A lot has happened in these last few weeks of training camp. With the 2020 cut day looming on September 5th, it seems a good time to take stock of the Dallas Cowboys and update our 53-man roster projection.
Since our last projection we’ve seen a big name defensive lineman signed in free agency and then another injured and released. And if the usual rise and fall of players’ stocks wasn’t enough, we’ve also had the unique issue of opt-outs impacting the final makeup of the roster in 2020.
You can reference my pre-camp projections here to see how things have changed over the last five weeks:
There’s still a week to go before Dallas has to make their decisions and cut the official roster down to 53 players. From performance swings to injuries to COVID-19 testing, who knows what other surprises may come between now and next Saturday?
For now, we’ll take the current information as of today and build a Cowboys team for the 2020 season.
1. Dak Prescott
2. Andy Dalton
3. Ben DiNucci
The lack of preseason games has been a huge blow to trying to project the bottom of the QB depth chart. We know Prescott and Dalton are the top two, so it’s really just a question of Dallas keeps Ben DiNucci or Clayton Thorson or just goes without a third QB entirely.
I’ve heard more good things about DiNucci’s performance coming out of camp than Thorson. Between that and being a rookie that this coaching staff had a say in drafting, the JMU product seems the safer pick to make the team.
The bigger question is if the Cowboys even keep a third QB. If this was still Jason Garrett’s team then I’d probably guess not, but Mike McCarthy has a long history of keeping three quarterbacks with the Packers. As long as Dallas perceives any future value in DiNucci then I think they stash him on the roster to avoid a practice squad poaching.
Running Back (3)
1. Ezekiel Elliott
2. Tony Pollard
3. Rico Dowdle
Changes: Added Dowdle, Removed FB Jamize Olawale
When Olawale opted out of the 2020 season it caused more of a ripple than you might have guessed. He wore a lot of hats for Dallas; fullback, emergency 3rd RB, and a core special teams player.
While it would be easy to just guess that rookie FB Sewo Olonilua will make the team now, you have to remember that Olawale only played on 10.5% of the Cowboys’ offensive snaps last year. Dallas can find other lead blockers for that small number of plays, probably asking one of their tight ends to cover it.
Really, the bigger deal here is RB depth and special teams duties. I think Dallas will cover themselves on special teams in other ways, so my focus is on having someone ready to play if something happens to Zeke or Pollard.
Undrafted rookie Rico Dowdle is the best candidate for that role. He’s an all-around back while fellow rookie Darius Anderson is more of a poor man’s Pollard. If something tragic did happen with Ezekiel Elliott, Dowdle seems like the guy you’d want in a pinch.
Wide Receiver (6)
1. Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup
2. CeeDee Lamb, Cedrick Wilson
3. Noah Brown, Devin Smith
I wrote earlier today about Devin Smith perhaps not having enough special teams value to make the team. And while I do think his grip on a roster spot may have slipped, I’m not ready to cut him loose just yet.
Wilson and Brown appear to have separated themselves from the pack as the 4th and 5th receivers. They bring different skills on offense and also offer special teams roles; Cedrick might be the primary punt returner this year.
The challenge of finding enough targets for Cooper, Gallup, and Lamb could leave Dallas thinking they don’t need a sixth WR, which would be bad news for Devin Smith and the other hopefuls. But if they were to have an injury in the top three, Smith’s speed and experience would suddenly have increased value.
Tight End (3)
1. Blake Jarwin
2. Blake Bell
3. Dalton Schultz
If Dallas does go with just five receivers then it could add a fourth tight end. The trio of Jarwin, Bell, and Schultz seems locked in and leaves several prospects hoping the Cowboys do want one more at the position.
That cause was helped by Jamize Olawale’s opt out. Dallas may decide that one of Cole Hikutini, Sean McKeon, or Charlie Taumoepeau is their best option for a lead blocker out of the backfield and/or special teams duties. That’s what it will take to extend the TE depth chart.
Then again, who’s to say Bell or Schultz wouldn’t handle those jobs? With not much news coming out of camp about the lesser TE prospects, for now I’m going with this lineup.
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
There’s never felt like much wiggle room on the offensive line. These starters and backups have seemed locked in from the beginning of camp with only injuries perhaps changing the landscape.
The one guy who might prove me wrong is Adam Redmond. He was already known for guard/center versatility and in this 2020 camp has even seen time at offensive tackle. That’s tremendous value and could push him above Brandon Knight.
But these four backups already cover a lot of ground. McGovern gives you G/C flex, Knight can play guard or tackle, and Erving has played every spot on the line during his NFL Career. It seems likely that Dallas will lean on that versatility and only keep nine total linemen.
