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.
Dallas Cowboys 2019 Job Security Rankings: Offense
When the Dallas Cowboys start training camp in July, there will be various feelings of job security throughout the 90-man roster. Throughout the NFL, players know when they're already locked in to a role on the team or when they're fighting for survival.
Today, we're going to look at how secure the Cowboys' players should feel in 2019. This not only applies to if they make the final roster, but also their position as a starter, roleplayer, or developmental prospect.
We'll start with the offense.
Tier 1 - The Untouchables
There are no foreseeable issues that could change where these 10 players fit into the 2019 offense. Barring injury or some surprise trade, such as Dallas moving La'el Collins, we know exactly where these guys will fall if they're here and healthy.
Prescott, Elliott, and Cooper are no-brainers, as are your five starting offensive linemen. I also included Fleming as he was clearly brought back to be the swing tackle this season. That could all change in 2020, but for this year at least his role is certain.
You may be surprised to see any fullback in this top tier, but the Cowboys gave Olawale a three-year contract to return this offseason. They made $2.8 million of it guaranteed; you just don't do that if you have any doubts about keeping him on the 53. There's no question that Jamize will be part of the team in 2019.
Some might argue that Connor Williams' starting spot isn't guaranteed, but I just don't see it. They lived the rookie growing pains last year and are hoping for much more going forward. A mid-season switch could occur if he struggles, but Williams will be the Week One starter at left guard.
Tier 2 - Slightly Touchable
WR Michael Gallup, WR Randall Cobb, G/C Joe Looney
I almost put Gallup in the first tier but "sophomore slumps" are a real thing. Until we see him building on last year as hoped, there is room for something to go awry.
That also brings Cobb's role into question. Any slippage in Gallup's game could lead to increased opportunities for the veteran. Really, even if both guys are bringing it in 2019, how exactly the targets and usage get split between them isn't entirely certain. If Cobb is back to his peak form in Green Bay, he will be hard to take off the field.
I also put Joe Looney in this second tier because I think he could be trade bait. If a team is hurting at center before Week One, is there a more attractive trade target in the NFL?
Dallas could afford to trade Looney if they feel good enough about Connor McGovern as a backup center. Adam Redmond could also be in the mix, serving as the backup last year when Looney was starting.
It's very unlikely that Dallas would give up one of the best backup offensive lineman in football. But if a team is desperate enough to dangle a third-round pick in front of them, the Cowboys might have an offer they can't refuse.
Tier 3 - On the Team, But Where?
RB Tony Pollard, TE Jason Witten, TE Blake Jarwin, TE Dalton Schultz, OL Connor McGovern
This tier is dominated by the mysterious tight end position. How much playing time will Jason Witten really get? How have Jarwin and Schultz developed and how will it all shake out?
Witten should be the ceremonial starter, but what really matters are total snaps and targets. Even if Jason is the first man out on game days, Jarwin could still wind up being the most-used TE of the group. It all remains to be seen.
We are also expecting a lot from rookie RB Tony Pollard this year, but we don't know yet how much responsibility he'll be given. Will he be the true backup RB or more of a gadget player? Will he take the KR and PR jobs aways from Jourdan Lewis and Tavon Austin? Lots to still be determined here.
Another rookie with question marks is third-round pick Connor McGovern. Will he be given a significant job right away or be carried, perhaps with several game day inactives, for development towards 2020? It's doubtful that he could push Joe Looney out of a job, but will he show enough that Dallas is willing to part with Xavier Su'a-Filo?
Tier 4 - Bubble Players
QB Cooper Rush, QB Mike White, RB Mike Weber, RB Darius Jackson, WR Tavon Austin, WR Allen Hurns, WR Noah Brown, WR Cedrick Wilson, TE Rico Gathers, G Xavier Su'a-Filo, OT Mitch Hyatt
In the top three tiers we've named 18 players who are locks to make the 53-man roster. You generally have 24-25 player on each side of the ball, so that means only 6-7 roster spots left on offense. That means some of the guys named here won't make the team.
Will Cooper Rush and Mike White both have jobs? If Rush remains the backup QB, Dallas will probably hang on to White for another year. But if White beats Rush, the Cowboys could easily let Cooper go to save a roster spot for another position.
