The NFL preseason is now behind us, and the business of the next two days will be the forming of 53-man rosters before Saturday's deadline. That being the case, it's time for our final Dallas Cowboys roster projection of 2019.
You know the drill, so let's no waste any time. You can reference the previous edition of my roster projections here.
Ready? Yes, good, on we go!
Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush
According to reports, Rush distanced himself from Mike White fairly quickly during training camp. The preseason has only solidified that view; Cooper is your backup QB. In fact, I'm confident he will be the only reserve passer on the 2019 roster.
Despite being a 5th-round pick last year, White just hasn't looked good enough. He can deliver a solid throw when circumstances are perfect, but playing in the NFL is all about what you can do under duress.
Beyond just not making the roster this year, I think Dallas will move on from Mike and make Taryn Christion their practice squad QB. An undrafted rookie who only joined the team in early August, Christion looked more confident than White did last night against Tampa Bay. He also has significant athleticism for the position.
If I'm right, it will be a quick and unfortunate end to Mike White's Cowboys career. But we've seen 5th-round picks not make the team even in their rookie years (more on that to come); all bets are off by Year 2.
Running Back (4)
Tony Pollard, Alfred Morris, Jordan Chunn
Jamize Olawale (FB)
Changes: Added Chunn, Removed Ezekiel Elliott
Based on everything we've heard up to this point, it looks unlikely that Zeke will end his contract holdout and rejoin the team for the season opener. You can look elsewhere on Inside The Star for plenty more coverage on that topic.
We're going with that assumption today and the likelihood that rookie Tony Pollard will be the starting tailback, with veteran Alfred Morris providing an experienced, reliable backup option. If Zeke were to come back soon, I expect Morris would be released as he doesn't provide any special teams value.
It is that same reason that I have Jordan Chunn as RB3 over Darius Jackson or Mike Weber. Assuming his rib injury from last night isn't severe, Chunn has done enough on both offense and special teams to earn a roster spot. If the injury is a problem, I expect Weber to make the team over Jackson.
Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, Randall Cobb,
Tavon Austin, Devin Smith, Cedrick Wilson
Changes: Added Smith, Removed Noah Brown
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the preseason has been the ascension of Devin Smith. The former 2nd-round pick is looking great and has leapfrogged his competition, securing a roster spot as the best WR prospect of the preseason.
It appears Noah Brown will start the year on the PUP list and that opens up a spot for Cedrick Wilson, who would've made last year's team if not for a preseason injury. He was the next-best performer behind Smith these last few weeks, plus has value as a backup return man on special teams.
Speaking of kick and punt returns, it will be interesting to see how Dallas utilizes Tavon Austin in those roles in 2019. We assume he will handle punts given his proven talent there, but will he also be used on kickoffs? As long as Tony Pollard is the starter at RB, someone else will have to take on that role.
Tight End (3)
Jason Witten, Blake Jarwin, Dalton Schultz
I had a hard time leaving Marcus Lucas off the roster after some strong play in the preseason. In fact, he's one of the players I'm most prepared to be wrong about. But I just don't think the Cowboys have ever intended to keep four tight ends given their needs throughout the entire roster.
Assuming Jarwin and Schultz have healed up and are ready for the regular season, Dallas should be set with their top three. They also have FB Jamize Olawale who can play as a smallish TE if needed, plus Noah Brown if and when he comes back to duty.
As for the practice squad, Lucas would be great to put on there but isn't eligible after his various stops throughout the league. That leaves Codey McElroy as the current candidate unless Dallas signs someone off the street.
Offensive Line (8)
Tyron Smith, La'el Collins, Cam Fleming
Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, Connor Williams,
Joe Looney, Xavier Su'a-Filo
Changes: Added Su'a-Filo, Removed Connor McGovern
Rookie Connor McGovern is likely headed to injured reserve after a recent setback with his pectoral injury. Nothing against McGovern, but that's almost a blessing in disguise for the Cowboys this year with their roster management.
If healthy, McGovern was going to have to be carried on the 53-man roster despite not being ready to actually contribute on the field. Dallas can now stash him on IR and go with just their top eight linemen, saving a roster spot for another position.
This is especially good news for Xavier Su'a-Filo, who was one deserving player that might've lost his job. But now that McGovern is likely out of the picture, Dallas can hang on to Xavier and bolster their interior line depth. If another team makes a trade offer for Su'a-Filo in the coming days, the Cowboys will likely keep Adam Redmond as their last reserve lineman.
Defensive End (6)
DeMarcus Lawrence, Tyrone Crawford, Taco Charlton,
Dorance Armstrong, Kerry Hyder, Joe Jackson
Changes: Removed Jalen Jelks
I am fully prepared to be wrong here. I could see Crawford being cut or traded for salary cap reasons, or could see Dallas trading Taco after his big game against the Texans. They may not see the need to keep all six of these players with Robert Quinn coming off suspension in Week 3, or the potential of Randy Gregory returning sometime during the year.
Injuries may settle the matter before any other moves have to be made. If someone goes down in Week 2, there's your roster spot for Quinn's return. But if that doesn't happen, it will be very interesting to see how Dallas makes room for the veteran.