Defensive End (5)
1. DeMarcus Lawrence, Everson Griffen
2. Aldon Smith, Dorance Armstrong
3. Bradlee Anae
Changes: Added Griffen, Removed Randy Gregory
The late signing of Everson Griffen came as a surprise. But with Randy Gregory still not being reinstated and Tyrone Crawford likely having to do more DT work after Gerald McCoy’s injury, it was a huge move for the Cowboys’ depth and hopefully upgraded the starting position as well.
The different ways that Dallas will use Tank, Griffen, and Aldon Smith is going to be fun to watch. The rotation may cost any of them having a huge individual season statistically, but the results for the Cowboys defense should be excellent.
Armstrong and Anae are the easy picks to finish out the depth chart. Both are good pass rushers who can help with fresh legs when the Cowboys are in attack mode. With Crawford also around as additional DE depth I don’t see Dallas needing to keep a sixth guy.
If Randy Gregory does get reinstated before Week One then I imagine he would replace Dorance Armstrong in the pass rusher stable. However, I could also see Dallas taking the roster spot from DT and parting with Antwaun Woods.
Defensive Tackle (5)
1. Tyrone Crawford, Dontari Poe
2. Trysten Hill, Antwaun Woods
3. Neville Gallimore
Changes: Moved Crawford from DE, Removed Gerald McCoy
The elation from the Griffen signing was soon muted by McCoy’s season-ending quad injury. A provision in his contract due to a prior injury led to Dallas releasing the veteran completely.
McCoy’s departure was big for guys like Tyrone Crawford and Antwaun Woods, who were starting to look irrelevant for the 2020 defensive line. Now both should factor more into the rotation as younger players Trysten Hill and Neville Gallimore continue to develop.
As their other veteran DT signing this year, Dontari Poe really needs to come through now after the McCoy bust. He will help the team as a run-stuffer and nose tackle, especially with Dallas looking for more versatile schemes and formations under Mike Nolan.
1. Leighton Vander Esch, Jaylon Smith, Sean Lee
2. Joe Thomas, Luke Gifford, Francis Bernard
Changes: Added Bernard, Removed Justin March
The Cowboys have a lot of incentive to go long with seven linebackers this year. Olawale’s departure from special teams opened up a hole and Sean Lee is already dealing with a minor injury.
However, the team also seems to be moving to a hybrid defense which will probably mean less snaps for the linebackers overall. That’s why I think Francis Bernard’s emergence as a training camp standout will push Justin March off the roster rather than prompt Dallas to go long.
March is one of the better special teams players so I could be pointing the axe at the wrong guy. Maybe he stays over Luke Gifford, who was basically last year’s Bernard but hasn’t been making the same buzz so far in 2020.
It’s very hard to project what’s going to happen here with limited camp reports and no preseason games. So this is my best guess, but please don’t quote me.
1. Chidobe Awuzie, Trevon Diggs
2. Jourdan Lewis, Anthony Brown
3. Reggie Robinson, C.J. Goodwin
Changes: Added Goodwin, Removed Maurice Canady, Moved Diggs to starter
Trevon Diggs has been everything Dallas could’ve hoped for as a 2nd-round pick. He’d even been living up to expectations if he’d gone in the first round. His immediate impact, and the fact that Jourdan Lewis hasn’t been a standout, should have him as a Week One starter.
Maurice Canady’s opt out made this a pretty easy group to project. It also saved Dallas from having to make a tough call on Goodwin, who’s been their best special teams player since late 2018.
1. Darian Thompson, Xavier Woods
2. Daryl Worley, Donovan Wilson
Changes: Added Thompson, Removed Ha Ha Clinton-Dix
This is easily my boldest prediction; veteran Ha Ha Clinton-Dix not making the roster. But based on everything coming out of camp it’s hard not to see it happening.
For one, reports are that Darian Thompson has started taking the first-team reps there even though Clinton-Dix is healthy. Dallas has invested over a year in developing Thompson and it sounds like it may be paying off.
Also, Daryl Worley gives them experienced depth at a slightly cheaper price. What’s more, Worley provides flexibility as a CB option that Ha Ha doesn’t possess. He’s far better for a reserve role.
This overall group of nine defensive backs gives the Cowboys an array of options and versatility. It’d be one thing if Clinton-Dix was a clearly superior player providing an upgrade, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. His career has been on the decline and I think it takes him right out of Dallas at final cuts.
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Those are your 50 offensive and defensive players. The three specialist spots are no-brainers; Kicker Greg Zuerlein, Punter Chris Jones, and Long Snapper L.P. Ladouceur are the only players in camp at their positions.
Again, we still have a week to go and could see some changes with continued practices. Injuries are the biggest x-factor but there’s still room for stocks to rise and fall with performance.
I’ll be back at the end of next week for a final projection before cut day.