The Dallas Cowboys open training camp on July 24th, just a few weeks away. Inspired by the NFL’s recent Top 100 list, I thought it would be interesting to try rank just the Cowboys players against one another. This should also give us a sense of who will make up the majority of the 53-man roster after final cuts.
The players are ranked based on a variety of factors. Overall talent and performance, legacy with the franchise, and the importance of their position (e.g. left tackle vs. guard/center) were all considered. I also looked at their projected role in 2017.
Today we move on to the players ranked #21-30. At this point, we're looking at players who will all significant roles with the team and will likely get credited with some starts, depending on the packages they're involved in.
30. Jonathan Cooper, G
Just four years ago, Cooper was the seventh-overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. Injuries marred his first three seasons in Arizona, leading to him being a thrown-in piece of the Cardinals' trade with New England for Chandler Jones. Last season, another injury caused him to miss time and fall out of the Patriots' plans. He then spent a couple of months with Cleveland, starting a few games but not finding a lasting home.
Immediately after being waived by the Brown in late December, Jonathan Cooper was signed by the Cowboys for an extended audition. He now enters the 2017 season as a front-runner for the starting spot at left guard, vacated by Ronald Leary's free agent departure and La'el Collins moving to right tackle.
Dallas reportedly coveted Cooper during the 2013 draft. He's still just 27 and has plenty of career ahead of him if he can finally stay healthy. It wasn't long ago that the Cowboys had another offensive line reclamation project in Marc Colombo, pulling him off the NFL discard pile and getting six seasons of solid play. Will Jonathan Cooper be another success story?
29. Anthony Hitchens, LB
I recently wrote a more extensive breakdown of Hitchens' status with the Cowboys in 2017. I discussed how, through Sean Lee's major 2014 injury and the various tribulations of Rolando McClain, Hitchens has proven to be a valuable and versatile player. Recent events for the Cowboys just may prove it again.
With the news this week of Damien Wilson's arrest on assault charges, Hitchens may once again be asked to take on a starting role. He may take over as the SAM linebacker, provided he can hold up having to player closer to the line of scrimmage. There's also the possibility of Jaylon Smith playing SAM, leaving Hitchens where he has the most experience in the middle.
The situation just reminds us of how steady and reliable, as well as versatile, Anthony Hitchens is. While it's not under great circumstances for the team, the opportunities for more playing time certainly have to be welcome for Hitchens as he prepares for 2018 free agency.
28. Chris Jones, P
Over the last few years Jones has developed into a very solid punter. He doesn't get the recognition of guys with big distance, but Jones is arguably more valuable because of how well he can aim kicks for the sideline. Not allowing teams to return punts on you is a major boon to the field position battle.
Chris Jones turns 28 in just a few weeks and is in the final year of his current contract. Another solid season should earn him an extension. However, the Cowboys typically bring in at least one young leg in training camp to give their veterans some breaks. There is always the possibility that the young guy impresses the team enough that they might make a switch, especially if the veteran is on an expiring contract.
27. Damien Wilson, LB
Until we know more about Wilson's legal situation and subsequent league discipline, all we can do is look at where he stood going into the season. It actually reinforces what a potentially big loss this is for the Cowboys, and for Damien, as he was starting to look like a breakout player.
Last year, Wilson emerged as a solid and sometimes flashy player as the starting SAM linebacker. He was headed into his third year fairly certain to retain that role and hopefully shine even more.
Now, it's almost assured that Damien will be suspended for some portion of 2017. It's impossible to know now how this will affect his starting role or even his contract with the Cowboys once all the dust settles. For now, we can only bemoan another promising player who the Dallas defense will have to do without.
26. Tyrone Crawford, DE/DT
With arguably the worst contract on the team right now, Crawford has become an afterthought on the Cowboys defensive line. He has been surpassed at tackle by Maliek Collins and isn't seen as a difference maker on the outside. Still, Crawford counts $9.1 million against the 2017 salary cap.
The ability to play multiple positions gives Crawford some sustained value. However, Dallas was expecting him to be a breakout star as the three-tech DT in Rod Marinelli's scheme, getting close to double-digit sacks each year. He's never lived up to that expectation or the contract that came with it.
Next year, Dallas can clear roughly $6 million in cap space by releasing Crawford. Barring a major upswing in his performance in 2017, this will probably be his last season with the Cowboys. He will get plenty of playing time, though, so the opportunity is there to change things.
25. Jourdan Lewis, CB
If not for an ongoing legal issue, Lewis might have gone in the late first round of last April's NFL Draft. Instead he slipped to the third round and corner-needy Cowboys snatched him up.
The waters are murky at the CB position right now. Veterans Orlando Scandrick and Nolan Carroll will be competing with Lewis, Anthony Brown, and fellow rookie Chidobe Awuzie for playing time. If Dallas' recent history with CB injuries is any indication, all will probably have to play some significant snaps at some point this year.
