We made it. The Dallas Cowboys are preparing for their first regular season game of 2018, traveling to the Panthers for week one on Sunday. To get here, the team had to make some tough decisions on cut down day, moving on from players like Dan Bailey while seeing Running Back Darius Jackson and Defensive Tackle Brian Price poached from the practice squad.
The Cowboys roster build was also a conclusion to their overhaul at the skill positions. It’s hard to believe that it’s been just one offseason, but in a year’s time the Cowboys have now lost Jason Witten, Dez Bryant, and Bailey.
Bailey’s replacement is very clearly Brett Maher, the former CFL kicker who I profiled here.
As for who the Cowboys will look to catch passes and gain yards on the ground beyond Ezekiel Elliott, I believe the team made all the right decisions with the six receivers, four tight ends, and two running backs on the current 53-man roster.
Let’s take a closer look at each position to see how the Cowboys got here, and who missed the cut along the way.
On the roster: Deonte Thompson, Allen Hurns, Tavon Austin, Michael Gallup, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley
I think the day has finally arrived where I can introduce some analysis on the Cowboys receivers without the “here we go again” preface. This was easily the Cowboys most discussed position throughout training camp, and for good reason.
Michael Gallup’s emergence as a rookie beyond his years really helped this receiving corps take shape for the Cowboys. It feels like Gallup is already close to a proven commodity, as the third-round pick has brought the same toughness and finishing ability that made him a heralded prospect out of Colorado State.
Fellow rookie receiver Cedrick Wilson lost his first season to a shoulder injury early in the offseason, an unfortunate break for the speedster out of Boise State. This likely had an impact on Deonte Thompson’s presence on the final roster, as he was signed back after Noah Brown was placed on IR.
Brown was likely in danger of losing his roster spot to Lance Lenoir if both were on the 53, but with the Cowboys being able to stash Brown they moved Lenoir to the practice squad. Between Williams, Beasley, Gallup, and Hurns the Cowboys have enough receivers that are known contributors – making it hard for Lenoir to find the active roster.
Dres Anderson, K.D.Cannon, Darren Carrington, and Mekale McCay were the Cowboys receivers cut and are not back on the roster or practice squad. Anderson made the most flashes in the preseason, despite signing later than the other three, but certainly didn’t do enough to upend a player like Tavon Austin – who rounds out this group of receivers.
On the roster: Ezekiel Elliott, Rod Smith
Two weeks ago, I wrote about how Rod Smith’s strong preseason made the Cowboys competition behind him at running back much less important. This team wants the world to know that Ezekiel Elliott is their featured player on offense, and former Ohio State Buckeye Rod Smith is the perfect complement to Elliott.
Both players are capable pass catchers that run hard, yet have the ability to take any run the distance.
Gone are the days of Tavon Austin being considered a running back in the Cowboys offense, but this doesn’t mean that Austin won’t be targeted out of the backfield. The same can be said about Fullback Jamize Olawale, as the Cowboys are still as committed to their running game as always, just with different points of emphasis and roster numbers allocated elsewhere.
Playing in mop up duty against the Texans, Running Back Jordan Chunn was the Cowboys cut from this position along with Darius Jackson (signed by the Packers) and rookie Bo Scarbrough – who is back with the team on the practice squad.
Scarbrough’s long-term potential as a depth option in the backfield makes him the perfect practice squad running back for the Cowboys, and with only two active running backs an injury to either will certainly give Scarbrough his day in the sun.
On the roster: Dalton Schultz, Rico Gathers, Geoff Swaim, Blake Jarwin
Replacing Jason Witten in the Cowboys locker room will take more than four players, and perhaps more than the team will ever have again. Witten traded in his star for a suit, joining the Monday Night Football broadcast team, and one day that suit will be gold as he walks into Canton.
In terms of replacing just Witten’s on-field production, the Cowboys are in good position to do this thanks to their versatile group of tight ends. Second-year sensation Blake Jarwin has earned an expanded role all through the offseason, even being worked as an outside receiver once the Cowboys camp returned to The Star.
Jarwin’s size makes him the match up nightmare against linebackers that the Cowboys are finally committing to also make Rico Gathers. The converted basketball player has gone from the practice squad to the active roster in year two.
Geoff Swaim is somehow the “old man” in the TE room for the Cowboys, and also the most complete player at this position. Swaim will be the closest thing the Cowboys have to a starter at tight end, with the rest of this group working in on heavier packages.
As a more than willing run blocker, this is an area that rookie Dalton Schultz can help in, if given the chance.
David Wells was the lone cut off the Cowboys roster at tight end.
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Now that the Cowboys have their 53-man roster set, the next step will be to pick the 46 active players that represent them against the Panthers. While both running backs will be active, it’s unlikely that the Cowboys carry six receivers and four tight ends into game day.
Sunday’s game will provide further context into how the Cowboys feel about their depth at these skill positions, which has them set up for success. The Cowboys wide receivers should catch teams by surprise this year, and the same might be said about their tight ends as Swaim and Jarwin look to prove they’re legitimate options for Dak Prescott in the passing game.
All of the players mentioned above will rely on a certain level of effectiveness from Ezekiel Elliott for the Cowboys to finish off drives this season. This is nothing new to the coaches that built this roster though, with new position coaches at WR and TE having a positive influence on the roster already.