The first practice of the Dallas Cowboys' 2019 Training Camp is tomorrow, so it's a good time to release our next roster projection of the season. We could see plenty of changes between now and the final preseason game, but this is my gauge for how the team would put together it's 53-man roster based on what we currently know.
The last roster projection came out right after the 2019 NFL Draft. Since then, we have had the following developments which have a bearing on this edition's changes:
- DE Randy Gregory filed for reinstatement.
- DE DeMarcus Lawrence, CB Byron Jones, DL Tyrone Crawford, and WR Noah Brown to open camp on PUP list.
- Dallas signs QB Taryn Christion.
- WR Allen Hurns released.
Along with these news bits, we've had the reports from rookie camp, mini-camps, and OTAs on how players performed. How much did all of this impact our impression of the team's top 53 players for 2019?
Dak Prescott, Mike White, Taryn Christion
Changes: Added Taryn Christion
I've felt throughout the offseason that Cooper Rush and Mike White would wind up competing for just one roster spot. Three months ago, my prediction was that White would beat out Rush for the backup job and send Cooper either to the practice squad or the street.
But on Wednesday, Dallas added a new QB to the mix in undrafted rookie Taryn Christion. That the Cowboys added a fourth QB for camp tells me they still plan to carry three passers on the 53-man roster, so now it's a question of who.
I try not to get distracted by the shiny new toys in roster analysis but Christion is intriguing. His college tape reminds you of Dak and he is definitely the most Prescott-like of the three backups.
Dallas will certainly keep either Rush or White as QB2, not able to trust that role to a rookie. I am going to go with Mike White for now with the thought that his development in his second year could make for a bigger leap than what Cooper Rush can do in his third season.
The 5th-round pick that Dallas spent on White last year, and the three years left on his rookie contract, certainly don't hurt his case. If White does push Rush out, I don't see why Dallas would then feel the need to keep Cooper on the roster.
Running Back (4)
Ezekiel Elliott, Tony Pollard, Mike Weber,
Jamize Olawale (FB)
Changes: Added Weber, Removed Darius Jackson
The Ezekiel Elliott holdout watch is still in effect, but I have no doubt that he and the Cowboys will figure something out before September. And he is one of the players on the team who can most afford to skip out on these practices and preseason games.
Zeke's absence could have a positive effect on the development of rookies Tony Pollard and Mike Weber. It should give them more work with the starters and really show Dallas what they've got behind Elliott, and if they need to keep an eye on the free agent market or not.
The more I've thought about Weber versus Darius Jackson for the third RB spot, I feel like Weber goes the Cowboys a different kind of runner. Jackson's game is about speed, but so is Tony Pollard's. I think Dallas would like a more complimentary player on the depth chart.
As for fullback, Jamize Olawale wasn't re-signed to a three-year deal for nothing. I have high hopes for what Kellen Moore will do with Olawale's proven receiving skills that Scott Linehan never did. I don't see how he doesn't make the team.
Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, Randall Cobb,
Noah Brown, Tavon Austin, Cedrick Wilson
Changes: Added Wilson, Removed Allen Hurns
We know the top three will be Cooper, Gallup, and Cobb. Now that Allen Hurn was just released, we get an even clearer picture of who will be playing behind them.
Despite Noah Brown opening camp on the PUP list, I'm still confident that he ultimately make the team. Dallas has put two years of developmental work into him and Brown has major value with his blocking ability. He's not expected to miss much of training camp, either.
I am dubious about Tavon Austin making the roster, particularly if Tony Pollard can handle the kick and punt return roles. But if Pollard got hurt, who would his backup be? Dallas just might keep both as security against each other, and perhaps have Austin handle punts while Pollard takes the kickoffs.
Dallas should keep six receivers and last year's 6th-round pick Cedrick Wilson is a strong candidate. He likely would've made the team in 2018 if not for for a shoulder injury in training camp.
But undrafted rookie Jon'Vea Johnson could contend as well, being one of the most praised players coming out of the spring practices. There are also fans of Jalen Guyton as a prospect, plus some more experienced options like Lance Lenoir and Devin Smith, but Johnson and Wilson are the most likely guys to take the sixth WR spot.
