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Cowboys’ Defense: Pre-Training Camp 53-Man Roster Prediction

Brian Martin

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Cowboys' Defense: Pre-Training Camp 53-Man Roster Prediction

Unfortunately, this is the time of year where things are really slow in the NFL, which is why I thought it would be the perfect time to share with all you my pre-training camp 53-man roster prediction for the Dallas Cowboys. Yesterday I shared with you my predictions for the Cowboys' offense and also included the specialist, so today I will turn my attention to the defensive side of the ball.

How the Cowboys' defense performs in 2017 will go a long way with determining the amount of success they will have. That is why nearly all eyes will be on nearly every single defensive player in training camp and how they perform once the pads come on. This is especially true for incoming rookies who might be playing a large role on defense.

Continue reading to see my roster predictions for the Dallas Cowboys defense in 2017.

Defensive End (5)

DeMarcus Lawrence, Benson Mayowa, Charles Tapper, Taco Charlton, Damontre Moore

Benson Mayowa

Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys are fortunate enough to have some versatility in their defensive lineman, which means there are a number of different ways they can go about addressing the defensive end position. I decided to go with five DEs right now, especially considering Lawrence and Mayowa are really the only players that have proven themselves in the NFL.

I think second year DE Charles Tapper and rookie Taco Charlton are locks to make the team, but it's been journeyman Damontre Moore who has been the talk of the off-season. If he can continue to impress, he is the fifth DE and possible starter in 2017. Of course, the numbers the Cowboys decide to go with at this position could be impacted by what they do at defensive tackle.

Defensive Tackle (5)

Maliek Collins, Cedric Thornton, Tyrone Crawford, Stephen Paea, David Irving

Maliek CollinsLike the defensive end position, I think the Cowboys go with five defensive tackles on their final 53-man roster in 2017. I think Tyrone Crawford moves back to DT, which is probably his better position. Both he and Maliek Collins will likely be in a rotation at the 3-tech, but the 1-tech seems to be up for grabs still.

Cedric Thornton and Stephen Paea are in competition against one another to be the starting 1-tech, but with the way Marinelli rotates his defensive line it doesn't really matter who is named starter. Surprisingly enough, I went ahead and put David Irving down as my fifth DT, even though he is facing a suspension. There are rumors though that he could possibly get it overturned.

Linebacker (6)

Sean Lee, Anthony Hitchens, Damien Wilson, Jaylon Smith, Kyle Wilber, Mark Nzeocha

Sean Lee and Jaylon SmithThe Dallas Cowboys carried seven linebackers on their 53-man roster in 2016, and could do so once again this season. This is especially true if Jaylon Smith shows any signs of struggling once the pads come on in training camp. But, right now I have them only carrying six LBs.

I think Sean Lee, Anthony Hitchens, and Damien Wilson will likely be the starters when the 2017 season kicks off. However, the Cowboys will likely try to get a rotation going with Smith if he is indeed ready. The rest of the LBs are needed for depth and let's not forget fullback Keith Smith could be used at LB in an emergency situation.

I wouldn't be surprised if the scouting department looks long and hard around the league for depth/upgrades at the position. Daryl Washington maybe?

Cornerback (6)

Orlando Scandrick, Anthony Brown, Nolan Carroll, Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, Marquez White

Anthony BrownThe cornerback position is probably the one position that will be watched the closest throughout training camp, because it is the one that has probably been overhauled the most. Because of the influx of youth and the uncertainty at the position, I decided to go with six CBs. I did this because I think Chidobe Awuzie could be used in a variety of different positions, which means depth could be important at the position throughout the season.

I think Scandrick and Brown are the likely starters, with Carroll and rookie Awuzie competing for the other starting CB position. But, Awuzie could possibly be in play at safety as well. Of course, nothing is written in ink as of yet, which means Lewis could possibly give Scandrick a run for his money to be the Cowboys slot CB.

Safety (4)

Byron Jones, Jeff Heath, Kavon Frazier, Xavier Woods

Jeff HeathI personally don't think the Dallas Cowboys will carry more than four safeties on their final 53-man roster in 2017. I think Byron Jones, Jeff Heath, Kavon Frazier, and Xavier Woods and pretty much already solidified themselves a roster spot, but that could change once pads come on in training camp.

I know the Cowboys signed Robert Blanton this off-season, but I think that had more to do with making sure they were covered in case they didn't draft a safety. I have a hard time seeing him outplaying some of these young players, but he will get his chance. And again, Chidobe Awuzie could be in play at safety as well, further making Blanton's chances to make the team a long shot.

