When the Dallas Cowboys start training camp in July, there will be various feelings of job security throughout the 90-man roster. Throughout the NFL, players know when they're already locked in to a position or role on a team or when they're fighting for survival.
Today, we're going to look at how secure the Cowboys' players should feel in 2018. This not only applies to if they make the final roster, but also their position as a starter or key roleplayer.
We will start with the offensive players.
Tier 1 - The Untouchables
As pictured above, the core trio on the offensive line is arguably the team's most secure players overall. Frederick and Martin are arguably the best in the NFL at their positions, and Tyron is always an elite tackle as long he remains healthy. Thankfully, it sounds like he's getting back to good health in 2018.
Despite his sophomore struggles, Dak Prescott is the starting quarterback in 2018. Even with the drop in his numbers from his historic rookie season, Dak remains in the top half of NFL passers and his potential is enormous. We may be having a different conversation next season if the problems continue, but this year he's their guy.
While there is a lot of intrigue behind Ezekiel Elliott on the running back depth chart, he is unchallenged as the team's starting RB and primary offensive weapon.The potential for Elliott to get a career-high workload, and threaten 2,000 rushing yards, is out there this season.
I also included La'el Collins in the top tier, though with an asterisk. There is no question that Collins will be a 2018 starter, but there is still a little uncertainty as to whether he will play guard or tackle. The team appears committed to keeping him at right tackle, but the option of moving him back to left guard remains out there if an injury or some other occurrence forces their hand.
Tier 2 - Slightly Touchable
FB Jamize Olawale, WR Allen Hurns, WR Cole Beasley, OT Cam Fleming
Dallas traded a fifth-round pick to get veteran Fullback Jamize Olawale from Oakland. They had Olawale in training camp and on the practice squad back in 2012. Clearly, the Cowboys targeted him as the FB they wanted this year and there's little reason to think that will change.
Similarly, Dallas went out and signed free agent Allen Hurns to a deal that indicates he will have a starting role this year. With any new player, there's always a little room for uncertainty if he doesn't take to the offense well. But Hurns should step into the role vacated by Dez Bryant's release, and will hopefully forge better chemistry with Dak Prescott.
Cole Beasley was Dak's favorite target in 2016, and defenses figured that out and keyed on him last season. His effectiveness waned, and it's now up to Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan to find ways to get Beasley open again. Whether it's a starting spot or as the slot receiver, Beasley's major role in the offense is sure to continue.
Veteran Offensive Tackle Cam Fleming was signed to be the swing man behind Tyron Smith and La'el Collins, and that is almost assuredly where he stays. Fleming really only has room to move up, perhaps into a starting role should Collins wind up back at guard. Either way, Fleming is locked in as a key member of the offensive line.
Tier 3 - On the Team, But Where?
QB Cooper Rush, QB Mike White, RB Rod Smith, RB Tavon Austin, WR Terrance Williams, WR Michael Gallup, G Connor Williams, TE Geoff Swaim, TE Dalton Schultz
You could argue that Cooper Rush and Mike White are both bubble players, perhaps fighting for the same roster spot, but it depends on the Cowboys' current philosophy about quarterback depth. I think they've changed from the day of keeping just two, moving to more of a pipeline model and wanting to keep talent when they find it. As such, I think both Rush and White are on the 2018 roster.
Rod Smith's experience with the team, fullback versatility, and special teams play should keep him around this year. He will have challenges to his playing time at running back from some of the new faces, but Smith offers too much value and is the only proven reserve they have.
Speaking of Austin, the speedster is sure to be here in 2018 in some capacity. Dallas didn't just give up a draft pick, even a sixth-rounder, lightly to acquire him. At worst, he should be the team's return specialist. But it appears that the Cowboys are going to find creative ways to work him into the offense and add a new element to their attack.
Despite his recent arrest, Terrance Williams should be around next year. There's no salary cap value in cutting Williams so the Cowboys will get what they can out of him in 2018, then likely move on next year. How much playing time he gets will be the question, thanks largely to exciting rookie Michael Gallup.
