Watching Deonte Thompson dart down the field untouched for 108 yards and a touchdown Saturday night reminded me of why my final 53 comes with a degree of limitations. I am basing my prediction off of who I see having standout performances on offense and defense alone.
But, unfortunately, the guy who performs better on Special Teams, as far as the bottom of the depth chart, are the players that are typically retained, meaning that players such as Jamar Newsome and/or LaRon Byrd could still be on the outside looking in, versus a few corners who otherwise don't even look as though they belong on an NFL field (Scandrick’s suspension situation certainly doesn’t help matters).
With that being said, a quick disclaimer: The following will be a departure from what I think the Cowboys will do; this is my fantasy 53, in a world where every player is great at Special Teams.
Dustin Vaughan has proven he is worthy of a spot on the final 53. But he very well may get caught up in the numbers crunch, and if he does, I find it very hard to believe he will make it to the practice squad. Beyond his prototypical size, ability to make every type of throw at every level, and accuracy, he has something that typically takes rookies a few years to grasp – poise. The only question that remains - and one that I would love to see answered in one of the next few preseason games - is how does he perform against the opposition’s top-tier players using the Cowboys' top weapons and offensive line? That wish may be a few years premature.
When the final 53 is announced, this position is likely to break a lot of hearts. I remained the same here, despite Jamar Newsome’s “breakout” performance against the Ravens. For now, LaRon Byrd still has the inside-track. Despite which receivers eventually makes the team, arguably 8 players in this position group belong in the NFL.
Nothing to add or subtract here. However, I will say in terms of pass catchers, this group could be the strongest it has ever been in the history of Cowboys' TE roster depth.
Truth be told, Joseph Randle looks to be winning this battle. He may not be the better overall runner, over Ryan Williams, but he does everything well; from picking up blitzes to covering kicks on special teams, he can contribute all over the team. My issue with Randle is his lack of break-away speed; when he is on the field, defenses will never have to account for him, because the only opposing player he is certain to outrun in a foot race is the Defensive Tackle.
If the Cowboys keep four running backs or tight ends, the Full Back would likely be the casualty. Clutts still has the inside-track over Copeland.
Weems has struggled with both play and staying healthy. With the injury issues on the defensive side of the ball, this likely will be one of the easier cuts for the Cowboys. John Wetzel is a player to watch; from what I have read, he is making a strong case for further consideration.
I am staying with the same cast of characters from my last 53, because if Frederick is injured, Bernadeau is his back-up. Nwaneri is a great insurance policy that the Cowboys can still afford.
Nothing new here; Frederick should be a Dallas Cowboys for at least the next 5 years.
Ben Gardner was making the team on my last 53. Due to Gardner’s season-ending injury, I replaced him for the time being with Kenneth Boatright. Truthfully, though, none of the above have distinguished themselves as a threat opposing offenses have to account for in game-planning thus far.
Ken Bishop was on this list in my last final 53, but he has been somewhat of an invisible man so far. I replaced him with Zach Minter by merit of the fact that, at least, he showed up in a significant way against the Ravens. However, I wouldn’t fall in love just yet with Minter. Against the run, he was pushed around like he was on skates when he first took snaps in the second half. The second chance received, he showed up against a guy who likely doesn’t make the Ravens final 53; I would really like to see Minter against a legitimate starting Guard. Having said that, no other player has distinguished themselves as he did in limited snaps; and he did so after just a handful of practices. As far as the real final 53, Nick Hayden probably makes the team at this point in the preseason.
Orie Lemon was a part of this group, however, like many players already cut from my original 53, he has not done anything to separate himself and with the necessity of bolstering the Cornerback ranks for the impending Scandrick suspension, the Cowboys will likely go light here. Special Teams, however, may dictate otherwise.
B.W. Webb likely makes this group due to his experience in the system and his ability to contribute elsewhere on the team, but overall I’m not crazy about his coverage ability or lack of size. This is not exactly meant to be an endorsement of Green, but for now he is the unknown quantity that I’m hoping proves to be an excellent addition to the team. Furthermore, as stated in the beginning, if the Cowboys only go with 5 receivers, this is likely the position that extra spot goes to, which is a battle between Sterling Moore and Tyler Patmon.
J. J. Wilcox
Jeff Heath likely makes the team at the expense of Jakar Hamilton, due to his ability to contribute on Special Teams.