✭✭✭✭✭

Well, there you have it. That completes my Dallas Cowboys pre-training camp 53-man roster prediction for 2017. I have them devoting 26 roster spots on defense, 24 on offense, and three to the specialist. It's doubtful the Cowboys 53-man roster will look exactly like my prediction, but this is just the way I would personally go.

Let me know what you would do differently in the comment section below



Level C2/C3 quadriplegic. College graduate with a bachelors degree in sports and health sciences-concentration sports management. Sports enthusiast. Dallas Cowboys fanatic. Lover of life with a glass half-full point of view.

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4 Comments
  • I’m Okay w La’el @ RT

    I haven’t heard a lot about how White looked @ safety in OTA & Mini-camp. Any info on him?

    • Brian Martin

      I assume you’re talking about either the Cowboys rookie CB White or their rookie S Woods. I’m not sure which. There hasn’t been much news about either one, which could be a good or bad thing. I think we’re just going to have to wait until training camp to see how everybody performs once the pads come on.

  • Assassin

    I noticed you’re not expecting the DTs from bottom of the draft class to make the cut:

    Round 7, Pick 10 (No. 228) Joey Ivie, DT, Florida
    Round 7, Pick 28 (No. 246) Jordan Carrell, DT, Colorado

    Rd 7 is always a crapshoot. Any hope for these two?

    • Brian Martin

      I think their best bet to make the 53-man roster is if David Irving is suspended to start the year. Otherwise, I have a hard time seeing them beat out any of the other Cowboys DTs. I think stashing one, possibly both of these rookie DTs on the practice squad is the most likely scenario.

Star Blog

How Should The Cowboys, And The NFL, Value RBs?

Kevin Brady

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Will Cowboys' Offense Improve With Ezekiel Elliott's Return?
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

There is no one, stand-alone "best" strategy for winning in the NFL. There are, of course, common themes and ideals which run true year in and year out among the top teams.

Strategy in the NFL is dynamic, or at least it should be. Running in place for too long under the same leadership often breeds mediocrity, and refusing to move with current trends can put you at a severe disadvantage.

Succumbing to those trends without fully analyzing the confounding factors your situation presents, however, can also ruin a team building exercise.

With that being said, should teams pay elite running backs top dollar? Or are those running backs expendable, replaceable, and often forgettable within the NFL machine?

To be honest these aren't very fair ways to pose legitimately interesting questions. You can acknowledge that a running back is important to your offense while also acknowledging that you don't want to break the bank for a position with such injury risk and high turnover year-to-year.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are currently facing this dilemma, as their star running back Le'Veon Bell asks to be paid like an elite "weapon," not as a normal running back. And when you examine how the Steelers deploy Bell within their offense, he clearly has a point.

Bell is not your traditional "running back." He lines up on the boundary, in the slot, and is a passing threat out of the backfield as well. On top of all of this versatility, Bell is an excellent pass protector, something which is often lost among other "versatile" backs.

Bell can quite literally do it all for an offense, but the idea of paying that position elite-level money makes teams cringe. As The Athletic's Marcus Mosher pointed out on Twitter, teams like the New England Patriots have been able to replicate Bell's production by using multiple speciality backs rather than one workhorse.

In theory, this takes away the injury risk component to a certain extent. Rather than giving one player 350-400 touches per season, you spread those touches out and allow for players to do what they do best.

Lately, the NFL has seemed to agree that this is the most efficient way to play offense. But when you have a player like Bell or Ezekiel Elliott, in what way is taking the ball out of their hands "efficient" at all? In addition, how is using three players to mimic the skill set of one efficient?

Yes, the NFL is a passing league, but when you have a playmaker who is of the caliber of a Bell or an Elliott, it is up to the offense to deploy in him ways that maximize his value. Teams should be using the Bells and Elliotts of the world as pass catching threats and as weapons all over the field. Force the entire defense to account for your running back rather than just jamming him between the tackles like it's 1975.

The movement towards "running back by committee" rather than the traditional one-back system can also be credited to the lack of workhorse-worthy backs entering the league.

Ezekiel Elliotts don't grow on trees, they are rare and special players. And when you have one, especially when you spend a premium pick on him, you should get the most out of him that you can. Playing winning offense in the NFL is about more than just "do you run or do you pass," and it often hinges on creating splash plays of 15-20 yards.

If you can get those plays through the use of an elite running back, that player becomes intrinsically valuable to your team. No matter what "position" he is labeled as. Of course you want to be able create mismatches in the passing game all over the field, so when you are able to do this with a running back, shouldn't that be deemed as highly valuable?

We can't say just yet if the Cowboys should re-sign Ezekiel Elliott once he enters free agency. After all, five seasons (and a franchise tag year) where he touches the ball more than most players in the league will almost certainly bring about some wear and tear.