As for the other names, Armstrong, Hyder, and Jackson have all been standout performers since training camp began. They should be locks as current contributors, with Dorance and Joe hopefully being core players in the years to come.
Defensive Tackle (5)
Maliek Collins, Antwaun Woods, Trysten Hill,
Christian Covington, Daniel Wise
Changes: Added Wise
I try not to overreact to preseason games, especially the fourth one, but Daniel Wise was that good last night and throughout the offseason. He has position flex like Tyrone Crawford and could actually end up being why the Cowboys let the veteran go.
With Collins and Woods as the sure starters and Hill guaranteed to make it in his rookie year, Covington is the only other question mark. I think he makes it as the only other DT with the size to be a run stuffer as the 1-tech, plus being better than Hill at this point as a backup option.
Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch, Sean Lee
Joe Thomas, Justin March, Justin Phillips
Not much to say here. The top five have been sure things for a while; even Justin March given his valuable experience and special teams work. It all really came down to who would be the 6th guy, or 7th if they went long.
Here's how I see this shaking out. Dallas will place Chris Covington on IR immediately with his shoulder issue. They will carry Luke Gifford on the 53 through final cuts, so that he's eligible to return during the year, then put him on IR on Monday. At that point, assuming he cleared waives, Justin Phillips will be signed as the sixth linebacker.
If Phillips gets scooped up by another NFL team, I expect Dallas will either re-sign Nate Hall (waived earlier today) as the sixth man or bring in somebody from other teams' cuts. Or they may go with Covington if they think he can be game ready for Week 1. Another option that I've floated before is going with just five true linebackers and then using Jalen Jelks in a hybrid role.
Ideally, it will be Phillips now and then Gifford after eight weeks. But there will be a few moving parts to make that happen.
Byron Jones, Chidobe Awuzie, Anthony Brown,
Jourdan Lewis, C.J. Goodwin, Donovan Olumba
Changes: Added Olumba, Removed Michael Jackson
Like Luke Gifford at LB, I think rookie corner Michael Jackson is a guy Dallas would like to put on IR now but have the option to reactive sometime during the year. To do that, they may risk Donovan Olumba on the waiver wire and then swap them on Monday.
However, as we said earlier, being a 5th-round pick doesn't guarantee Jackson a roster spot. I could also see where Dallas simply can't risk losing Olumba and put the rookie on the practice squad.
Given his experience and special teams value, C.J. Goodwin is making this roster. He even played some safety last night; just too many ways he can be utilized and enough proven proficiency to let go of.
Xavier Woods, Jeff Heath, Darian Thompson,
It feels like only a matter of time before Donovan Wilson is starting alongside Xavier Woods. In fact, I would predict it happens after the bye week this year, if not sooner. But Dallas will still defer to Jeff Heath to begin the season.
The big surprise here from when we started this process is that veteran George Iloka will not make the team. He just hasn't delivered since being signed as a free agent, and Dallas can comfortably go with their younger options.
It's tough to say goodbye to Kavon Frazier, but Wilson takes on his role and Darian Thompson has more value with free/strong safety versatility as a backup. There just isn't enough reason to keep Kavon at this point, especially with his rookie deal expiring after the season.
Special Teams (3)
Brett Maher, Chris Jones, L.P. Ladouceur
Dallas could save a little cap space by swapping out Jones for Kasey Redfern at punter, but they would also lose their longtime holder on field goals and extra points. Given the shakiness of Brett Maher at kicker, I think they will ultimately keep Jones to stabilize the entire process and give Maher his best chance at success.
Cowboys Offense In-Line For Another Big Day Vs. Lions
There's no doubt the 2019 Cowboys have been disappointing through the first half of the season. But one area which has actually surpassed preseason expectations has been their offense, specifically their passing attack.
Despite the loss Sunday night, Dallas' offense still ranks first in DVOA- ahead of high powered attacks like the ones in Kansas City, Baltimore, and Seattle. Things have fallen into place for Dallas' offense nearly perfectly, with Dak Prescott positioning himself among the elite passers in the league, and La'el Collins having a breakout season at right tackle.
This week's matchup is yet another favorable one for this Cowboys offense, as the Detroit Lions come in reeling on the defensive side of the ball. Detroit ranks 25th overall in terms of defensive DVOA, and have been equally below average against both the run and pass (23rd and 20th in DVOA respectively).
Roster talent wise, there isn't a ton to get excited about on the Lions defense. Where last week's opponent had potential game breakers on each level of their defense, Detroit's talent is much more modest.
Still, free agent acquisition Trey Flowers has proven to be a solid defensive end and Damon "Snacks" Harrison has long been an elite run stuffer on the interior. In the back end, Darius Slay is a legit number one cornerback, but even he isn't enough to bolster this unit on his own.
In theory, the Cowboys should be able to get whatever they want offensively against the Lions this week, making it imperative they remain aggressive through the air. Jason Garrett coached teams love to try to "impose their will" with their offensive line and run game, but this is yet another week where the Cowboys' biggest advantage is likely driven by Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper.
