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.