What is clear, though, is that Lewis' talent should keep him around for some time. He may quickly pass Awuzie, taken one round ahead, on the depth chart. If he's a quick learner, Jourdan could have a big role much sooner than you think.
24. Chidobe Awuzie, CB
Nobody was surprised when Dallas took a defensive back in the second round last April. The real question was if they'd go with a cornerback or safety, and in Awuzie they found a guy who might be able to play either spot.
For now, Chidobe is expected to play at CB and could be playing a lot early. Nolan Carroll's DWI arrest in May will likely cost him a few games at the start of the year, putting pressure on Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis to be ready for Week One.
The long-term view on Awuzie is that he could become a tremendous slot corner and eventually replace Orlando Scandrick there. This year, personnel may dictate that Scandrick has to play outside and Chidobe could find himself in the slot role immediately. Clearly, these young cornerbacks in Dallas aren't going to be waiting long for their opportunities.
23. DeMarcus Lawrence, DE
As I wrote a few weeks ago, Lawrence is in a contract year and the situation couldn't be more unsure. After a season marred by back issues and a four-game suspension, DeMarcus watched the team draft his possible replacement and could already be out of their future plans.
That said, this is still a 25-year-old who has displayed his pass-rushing talent more than once. Whether it was his big plays in the 2014 playoff game against the Detroit Lions, or his eight sacks in 2015, Lawrence has kept hope alive that he might finally push through for a true breakout season. It would appear to be now or never, at least as far as the Cowboys are concerned.
Even with Taco Charlton and Charles Tapper in the mix now, Lawrence can still make his case. The Cowboys are going to go with the hot hand and, as we saw in 2015, DeMarcus can put together a consistent streak when healthy. Whether it's to extend his Dallas career or get a good deal elsewhere, Lawrence will have no motivation problems this season.
22. Jeff Heath, S
The Cowboys did not sign or draft any major contenders at safety this year, which was a clear vote of confidence in Heath's ability to handle the job. Rising up the depth chart with Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox both moving to Florida, one of the Cowboys' cult heroes will now get to prove just how great he really is.
All "G.O.A.T." jokes aside, nobody expects Heath to be Darren Woodson. Ho doesn't have to be, though, to improve on what Dallas has had at the position. Church was a solid player but never exceptional. He was especially lacking with turnovers, getting just five interceptions in seven seasons. Heath already has four picks despite his limited playing time in four years.
All it takes is a few big plays to become a star in the secondary. Heath has already experienced a taste of that, and now he will get a full-time opportunity to do even more.
21. Taco Charlton, DE
The Cowboys addressed their biggest need by drafting the 6'6" Charlton. That always comes with the pressure of being expected to solve that need, and Taco will have a tough road to satisfy the expectations of the sack-starved Dallas fans. Whether you grew up with Randy White, Charles Haley, or DeMarcus Ware, Dallas fans long to have another dominant pass rusher emerge.
There will be plenty of contenders in 2017. Charlton will be joined by the aforementioned DeMarcus Lawrence, Benson Mayowa, and Charles Tapper at defensive end. David Irving and Tyrone Crawford may also get time outside and even Damontre Moore could be a factor. The rotation may be good for the line but it could limit individual players' ability to really build their own reputation.
All that being true, being a first-round pick comes with the perk of coaches and scouts wanting you to prove them right. If Charlton can at least match his veteran teammates, he will get extra opportunities based on the hope of further growth and upside.
Cowboys, Seahawks Week 3 Injury Report
Believe it or not, Seahawks Safety Earl Thomas isn't the only guy whose playing status is in question for today's game. Other key players for Seattle and the Dallas Cowboys appear on the teams' Week 3 injury reports.
The Cowboys are looking to move to 2-1 and maintain a slim lead in the NFC East. The Seahawks are still looking for their first win of 2018, and the drama around Thomas isn't helping the fear of a locker room implosion.
What players may not be out there to help their teams to victory?
- C Travis Frederick (illness) - OUT
- DT Maliek Collins (knee) - OUT
- WR Cole Beasley (ankle) - Questionable
- LB Sean Lee (hamstring) - Questionable
- S Xavier Woods (hamstring) - Questionable
Frederick remains out as he deals with his neurological disease. Dallas decided to keep him on the 53-man roster, rather than place him on injured reserve, with the hope that he could return before Week 9. There are still several weeks before we'll know if that was a good move.
Maliek Collins will be out today after a minor knee injury suffered last week against the Giants. Taking his spot will be Datone Jones, who returns from his own knee issue after missing the first two games.
You don't like seeing your quarterback's favorite receiver and your defensive leader on the same injury report. Thankfully, though, it appears both Cole Beasley and Sean Lee will be available today.
