The three weeks of “voluntary” OTAs have come to a close for the Dallas Cowboys, and this week starts the mandatory portion of the off-season practice program with minicamps getting started out at The Star. As the OTAs progressed, several players made cases to have their names etched on Jason Garrett's 53-Man Roster when they open up the 2018 NFL Regular Season.
With what we know now, here's what the 53-Man Roster could look like week one.
- Dak Prescott
- Cooper Rush
- Mike White
Dak Prescott is the starter. There is no competition and no debate. He's a good player that has a chance to be a great player. He's in need of a bounce-back start to the season after the way his 2017 season finished, but he's a hard worker and is capable of improving his game.
There was a time when I thought the backup quarterback situation would be a competition between Cooper Rush and Mike White, and it still might be. After what I've read about the two from OTAs, I'm ready to state that the backup quarterback position to Dak Prescott is Cooper Rush's to lose.
Now, I don't have the benefit of watching every practice, but from everything I've read — mostly from Bryan Broaddus at DallasCowboys.com — White has been behind on throws while Rush has been making good throws throughout OTAs.
Rush has the edge of experience, even if it is only one year.
Running Back (5)
- Ezekiel Elliott
- Rod Smith
- Jamize Olawale (FB)
- Tavon Austin (Web Back)
- Bo Scarbrough
The guys I've listed above are locks to make the team at this point. The only question with Austin is how do they see him. As a WR/RB hybrid, he will line up in both spots. He's either the fourth running back or the seventh wide receiver.
Jamize Olawale is a great fullback piece. He's averaged 3.7 yards per carry and 10.9 yards per reception for his career while scoring seven touchdowns over the last five years. You may not think much of those numbers, but for a fullback, it's pretty good. Like Tavon Austin, he's a chess piece that the offensive staff can get creative with.
There's a lot that could be said about Ezekiel Elliott as a player. One nugget I found the other day was pretty incredible:
Only 2 running backs averaged more yards per game through their first two seasons than Ezekiel Elliott's 104.6.
Eric Dickerson: 122.3
Clinton Portis: 106.9#CowboysNation
Make sure you read my 2018 stat projection for Ezekiel Elliott for more interesting notes on Elliott.
The final running back spot on the team will come down to Bo Scarbrough, the team's seventh-round draft pick in 2018, and Darius Jackson, the sixth-round pick from 2016.
What gives Scarbrough the edge is his style of play. It's different from anything else we have on the team. He's a straight-line and downhill runner who will find a role as a short-yardage back from time to time. Darius Jackson reminds me a lot of Rod Smith; capable at a lot of things, but not great at any one thing. Bo has great physicality and once he gets going, he's tough to stop.
Imagine dealing with Ezekiel Elliott for 20 carries and then in comes Scarbrough for a series in the fourth quarter.
These five give the team a very well-rounded group of runners that will keep defenses off-balance. Should be a lot of fun to watch them behind this offensive line.
Wide Receiver (6)
- Michael Gallup
- Allen Hurns
- Cole Beasley
- Noah Brown
- Terrance Williams
- Cedric Wilson
With a suspension, the Dallas Cowboys could release him without any cap penalties for the remainder of his contract, which is set to run through 2020. A suspension for Williams could also mean Deonte Thompson gets a roster spot until Williams returns, should the team decide to keep him anyway. It's a bit of an albatross that I'm sure the Cowboys would like some flexibility with, but if there's no suspension, Williams will be on the roster.
Michael Gallup and Cedric Wilson have both been making noise throughout the Rookie Minicamp and OTAs, and because of their route-running ability, they will be a part of the new-look Dallas Cowboys WR group.
The team loves Noah Brown's blocking ability and his ability to play special teams. They can use him as a small tight end in formations that motion him in-line like they tried to do with Vince Mayle a few years ago.
Allen Hurns and Cole Beasley are the veterans of the group and fully personify what a “Dak-friendly” receiver looks like. Quick route runners with the ability to line up in several spots on the field.
Tight End (3)
- Dalton Schultz
- Geoff Swaim
- Rico Gathers
The toughest decision for me came down to five running backs (including Tavon Austin) or four tight ends, and ultimately I decided that four tight ends was too much.
They have four guys who are very unproven NFL assets at tight end. Geoff Swaim has the most experience and Rico Gathers brings the most intrigue. Dalton Schultz and Blake Jarwin offer a lot of potential, but their ceilings may not be as high as Gathers if he can put together consistent performances as a blocker.
Jarwin would be a candidate for the practice squad if he doesn't make the team out of camp, but as you know there are always injuries in training camp, so there's still a good chance he makes the team.
Hopefully one of these guys steps up and asserts themselves as TE1 before training camp is completed.
Offensive Line (8)
- Tyron Smith
- Connor Williams
- Travis Frederick
- Zack Martin
- La'el Collins
- Cameron Fleming
- Joe Looney
- Marcus Martin
We know who the starters are before we even hit minicamp. This group of offensive linemen might be the most impressive group we've ever had with a Star on the side of their helmet. They've created a monster that is going to give Dak the protection that failed him in 2017 and blow open holes for Ezekiel Elliott.
Most importantly, the deal with Left Guard Zack Martin is done. He will be with the Dallas Cowboys through 2024 and will begin working with the team on the field during this week's minicamp. Kudos to the front office for getting this done and not letting it linger into training camp.
Joe Looney has been and will continue to be the backup center to Travis Frederick. He can also play some guard in a pinch.
While I think the team is going to give Chaz Green a chance to keep a job, I think the need to go long at WR, TE, and defensive line will prohibit the team from carrying nine guys on the 53-man roster. Though they won't be able to keep a lot of bodies for the offensive line, the depth has gotten better with the signing of Cameron Fleming as the swing tackle.
