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
QB Dak Prescott, RB Ezekiel Elliott, OT Tyron Smith, C Travis Frederick, G Zack Martin, OT La’el Collins*
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.