Another preseason game has come and gone, and we’re gathering further information to help put together the Dallas Cowboys 53-man roster for 2019. How did the events of the last week help to shape our last projection?
Let’s dive right in. You can see last week’s projection here.
Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush
Changes: Removed Mike White
With Rush having clearly won the backup job already, the question now becomes if White will make the roster at all. As I wrote about yesterday, Dallas may be ready to go back to their past strategy of keeping only two quarterbacks and freeing up a roster spot for another position.
It would be one thing if White was getting outplayed by Rush and still showing some signs of future potential. But the second-year QB hasn’t looked good at all, and Dallas has little reason now to worry about losing him if White is placed on the practice squad.
With so many other needs throughout the team, as we’ll get into throughout this article, that roster spot just appears to have better uses now than hanging on to Mike White. Maybe his play in the next few weeks will change that, but right now it’s not promising.
Running Back (4)
Ezekiel Elliott, Tony Pollard, Alfred Morris,
Jamize Olawale (FB)
Assuming his holdout ends before September 8th, Elliott will be the starting running back. Also just as certain now is that Pollard will be an exciting backup and role-player in the offense, and that Olawale is returning at fullback.
The only variable now is at that third and final RB spot; who emerges from the group of Alfred Morris, Darius Jackson, Jordan Chunn, and Mike Weber?
I went into more detail about this yesterday, but I will summarize that it’s probably going to come down to special teams. If any of these guys can earn their way onto the coverage units, that will likely secure them a spot on the 53.
That said, I’m deferring to the veteran Morris for now. With none of his younger competition standing out, Alfred’s experience and proven ability may be enough. The coaches have already praised what a great fit he is in the system.
Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, Randall Cobb,
Noah Brown, Tavon Austin, Cedrick Wilson
I had a very hard time leaving Devin Smith off the roster. While he has shined lately, he’s also 27 and doesn’t offer the same future value as Wilson. I think it will take more for Devin to force his way in.
I know that Noah Brown hasn’t played in a preseason game yet but his value as a blocker can’t be underestimated. He allows the team to keep just three tight ends and has his own upside as a receiver. I don’t think the Cowboys are going to dump him for a shiny new toy given what he’s already proven in real games.
If the Cowboys want to hang on to more of these young guys then I still think Tavon Austin’s job isn’t secure. If some combination of Tony Pollard, Jourdan Lewis, and Cedrick Wilson can handle the kick/punt return duties then Austin is just another backup receiver. He has skill, but maybe not enough value to lose a younger prospect.
Tight End (3)
Jason Witten, Blake Jarwin, Dalton Schultz
It was fun to see Witten back on the field Saturday night. And he back to his usual business, catching a 3rd-down pass to move the chains and set up the team’s touchdown on the opening drive.
There really isn’t much to say about the TE position. This this trio is locked in and it doesn’t seem that Marcus Lucas or Codey McElroy have much chance of making the team based on the numbers.
The best chance that they have is if Dallas does part with Noah Brown at WR, which could mean needing one more TE for blocking purposes.
Offensive Tackle (3)
Tyron Smith, La’el Collins, Cam Fleming
Another easy position to project; the only question is if Tyron Smith’s back issues prompt the team to keep an extra tackle. But with Guard Connor Williams also able to play tackle, Dallas may go ahead and lean on that versatility.
Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, Connor Williams,
Joe Looney, Connor McGovern
Again, versatility is the key. It allows Dallas to only keep just eight offensive linemen and free up needed spots at WR and on defense.
Xavier Su’a-Filo is the toughest guy to lose, and perhaps he sticks around if there any health issues that creep up between now and final cuts. We also haven’t seen much of Connor McGovern’s work yet to know if he can really contribute this year or needs this rookie season for development.
Defensive End (7)
DeMarcus Lawrence, Tyrone Crawford, Taco Charlton,
Dorance Armstrong, Kerry Hyder, Joe Jackson, Jalen Jelks
Changes: Added Jelks
This going to be an awful year to cut defensive linemen; the talent is deep and there just aren’t enough spots to go around.
As I’ve said all offseason, it’s so hard to know what the team will do with Crawford. He’s got the worst contract but the team can suffer his cap hit this year, then release him in 2020 for great savings and less dead money. But he’s still got starting talent and the ability to play all over the line; tough guy to lose.
I have the Cowboys going long here with seven DEs because, while technically listed here, Crawford, Taco, and Hyder all have the size to play inside as well. I also think Dallas will use the two weeks of Robert Quinn’s suspension to evaluate these guys further and decide who to cut when he returns.
While just a 7th-round pick, Jalen Jelks has the physical traits you’d love to develop. I think Dallas may also consider using him as a strong-side linebacker, which we’ll get to in a minute. However, he is probably the guy who gets cut once Quinn comes back in Week 3.
Defensive Tackle (4)
Maliek Collins, Antwaun Woods, Trysten Hill,
As good as prospects like Daniel Ross, Daniel Wise, and Ricky Walker have looked at times, it’s just a bad year for talented bubble guys on the Dallas defensive line. At least one of them will be on the practice squad.
As was already mentioned, Dallas can afford to keep just these four pure tackles because they have the versatility of players like Crawford and Hyder at DE.
Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch, Sean Lee
Joe Thomas, Justin March-Lillard, Justin Phillips
Changes: Added Phillips, Removed Chris Covington
Justin Phillips has played his way onto the roster with two great preseason games. He’s on the small size but has a big presence; any NFL team can work with that.
Sean Lee may be an injury risk at SAM and not have much depth behind him for that job, but Dallas could easily use Jaylon Smith on that side if needed and then bring in Joe Thomas as the MIKE or WILL. This is also where I think Jalen Jelks could find some additional value if he can convert to a strong-side LB.
Byron Jones, Chidobe Awuzie, Anthony Brown,
Jourdan Lewis, C.J. Goodwin, Michael Jackson (R)
Changes: Added Goodwin
With talk that Byron Jones may not be ready for the regular season opener, I think Dallas definitely goes long here to cover their bases for Week One.
As much as I like Donovan Olumba as a cornerback, veteran C.J. Goodwin is a special teams ace and should make the team on that basis. The tough decision will come down to keeping 5th-round rookie Michael Jackson over Olumba; trusting your scouting process over the immediate production.
For now I’m still going with the rookie, thinking that Dallas will want to give him at least one year to work on his body and make the difficult transition to the NFL. But we’ve seen 5th-round picks get cut around here before; Jackson still has to earn his spot.
Xavier Woods, Jeff Heath, Darian Thompson,
Changes: Removed George Iloka
I will probably keep changing the safety picks around through the end of preseason. All we can really say for sure right now is that Xavier Woods is really good; the rest is up in the air.
Jeff Heath is still the other starter until someone shows they can take it from him, and so far nobody has. In fact, George Iloka has done so little that now I don’t think he makes the roster.
Dallas could re-sign Iloka after Week One to avoid his having a guaranteed salary as a veteran, but either way I don’t think he’s here after final cuts.
Special Teams (3)
Brett Maher, Chris Jones, L.P. Ladouceur
The great kicker conundrum continues. Maher remains shaky and there’s no sign yet that Dallas is going to consider another option. We just have to keep putting his name here until we have a reason not to.
Kasey Redfern has been pushing Chris Jones at punter, but Dallas may not want to push the $1 million in dead money to the 2020 cap by cutting their veteran. Unless Redfern is significantly superior, I think the Cowboys may just stick with Jones for one more season.