Defensive Line (10)
- DeMarcus Lawrence
- David Irving
- Maliek Collins
- Tyron Crawford
- Taco Charlton
- Datone Jones
- Jihad Ward
- Dorance Armstrong
- Randy Gregory
- Kony Ealy
Maliek Collins' injury and David Irving's family issues have me concerned that they may have to prepare to start the season without either of those guys.
Irving has stated he'll be ready for training camp when they go to Oxnard, California in July, but the stuff that he's dealing with can take time to sort out. As he stated, it's important to take care of the off-field stuff first so that he can focus on football.
Collins should be ready for week one, according to several reports, but with his history of foot issues now covering each of his first three seasons in the NFL, it's also possible he's not ready when the Cowboys travel to face the Carolina Panthers.
Jihad Ward and Datone Jones are going to get quite the opportunity on the interior to earn playing time with the absences of Collins and Irving. Going up against the All-Universe offensive line that the Cowboys have should only help them to improve.
At the moment, I'm going to say that Randy Gregory gets reinstated and is put on the 53-man roster out of training camp. They'll have to go long along the defensive line.
The odd man out at the moment looks like Charles Tapper, who hasn't really found his stride in the NFL due to injury. The last spot along the defensive line will come down to Tapper and Ealy. Ealy gets the nod at the moment because of his ability to move inside to rush from the 3-tech defensive tackle spot.
We know how this team loves position flexibility.
Justin March-Lillard is the name that has been making the most noise so far in the OTAs, aside from Jaylon Smith. With Sean Lee being held out for precautionary reasons and Leighton Vander Esch spraining an ankle, March-Lillard took advantage of a tremendous opportunity to shine with the first-team defense in the last couple weeks of OTAs.
Damien Wilson has been a forgotten man this offseason with the spotlight on Jaylon's recovery and Vander Esch's draft selection. Though he looks like he's going to be moved to more of a reserve role, it's a great sign for the depth of the linebacking group. He's been a good run player for the Cowboys.
Last year they were really thin at the position and now they have four guys who can start for them and play significant snaps.
Joe Thomas is a nice depth piece who will contribute on special teams while being able to play the MIKE and WILL linebacker positions.
The surprise of OTAs so far has been the usage of Anthony Brown and Jourdan Lewis.
We'd been hearing all offseason that Byron Jones and Chidobe Awuzie figured to be the outside cornerbacks for the Dallas Cowboys. We also figured that meant Jourdan Lewis would be the first cornerback off the bench to play in nickel situations. So far, that hasn't been the case as Brown has been playing with the first team defense more regularly.
In 2016, when Brown filled in for Orlando Scandrick in the slot, he was very good. Perhaps he's found his home there again in 2018.
We know that Lewis doesn't fit the long and tall profile that Defensive Backs Coach and Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard prefers, but I'd argue it's only a matter of time until we see Lewis make his move up the depth chart.
This is a young, talented, and deep cornerback group. The top four guys have each started games in the NFL.
Marquez White, who was seen as a project when drafted in 2017, does fit the profile for Richard and will be the fifth cornerback on the squad this year. He's very athletic and profiles as an outside corner.
- Jeff Heath
- Xavier Woods
- Kavon Frazier
- Tyree Robinson
Xavier Woods is probably the most intriguing player on the defense after Jaylon Smith.
The Dallas Cowboys felt so good about what they had in him that they didn't pull the trigger on draft day to trade for All-Pro Safety Earl Thomas of the Seattle Seahawks. I wouldn't completely rule out a trade however, if Earl continues his hold-out into training camp and the preseason.
I really like Woods' ability to cover and play the run. In his rookie season he was really good as a slot cornerback for the team early on when they were dealing with injuries. His cover ability allows the defense a ton of flexibility when lining up. They can stay in their base 4-3 on early downs more frequently, even when opposing offenses want to go with 11-personnel.
Kavon Frazier really came on at the end of the season as a run-stuffing “box safety.” He helped bring an edge to the defense that struggled for much of the year against the run.
Barring any unforeseen deals for a certain safety from a certain team in the Northwest US, Tyree Robinson is my fourth safety. Robinson is a center-fielder type of safety. While Woods also can do that, Robinson will have a shot to earn that spot with his natural instincts to play the position.
From Bryan Broaddus' notes during the rookie minicamp:
“Of the undrafted rookie free agents, Tyree Robinson appears to be the one guy that’s a true free safety. If there was something that stood out about him today was his ball skills. There were a couple of different snaps where he did a nice job of reading the quarterback and putting himself in position to make interceptions.”
Bryan Broaddus – DallasCowboys.com
Special Teams (3)
- Dan Bailey
- Chris Jones
- L.P. Ladouceur
Dan Bailey needs to rebound from a slump he experienced in the second half of the season. His field goal percentage of 75% was the worst of his career. He missed some games in the middle of the season due to injury, but had been perfect until the second Giants game when he missed two out of three attempts.
No need to panic yet, but if he gets off to a slow start in the preseason games or the regular season, the Cowboys will have to think about making a change.
Chris Jones remains one of the best punters in the NFL. Not only does he kick it well, but his physical presence helps as a safety valve for the team. What also makes him great is his ability to convert on fakes. It's a weapon that has been quite useful.
L.P. Ladouceur will be the Dallas Cowboys' long snapper for as long as he wants to be the Dallas Cowboys' long snapper. He's that good.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
Obviously, a lot could change between now and September when the regular season opens up, but here's my best guess at the 53-man roster as we sit in June.
We're now 44 days till the first day of practice in training camp, 58 days from the first preseason game, and 89 days from the start of the regular season.