Second-round pick Connor Williams is a roster lock, but will he be a starter? Dallas will be asking the rookie to convert to left guard and it could be more than he can handle in his first year. At worst, Williams should be a versatile reserve option this season. But the Cowboys are hoping for much more.
The only tight ends that I would guarantee spots for are veteran Geoff Swaim and rookie Dalton Schultz. Given his experience, albeit limited, Swaim is the pack leader to replace Jason Witten as the starter. And Schultz, a fourth-round pick, will make the team in some capacity. While Rico Gathers and Blake Jarwin aren't far behind, I could still see potential for them to not make the squad.
Tier 4 - Bubble Players
RB Bo Scarbrough, WR Noah Brown, WR Deonte Thompson, WR Cedrick Wilson, TE Rico Gathers, TE Blake Jarwin, G/C Joe Looney, G/C Marcus Martin, OL Chaz Green
You can make cases for any of these guys to be on the 2018 roster, but also see potential for them to be cut. In a few cases, one may have to fall for the other to survive.
Running Back Bo Scarbrough seems like a steal as a seventh-round pick. The rookie's power running will work well behind an offensive line that makes lanes for him to pick up speed. He's hardly guaranteed a roster spot, though, and could now be threatened by the return of a previous late-round RB in Darius Jackson.
There is a logjam of intriguing receivers, meaning not everyone will make the roster. Veteran Deonte Thompson was signed to a minimal deal that doesn't secure his spot on the team. He is up against the youth and potential of guys like Noah Brown, rookie Cedrick Wilson, or perhaps dark horse Lance Lenoir. The bottom of the WR depth chart will be one of the most interesting topics leading up to final cuts.
At tight end, Rico Gathers and Blake Jarwin could both easily make the team. But Dallas may not need to keep four tight ends anymore with the move to more of a spread offense. What's more, fullback Jamize Olawale has the size to play the position in certain looks. It's possible that Gathers and Jarwin will be competing for just one available roster spot.
Before last week, I'd have considered Joe Looney and Marcus Martin as locks to make the team. But then Chaz Green got the first-team reps in practice at right guard, and now you have to consider Green as a challenger. Dallas may have room for all three guys to make the team, depending on how many total offensive linemen they wish to keep. But it's possible that there are only two spots for three players.
Tier 5 - Longshots
Almost every year there's a surprise or two for who makes the team. Players who felt like afterthoughts before training camp push their way into the conversation, and sometimes right onto the roster.
Take, for example, Receiver Lance Lenoir. Not only does he have some flash on offense, but his ability as a return specialist could make him hard to cut. While Tavon Austin will likely fill that role, Lenoir could win that job and a roster spot if he's clearly better than the veteran.
Or what about Running Back Darius Jackson, a sixth-round pick just two years ago, who the Cowboys brought back when he hit free agency? Jackson's 4.4 speed and one-cut style suit this offense well, giving him more home run potential than Rod Smith or Bo Scarbrough. Perhaps the second time around goes better for the young RB.
Those are just a couple of the guys that you may already be considering, and there's potential for others to come out of total obscurity. Tight End David Wells may not have to do much to move up the depth chart with that position in such a state of flux. Or perhaps a young guard or tackle prospect pushes a veteran like Joe Looney or Marcus Martin off the team.
Sure, the odds are against these guys. But the door is never closed until cut day.
Remembering the Cowboys NFC East Clinching Win Vs. Colts, 4 Years Later
The 2014 Dallas Cowboys season still feels like a landmark in the rich history of this team. Going deeper into Cowboys annuls is nothing more than a hopeless drift through wasted time that all of us are guilty of, though looking ahead at the 2018 team also leaves just distant memories of 2014.
Perhaps it was the memorable and painful way this season ended, with Dez Bryant's catch in the divisional playoffs at the Packers being played on loop ever since. This clip has surely overshadowed the way Dallas clinched the NFC East in 2014, with a 42-7 win over the Indianapolis Colts at AT&T Stadium.
The Cowboys find themselves in a similar position Sunday, beginning a stretch of three straight "win and you're in" games. The NFC East will belong to the once 3-5 Cowboys with a win over the Colts, Buccaneers, or Giants.
