The Dallas Cowboys’ players will be arriving to training camp in phases over the next few days. Before the practices begin, it seemed a good time to take stock of the talent and do an updated 53-man roster projection for 2020.
Some of you may be thinking, “Hey dummy, rosters went up to 55 players this year!” Keep in mind that the official, full-time roster is still just 53 players and teams now have the option to promote two practice squad players to play in games.
So yes, we may see some of our pet cats who didn’t make the roster find ways to now get into games. But they are still practice squad guys and their placement on the official roster is only a temporary mechanism.
That means most of our traditional mentality behind roster projections is still valid. All the new rule really does is give teams a little more flexibility in dealing with injuries throughout the season.
So, with that said, let’s begin!
1. Dak Prescott
2. Andy Dalton
3. Ben DiNucci
The Cowboys have often gone with just two quarterbacks to save a roster spot. That’s especially true when they have a clear starter and experienced backup, such as they do in 2020 with Prescott and Dalton.
But Mike McCarthy is the new head coach and he’s typically kept three QBs during his time in Green Bay. Also, as I wrote about last week, both Dak and Andy only have one-year contracts so there’s extra incentive to secure a third guy for development.
Picking DiNucci over Clayton Thorson is a 50/50 proposition at this point. Thorson had advantages as a former 5th-round pick and having spent last year on Dallas’ practice squad. But DiNucci, despite being a 7th-rounder and a rookie, was a QB that McCarthy got to have a say in drafting. If either of them makes the roster, I think that gives Ben the edge.
Running Back (3)
1. Ezekiel Elliott
2. Tony Pollard
3. Jamize Olawale (FB)
Not much debate here, right? Zeke and Pollard are already one of the best one-two punches in the NFL and Dallas will struggle as is to give Tony enough touches in this loaded offense.
That makes the need for a third true RB pretty minor, and the beauty of having Olawale at fullback is that he has offensive skills to play as an emergency RB3 if needed. As they did last year, I think this allows the Cowboys to go short at this position and create a spot elsewhere.
Wide Receiver (6)
1. Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup
2. CeeDee Lamb, Cedrick Wilson
3. Devin Smith, Noah Brown
We’re all excited to see what Cooper, Gallup, and Lamb look like as a trio when the real games start. But from now until final cuts, the real intrigue will be in how the depth chart fills out underneath them.
The only prospect that I see as a lock is Wilson. He has youth, good size, and has shown uncommon potential for a 6th-round pick. Perhaps his biggest edge right now is that he’s the projected front-runner to be the Cowboys’ punt returner in 2020.
I am currently going with Noah Brown and Devin Smith for the last two spots. Brown has been held back by injuries the last two years but brings great traits as a blocker and special teamer. And Smith, while he fell off last year, provides a vertical threat component that the group needs.
Any of Ventell Bryant, Jon’Vea Johnson, and several other not named here could easily push their way onto the roster. But for now I’m going with the familiar faces, which will be more important than ever due to the lack of work players are getting in 2020 due to COVID-19.
Tight End (3)
1. Blake Jarwin
2. Blake Bell
3. Dalton Schultz
Jarwin is finally getting his chance to be the starter without a Jason Witten or even Geoff Swaim in his way. If he thrives in the role, it could give Dallas a big-play threat at TE that they haven’t had since Witten was in his prime.
Blake Bell was signed to provide veteran depth and blocking after backing up Travis Kelce and winning a Super Bowl last year. This wasn’t good news for Dalton Schultz, who enters his third season still struggling for playing time. They will be an underrated training camp battle to follow.
There’s little reason to think Dallas will keep a fourth TE and especially if they’re keeping a fullback. If I’m right about Noah Brown making the team at WR, he has the size and power to serve a smallish tight end as well.
Offensive Tackle (4)
1. Tyron Smith, La’el Collins
2. Cameron Erving, Brandon Knight
1. Zack Martin, Connor Williams, Joe Looney
2. Connor McGovern, Tyler Biadasz
Putting all of our offensive linemen together here as there’s so much versatility in some of these backups. Hard to talk about one without discussing a couple others.
This group of nine covers all of the bases and then some. Ervin is your best bet to be swing tackle right now given his experience, plus he has position flex as a guard or center. I don’t know if Brandon Knight is ready to play left tackle, but I think Dallas still keeps him for development on depth at guard and right tackle.
I am putting Looney in as the starting center for now given his experience and the limited practice time for Biadasz or McGovern this year. I could’ve seen one of them winning in the job under normal circumstances, but Joe should hang on to the role at least for the start of 2020. Don’t be shocked, though, if one of the young guys works their way into the starting lineup by November.
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That’s 24 players projected for the 2020 offense. With three spots dedicated to special teams, that leaves 26 for the defense. We’ll dive into that tomorrow, and it promises to be a much more unpredictable group than this one.
Unlike the offense, many starting jobs on defense are up for grabs. Dallas has loaded up on options for the defensive line, cornerback, and safety and it will lead to some tough and surprising cuts before Week One.
I’ll be back throughout the coming weeks with new projections based on the latest information coming out of training camp and other news. Please comment below with your thoughts on my projection; particularly where you disagree.