the lowly Jaguars two weeks ago may ultimately keep the Colts out of the playoffs, but a win this Sunday and a little help elsewhere could set them up nicely down the stretch.
Indy has quietly one of the best passing offenses in all of the NFL, with star quarterback Andrew Luck playing his best football in quite some time. Luck is healthy and looks like himself again, and the selection of Quenton Nelson to sure-up the offensive line has gone a long way to improving this offense as well.
Defensively the Colts have been even more impressive lately. Though they have a roster comprised of no-names nationally, the Colts defense is 11th in DVOA. Darius Leonard has been a revelation for the Colts at linebacker, and their young defense seems to be improving by the week.
The Colts are coming off of a big road victory over the Houston Texans a week ago, and will look to defeat the Texans' in-state rivals on Sunday to improve to 8-6.
- The Cowboys are 5-0 against the spread their last 5 games, and have won all 5 straight up.
- The score total has hit the over 4 of the Cowboys' last 6 games.
- But the score total has gone under 4 of the Colts' last 5 games.
- The Colts are 4-1 straight up their last 5 home games.
- Dallas is 6-3 their last 9 games against the Colts.
The Cowboys' winning streak has to end at some point, right?
Well, unlike Vegas, I don't expect that ending to happen on Sunday. The Cowboys have been playing desperate football over the last 5 games and they are well aware what a win over Indianapolis would mean.
A victory would clinch them a division title for the third time in five years, and just as they did in 2014, I expect the Cowboys to get that clinching victory over the Colts. Give me the Cowboys and the points this week.
Amari Cooper Wins 2nd NFC Offensive Player of the Week Award of 2018
For the second time in just three weeks, Dallas Cowboys receiver Amari Cooper has been named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week.
Cooper scored three touchdowns, including the game winner in overtime, to lead the Cowboys to victory last Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles. He has 10 catches for 217 yards, which led all NFL receivers last week.
After his record-setting performance during week 14, @AmariCooper9 is the FIRST #DallasCowboys to win NFC Player of the Week twice in a season! → https://t.co/kvBDIeOgBd #ProBowlVote #ProBowlVote #ProBowlVote #ProBowlVote #ProBowlVote #ProBowlVote
As the official website stated, Cooper is the first Cowboy to win the award twice in the same year. He's also the first Cowboy to be named Offensive Player of the Week since Ezekiel Elliott in 2016.
Before this year, Elliott was the only Dallas player to win the Offensive award in three seasons. Cooper has now done it twice in three weeks.
Since being traded to the Cowboys, Amari Cooper has amassed 40 catches for 642 yards and six touchdowns.
His wasted time in Oakland may keep Cooper out of the Pro Bowl this year, but he's already become a fan favorite in Cowboys Nation. Congratulations to Amari for another well-deserved award!
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