Every offseason there are many players added to the Dallas Cowboys 90-man roster, and we painstakingly try to predict which 53 will actually stick come week one. Predicting the 53-man roster like Staff Writer Jess Haynie did recently can be a tricky proposition, because a lot of changes can happen and the bottom of the roster is a lot of times difficult to project. So what we're going to do here is look at who has already locked up their spot on the 53-man roster before OTAs for the full 90-man roster begin.
While we live in a world where we think everyone still has to earn their roster spots, there are guys who you can guarantee will be on the roster come September. I did this last offseason and while there were a few surprises, it was pretty much spot on.
The Roster Locks
42 of the 53 spots on the roster are already written in pen for the 2018 53-man roster.
Obviously, some things can happen that could shake things up, like injuries or suspensions, but these are the guys I'm 99.99% sure will be on the week one 53.
Offensive Roster Locks
QB: Being a draft pick matters, whether you like it or not. While Cooper Rush proved himself worthy of a roster spot last year, I could see him being the odd man out if the Cowboys decide to only keep two quarterbacks on the roster to start 2018. It's more likely that they keep all three guys, but if all things are equal and they need to go long at another position, then fifth round draft pick Mike White will get the nod over previously UDFA Rush.
RB: Bo Scarborough is a popular name to watch because of his championship pedigree with the Alabama Crimson Tide. As Bryan Broaddus noted in one of his Rookie Minicamp Scout's Eye, he'll need to make an impact on special teams to really stand out and make the roster. With Ezekiel Elliott, Rod Smith, and Tavon Austin all listed on the RB depth chart, touches will be few and far between for the seventh-round pick.
WR: You'll notice I already have five guys listed at wide receiver. Terrance Williams will be on the roster if he's healthy. His contract status and his work as a blocker make him a lock to stay with Dallas for at least the 2018 season. Cole Beasley will be here. He's a favorite target of Dak Prescott and while he only has one year remaining on his contract, he is a veteran presence in the locker room.
Noah Brown is a favorite of the team because of his work on special teams and his role as a blocker. He can line up outside or come inline and play as a smaller tight end in the run game. He's my preseason break out candidate in 2018. I think he'll earn more opportunities in the offense with Terrance Williams nursing his injury.
TE: While the production from the tight end position is a big question mark going into the 2018 season, it's not because we don't know who is going to be on the roster. Geoff Swaim, now the veteran presence, will be on the roster. As will fifth round pick Dalton Schultz, who the team thinks could be the best option to replace the recently retired Jason Witten.
The team also really likes Blake Jarwin. What that means for playing time is the question, but I think they'll have him on the roster.
Rico Gathers may have all of the athletic and pass catching ability in the world, but it's blocking and the mental aspect of the game that leaves him as a question mark. He can still earn a spot on the 53, but they aren't going to just give it to him. If he has a repeat of his 2017 preseason, he'll be on the roster.
OL: I believe the only question that remains on the offensive line is at backup guard. Marcus Martin has the inside track to be the backup guard, but it'll come down to training camp and the battle between he and Kadeem Edwards.
Defensive Roster Locks
DE: The four listed aren't necessarily the only defensive ends who'll be on the roster when the season begins. They're the four who are locked in right now. Dorance Armstrong's status as a fourth-round pick means he will be on the roster.
Mike Fisher of 247Sports.com and 105.3 The Fan is reporting that Randy Gregory filed his reinstatement paperwork that consists of a 2,000-page document supporting Gregory's re-entering the NFL. While most people believe he will be reinstated, in the Roger Goodell NFL, nothing is certain.
Taco Charlton is going to be on this team. I have a more optimistic outlook than most on Taco based on his second half production, but also being a first-round pick grants a player a ton more leeway. It doesn't matter how bad he is in the eye of the public, he stays in 2018.
Charles Tapper is the other defensive end who will need to be watched. Between him and Gregory, the Dallas Cowboys could be forced to keep six defensive ends if they play well. Tapper could also be a training camp trade candidate. If he doesn't shine, I could see the team moving on.
LB: The top five linebackers are set in my opinion with Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch, Damien Wilson, and 2018 free agent signing Joe Thomas. Yes, I do think Wilson is on the roster. His coverage ability is a problem, but he plays the run very, very well. The lack of experience and depth at linebacker in 2017 killed the Dallas Cowboys. This year's group looks young and formidable.
The sixth linebacker job will be an interesting training camp battle. Chris Covington will have the inside shot at being the sixth linebacker, and likely plays the weak side. Guys like Justin March-Lillard, Kyle Queiro, Joel Lanning, and Ed Shockley will be trying to make some noise the rest of the offseason to force the team to keep a seventh linebacker.
