At long last, we got to see some of these players in action with the Dallas Cowboys’ first preseason game of 2019. How did their performances, and the reports from the first few weeks of training of camp, impact our latest 53-man roster projection?
The hardest thing in this predicting work is to not overreact to what we see in the games. Many factors come into play that can impact the on-field product, such as the play calling and the surrounding talent.
A quarterback might struggle because of poor blocking that he wouldn’t experience in the regular season. A defensive end might shine for the same reason. Coaches and management certainly take all of this into account when evaluating the players.
This is only another in a series of projections that we’ll do before final cuts. It’s a snapshot of where we see the talent compared to each other, and how needs throughout the roster impact the math that helps teams build rosters.
We talk often about the full 53, but the game-day active roster of 46 players is almost more important. Veteran players who can’t help you on Sunday aren’t much use; those last seven spots are generally reserved for developmental talent.
So, for this week, what does our projected Dallas Cowboys 2019 roster look like?
Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush, Mike White
Changes: Added Rush, Removed Taryn Christion
We were waiting to see if Cooper Rush had bounced back to his 2017 form, or was stuck in his 2018 decline, before we could properly place him on this roster. For one night at least, Rush clearly asserted himself over Mike White as the best option for backup QB.
Assuming Rush remains the backup, the question then becomes if the Cowboys will even keep a third QB. Giving up on White now, just a year after making a 5th-round pick, would be disappointing. But losing a talented player at another position just to hang on to a third passer might hurt even more.
It’s too soon in the process to take White out of our projection. He has three more preseason games and practices in between, allowing plenty of opportunities to impress and keep his job. Being a 5th-round pick guarantees nothing, especially beyond your rookie year, but the Cowboys won’t discard the player lightly.
Running Back (4)
Ezekiel Elliott, Tony Pollard, Alfred Morris,
Jamize Olawale (FB)
Changes: Added Morris, Removed Mike Weber
Despite everything that’s going on with Elliott, we’re not ruling him out of the Week One roster until we absolutely have to. I still maintain confidence that both sides don’t want this holdout going into the regular season and will come to an agreement.
Meanwhile, the signing of Alfred Morris was a surprise and an indirect indictment on Darius Jackson, who has been in the NFL for three years but still wasn’t trusted to be the veteran presence at training camp. I doubted he’d make the team already, and now it feel like a certainty.
If Zeke does return, Dallas will have an interesting choice between Morris and rookie Mike Weber. Do they really need Alfred’s experience once Elliott comes home? It will all come down to how Weber performs these next few weeks, but right now I’m sticking with Morris and sticking Weber on the practice squad.
Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, Randall Cobb,
Noah Brown, Tavon Austin, Cedrick Wilson
I was prepared to make some changes here after Jon’Vea Johnson got so much hype going into Saturday’s game, but some bad drops didn’t help his stock. What’s more, Cedrick Wilson showed up and reminded of us of his own promise that was seen in last year’s camp.
Wilson was expected to make the team in 2018 if not for injury. Not only did his play against the 49ers live up to that, but he was also being used as a punt returner. If Cedrick can add special teams value to his offensive promise, he will be very difficult to beat for a roster spot.
In a way, Wilson having some PR usage could help the other young prospects. If the Cowboys can trust Cedrick and RB Tony Pollard to handle their return duties, it could allow them to release veteran receiver Tavon Austin and open the door for Johnson, Jalen Guyton, or Reggie Davis.
Tight End (3)
Jason Witten, Blake Jarwin, Dalton Schultz
Don’t expect this group to change unless there’s an injury. We can debate about playing time between Witten and Jarwin, but this trio is locked in to their roster spots for 2019.
After getting a few catches on Saturday night, prospect Codey McElroy has at least put himself on the radar. His best shot at making the team is if WR Noah Brown doesn’t, which would create more need for an athletic blocker on special teams.
However, between Brown and Jamize Olawale, it’s hard to see the Cowboys keeping four tight ends at this time.
Offensive Tackle (3)
Tyron Smith, La’el Collins, Cam Fleming
Changes: Removed Mitch Hyatt
I had some hope that the undrafted rookie Hyatt, after years of winning championships at Clemson, would be a surprise stud. But inserting Hyatt at left tackle created a lot of problems for the offense and made him look more like a practice squad candidate.
This goes back to our previous point about the 46-man active roster. Hyatt may be the kind of guy who Dallas carries on the roster and never plays, wanting to let him develop physically without the risk of being poached by another team. He could still make it.
However, for now, I’m feeling more confident that the Cowboys will stick with their well-established trio of Smith, Collins, and Fleming and save a roster spot for another position.
Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, Connor Williams,
Joe Looney, Connor McGovern
Only keeping eight total offensive linemen is thin but the versatility of this group helps make it possible. With La’el Collins able to play guard, Connor Williams able to play tackle, and both Joe Looney and Connor McGovern having G/C flex, Dallas should be able to get through any game regardless of what injuries may come.
What could quickly change this is if Zack Martin has any recurring issues with his back. His recent MRI was negative, and he played on Saturday, but that doesn’t mean we’re completely out of the woods. If any back issues do return, I could easily see Dallas hanging on to Xavier Su’a-Filo or Adam Redmond for insurance.
Defensive End (6)
DeMarcus Lawrence, Tyrone Crawford, Taco Charlton,
Dorance Armstrong, Kerry Hyder, Joe Jackson
Changes: Added Crawford, Removed Robert Quinn
I did not have the veteran Crawford making the team on the last projection, feeling that Dallas would take the cap savings and go with younger talent. But that was before Robert Quinn got a two-game PED suspension, which I think will Crawford around for one more year.
Remember, once any veteran plays in Week One that fully guarantees their base salary. That means there’s no real benefit to keeping Tyrone and then cutting him when Quinn comes back.
We also don’t know at this point where Randy Gregory factors into things. If the NFL grants his reinstatement request then he will certainly be on this roster. That will likely come at the expense of Taco Charlton.
Rookie Joe Jackson has been standing out in Oxnard and will be tough to give up. I could easily see the Cowboys going extra long on the defensive line this year to hang on to prospects like Jackson and Dorance Armstrong, preparing for a mass exodus of expiring contracts in 2020.
Defensive Tackle (4)
Maliek Collins, Antwaun Woods, Trysten Hill,
This is another group, like tight end, where I expect no real changes. This top four feels locked in, and will be bolstered with depth if Tyrone Crawford winds up making the team.
Crawford sticking hurts the younger prospects like Daniel Ross, Daniel Wise and Ricky Walker, who have promise but just won’t make it with these numbers. They will joins the likes of Lewis Neal, Ben Bass, and other DL prospects through the years who looked good enough to play but got stuck on the practice squad.
Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch, Sean Lee
Joe Thomas, Justin March-Lillard, Chris Covington
I wish I was adding Luke Gifford to this roster, because he was the standout player on Saturday and deserves it. But his high ankle sprain is likely going to send him to injured reserve and push his NFL hopes to next season.
It was going to take a surprise stud like Gifford to change things at linebacker. This six feels fairly solid, especially given Covington’s size that’s needed to play the SAM role.
Prospect Justin Phillips looked good coming in after Gifford’s injury, but he’s a smaller player and will be hard to put on the roster. It will take a major drop-off from Justin March-Lillard to facilitate any switch there.
Byron Jones, Chidobe Awuzie, Anthony Brown,
Jourdan Lewis, Michael Jackson (R)
Again, we have little reason to think this personnel will change. The top four are carved in stone unless Dallas finds a trade partner for Jourdan Lewis.
That last spot is Jackson’s to lose as a 5th-round pick, and he didn’t look great on Saturday. The most likely guy to steal the roster spot is Donovan Olumba, who made a nice play tipping a ball in the game and was one of the team’s better CB prospects last year.
But with Jackson just a rookie, the Cowboys are going to be much more forgiving of any early struggles. It won’t be easy to unseat him.
Xavier Woods, Jeff Heath, George Iloka
Darian Thompson, Donovan Wilson
Changes: Added Wilson
On his interception Saturday night, Donovan Wilson showed vision and reaction skills that you love to see in a safety. For a team that has struggled to create turnovers for a while now, it won’t take many of those plays to make this roster.
I’ve still got George Iloka on the roster but am becoming increasingly dubious about his chances. He has not challenged for a starting role and is reportedly getting outclassed by Darian Thompson in practices. Dallas may keep Thompson as the veteran backup and let Iloka walk.
Dropping to just four safeties would also allow Dallas to keep a sixth cornerback, perhaps Olumba, and that is another big factor that could lead to Iloka’s release.
Special Teams (3)
Brett Maher, Chris Jones, L.P. Ladouceur
Until the Cowboys make a change, Brett Maher is your unreliable kicker. He only reinforced that perception with a miss from 35 and a near-miss from 40 in Saturday’s game.
Your guess is as good as mine why Dallas hasn’t brought in some competition for Maher. It could down to the analytics of valuing his ability with long-range kicks, feeling they can get three points when most teams have to punt.
But if a short-range miss costs them a game this year, the Cowboys could wind up with some pretty big regrets.