In that 42-7 drubbing of the Colts four years ago, Tony Romo threw three first half touchdowns to three different targets. At halftime, the Cowboys were on their way with a 28-0 lead, jumping out to a 42-0 advantage before Matt Hasselbeck would throw a garbage time touchdown (yeah, I feel old writing that too).
Just like in this match up, the Cowboys are fresh off a win over the Eagles, as they were in 2014 before rolling to the division title. Four starters from Jason Garrett's first NFC East clincher remain on his roster, though only two will play, speaking to the strides Garrett has made to salvage his reputation this year.
The 2014 Cowboys established themselves as the run-first team that's very much still in tact thanks to Ezekiel Elliott. Only Giants rookie Saquon Barkey has more rushing yards over the last five weeks than Elliott. While Barkley continues to impress for a team that will not make the playoffs, Elliott is carrying the Cowboys closer to the postseason with every carry.
Unlike 2014, the path out of the Cowboys backfield to the top of the division hasn't been as straight. The '14 Cowboys featured a veteran lineup on both sides of the ball, focused on weekly improvements yielding a 12-4 record.
The only time the Cowboys have won more games under Garrett was in 2016, where the Cowboys altered the future of the franchise again with a new-look team that went 13-3 before losing in the divisional round to Green Bay again.
Neither 12 or 13 wins is attainable this year for the Cowboys, but the best of both recent divisional championship seasons is. Wins over the Saints and Eagles have brought back the miraculous 2016 feel Quarterback Dak Prescott's rookie season brought to Dallas. For going through both that season together, as well as a nine win campaign in 2017 that serves as Prescott's "down year", the Cowboys staffers that remember 2014 should be nostalgic at kickoff Sunday.
With the NFL being such a week-by-week, day-by-day, and even minute-by-minute experience, taking the chance to add perspective whenever possible is refreshing. The Cowboys arrival as perennial contenders in 2014 can come full circle with a new cast of players and familiar coaching staff here in week 15.
Remember just how much this team has been through to reach this point the next time you call for sweeping changes to America's Team, and if you're feeling lucky, a prop bet on Garrett having blue Gatorade dumped on him before night's end could go a long way.
Cowboys Wishlist: Connor Williams Turns It Around
The Dallas Cowboys are on the road again as they travel to Indianapolis to face a hot 7-6 Colts team that's trying to sneak into the AFC Playoffs. It will be a tough challenge for a team that's struggled when playing out of AT&T Stadium but the Cowboys have changed a lot since they were a 3-5 unit. This time, they're one of the hottest teams in the NFL and are one win away from clinching the NFC East.
We surely are in for a great game. Without further ado, I hope you enjoy this week's edition of "Cowboys Wishlist."
Wish #1: Leighton Vander Esch Outplays Darius Leonard
As impressive as Leighton Vander Esch has been for the Dallas Cowboys, he's not alone in the Defensive Rookie of the Year race. On today's game, he'll meet his match in Colts LB Darius Leonard. A second rounder himself, Leonard leads the league in tackles with 135. He also is responsible for 11 tackles for loss, seven sacks, four forced fumbles and one interception.
Vander Esch, otherwise known as "Wolf Hunter" doesn't have such incredible stats, but playing time is a big reason why. His play has been pretty impressive, though. Ranked as the top rookie linebacker by PFF, hell be out there to prove who's the better player. I really wish he outplays Leonard en rout to the DROY award.
Wish #2: No Turnovers From Dak
455 yards, three touchdowns and another game-winning drive were more than impressive from Dak Prescott. I really have faith in him as the Cowboys' QB. But we can't ignore the three turnovers he was responsible for in such a close game versus the Philadelphia Eagles.
This game will be different. The Colts are a legit threat in the NFL right now and the Cowboys won't be the home team. Without Martin on the field, Prescott is likely to be pressured. If that's the case, he needs to watch out and avoid fumbles in the pocket.
It's really important the team takes care of the ball if they want the win versus Andrew Luck and company. I specifically wish Dak Prescott has a good game and does something he's done fairly well throughout his career: take care of the ball.