CB: Like linebacker, I think the top four corners are etched in stone with Byron Jones, Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis and Anthony Brown.
The interesting name to watch will be 2017 sixth round draft pick Marquez White, who spent all of 2017 on the practice squad. He has size and length that new Defensive Backs Coach and Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard values.
S: Safety will be an interesting position to watch for the rest of the offseason. A three-man rotation appears to be the plan at the moment with Jeff Heath, Kavon Frazier, and Xavier Woods getting most of the snaps. Frazier will primarily be used on running downs while Woods and Heath will be on the back-end for passing downs.
UDFA Safety Tyree Robinson has a real shot to make the 53-man roster out of training camp with his true free safety ability and has already begun turning heads in the rookie minicamps.
"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
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The Dallas Cowboys have a long way to go before they line up for real on September 9th against the Carolina Panthers, but these 42 names are sure to be there when they do.
PFF Ranks Cowboys Run Defense 13th In The NFL
The Cowboys duo of young linebackers took the NFL by storm in 2018.
Rookie Leighton Vander Esch and former second round pick Jaylon Smith played well above expectations, as for the first time in years Dallas did not face a significant drop off in defensive production when Sean Lee was out and injured.
These young linebackers are the cornerstone of a run defense which should be among the league's best going forward, and Pro Football Focus agrees. Well, somewhat agrees.
PFF ranked all 32 run defenses heading into the 2019 season, slotting the Cowboys 13th overall. Better than half the league, but not quite top 10.
PFF's reasoning behind this ranking certainly makes sense, as they credit the young linebacker duo without mentioning much of what will be in front of them helping to stop opposing running games.
"The Cowboys’ run defense begins and ends with the league’s best young linebacker duo. Leighton Vander Esch ranked third in run-stop percentage as a rookie while Jaylon Smith checked in at 29th."
The playoff loss in Los Angeles has left a bad taste about the Cowboys' interior defensive line in a lot of mouths, but I do think they've improved the unit this offseason. Signing Christian Covington and drafting Trysten Hill was a nice start to do so, but having Maliek Collins healthy and Antwaun Woods back for a full season will also go a long way.
Interestingly enough, two of the Cowboys divisional foes came in ranked above them on this list. Washington was slotted as the 12th best run defense, while Philadelphia was placed at number 8. Both teams' units deserve respect, of course, but this further highlights how difficult it could be to run the ball in the NFC East this season.
While I hate simply throwing this term around, analytics suggest that passing is what wins games in the NFL. Passing and stopping the pass, I should say.
With strong run defenses in their division, the Cowboys will need to maximize their passing game efficiency if they want to repeat as NFC East champions.
3 Reasons Amari Cooper is Primed for an All-Pro Season
Amari Cooper changed life for the entire Dallas Cowboys offense in 2018. Finally, Quarterback Dak Prescott has the number one option at wide receiver he's desperately needed since his rookie campaign. Now, after half a season and multiple playoff games under his belt in Dallas, Cooper is set to have a monster year. Here are three specific reasons why.
Head Coach Jason Garrett has established a certain way of doing things in Dallas since taking over in 2010. His constant search for the RKG or "Right Kinda Guy" as he puts it has the culture in the locker room at a very positive and productive place. As criticized as he is, justifiably or not, he has his team all on the same page. This is something Cooper has been trying to find since he entered the league in 2015. An organization with the right mindset in order for him to perform and maximize his skill set. After being traded to Dallas, Cooper opened up in November about being unhappy during his days in Oakland.
"I wasn't really happy in Oakland or anything like that. But when I sat and thought about it [Monday} night, I thought about the fact that they traded me away. I don't know how to feel about it," Cooper told Yahoo Sports.
This may seem small to others considering these players make millions of dollars right? Well, it doesn't change the fact that they're human. When you feel unappreciated you don't play to the best of your abilities. Shortly after the trade, Cooper talked about how he's been different since putting a star on his helmet. "I feel like it did change me, as far as having that chip on my shoulder. Not that I wasn't passionate before, but playing with more passion, trying to intentionally have fun out there. It definitely has changed me, in terms of me going out there and just having fun with it," Cooper said. A change of scenery was just what the doctor ordered for Cooper and the Cowboys.