For the #Cowboys, WR Cole Beasley (ankle) is expected to play, and LB Sean Lee (hamstring) should be good to go, as well, based on how he moved around in practice on Friday, sources say.
Finally, we come to the ever-intriguing Xavier Woods. While limited in practice all week, Woods is expected to make his season debut in Seattle. We will see if Xavier gets the start at free safety, or if Dallas will ease him back in and keep Kavon Frazier starting for now.
With all of the hype around Dallas' possible acquisition of Earl Thomas, one has to hope that Xavier won't overdo it and make matters worse with his hamstring. Between the enthusiasm just to play and the threat to his starting job, the second-year stud should be pretty amped up.
- WR Doug Baldwin (knee) - OUT
- C/G Ethan Pocic (ankle) - OUT
- LB K.J. Wright (knee) - OUT
- C Justin Britt (shoulder) - Questionable
- LB Mychal Kendricks (ankle) - Questionable
- S Earl Thomas (???) - ???
Seattle remains without Baldwin, their leading receiver from 2014-2017, and it shows in their offensive play. QB Russell Wilson is currently at career lows in completion percentage and passer rating, plus has already thrown three interceptions in just two games.
The Seahawks have issues up front as well. Starting left guard Ethan Pocic will also miss today's game. With right guard D.J. Fluker returning this week after missing the first two, that will allow backup J.R. Sweezy to flip over to the other side.
If that wasn't enough, starting center Justin Britt missed the entire week of practice with a shoulder issue. He has not been ruled out, though. Regardless, those are a lot of red flags on your offensive line with the Cowboys' emerging defense coming to town.
Also out today will be Pro Bowl linebacker K.J. Wright. That means we could see Mychal Kendricks, who was just recently booted from Cleveland after being charged with insider trading, playing a major role today. Kendricks knows the Cowboys well, having played with the Eagles from 2012-2017.
And lastly, Earl Thomas.
No health or injury-related reason has been given for why Thomas missed practices on Wednesday and Friday. "Personal reasons" is all you're getting from Seattle, fueling rampant speculation that a trade is in the works. Whether or not that trade is with the Dallas Cowboys is pure conjecture at this point.
What we do know is that Seattle is 0-2 and trending down this year. Holding onto Thomas and his expiring contract, only to lose him for nothing next year in free agency, would be foolish.
We'll see if Earl plays at all today. If he doesn't, the trade talk is going to explode.
Cowboys Wishlist: Dallas Cowboys VS. Seattle Seahawks
It's week 3 of the 2018 NFL season and this match-up already feels like one of the most important ones the Dallas Cowboys will play in the season. The reason why is they need to prove they're good enough to win consistently and that they won't have another year that feels like a roller coaster of wins and losses like 2017 did. As they travel to Seattle to face the 0-2 Seahawks, the 1-1 Cowboys can't miss a perfect opportunity versus one of the weakest units in football: the Seahawks' offensive line.
As every gameday, here is my Cowboys Wishlist for this week's action. As always, I encourage you to share your wishes with me in the comments section below or tweet me @MauNFL!
Wish #1: Brett Maher Kicks a 50+ yard FG.
Dan Bailey recently signed with the Minnesota Vikings. Cowboys Nation will experience a very odd feeling when they see their former kicker wear purple. If there's something that can make fans feel better is watching the guy who replaced Bailey nail a long field goal in Seattle.
Brett Maher showed he could kick a 47-yard FG in preseason, but we want to see him pull it off in a kick that will actually go down in the books. The decision to release Dan Bailey won't leave our minds until we see Maher do his job.
Wish #2: Rico Gathers Scores His First Career TD.
It felt like forever, but tight end Rico Gathers was activated for the first time in his career last Sunday. Rico didn't get his first catch even though he was targeted twice by Dak Prescott. The most notable moment was when Gathers seemed to be open in the endzone but Dak missed him.
Although Prescott's pass could've been better, Gathers did stumble a little bit and wasn't where he should've been to catch that touchdown. No worries, Rico's career is only beginning. I wish his first touchdown ever finally comes this week.
Wish #3: Defense Gets Its First Interception of the Year.
Through two weeks of NFL action, the Dallas Cowboys defense has been one of the most impressive units. Ranking as the third best in total points in the league, the Cowboys' defense might begin being the team's best side of the ball. At least, it has been for the first two weeks.
Last week, they limited Odell Beckham Jr. to only 51 yards. Byron Jones and Chidobe Awuzie have played pretty well so far, but I wish they're able to get their first interception of the year. Dallas has one takeaway from week 1 versus the Panthers, but it came in form of a fumble.
Let's get that interception from Russell Wilson, who will be pressured most of the day by a very productive Cowboys' front seven.
