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'll begin with players #41-50. The rest of list will be unveiled daily throughout the week. By all means, use the comments section to chime in and tell me why I'm an idiot for not giving your favorite player more credit.
50. Alfred Morris, RB
This may seem low for a player with Morris' name recognition, but it's indicative of where I feel he is right now with the Cowboys. In fact, I highly doubt that he's even on the team in 2017.
After failing to impress as the backup running back last year, Morris lost the job to Darren McFadden immediately when DMC was activated from the Non-Football Injury list. He wasn't heard from again until the meaningless Week 17 game.
With Dallas re-signing McFadden this offseason, Morris will be fighting off younger players for the number-three spot. Rod Smith is expected to compete, providing additional value on special teams and as a backup fullback. Undrafted rookie Jahad Thomas offers a skill set similar to the departed Lance Dunbar and could find work.
Still just 28-years-old, Morris could be of interest to other NFL teams. Dallas may look to trade him before final cuts. Regardless of how it happens, I do not expect Alfred to be a Cowboy this season. They save $1.6 million in cap space if he's not on the 2017 roster.
49. Kavon Frazier, S
One of the team's four draft picks from the sixth round of the 2016 Draft, Frazier didn't get much playing time in his rookie season. He only dress for nine games and was almost never seen on defense, getting mostly special teams work when active.
The exits of Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox seemed to open the door for Frazier to have a larger role in 2017, but competition soon arrived with the signing of veteran Robert Blanton and the drafting of Xavier Woods. Dallas was reportedly high on Woods, having a mid-round grade on him. However, Stephen Jones once said the same about Frazier.
Having a year in the Cowboys system already, Kavon should have an advantage over Blanton and Woods. He should at least make the team this year, but where he is on the depth chart remains to be seen.
48. Rod Smith, RB
After making the 53-man roster initially to compete for the fullback job, Rod eventually lost out to Keith Smith and was reduced to a special teams role. He was released after seven games and finished the year on the practice squad.
Smith returns to the Cowboys and the halfback position in 2017. He is an intriguing physical prospect at 6'3" and over 230 pounds but still having some quickness and receiving skills. ESPN's Todd Archer recently reported that Rod was getting more work in recent summer practices than veteran Alfred Morris, but that may have just been due to Morris' age and status.
As already mentioned, I think Rod Smith makes the team as the third RB over Morris. He offers more value with the different roles he can play and more upside as a younger player.
47. Lucky Whitehead, WR
With the drafting of Ryan Switzer last April, the writing seems to be on the wall for Whitehead. However, as Ric Flair has so often reminded us, "To be the man, you've gotta' beat the man."
Fighting for his job with the Cowboys this summer, Lucky should be highly motivated. Dallas isn't just going to hand everything to Switzer; the rookie still has to take them from Whitehead. And it's not like Lucky, who is just 25 and entering his third year, isn't also learning new things in the early stage of his career.
We've seen Whitehead used on offense in specific packages and his occasional spark in the return game. There's no questioning his athletic ability, but he will need to stay on the coaches' good side during training camp. He was benched for a game last season for being late to a team meeting.
46. Rico Gathers, TE
The intrigue is swirling around this basketball-turned-football player, but Rico is still the low man on the TE depth chart. He will need to have a big camp and preseason and to move past James Hanna or Geoff Swaim.
At 6'8", Gathers is a natural matchup problem for any defense. If he's picked up enough technique to use the physical gifts, Rico can be a unique weapon for the Cowboys offense. He will get every opportunity to prove himself, but the transition from Baylor basketball to Cowboys Football may be more than just one year can accomplish.
Dallas was willing to let Gathers sit on the practice squad last season, making him open to other team to sign away. Given that, it's possible that the hype around Gathers isn't quite the same within the organization. They're certainly intrigued, but he may not be as close to a roster spot as many fans assume.
45. Ryan Switzer, WR
As we discussed with Lucky Whitehead, Switzer has arrived with a lot of expectations already for a fourth-round pick. Many have penciled him in as the primary return specialist and expect him to take offensive touches away from Lucky Whitehead and perhaps even Brice Butler.
In 2006, Dallas spent a fourth-round pick on a smaller return specialist named Skyler Green out of LSU. Green didn't have quite the same hype as Swizter coming in, but he went from a mid-round pick to not even making the Week One roster.
I bring Green up just to try to help everyone stay a little balanced here. Switzer has a lot of people excited, and rightly so, but the leap from college to the NFL is a tough one. Ryan should certainly make the team and perhaps have a strong impact for a rookie, but nothing is guaranteed.