If all works according to plan the Cowboys will be able to utilize Prescott to win this game, and then lean on Ezekiel Elliott to kill clock late. The exact formula we had hoped for heading into the season months ago.
Of course, this would require something the Cowboys haven't really done whatsoever this season: start fast offensively.
But if you look at the remaining schedule, it's really now or never for this version of the Dallas Cowboys.
3 Things the Dallas Cowboys Need to do Against the Detroit Lions
The Dallas Cowboys are coming off yet another disappointing loss at the hands of the Minnesota Vikings. Their season and playoff hopes could be hanging in the balance now, which makes just about every game from here on out all that more important. They need to start playing as if their backs are against the wall, because that very well could be the case.
Luckily the Dallas Cowboys should be able to take care of business this week when they hit the road to take on the Detroit Lions. This is one of the more winnable games left on the Cowboys schedule this year and they should use it as a bit of a refresher game of sorts in order to get things back on track. The objective of course remains the same… Winning. But, this is also an opportunity to clean a few things up.
Let's take a look at a few things I think the Dallas Cowboys need to do against the Detroit Lions in this Week 11 matchup.
Hit the Ground Running
No more slow starts! The Dallas Cowboys have to hit the ground running against the Detroit Lions instead of digging themselves into an early hole like they've done quite a bit this season. I honestly don't care if it's on the arm of Quarterback Dak Prescott or on the legs of Running Back Ezekiel Elliott, the offense has to figure out some way to be the aggressor in order to put points on the board early.
The Dallas Cowboys fell behind early in nearly every single one of their losses this season. I don't think a single team has really outplayed them yet this year, but when they have to scratch and claw their way back to get out of the hole they've dug themselves into it makes it exceedingly more difficult to win. It's time to change that narrative this week against the Detroit Lions so that hopefully it carries over for the rest of the year.
Execute! Execute! Execute!
The second thing the Dallas Cowboys need to do this week against the Detroit Lions is to clean up their execution, especially in the defensive side of the ball. Offensively things are going pretty well for the Cowboys, but the same can't be said about their defense. Despite all the talent they've added this season they are still struggling to put everything together and play up to expectations. Hopefully this Week 11 matchup helps them right the ship.
This is a game the Dallas Cowboys should be able to focus on their execution. That means maintaining their gap integrity in the running game, staying assignment sound in the passing game, and most importantly finish the tackle. Tackling was especially poor last week against the Vikings which is why Dalvin Cook ran wild. This has to be a group effort here. Yes, individuals need to improve, but for the overall defense to play up to expectations they have to execute as a unit.
Establish the Running Game
Dak Prescott has been playing phenomenal these past few games and has proven he's more than capable of carrying the offense on his back, but the Dallas Cowboys still need to establish the running game. Just about everything Prescott does in the passing game is built off of play action. If the running game isn't producing that hurts the overall offensive output. Plus, the best way to control the game is by running the ball.
I think Ezekiel Elliott should have a pretty big game against the Detroit Lions this week. After being bottled up by the Vikings last week that should be news to the Cowboys ears. This offense feeds off of Zeke and it needs him to find his groove now that we're getting into the do or die part of the NFL season. No. 21 isn't the only RB who needs to find his groove though. Tony Pollard needs to start being more involved and what better game to get him going than against Detroit.
What do you think the Dallas Cowboys need to do against the Detroit Lions?
Lion Down: QB Matthew Stafford Ruled Out for Cowboys Game
The Detroit Lions will be without starting Quarterback Matthew Stafford this Sunday when they host the Dallas Cowboys. He has been officially ruled out due to fractures in his back; the second-straight game that Stafford will miss with the injury.
Fourth-year backup QB Jeff Driskel will get the start as he did last week against the Chicago Bears. The Lions lost that game 20-13, and Driskel went 1-4 as a starter last season when playing for the Cincinnati Bengals.
Stafford's status was confirmed this morning by Lions' Head Coach Matt Patricia.
Lions QB Matthew Stafford (back) has been ruled out for Sunday's game against the Cowboys
Losing Stafford could leave Detroit completely crippled on offense. While they have one of the league's top passing offenses so far in 2019, that was all Matt's work at QB. Now they are missing both their starting QB and their top running back, Kerryon Johnson, who went on injured reserve in Week 7.
That said, Detroit did put up 357 total offensive yards last week against the Bears with Driskel starting. Given the quality of Chicago's defense and that the Lions were playing on the road, that's a strong number.
It will be interesting to see how Dallas strategizes on defense after last week's loss to the Minnesota Vikings. The Cowboys were completely run over by Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison, so will increased focus on run defense creates opportunities for Driskel and the Lions' receivers?
However it shakes out, Matthew Stafford's absence definitely helps the Cowboys. He is still one of the top quarterbacks in football and had a top-five passer rating before the injury.
We never root for injuries but such is life in the NFL. Sometimes you get the benefit, sometimes you're on the losing end.
Hopefully, this turn of fate helps Dallas get a much-needed victory.
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