We're just a few daysaway from the opening of the Dallas Cowboys' 2021 training camp. While much could change between July 21st and final cuts, I thought we could take a look at projected depth charts for next season and see where we thought some of the hottest competition could happen.
Naturally, some spots really aren't up for grabs. Nobody is pushing Dak Prescott, Zack Martin, DeMarcus Lawrence, and other top starters for their jobs. And even beyond the starters, some of the key depth roles may already be spoken for.
That said, the Cowboys are bringing 91 players (they get an exemption for OL Isaac Alarcon as an international prospect) to camp to build a 53-man roster. How do we see that shaking out?
We will start today with the “skills positions” on offense; quarterback, running back, wide receiver, and tight end. The players listed on the top lines for each position are who I expect to make the roster and in the order I expect them to fall on the depth chart. The players listed below them are other prospects coming to camp.
Offensive Skill Positions
- QB: Dak Prescott, Garrett Gilbert
- Ben DiNucci, Cooper Rush
- RB: Ezekiel Elliott, Tony Pollard, Rico Dowdle
- Brenden Knox, JaQuan Hardy
- FB: None
- Sewo Olonilua, Nick Ralston
- WR1: Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, Noah Brown
- WR2: Michael Gallup, Cedrick Wilson, Simi Fehoko
- Malik Turner, Aaron Parker, Stephen Guidry
- Johnnie Dixon, Brennan Eagles, Osirus Mitchell
- Brandon Smith, T.J. Vasher
- TE: Blake Jarwin, Dalton Schultz, Jeremy Sprinkle
- Sean McKeon, Nick Eubanks, Artayvious Lynn
The only real competition among the starters here is Jarwin versus Schultz at tight end. Blake was supposed to start last year but went down in Week 1, allowing Dalton to step up and shine. It will be interesting to see who gets the initial work with the 1st-team offense when camp opens.
If Dallas even keeps a fullback this year it's a virtual toss-up between Olonilua and Ralston. Sewo has a one-year edge on the undrafted rookie but played very little in 2020. Special teams work could be the deciding factor here as it's where either guy would get the majority of their snaps. But with RB Rico Dowdle being a strong special teamer, the Cowboys may just pass on a fullback completely.
I expect that we'll only keep one reserve QB on the 53-man roster this year. With the COVID-19 protocols expect to carry over to 2021, a third QB can be left on the practice squad and called up for gamedays. Gilbert is the current front-runner to join Prescott on the official roster, but the competition between him, DiNuccu, and Rush for the backup roles should be a close one.
The Cowboys are bringing a lot of receivers to camp but it's hard to imagine any of the lesser prospects getting further than the practice squad. Cedrick Wilson and Noah Brown have well-established roles on special teams and proven assets on offense. Dallas already has to go six-deep at WR just to keep them and 4th-Round rookie Simi Fehoko. Surprises can happen but that's exactly what it will be if any of the UDFAs from 2020 or 2021 make the team.
Same story at TE; Jeremy Sprinkle was a veteran free agent signed specifically to replace Blake Bell as a proven blocker. Dallas could keep four tight ends, and especially if they forego a fullback, but I project they'll go light on some positions to save roster spots for the offensive line and defense.
Of course, much can change between next week and the end of the preseason. We're sure to hear of some UDFAs who are dazzling in camp but quickly fizzle in August (RIP Jon'Vea Johnson). And while we never want to see it, injuries will have their say in the final outworking of the roster and depth charts as well.
Pretty soon it all stops being hypothetical. Whatever the next several weeks bring, hopefully the result is a competitive Cowboys roster ready to get back to the playoffs.