Bailey and Ladouceur are still locks for the team. Based on the recent signing of Tom Hornsey, it’s hard to determine if Jones is safe. Personally, I am not a fan of Jones’ leg strength, which is why I replaced Jones on my 53. There is no question about Hornsey’s leg having punted a 79-yarder against Duke in college; the question is his ability to punt directionally and within the 20 to help the Cowboys win field position battles.
The Dallas Cowboys WR Position Battle is Heating Up
Earning a spot on the Dallas Cowboys final 53-man roster is going to be a lot tougher in 2018 then it has been in years past. There is no shortage of position battles taking place right now to earn one of those coveted openings, but it's the battle taking place at receiver that's gaining steam and starting to heat up.
The ultimate unknown right now is how many wide receivers the Dallas Cowboys choose to carry on their 53-man roster this season. Last year they decided to carry six, but they have been known to carry just five. Unfortunately, this means they will have to release some talented players and risk losing them to another team.
As things stand right now there may just be one, possibly two, roster spots up for grabs. I think the only thing we know for sure right now is Cole Beasley, Allen Hurns, Michael Gallup, and Tavon Austin are the only WRs who can feel secure their jobs are safe for 2018. Everybody else is playing a game of Survivor, just hoping their name isn't the one written down and their torch isn't snuffed out.
Terrance Williams' flame may be safe due to his current contract. The Dallas Cowboys can't save anything by releasing him, but it doesn't cost them that much either. It's unlikely he has a future with the team, so if someone were to prove themselves more worthy, his flame could be extinguished.
Last season I thought Noah Brown was ready to unseat Williams, but that never really materialized. Unfortunately, Brown hasn't really shown up as much as I thought he would this offseason, and missing the game against the San Francisco 49ers last week didn't do him any favors either. This doesn't bode well for him moving forward.
Deonte Thompson was signed as a free agent to provide some veteran experience and speed to the passing game, but that in no way means his job is secure. He needs to do something to show up a little more because his age and salary means a younger up-and-coming WR could make him expendable.
Second-year WR Lance Lenoir Jr. might just be the receiver who has stirred things up the most. He has not only created a buzz for himself in offseason practices, but he was able to carry it over into the preseason last week against the 49ers. His arrow trajectory is definitely pointing upwards.
I'd definitely hate to be the one to decide who stays and who goes when final cuts are made. It's not going to be an easy decision to make, because the outcome will definitely have an impact on the team's success this year.
All of these players were brought into help Quarterback Dak Prescott and the passing game reach new heights, so making the wrong move could be detrimental. The number of wide receivers and who the Dallas Cowboys decide to keep might be the most important decision they make before the season starts.
How would you predict the Dallas Cowboys WR position battle turning out?
Any Concern About Dan Bailey Not Playing Against 49ers?
With all the excitement of the Dallas Cowboys finally playing in a game last week against the San Francisco 49ers, it may have escaped your attention that Dan Bailey remained on the sideline the entire time. He didn't attempt one field goal or kick off once last Thursday, which in my opinion is a little concerning.
Dan Bailey joined Ezekiel Elliott and Sean Lee on the sideline as a healthy scratch last week. The decision to sit both Zeke and Sean Lee makes sense due to the physical demands of their positions, but sitting Bailey was a bit of a head scratcher. After all, it's not like he plays a physically demanding position like the other two.
I know. I know. Dan Bailey is an integral part for the Cowboys success moving forward. I'm not arguing that he's not, but after sitting out the majority of the 2017 season with a groin injury and lingering concerns about his health this year, not playing him at all against the 49ers is a bit confusing.
I don't believe there is any kind of kicking competition between Dan Bailey and Brett Maher, who handled all of the kicking duties against the 49ers last Thursday. Bailey will be the Cowboys kicker when the 2018 season gets underway in just a few short weeks. But, the question remains… Why didn't he receive any playing time?
Dan Bailey was never quite the same last season once he returned from his injury. Something was off and I don't know if it was more mental or physical, maybe a little of both. He just wasn't splitting the uprights like his normal self.
Unfortunately, we have seen this kind of thing happen in the past with one of the Cowboys kickers. Nick Folk went through a similar situation with an injury and never really bounced back. I'm just hoping history doesn't repeat itself.