44. Byron Bell, OL
Signed to a minimal one-year deal last March, Bell brings 72 career starts and position flexibility to the Cowboys offensive line. While currently projected as a backup, his tremendous experience edge over teammates could help Bell compete for the open starting job at left guard.
Bell has played both guard and tackle for the Panthers and Titans. He is coming off a major lower-leg injury last summer that cost him all of 2016. Still just 28, Bell is in prime age for an offensive lineman and has reportedly hit his weight incentives so far in his new Cowboys contract.
Even with his solid resume, making the roster won't be easy for Bell. He's up against a lot of competition with Jonathan Cooper, Chaz Green, Emmett Cleary, and Joe Looney all vying for positions along the offensive line. Experience will help, but it will need to show up in his performance for Bell to have a shot.
43. Kyle Wilber, LB
Now entering his sixth year with the Cowboys, Wilber is a trusted veteran in a fairly young group of linebackers. Only he and Sean Lee have played more than three seasons. While never flashy, Wilber is a solid depth option who also plays on special teams.
The youth movement could be a problem for Wilber in 2017. Along with Lee, Jaylon Smith and either Anthony Hitchens or Damien Wilson should take up the starting spots. One of Wilson or Hitchens will then be a primary backup, either capable of playing the SAM position that Wilber is suited for.
If younger guys like Mark Nzeocha and John Lotulelei also show up this year, Dallas might lean on upside and let Wilber go. They can save about $1.25 million in cap space if he's released.
42. Stephen Paea, DT
With Terrell McClain leaving in free agency, Rod Marinelli brought in one of his former Bears players in Paea. The veteran powerhouse will compete to play the one-tech role on the defensive line and be a big part of Marinelli's rotation.
While he shouldn't have trouble making the roster, Paea will have to fight for playing time. Expectations are high for second-year stud Maliek Collins. Veterans Tyrone Crawford and Cedric Thornton are also in the DT mix. The primary battle will be between Paea and Thornton; Dallas signed Thornton for a larger role last year but he got beat by McClain in the offseason.
There is no question that certain packages and schemes will get Stephen Paea on the field in 2017. How often, though, will depend on how the next two months go.
41. Brice Butler, WR
Many were surprised when Dallas re-signed Butler in free agency. Getting just a one-year deal for a little over $1 million, it is a "prove it" year for the 27-year-old receiver. Opportunities may be tough to come by, though, as Brice will have new competition in the Cowboys offense.
We've already talked about Ryan Switzer and his expectations. Also in the conversation are rookie Noah Brown and second-year prospect Andy Jones. If these young guys have good camps and preseasons, it's very possible that Butler will not make final cuts. He only got $300k in guaranteed money from Dallas, making him an easy cut and little more than an insurance policy.
That said, Butler has the talent to rise above the pack. He may get more chances to be a vertical threat if Dak Prescott's playbook gets opened up more. With plenty of options for the short and mid-range passing attack, Dallas may be able to make better use of Butler than last season if Dak gets more aggressive.
WR Randall Cobb Named Cowboys “Surprise Standout” for Offseason
NFL teams have wrapped up their offseason activities with the close of OTAs, especially where the players are concerned, and await the start of training camps next month. In reviewing the last few months, ESPN had their local reporters each pick a surprise standout from their team's practices. Todd Archer, who covers the Dallas Cowboys full time, selected veteran receiver Randall Cobb.
Cobb is in his first season with Dallas after signing as a free agent last March. He's spent the last eight years with the Green Bay Packers and was a Pro Bowler in 2014, but has struggled with injuries the last few seasons.
Here were Archer's observations on how Randall is doing so far with the Cowboys:
Normally a player with Cobb's résumé -- 470 catches for 5,524 yards and 41 touchdowns during his career -- would not be considered for a category like this. But injuries limited him to only nine games and 38 catches for Green Bay in 2018, and it was hard to know what the Cowboys were getting in the veteran receiver.
If the offseason work is any indication, they have found a replacement for Cole Beasley. Cobb's versatility can expand the offense for others, such as Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup. Cobb looked quick in and out of his breaks and fast enough to make plays down the field. Will he put up the 1,287 yards he had in 2014? No, but he gives Dak Prescott a security blanket in the slot who can turn a small gain into a big one.
The notion of Cobb replacing Beasley is a big one. While we'd like to think that Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup will provide plenty of firepower for the Cowboys offense, Dak Prescott has enjoyed a reliable threat from the slot position since he arrived.