Assuming Dallas doesn't add any veteran RBs between now and camp, it seems Darius Jackson and Mike Weber are competing for the same job. There's also a chance that neither makes it; the Cowboys could use Jamize Olawale as the emergency third back. They may be happy to stash with Jackson or Weber on the practice squad.
Things get really interesting at receiver once you get past the top three. Do veterans Allen Hurns and Tavon Austin's experience edge lift them above guys like Noah Brown and Cedrick Wilson? Or will Dallas choose the upside of youth and their cheaper contracts? The bottom half of the WR depth chart appears entirely open right now.
The Rico Gathers Experiment seems close to ending, but he's still here and has a chance to change perceptions. The one-game suspension won't matter if the Cowboys like what he has to offer the rest of the season. But keeping a fourth TE could be tough with the numbers at other spots, and Gathers is unlikely to leap above Jarwin or Schultz.
Numbers are also an issue for the offensive linemen. We know the top eight; five starters, Fleming, Looney, and McGovern. If the Cowboys keep nine guys, they may go with Mitch Hyatt as an additional tackle rather than bring Xavier Su'a-Filo back. They already have the interior line covered.
Tier 5 - Longshots
We'll all have our "pet cats" and favorite underdogs over the next two months, but they will all be hard-pressed to make the roster given the current depth.
Maybe a guy like RB Jordan Chunn shocks us by beating out Weber and Jackson, or perhaps a dark horse WR like Jalen Guyton or Jon'Vea Johnson forces his way into the conversation. Crazier things have happened.
But this 2019 Cowboys roster is about as stacked and predictable as it's been in a long time. Strong drafting has give us a lot of young talent with years left on their rookie deals, and those guys are hard to budge.
The key for these players is to be too good to risk losing on the practice squad. Convince Dallas to make room for them, perhaps by keeping just two quarterbacks or going short somewhere else.
Because only 46 guys are active on game days, roster spots 47-53 can be dedicated to securing players and development. These young prospects want to force their way into those spots, and likely cost a veteran like Cooper Rush or Allen Hurns a job in the process.
~ ~ ~
Where players fall in these tiers could change once we start getting some reports form training camp. How expendable you are can shift depending on performance, or if the circumstances change at your position.
We'll hit the defense tomorrow.
Bold Prediction: Tony Pollard has Rookie Season Similar to Alvin Kamara
The Dallas Cowboys drafted over half a dozen players this year in the 2019 NFL Draft, but the only name we have really been hearing anything about is rookie Running Back/Wide Receiver Tony Pollard. Cowboys Nation is really intrigued with the former Memphis Tiger, so today I thought I'd take a look at what he could potentially do with the Cowboys in his rookie season.
The first thing we have to try and figure out is what kind of role Tony Pollard will have with the Dallas Cowboys this season. Will he just be used to give Ezekiel Elliott a breather from time to time, or will he be expected to form a 1-2 punch with Zeke? An argument can be made for either of these two scenarios.
If you were to ask me my honest opinion though, I believe Tony Pollard will be more of a sidekick to Ezekiel Elliott in 2019 rather than someone who spells him when needed. Pollard has the skill set and versatility to become a really good complement for Zeke, and that's the way I believe the Dallas Cowboys will utilize him as a rookie.
If you're looking for more of a visual, look no further than how the New Orleans Saints used Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara these past few seasons. On their own, Ingram and Kamara are above average RBs in the NFL, but when in the lineup together they form an impressive duo that puts opposing defenses at a disadvantage. That's what I envision for Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard with the Dallas Cowboys.
If that's not a bold enough prediction for you, I'll take this a step further. I wouldn't be surprised if Tony Pollard has a rookie season similar to Alvin Kamara's first year in the NFL in 2017.
As a rookie, Alvin Kamara had 120 rushing attempts for 728 yards and 8 touchdowns. He also accumulated 81 receptions for 826 receiving yards and 5 TDs. That production earned him Offensive Rookie of the Year.
It's probably a bit of a stretch to predict Tony Pollard have that kind of production with the Dallas Cowboys, especially considering the heavy workload they've put on Ezekiel Elliott's shoulders these past few years. But, I really don't think Kamara's rookie stats are that far off.
I think it's reasonable to believe Pollard will have between 88, double of Rod Smith's carries in 2018, and 100 rushing attempts this year. He should also haul in around 40 receptions in the passing game as well. Overall, I think he will have around 800 total yards, 500 rushing and 300 receiving, and 5-8 touchdowns.