But with the way the Cowboys have chosen to play offense, and the way in which they've built their roster, a workhorse back like Elliott is necessary for success.

Once again, at least it is for now.



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Star Blog

Is DE Kony Ealy At Risk Of Not Making Cowboys Final Roster?

Kevin Brady

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Sean's Scout: As Late FA Signing, New DE Kony Ealy Brings Value at DE

As training camp approaches and we draw closer to the 2018 NFL season, fans are beginning to get excited for new faces, old stars, and new beginnings for the Dallas Cowboys.

One player which has been a bit forgotten about over the last few months, and even overlooked when he was first signed back in April, is defensive end Kony Ealy. Of course, some of this overlooking is justified, as Ealy's career has been filled with more valleys than peaks thus far.

With a fresh start in Dallas, though, some expect Kony Ealy to rekindle his career, and look like the player he was during the Panthers' Super Bowl 50 loss just a few seasons ago. The problem is, that game looks like the outlier and not the norm over his professional career.

Originally drafted by the Carolina Panthers, Ealy has had a shaky start to his career. Now joining his third team in the same number of seasons, it's certainly fair to say he hasn't lived up to his second round draft selection.

At 6'4" and 275 pounds, however, Ealy fits the mold of a 4-3 defensive end in the Cowboys' scheme. While he isn't the explosive pass rusher that other players on the roster are (and can be), he could provide solid rotational depth across the defensive line.

With fellow former second round pick Randy Gregory gaining reinstatement to the NFL this week, Ealy could struggle to salvage any real playing time with the Cowboys at all. Gregory, DeMarcus Lawrence, Tyrone Crawford, and Taco Charlton all feel like locks to make the team.

Then there is 2018 day three pick Dorance Armstrong and former fourth round pick Charles Tapper providing competition as well.

Tapper and Armstrong are unproven, but have the athletic profiles to become solid edge rushers at the professional level. For both, especially Tapper, health is of the upmost concern going forward. If Tapper can remain healthy, he has a real shot of making the team and having his impact felt as early as 2018.

That "if" has been a serious one thus far, however.

When the Cowboys first signed Kony Ealy back in April, I really believed he could provide solid and cheap depth along their defensive line. Now in July, I still have those beliefs, but it's become fair to question if he will even find himself on the final 53-man roster based on the competition around him.



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Star Blog

Can Connor Williams Follow in Zack Martin’s Footsteps?

Brian Martin

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Can Connor Williams Follow in Zack Martin's Footsteps?

Connor Williams has yet to play a single snap the NFL, but there are already some pretty high expectations for the rookie Guard. That's because he will be sandwiched between two Pro Bowl players in Center Travis Frederick and Left Tackle Tyron Smith. But, it's the Dallas Cowboys third Pro Bowl offensive lineman Williams should try to emulate and follow in the footsteps of.

Yes, I'm talking about Zack Martin.

Zack Martin's career couldn't have gotten off to a better start coming out of Notre Dame. He hit the ground running as a rookie with the Cowboys and put together a dominating performance his first year in the NFL, earning his first Pro Bowl bid as well as being named to the All-Pro team. He continued to play at a high level ever since and has not only turned into the best player at his position, but continued his Pro Bowl streak every season since entering the league.

To ask, or even expect Connor Williams to have the same kind of immediate success as Zack Martin is probably a little unfair, if not impossible. The kind of success Martin has had already in his career is almost unheard of. But, that's not to say Williams isn't going to try to follow in Martin's footsteps and to become the best player he can.

Zack Martin

Dallas Cowboys OG Zack Martin

The footsteps I think Connor Williams should try to follow as it pertains to Zack Martin is how well he made the transition from a collegiate Offensive Tackle to an NFL Guard. I think that should be Williams' main focus right now with training camp coming up.

Williams will be inserted into the starting lineup as the Cowboys new Left Guard. It will be a new position for him after playing mainly Tackle at the University of Texas, that will require an entirely new mindset and technique. But, it's in transition I believe he can make rather smoothly.

Connor Williams should benefit from Zack Martin's similar transition from college OT to an NFL OG. I wouldn't be surprised if we see the rookie shadowing Martin throughout training camp to soak up as much knowledge as possible. It's probably the best way for him to jumpstart his career.

Now, I fully expect to see some growing pains from Williams throughout the 2018 season. It's to be expected from any rookie, especially one transitioning to a new position. But, I do believe he will not only be an upgrade at LG for the Cowboys, but will make the entire OL even better.

I don't know about you, but I'm excited to see what kind of player Connor Williams ends up being this season.

Do you think Connor Williams can follow in Zack Martin's footsteps?



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