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.
Taco Charlton Isn’t Going Anywhere After Strong Preseason Week 3
Dallas Cowboys Defensive End Taco Charlton might be turning things around. The former first round draft pick didn't have a great couple of seasons to start his career off, which forced him to be in a battle to earn a spot on the Cowboys 53-man roster this offseason. Three weeks into the preseason, it looks like he's a lock to make the team. In a "Dress Rehearsal" game that went great for the Cowboys, Charlton's performance was among the best players.
A couple of weeks ago, I discussed how the Cowboys' younger defensive ends could force the team to move on from Taco. From Dorance Armstrong to Jalen Jelks, there's a handful of promising players that were participating in a positional battle that one way or another, included Taco Charlton.
However, the Michigan product showed up to play versus the Los Angeles Rams with two passes batted down. Despite making such plays, we still hadn't seen much from him in the pass rush department.
That changed against the Houston Texans last Saturday when he managed to get two sacks (one strip-sack), two forced fumbles and a recovery. This was undoubtedly Taco's best game in his career. He still has a lot to prove, but it was definitely good to see him have a "breakout" preseason game.
With such performance, it doesn't seem like he'll be going anywhere in 2019. Charlton won't be a starter for this team, but he could become a very important rotational piece for Rod Marinelli's defense. He has a great opportunity to find playing time during the first two weeks of the season before Robert Quinn returns from suspension.
One unfortunate note was that in his best game yet, Taco went out injured twice (ankle). The first time he went back to the field to get some more but had to walk off the field for a second time. Hopefully, he's able to play next Thursday but I wouldn't be surprised if he doesn't after having a breakout game versus the Texans.
Taco Charlton still has a very long way to justify being a first-round pick, but his play against Houston was a start. It will be very interesting to see how he plays in the 2019 regular season. He'll have to fight for playing time and he'll have to make every snap count to turn his career around.
Cowboys’ Taryn Christion Gets Time at QB; More Coming?
Last night was the first time we've seen Taryn Christion, the Dallas Cowboys' fourth quarterback on the current depth chart, actually playing the position in preseason. Could we see more of Christion at QB in this Thursday's finale, and at what point should Mike White be worried?
Signed just a few days before training camp began, Christion has been tried at running back, receiver, and various special teams units while the Cowboys were in Oxnard. But last week he started getting more time at quarterback, and last night's win over the Houston Texans saw him playing a few drives at QB to close the game out.
Sure, Taryn came in fourth behind White in the rotation. But that Dallas thought to give him reps in that game, the critical dress rehearsal game, is telling.
Jason Garrett doesn't get cute with rotations and playing time. He's old school, and there's meaning in every decision he makes about when and how guys get time in preseason.
Ironically, the decision came following Mike White's best preseason game this year. He went 6-of-9 for 56 yards and a touchdown, plus avoided any sacks or turnovers.
Rather than let White keep building on that, though, Dallas pulled him for Taryn Christion in the 4th quarter. It seemed as if the Cowboys were determined to get him some time at QB.
An even better showcase will come this Thursday night. The Cowboys host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the final preseason game; we know Dak Prescott won't be playing, and the team may even protect Cooper Rush with limited time on the field.
Dallas likely intends to give Christion some significant playing time on Thursday. And to help make that easier, they played him last night to get some of those butterflies out of his system.
No, Taryn Christion probably isn't going to make the 53-man roster. Neither is Mike White, for that matter. It feels like the battle for the number-three QB is more about the practice squad now.
But whatever the case, the battle seems to be heating up. Dallas appears more invested in Christion now as a quarterback than at any other point since he arrived; some added intrigue for Thursday's final preseason game.
HOU 0, DAL 34: Defense Dominates in Dress Rehearsal Game
The Dallas Cowboys couldn't have scripted a better result in tonight's dress rehearsal game against the Houston Texans. All three phases of the game made big plays as they dominated 34 to 0.
The night belonged to the defense as they terrorized Houston's starters and reserves along the offensive line with 8 sacks. Taco Charlton, a former first-round pick turned outcast was the star of the night with 2 sacks, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery. In my opinion, if there were any doubts about him making the roster he put them to bed tonight.
Kerry Hyder showed once again why he's one of the smartest free-agent signings of 2019. After being a lost man in the 3-4 defensive scheme with his former team the Lions, he's done a really good job applying pressure even though he hadn't recorded any sacks in the first two preseason games. However, tonight he recorded 2 sacks and reminded everyone of the player who had 8 sacks in 2016.
The young guys weren't to be left out in this defensive clinic. Dorance Armstrong, Trysten Hill, Daniel Wise, and Joe Jackson all had half sacks. Rookie Safety Donovan Wilson had one of the plays of the night with a beautiful interception as he tapped both feet before heading out of bounds. Cornerback C.J. Goodwin, who will probably make the roster on his special teams ability, got in on the interception party himself high pointing a contested pass.
Dak Prescott was only 2 for 5 (11 for 14 in the preseason) but managed to escape what looked like a sure sack and roll to his left and threw a rope to Michael Gallup for a touchdown. The two have shown a lot of growth and chemistry during training camp, something that was missing at times in 2018.
Wide Receiver Devin Smith had 6 receptions for 79 yards while Cedrick Wilson snagged 3 passes on 4 targets. Both receivers are fighting for the final roster spots in the receiver group which they'll have to continue to do next week against the Buccaneers.
Tight End Marcus Lucas had a very solid game with 4 catches for 50 yards. He will definitely be a player to watch in the final preseason game before final cuts are made. Cooper Rush went 15 for 25 and further solidified his position as the primary backup to Prescott. Mike White was also solid going 6 for 9 and tossing a touchdown.
Special teams got in on the action themselves when Linebacker Joe Thomas recovered a blocked punt for a touchdown.
Now the Cowboys have only one more preseason game before the 2019 season begins. All that's left now is figuring out the last few roster spots and staying as healthy as possible. September 8th is right around the corner.
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