2. The other weapons around him
The Cowboys aren't just Amari Cooper or bust at the wide receiver position. Michael Gallup and Randall Cobb provide more challenges for defenses on a weekly basis. Gallup has firmly locked down the number two spot on the depth chart. It took a while for him to establish chemistry with Dak Prescott, as they would misfire on several big plays during the first half of the season. Nonetheless, by seasons end things started to pick up, and he finished with 33 receptions for 507 yards and 2 touchdowns. In the playoffs, he scored a touchdown in the Cowboys Wild Card win over Seattle. The next week against the Rams he performed well even in defeat, with 6 receptions for 119 yards. He's got speed, size, and versatility. Now with a full season and two games of playoff experience under his belt, I look for even more production from Gallup, as a possible breakout star.
Randall Cobb is a much-needed upgrade in the slot for the Cowboys. Unlike former receiver Cole Beasley, Cobb can line up inside or outside. Giving new Offensive Coordinator Kellen Moore a bigger bag of tricks at his disposal. Now, he can lineup Cooper inside or outside and play with a plethora of different looks, keeping defenses off balance because of the uncertainty of how the Cowboys will attack through the air.
Then, of course, there's Ezekiel Elliott. The two-time rushing champion is the tone-setter on offense and dictates how defenses will attack. With Cooper being such a threat in the air you basically have to pick your poison. 8-9 man fronts against the run can make you vulnerable to play action down the field or quick slants with Cooper's exceptional route running. The more productive Elliott is the more honest it keeps opposing defenses, opening up more opportunities in the passing game. Averaging 101.2 yards per game for his career, second all-time to Hall of Famer Jim Brown, Elliott can make create even more opportunities for Cooper in 2019 with a full season of playing time together.
Amari Cooper is currently looking to sign a long-term deal with the Cowboys. Preferably, both sides would like to get this deal done before the season starts considering he's in the last year of his rookie contract that is set to pay him 13.9 million in 2019. However, it isn't just a new deal that motivates Cooper heading into the new season.
"It's kind of a weird situation, just being that I've never been in this situation before, talking about a contract. But also, I'm under a fifth-year option, so I'm not too familiar with it. I really don't ask my agent many questions. I'm not really worried about it that much. I'm more focused on actually playing and really earning the respect and then the contract," Cooper said.
Being motivated by earning respect is a very mature approach from Cooper. Now, add that to the fact that I'm sure he wants to firmly put his name alongside Julio Jones, Antonio Brown, DeAndre Hopkins, Odell Beckham Jr, and Michael Thomas as the best receivers in the game, you have a fully motivated number one option heading into the new season.
Amari Cooper has already made three pro bowls, but now there's another level for him to reach. In just nine games last year with the Cowboys he caught 53 passes for 725 yards and 6 touchdowns. Also, he caught another 13 on 18 targets in the playoffs for 171 yards and a score. He's in the right culture, he has a number of other weapons around him and he has multiple reasons to be motivated heading in the new season. With a full offseason of building chemistry with Dak Prescott, I see Cooper taking that leap to the All-Pro level in 2019.
Is La’el Collins Playing For A Contract On A Different Team?
How good is La'el Collins?
This is a question that Cowboys fans have disagreed on since his rookie season. Collins, who originally joined the team as their left guard replacing an injured Ronald Leary in 2015, moved out to right tackle in 2017, starting all 32 games there the last 2 seasons.
Collins' play has been somewhat up-and-down, as should be expected when a lineman not only switches from guard to tackle, but from the left side to the right side as well. Still, he's been a solid right tackle and a stable presence for a Cowboys offensive line which has struggled with major injuries at other positions over the last couple of years.
While Collins has not been the "elite" level player fans had hoped for when signed after the 2015 draft, he's been a solid player nonetheless. Dak Prescott has faced more pressure from the right side of the line than the left, but a good portion of that pressure has to do with him struggling to sense pressure from that right side.
The Dallas Cowboys seem rather undecided about La'el Collins' future with the team themselves, though. Dallas went out and draft guard Connor McGovern in the third round of the 2019 draft, starting the whirlwind of rumors that McGovern will be the starting left guard in 2020. This would kick second year player Connor Williams out to right tackle, allowing Dallas to let Collins walk without too much worry.
While this is well and good on paper, on the field the transition will likely not be as smooth. We've already seen how tough it is to move from left guard to right tackle in just one offseason, even if you were a college tackle once upon a time. Connor Williams could face these same struggles, despite possibly even anticipating the change a year out.
Regardless, La'el Collins is now in a contract year and is playing for that new deal come 2020. Dallas may not be looking to extend him, mostly due to the plethora of new deals they'll be handing out to other players, but he will be a hot commodity come free agency if and when he hits the open market.
Collins could very well be playing for a new contract elsewhere this season, as his days in Dallas look to be numbered.
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