Obviously, the Dallas Cowboys know more about what's going on with Dan Bailey than I do. But, you would think they'd have allowed him to attempt a field goal or at least an extra point in a game situation to build up his confidence once again. It's what I would have done.
Hopefully I'm just being a little paranoid and I'm reading more into this than there actually is. But, the fact I haven't heard any reasoning as to why Dan Bailey was held out last week is sitting a little uneasy with me. I'm just hoping it was precautionary in order to keep him as healthy as possible for the upcoming season.
Should we be concerned Dan Bailey was a healthy scratch last week?
Week 1 NFC East Predictions and Cowboys Season Outlook
Let me start this article with a strong opening statement: The Cowboys will be better in 2018 than they were in 2017. There's been a lot of talk about the lack of a true No. 1 receiver. But when we break it down, the current setup will most likely play out better for Cowboys QB Dak Prescott.
The Dak Stats
Certain quarterbacks shine when they have that go-to playmaker. We're talking about guys like Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, Calvin Johnson, Ocho Cinco, Tim Brown, Jerry Rice, and Dez Bryant. But other QBs do better at reading the defense and quickly adapting to what is given. Dak Prescott is the latter breed of QB.
Let’s do a quick numbers exercise to prove this.
When Prescott is targeting 8 or more receivers throughout the game, his passer rating jumps from 86.1 (targeting less than 8) to 104.5. He passes for almost 50 yards more per game and his touchdown to interception ratio drastically improves from 21-13 to 24-4.
Most importantly, when he targets at least 8 different receivers, the Cowboys are 14-2. When he targets less than 8, the team is just .500 at 8-8.
Without a doubt, Prescott is much better at adjusting to what the defense is giving him. He just isn’t one of those guys who can successfully "force" the ball (like Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees). Not feeling the pressure of having to get the ball into the hands of the star playmaker will give this offense a new kind of depth in 2018.
Yes, losing Jason Witten hurts, much more so in my opinion than not having Dez.
Questions Still Loom
This is still the Cowboys' biggest concern on offense. There is some great depth. We have Rico Gathers, Blake Jarwin, Geoff Swaim, and the young stud out of Stanford, Dalton Schultz. But between the three who have any NFL experience, there are only 9 catches between them. I must say that Dalton, with his 4.75 40-yard dash, has a legitimate shot at seeing a lot of playing time in his rookie campaign and could become an impact player with his size (6’5”, 244-lbs) and speed.
But despite the battle for TE being wide open, and debates about whether or not the team needs a No. 1 receiver, the Cowboys are still expected to give the Eagles a run for their money in the NFC East. Here are the odds on the defending NFC East champions and how (although early) it is expected to shake out:
- Philadelphia Eagles -167
- Dallas Cowboys +350
- New York Giants +650
- Washington Redskins +750
NFC East Week 1 Predictions
The Cowboys open the season in a difficult road game against the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers have been listed as 2.5-point favorites (follow the Cowboys NFL Odds here all season long) which isn’t surprising considering they are a tough team playing at home. You might be thinking, "crap, we're opening up as underdogs?" Don’t worry too much; it actually bodes fairly well because the lines-makers generally give a 3-point advantage to the home team. This means that they actually handicap the Cowboys to be a half-point favorite on a neutral field and a 3.5-point favorite in Arlington.
The Redskins open their season in Arizona against the Cardinals. The line is set at a pick ‘em (meaning there is no point spread; it's anyone's game). But, looking at the 'Skins and Cardinals, I think Washington gets disappointed in Week 1 and starts their season with a loss.
The Giants get to test their new offensive line and see if they were right in continuing to place their faith in Eli Manning against the best defense in the league. The Jags are 3-point favorites at MetLife stadium. This means the Jags are actually 6-points better. I do think that the Giants will be vastly improved this season, but they are also going to open with a loss.
The Eagles don’t have it easy either, but they will probably pull out the win at home as 4-point favorites against the Dirty Birds on Thursday Night Football. Their defense is just too good. Atlanta's road offense scored just 21 points per game last year while Philly scores 28 on average at home. The Eagles' home defense has been downright nasty, only allowing 12 points per game in Philadelphia.
This will be a two-horse race for the division between the Eagles and Cowboys. And even if the Eagles win the East, the Cowboys will wildcard into the playoffs.
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