Would you take the over or under on those numbers?
I don't know where you stand, but I truly believe Tony Pollard can help the Dallas Cowboys, and most importantly Ezekiel Elliott as a rookie this year. He should be a playmaker as both a runner and receiver on offense, and that's not even mentioning what he can do in the return game. It's easy to forget he was one of the best kick returners at the collegiate level.
You may not believe me, but I think Tony Pollard will have a pretty impressive rookie season with the Dallas Cowboys this year. Whether or not it measures up to Alvin Kamara's though is yet to be seen.
What are you expecting from Tony Pollard in his rookie season?
Cowboys Twitter Tuesday: Answering Defensive Back Questions
Each week I’ll collect your questions from Twitter as well as any questions left in the comment section and attempt to condense a few into a common theme.
Last week, we talked about the 53-man roster. In particular the wide receiver group and one player who contributed to the 2018 squad, that may not make the 2019 team out of training camp.
Today, I want to tackle a couple of defensive back questions, as right now, that’s arguably the biggest question mark for the Dallas Cowboys heading into the 2019 season.
@john9williams Is Jeff Heath really as bad as everyone thinks?
It was a rough 2018 for Safety Jeff Heath. According to Pro Football Focus, Heath finished second in the NFL in missed tackles with 19. While a glaring issue for a player who you rely on to be a sure tackler and a reliable player, there are several stand out safeties that also finished in the top 10 in missed tackles, per PFF. Jessie Bates III, Derwin James, Landon Collins, and Malcolm Jenkins all finished inside the top 10 in missed tackles.
For Heath, though, were too many times where Jeff Heath had the ball carrier in his grasps and allowed himself to get carried or miss the tackle completely, because he was attempting to strip the football. And was rarely successful.
Dallas Cowboys Defensive Backs Coach Kris Richard made an interesting point in favor of Heath when he talked about the Cowboys winning 10 games and made the playoffs with Heath as the starting safety.
Heath stays under a microscope because he’s always been one of the whipping boys for Cowboys Nation.
The Dallas Cowboys had several opportunities to upgrade the box safety or strong safety role in team but passed at every turn. Instead they brought in George Iloka on a veteran minimum contract to be depth at free and strong safety. They also drafted Donovan Wilson in 2019 to provide some special teams play and potentially compete for the starting strong safety spot.
The moves the Dallas Cowboys made would seem to indicate they have a high comfort level with Jeff Heath as the other starting safety next to Xavier Woods. For a team that has had few misses in recent years, how they’ve approached the safety position this offseason speaks volumes.
@john9williams Is @ChidobeAwuzie going to be challenged for the #2 spot at CB and by who?
Head Coach Jason Garrett loves to create competition for his football team. Generally, the only players that find theme selves as unquestioned starters are the quarterback and veterans with a track record of production.
Chidobe Awuzie is one of the players I’m most intrigued to watch this season because of the way he played last year.
Statistically, Awuzie has a rough season in 2018, but if you watch him closely, there were few times that he wasn’t in excellent position to defend the pass. He just wasn’t able to make a play on the ball to prevent the reception. He struggled in the first half of the season and was getting picked on, but if you’ll recall, he had a really good second half of the season.
I really like Awuzie’s game. He’s got good athleticism and is able to play the ball in the air. He’s a physical player and is willing to play the run. I think he’s a player that is primed for a breakout season. Remember he was limited for much of his rookie season because of injury, so 2018 was his first full training camp and season. After getting beat a lot in the first half of the season, he settled in during the second half.
The player that could challenge Awuzie at left corner back is Jourdan Lewis. Lewis has sticky coverage skills and by all reports has been the best defensive back in the OTA and minicamp practices. Much had been made about Lewis’ body not fitting Kris Richard’s prototype for a corner back, but Richard has talked glowingly about Lewis this offseason.
With Byron Jones our nursing a hip injury, Lewis could very well start the season at right corner, but if he continues to play well and Awuzie struggles, you could see Lewis take over on the left side.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
What do you make of this year’s defensive back group? Do you think Jourdan Lewis could wind up as a weak one starter?
If you’ve got any Cowboys questions, make sure you leave them in the comment section.
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