Randall Cobb, when healthy, can do more than just make clutch catches. He has good run-after-catch skills and perhaps bring more big play potential than Beasley did.
If Cooper and Gallup do emerge as a dangerous starting duo on the outside, Cobb should have even more opportunities to punish defenses than Beasley did.
If nothing else, it's very encouraging to hear that one of the Cowboys' few 2019 free agent moves is already reaping benefits. Cobb still needs to bring it over a full season to really justify the move, but these early reports are cause for excitement.
BREAKING: Cowboys TE Rico Gathers Receives One-Game Suspension
Tight End Rico Gathers already had an uphill climb to return to the Dallas Cowboys' 53-man roster in 2019. But that climb just got even steeper; the NFL handed down a one-game suspension to Gathers today for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy.
If he does make the team this year, with Dallas or anyone else, Rico will have to sit out Week One of the season without pay.
Cowboys TE Rico Gathers is suspended without pay for the first game of the 2019 regular season for violating the NFL's policy and program on substances of abuse. This is from his arrest in 2018 for marijuana possession.
Gathers' chances of returning in 2019 were already hurt by Jason Witten's reversed retirement. He dropped to fourth on the TE depth chart behind Witten, Blake Jarwin, and Dalton Schultz, and Dallas only kept three tight ends last year.
The Cowboys also added Codey McElroy as a developmental player during the offseason.
While the suspension is news, the incident that led to it is not. Dallas already knew about the arrest, which occurred in early September of 2018, and have kept Gathers around up until now.
The NFL's substance abuse system is pretty formulaic, so the Cowboys likely anticipated this suspension all along. This may not change anything about how they value Rico Gathers for the 2019 season.
Nevertheless, a player who can't help you in Week One and is a liability for ever longer suspensions down the road is definitely a red flag against Gathers' job security.
Antwaun Woods: Cowboys DT is Just Getting Started
Antwaun Woods went undrafted in 2016 coming out of USC. After two years with the Tennessee Titans, he would only see one game of action. In May of 2018, the Cowboys signed Woods to a two-year contract worth 1.05 million. Probably seen as nothing more than a practice squad guy, Woods would quickly show he was much more than that.
The newly acquired Woods started his climb to stardom in Oxnard during training camp, and not for making plays. One day during practice he got into a friendly game of fisticuffs with All-Pro Center Travis Frederick. The team even posted the video on social media, which had fans buzzing and wanting to know who he was.
All-Pro Running Back Ezekiel Elliott echoed those thoughts when he saw Woods during camp. "Honestly, when we first got him, we were like, 'Who is this guy?'. He was giving Travis Frederick, one of our best players, hell all camp. Just trying to figure out where this guy came from," Elliott said.
Once the regular season started it was clear the Cowboys had found a hidden gem. Although the sack numbers won't dazzle you, seeing as he only registered 1.5, you could forget about running the ball anywhere near him. Woods has amazing quickness for a 300 pounder which allows him to extend his arms before offensive lineman can get a hand on him.
How significant is that? It becomes that much easier to bull rush and blow running plays up in the backfield.
When you can get your hands on an offensive lineman immediately when the ball is snapped, he's basically under your control. You can move him around like a puppet on a string. Essential for a 1-technique nose tackle. With that being said, there should be no surprise the Cowboys finished fifth against the run in 2018 with Woods manning the middle.
Woods draws a lot of double teams, and he handles them well. Having the ability to take on multiple linemen frees up your other playmakers. As the anchor in the middle, Woods made life a lot easier for not only his fellow defensive linemen but the team's two young star Linebackers Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch. Allowing them to roam freely like Lions in the Serengeti makes running backs essentially Zebra's carrying the ball, cooked food. So much so that both tallied over 120 tackles and were the only teammates in the NFL to rank in the top 15 in that category.
There's nothing but upside with Antwaun Woods. He's only had 18 games of experience in three years. He's already a stud, but with limited snaps, it can only mean he'll be even more formidable going forward.
The Cowboys have a loaded defensive lineman group with around 15 bodies, plenty of competition. All signs point to him remaining the starter, but it's not guaranteed. Even with that being said I don't expect a complacency from Woods, especially with DeMarcus Lawrence and Robert Quinn looking like the only sure starters on the defensive line. Plus this is a contract year for him, so you know he'll be even more motivated as he tries to maximize his dollars. We've only seen the tip of the iceberg from this raw talent, setting up for a potential breakout year for him in 2019.
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