Wish #4: 20+ Point Performance
Despite a very exciting first drive versus the Giants last week, the Cowboys' offense still needs to prove it can be successful enough to win games. Scott Linehan's unit had some good drives but it also failed to maintain a consistent attack all game. That may seem okay, but the Cowboys will have to win against some pretty tough defenses.
Seahawks will present the team with a very interesting challenge and one that I wish they pass. As good as the defense is playing, the offense needs to show up in order to win later games.
Wish #5: Contain Russell Wilson
Wilson is one of the most dangerous quarterbacks in the NFL. His agility might be the best among every other signal caller in the game, becoming a very tough guy to defend. He can hurt you with his arms and legs and can throw on the run pretty well. All week we've been talking about how sacking the Seahawks' QB is a key to the victory, but it's more than that.
Wilson is good in the pocket, but when he starts scrambling or running out of the pocket only to throw the ball once the defense is out of position, he becomes a pretty painful headache. The Cowboys need to put him on the ground, but they also need to contain him all day long. He's basically his team's entire offense.
Kris Richard’s Impact for Cowboys Goes Beyond the Defense in Seattle
Through just two games, the Dallas Cowboys addition of Kris Richard to their revamped coaching staff appears to be the team's best move of the offseason. Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli revealed that Richard is calling the team's plays on defense, which explains their attacking style of play so far.
It was the Cowboys blitzes that disrupted the Giants offense enough for Dallas to earn their first win a week ago. With the schedule set up favorably for the Cowboys to build off this win, Richard must lead his defense past his old team in Seattle for Sunday's week three match up.
On paper, the Cowboys defense should be able to limit the Seahawks thanks to their strong pass rush and lengthy secondary. Welcoming back Xavier Woods at safety, the Cowboys are getting even better in the back end against the Seahawks, allowing Richard to throw even more looks at Seattle with his front seven.
Starting wide receiver Doug Baldwin and guard Ethan Pocic will both miss this game for the Seahawks.
With an offense still trying to find its footing though, Richard' profound impact on the Cowboys staff has extended past the defensive side of the ball this week. Perhaps the most criticized Cowboys coach this season, Offensive Coordiator Scott Linehan has sat down with Richard to study the Seahawks defense - coordinated by Richard against the Cowboys specifically.
Scott Linehan and Kris Richard have been spending a good chunk of time together this week dissecting Seattle's approach. Richard obviously knows Seahawks well. Linehan said Richard has great recall, taking him through each play of teams' previous games.
At 1-1, the Cowboys are still looking to put a complete game on the field and prove they deserve to sit atop the NFC East. The defense being their strongest unit through an ugly loss in Carolina and grind-it-out win against the Giants, Linehan's offense creating some explosive plays against the Seahawks could be all the Cowboys need to exit CenturyLink field as winners on Sunday.
Since Linehan officially took over as the Cowboys OC, he is 0-2 against Seahawks defenses coordinated by Richard. When Kris left Seattle, it was believed that he got out at the right time, with the Seahawks defense declining in talent ever since 2015 (his first year as DC).
The NFL's top scoring defense in 2015, the Seahawks were a full point per game worse in 2016, and nearly 2.5 points worse than that in 2017. So far this season, the Seahawks have allowed 27 points to Case Keenum's Broncos and 24 to the Mitch Trubisky lead Chicago Bears.
The Cowboys biggest problem against Richard's defenses had been finishing drives, something they improved on against the Giants last week. Both Cowboys losses coming at home, the Seahawks kept Dallas out of the end zone in both week eight of 2015 and week 17 a year ago.
Last year's loss to the Seahawks should still sting those at The Star who saw a desperate push for the playoffs hit a wall against Seattle's defense - holding the Cowboys to 282 yards in Ezekiel Elliott's return from suspension.
Not having to rely solely on motivation for revenge while sitting back and trusting Elliott to carry them, Richard could be the key to the Cowboys passing game finding some rhythm. After all, his official title beyond "offseason steal" is Passing Game Coordinator - a position occupied previously by Linehan himself back in 2014.
With a win, similarly to 2014 when the Cowboys came out of Seattle victorious, Dallas would go a long way in earning respect around the league.
This goes for both the offense, where the Cowboys will remain a work in progress regardless of result, and on defense where Dallas can expect Maliek Collins (knee) and David Irving (suspension) to return in the coming weeks.
Kris Richard's focus has been on bettering the Cowboys since they added him to the organization with a clear path up the ranks. Just how far Richard ascends, and how quickly, will depend on the Cowboys performance - expecting to be more than ready for the challenge ahead this week thanks to the coach responsible for building the "Legion of Boom".
The Cowboys kickoff in Seattle being FOX's game of the week, this team has never been one to back away from the spotlight, and winning under it with Richard on the sideline would give the Cowboys all the momentum they need returning home for week four.
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