Wish #3: Connor Williams Turns It Around
Expectations were sky-high for second round pick Connor Williams. A starter in week 1, injury and poor play sidelined him in favor of Xavier Su'a-Filo. With Zack Martin out for the game, Williams has another opportunity to shine. This time he'll be lining up as the team's right guard between C Joe Looney and RT La'el Collins.
It's very important to remember Williams is only a rookie. Just because we're used to offensive line rookies to have immediate success for Dallas doesn't mean every one the team brings in will be as great starting off. A rough start is not the end of the world for Williams. Also worth noting, the majority of his playing time came under now-fired OL coach Paul Alexander. I'm convinced he'll turn things around and will become an important player for the Cowboys soon.
For now, I wish he takes advantage of the opportunity to play and does a great job to be considered again for the LG spot once Martin returns.
Wish #4: Amari Cooper Keeps It Up
The impact Amari Cooper has had on this team is quite frankly unbelievable. He should really be seen as this season's savior for the Cowboys. While the defense is winning games, without Cooper the offense would still be terrible and results wouldn't be the same. He has more than justified the first round pick the Jones traded away to get him.
In a big, road game like this one, I hope he keeps it up and has another huge performance. Whether it is multiple scores or a 100-yard game, I simply want to see him shine again.
Cowboys, Colts Week 15 Injury Report
The Dallas Cowboys can clinch the NFC East with a win this week, while the Indianapolis Colts are fighting to stay alive in the AFC wild card race. Only one team can accomplish their goal, and both have some big names on the Week 15 injury report.
We'll begin with the visiting Cowboys, who could be getting at least one star player back while another is already confirmed to miss the game.
- TE Geoff Swaim (wrist) - OUT
- G Zack Martin (knee) - OUT
- DL David Irving (ankle) - OUT
- WR Tavon Austin (groin) - Questionable
- WR Lance Lenoir (illness) - Questionable
- OT Tyron Smith (neck) - Questionable
- DE Randy Gregory (personal) - Questionable
- LB Sean Lee (hamstring) - Questionable
Yes, sadly, Zack Martin will be out tomorrow. The good news is that Connor Williams got the entire week to practice with the starters at right guard. You can read much more about this situation and it's impact on the game here, courtesy of our own Sean Martin.
Also ruled out, as they have been for a while now, are TE Geoff Swaim and DL David Irving. Swaim is still recovering from wrist surgery but has not been placed on injured reserve, so the team must feel he could be back for the playoffs. Irving could return as soon as next week.
Speaking of returns, Sean Lee may be back on the field this Sunday. It's unknown yet how he'll rotate with Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith, but Dallas has the luxury of working him in slowly thanks to the play of their young duo.
Tavon Austin could also return this week, creating another new offensive wrinkle. Austin has been injured since the Jacksonville game and has yet to play since the Cowboys acquired Amari Cooper. Not only could Tavon do some interesting things in the offense, but he should bring some additional sizzle to special teams.
While appearing on the injury report, Randy Gregory missed practice this week for "family reasons" according to Jason Garrett. He could still play tomorrow.
- G Mark Glowinski (ankle) - OUT
- LB Skai Moore (neck) - OUT
- S Mike Mitchell (calf) - OUT
- WR T.Y. Hilton (ankle) - Questionable
- TE Ryan Hewitt (ribs) - Questionable
- S Clayton Geathers (knee) - Questionable
The big name here is Hilton, the star receiver who missed all practice this week with an ankle injury. Indianapolis has not ruled him out, wanting to give Andrew Luck's favorite target every opportunity to play. But it's not looking good, and a bad ankle could limit Hilton's effectiveness even if he goes.
Also hurt among the passing options is starting TE Ryan Hewitt, but he did practice full on Friday and should go. Not playing, however, is starting right guard Mark Glowinski. That means third-year player Evan Boehm should start, who just joined the team in October.
Indy's hurting at safety this week. Not only did starter Clayton Geathers miss the whole week of practice, but veteran backup Mike Mitchell is already ruled out. The Colts would have to rely on undrafted rookie George Odum if neither plays.
Fun fact before we go; former Cowboy Jihad Ward was picked up by the Colts after Dallas included him in their roster cuts to start the season. However, he landed on injured reserve back in October so won't get a chance at revenge.
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