With final cuts and other moves coming anytime between now and Tuesday's deadline, it's time to project the Dallas Cowboys' 53-man roster for Week One of the 2022 season.
After three preseason games and all the news and developments from training camp we have a much better sense of some of these players than we did in July. Many of these names have been projected since the draft, but some new ones have emerged with free agent signings and unexpected risers from the summer.
Keep in mind that this is a projection for the Week One roster and not necessarily what it looks like on Tuesday evening. There will likely be some technicalities that day, such as LS Jake McQuaide getting released for about 24-48 hours while they carry Tyron Smith on the roster and then move him to injured reserve.
NFL rules force some of these odd maneuvers during cutdowns. If teams want to designate a player as being eligible to return from IR then they have to carry them on the roster for a brief period after cuts.
Once the dust settles, this is who I expect to actually be on the team when the Cowboys host the Bucs for the season opener.
Offense Depth Chart (23)
- QB: Dak Prescott, Will Grier
- RB: Ezekiel Elliott, Tony Pollard, Rico Dowdle
- WR: CeeDee Lamb, Jalen Tolbert, Simi Fehoko
- WR: Michael Gallup, Noah Brown, KaVontae Turpin
- TE: Dalton Schultz, Jake Ferguson, Peyton Hendershot
- OT: Player TBD, Matt Waletzko
- G: Tyler Smith, Connor McGovern
- C: Tyler Biadasz, Matt Farniok
- G: Zack Martin
- OT: Terence Steele, Josh Ball
- IR: WR James Washington, OT Tyron Smith
Will Grier didn't show as much as we'd have liked on Friday night but I think it was still enough. Cooper Rush can easily make it to the practice squad, allowing him to continue to work in the QB room but not take up a roster spot. Grier, a 3rd-round pick in 2019, is more likely to still be on some other teams' radars and poached if released.
Rico Dowdle makes it as RB3 after a fierce battle with Malik Davis. He's a proven standout on special teams and that's paramount for his role and being active on gamedays. Dallas will hope to get Davis to the practice squad, which isn't unreasonable given the current RB wealth around the league.
The Cowboys' hope that Michael Gallup can return sooner than Week 5 will keep him on the official roster. He will likely sit out against Tampa and perhaps Cincinnati, but the potential for him to play in those early NFC East battles with the Giants and Commanders is too great for Dallas to close the book on just yet.
I had a tough time leaving Sean McKeon off the roster. Dallas has been protecting him on the 53 the last two seasons for a reason, but that was before they added Ferguson and Hendershot this year. I think they'll now be willing to risk losing McKeon on the practice squad before their new prospects.
The offensive line is where stuff gets good and messy. As you can see, I'm leaving a “TBD” spot for a player that I expect to be added sometime over the next week. Whether it's a free agent, a claimed player, or some traded for, I just can't fathom the malpractice of not finding some kind of help at offensive tackle after Tyron Smith's injury and the poor showings from our backups.
That said, it's entirely possible that rookie Tyler Smith will be the LT and that Connor McGovern will move into the starting lineup at guard. That means a likely move to add additional depth at guard, or perhaps someone with the position flex to back up both guard and tackle.
I could be dead wrong about Josh Ball even making the roster at this point, but it was a year ago that he was seen as a steal in the 4th Round and missed his rookie year due to injury. This would be very quick to pull the plug on his development or risk losing him on the practice squad.
Defense Depth Chart (27)
- DE: DeMarcus Lawrence, Chauncey Golston
- DT: Osa Odighizuwa, Trysten Hill, John Ridgeway
- DT: Neville Gallimore, Quinton Bohanna
- DE: Dorance Armstrong, Sam Williams, Dante Fowler
- LB: Anthony Barr, Jabril Cox
- LB: Micah Parsons, Luke Gifford
- LB: Leighton Vander Esch, Devin Harper
- CB: Trevon Diggs, DaRon Bland, Nahshon Wright
- CB: Anthony Brown, Jourdan Lewis, Kelvin Joseph
- S: Malik Hooker, Donovan Wilson, Israel Mukuamu
- S: Jayron Kearse, Markquese Bell
- NFI: LB Damone Clark
The defensive depth chart really crystalized over the last few weeks. We already knew most of these players were locks and then guys like Fowler, Hill, Harper, Bland, Mukuamu, and Bell all stood out and seemed to claim their spots on the field in the preseason.
Keeping Tarell Basham or any other DE for six total feels excessive with Micah Parsons and Anthony Barr having pass-rush potential. I think Dallas would rather use that roster spot to secure a young DT prospect like John Ridgeway or a sixth LB in Devin Harper, focusing more on development for the future.
In a choice between Trysten Hill or Carlos Watkins I'm going with Hill, both for upside and to satisfy front office hubris. But I could also see Dallas trying to use Hill in a trade and then keeping Watkins.
Six linebackers may seem like a lot in the modern NFL, given the prevalence of nickel defense, but you have several injury risks there with Vander Esch, Cox, and Barr. You also have to consider that Barr, Gifford, and Vander Esch are all on one-year contracts in 2022, so securing Harper for 2023 isn't a bad move either.
The six cornerbacks are pretty easy to pick. DaRon Bland's rise to prominence over Joseph and Wright has been one of the biggest stories of the summer. He may very well be starting opposite Trevon Diggs in 2023 at his current rate.
I am struggling mightily with what to do with Donovan Wilson. The team is treating him like a key asset by sitting him in preseason games, but excitement is swelling around Israel Mukuamu and Markquese Bell. With Wilson's contract expiring after this year, how much sense does it make to let him take up a roster spot? I could see him as a trade candidate.
Special Teams (3)
- K: Brett Maher
- P: Bryan Anger
- LS: Jake McQuaide
Leaving special teams ace C.J. Goodwin off the roster is probably going to be my biggest folly. But with Goodwin now 32 years old, how much longer can he keep hogging a roster spot from prospects who provide potential at other positions? Maybe DaRon Bland or another young defensive back finally gives Dallas a worthy replacement.
Again, don't be surprised if McQuaide is released to facilitate moving Tyron Smith and James Washington to injured reserve. Veterans with at least four accrued seasons aren't subject to waivers, making McQuaide a top candidate along with Noah Brown, Dante Fowler, or perhaps C.J. Goodwin (if he's ultimately making the team) to facilitate one of those moves.
~ ~ ~
So, what did I get wrong? Who am I underestimating or overvaluing? Sound off in the comments!