Tight End (3)
Jason Witten, Blake Jarwin, Dalton Schultz
If Dallas keeps both Noah Brown and Jamize Olawale then they have enough blocking options to avoid keeping a fourth tight end. That makes this position very easy to predict.
The questions are all in how much these three players get used. Will Jason Witten be better than some expect in his return to football, or will Blake Jarwin command the biggest role with growth from last year?
Dalton Schultz can't be forgotten, either. He was a 4th-round pick last year and was stuck behind two players in Jarwin and Geoff Swaim with professional experience. Now he's had a year of development and could be a factor.
But no, I can't see a fourth TE here if Dallas keeps a third quarterback, a fullback, and six receivers. The Rico Gathers Project was probably going to end anyway, but the numbers make it easy.
Offensive Tackle (4)
Tyron Smith, La'el Collins, Cam Fleming,
Changes: Added Hyatt
We know that Smith and Collins will start with Fleming also returning as the swing tackle. Dallas could go with just that trio, but I think concerns for 2020 will prompt them to hang on to a developmental player.
As I wrote about last month, undrafted rookie Mitch Hyatt makes a lot of sense for that spot. He has big-time college experience with Clemson and was a priority signing for Dallas after the draft. If they do plan on letting Collins leave in 2020 free agency, Fleming can move to starting right tackle and hopefully Hyatt could be the swing.
Naturally, any of Jake Campos, Brandon Knight, or Derrick Puni could claim that role over Hyatt. But I like Mitch's upside given where he's been the last few years, and he's my dark horse pick for now.
Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, Connor Williams,
Joe Looney, Connor McGovern (R)
Changes: Removed Xavier Su'a-Filo
If Dallas does keep that fourth OT then it probably means losing Xavier Su'a-Filo. However, we already expected that Xavier could be gone when Connor McGovern was drafted last April.
There isn't much need to keep Su'a-Filo as long as Looney and McGovern are on the roster. They've got your interior line covered, and Xavier is a free agent in 2020 anyway.
Considering the versatility of players like Looney, McGovern, Connor Williams, and La'el Collins, Dallas has no reason to keep more than nine offensive linemen. I even think that number could drop to eight if they have other roster needs, which would send Mitch Hyatt to the practice squad.
Defensive End (6)
DeMarcus Lawrence, Robert Quinn, Taco Charlton,
Dorance Armstrong, Kerry Hyder, Joe Jackson (R)
It's no surprise that Lawrence will miss the start of camp after his offseason shoulder surgery, which was delayed as Tank and the Cowboys worked out his new contract. DeMarcus' absence could be a positive for the group as it allows new and developing players to get plenty of work.
Dallas added veterans Robert Quinn and Kerry Hyder in free agency and then Joe Jackson and Jalen Jelks through the draft. They're also bringing back Taco Charlton and Dorance Armstrong from last year, plus hoping that Randy Gregory will be reinstated sometime soon.
Quinn is expected to start and Hyder was a stud in the spring practices. They're both locks for the roster, and I would expect Armstrong to also stick around as a pure pass rusher. This is a critical camp for Taco as he could find himself traded or even released if he can't compete.
I don't have Gregory here as this is a projection for Week One of the regular season, and I expect he will have to miss at least a few games if he's reinstated at all. That will allow 5th-round rookie Joe Jackson to make the team for at least little while, but you can switch out Gregory for either he or Taco if the NFL is merciful.
Defensive Tackle (4)
Maliek Collins, Antwaun Woods, Trysten Hill (R),
Changes: Removed Tyrone Crawford
I am going with my guy that Tyrone Crawford will not be back in 2019. Dallas can shave $7 million in cap space by releasing him, and at this point his presence costs you young talent at either DE or DT. He also may not even be a starting-quality player at this point given what else they have.
Much like Lawrence and Quinn should be the starting duo at DE, Collins and Woods look like your best pair of tackles. Maliek should be highly motivated in his contract year, while Antwaun was emerging as the team's best DT by the end of 2018.
With the additions of 2nd-round pick Trysten Hill and intriguing veteran Christian Covington in the offseason, Dallas seems set with their depth as well. There is also potential for bigger defensive ends like Kerry Hyder or Taco Charlton to play some interior line on passing downs.
Tyrone Crawford has value given his versatility and experience, of course, but is it really worth his $10.1 million cap hit? It seems time to move on and make way for young, cheaper options.
Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch, Sean Lee
Joe Thomas, Justin March-Lillard, Chris Covington
In what will likely be his last season in Dallas, Sean Lee returns to a much different role. He no longer has to carry the defense and can limit his playing time and injury risk, but while also being a valuable mentor to Dallas' exciting duo of young linebackers.
There really isn't much room for discussion at any level of the LB position. We know who's starting and have a pretty good sense of the backups.
Joe Thomas and Justin March-Lillard are back as experienced reserves. Chris Covington is the best physical option for backup SAM, being carried on the 53 last year though only active for five games.
One idea I've heard this summer is converting 7th-round pick Jalen Jelks from DE to LB. That would make Jelks similar to former Cowboy Kyle Wilber, who made that same switch and was the starting SAM here at one time.
Outside of Jelks are a few undrafted players to challenge Covington for his roster spot. But barring a surprise, I think the six players at linebacker are easy to predict.
Byron Jones, Chidobe Awuzie, Anthony Brown,
Jourdan Lewis, Michael Jackson (R)
However long Byron Jones is on PUP is a great opportunity for Jourdan Lewis to get work with the first-team defense. It could be exactly what he needs to reestablish his value and leave no doubt as to his job security.
The battle for playing time between Lewis, Awuzie, and Brown will be interesting. The hope is that Awuzie and Lewis can take over the 2nd and 3rd CB roles with Brown becoming a free agent in 2020, but neither progressed much in their sophomore years. Dallas needs big third seasons from both.
The Cowboys only kept four cornerbacks in 2018 but should keep five this year, with 5th-round rookie Michael Jackson the leader to take that spot. He has the size and physical style that Dallas is looking for these days in their corners.
However, prospects Donovan Olumba and Chris Westry share those traits. Olumba almost made the team last year and Westry, an undrafted rookie, has exceptional size at 6'4″. They should compete for a roster spot, and perhaps even push the Cowboys to keep a sixth CB.
George Iloka, Xavier Woods, Jeff Heath,
Changes: Added Thompson, Removed Donovan Wilson
I don't know how much better George Iloka is than Jeff Heath but I feel like a change is coming. Iloka has great size and more experience than Heath, and he feels like a guy that Coach Kris Richard handpicked out of the free agent pool.
I feel safe in calling Xavier Woods a “lock” to start in 2019. He star is already on the rise and is now entering his third year. Major breakout potential is there, and Dallas will give him the reps needed to maximize potential.
Heath should remain as a versatile and experienced backup option and a leader for the special teams groups. Unless they really need the $2.5 million back from his contract to fund some of their contract extensions, Dallas won't part with Jeff lightly.
If there's only one spot left at safety I think it will go to Darian Thompson. The 2016 3rd-round pick is getting a second chance in Dallas after injury and struggles cost him his starting role with the Giants. He was reportedly playing with the 2nd-team defense in camps this spring over Kavon Frazier, Donovan Wilson, and other prospects.
Dallas could keep five safeties, and if so it will be an intriguing battle between Kavon Frazier and Donovan Wilson. But for now I think the roster math lends itself to just four players at this position, especially when you factor in Byron Jones' flexibility.
Special Teams (3)
Brett Maher, Chris Jones, L.P. Ladouceur
I wish there was some competition for Maher in camp right now, particularly veteran free agent Matt Bryant, but right now he's the only true kicker on the roster. Backup punter Kasey Redfern did do some placekicking earlier this offseason but doesn't appear to be more than a camp leg.
Even if Dallas liked Redfern's ability to handle two jobs, there's no way they're going to only keep one guy as both kicker and punter. Just think back to how Sebastian Janikowski's injury crippled the Seahawks in our 2018 playoff game; the Cowboys would never put their special teams units at such incredible risk.
As long as Maher has a decent enough camp and preseason, I expect the same trio of specialist to be back in 2019. Chris Jones' value as the holder for field goals and extra points, and his chemistry in that role with Ladouceur as the long snapper, are important to preserve to give Maher the best chance at success.
Not bringing in any other kickers is a major vote of confidence in Brett Maher from the Cowboys. Will here reward them, or could Dallas wind up scrambling for a replacement before the start of the season?