The starters for the Dallas Cowboys are unlikely to see any playing time in the fourth and final preseason game, which means the 2017 season is nearly upon us. I thought it would be a great time to share with all of you how I would shape the Cowboys final 53-man roster, but that doesn't necessarily mean the coaching staff will do the same.
There are numerous suspensions and possible suspensions that need to be taken into account, which makes predicting the 53-man roster all the more difficult. Since some of the players haven't been officially suspended, and may not, I decided to add them to the roster. But, things can change in a hurry.
Continue to reading below to see my prediction for the Dallas Cowboys 53-man roster. Please feel free to express what you would do differently, because I know some of you will certainly disagree with me.
Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush
For me, this is an easy decision to make. I'm not sure the Cowboys coaching staff will make the same decision to carry just two QBs on the active roster for the 2017 season, but that's the way I'm going.
Dak Prescott is the unquestionable leader of this team now and will likely be even better than he was last year. I decided to go with Cooper Rush as the QB2, because he has without a doubt looked better than Kellen Moore.
Rush would unlikely make it through waivers if cut, but the same can't be said about Moore. I don't see any team interested in signing Moore and once he makes it through waivers, the Cowboys can re-sign him to their practice squad. This is the best case scenario for everyone involved.
Running Back (4)
Darren McFadden, Alfred Morris, Rod Smith, Keith Smith
Ezekiel Elliott of course still has a chance to start the 2017 season, but with his availability up in the air, I'm keeping McFadden, Morris, and Rod Smith as the RBs. I think the Cowboys can survive with out Elliott for a few games, but hopefully #21 is somehow available to suit up for the entire season.
McFadden will likely carry the heavier workload, but Morris looks to be running with a renewed energy and burst. I imagine the coaching staff will ride the hot hand. Rod Smith on the other hand will be a core special-teams player and emergency backup. He likely won't see very many touches on offense.
Keith Smith has proven to be a valuable asset not only at fullback, but on special teams as well. It looks as if he could have an expanded role in 2017 and be utilized more in the passing game, maybe even get a carrier or two here and there.
Wide Receiver (6)
Dez Bryant, Cole Beasley, Terrance Williams, Ryan Switzer, Brice Butler, Noah Brown
It will be interesting to see the if Dallas Cowboys go with 5 or 6 WRs on the roster, but if it was up to me I'm going a little deep here. I believe there are only four who are guaranteed a roster spot right now, largely due to the fact they are really the only ones who have played in the preseason.
Ryan Switzer has yet to suit up in the preseason, but he is likely guaranteed a roster spot as well due to his role as a punt/kick returner and the fact he filled in earlier while Cole Beasley nursed a hamstring injury. Noah Brown is the real wildcard, but since I don't think he will make it through waivers, I will give him the sixth WR spot.
Brown has been used on several special-teams units in the preseason and has done an exceptional job of blocking down in the box. He has also shown up in the passing game, but still needs time to fine-tune his skill set.
Tight End (3)
Jason Witten, James Hanna, Geoff Swaim
It may come to a shock to you, but I don't think the Dallas Cowboys carry more than three TEs on the active roster to start the 2017 season. Jason Witten, James Hanna, and Geoff Swaim have locked down the spots in my opinion, which means they have more depth there than they did a season ago.
You may be wondering what they do with Rico Gathers? I personally believe he will start the season on injured reserve. He has been dealing with a concussion for the past several weeks and placing him on IR could be the best for all parties involved. It would give him more time to get over his concussion/develop and the Cowboys could then add him to the active roster later in the year as one is their designated players to return from IR if needed.
Zack Martin, Jonathan Cooper, Chaz Green
The only sure thing at the offensive guard position for the Dallas Cowboys is that Zack Martin will be starting on the right side. The left side is still completely up in the air, but as things stand right now, Jonathan Cooper is probably the favorite to start the 2017 season.
Chaz Green still can't manage to stay healthy and it's unfortunate because he is probably the better option at LG. Green simply can't be relied upon, but he will likely be the backup LG and possibly the swing tackle as well. Hopefully he can overcome the injury bug, because the talent is there.
Tyron Smith, La'el Collins, Emmett Cleary
Tyron Smith and La'el Collins will start as the bookends on the Cowboys offensive line to start the season, but there is a little concern about both players. Collins is still developing as a RT, but has performed well so far. Smith on the other hand has already had back issues this off-season and that caused him to miss a few games last season.
I decided to keep Emmett Cleary on the active roster mostly due to the fact that he may have to be the swing tackle this season because Chaz Green can't stay healthy. Cleary will likely be inactive most weeks as long as Green can stay healthy, but provides insurance if injuries were to occur. The Cowboys of course may look for options outside of the organization, but who knows if they could find an upgrade.
Travis Frederick, Joe Looney
You may not know this, but Travis Frederick has an Ironman streak going for himself. He has started every possible game since being drafted by the Cowboys and hopefully that streak continues. I believe he is the anchor for this talented offensive line, as well as their heart and soul.
Joe Looney is the backup G/C, but a player no one wants to see on the field at all in 2017. That means everybody remains healthy and he is just on the roster as an insurance policy. That's nothing against Looney, because he is an adequate fill in. We would just prefer if he remains a backup.
Defensive End (6)
DeMarcus Lawrence, Tyrone Crawford, Benson Mayowa, Charles Tapper, Taco Charlton, Lenny Jones
The Dallas Cowboys may have gotten younger and more athletic at defensive end, but I'm just not sure if they upgraded the position during the off-season yet. It will be interesting to see who gets the start against the New York Giants in Week 1, but one thing is for sure, they will all get their chance to prove themselves.
There are concerns at the position though. Lawrence and Tapper both have had back issues and Crawford has troubled remaining healthy as well. Charlton has the size and athleticism to be a factor, but rookie pass rushers seldom excel in their first year in the NFL.
I decided to go a little longer at this position and keep Lenny Jones on the active roster to start the season because of suspensions. But, I'm sure the Cowboys will be paying close attention to roster cuts to try to find an upgrade.
Defensive Tackle (4)
Maliek Collins, Cedric Thornton, Stephen Paea, Lewis Neal
The only surprise here to make the final 53-man roster might be Lewis Neal. Collins, Thornton, and Paea are all proven veterans and should get plenty of playing time throughout the season. I expect Collins to have a big 2017 season and I have high hopes for Paea.
Neal is a little undersized, but has proven to be disruptive so far in preseason and practices. Right now, I think he is the favorite to back up Collins at the 3-technique, but his time on the roster could be short-lived until David Irving returns from his suspension.
This is another position the Cowboys could be looking for an upgrade once roster cuts happen, but they could decide to stick with Lewis Neal until suspensions are completed. That would put Irving and Tyrone Crawford back in the mix at DT.
Sean Lee, Damien Wilson, Justin Durant, Mark Nzeocha, Jaylon Smith, Kyle Wilber, (player TBD)
The linebacker position has suddenly become a real concern for the Dallas Cowboys. Right now, Sean Lee is the only LB the Cowboys can rely on to start the 2017 season. Damien Wilson is facing a possible suspension and Justin Durant hasn't really practiced or played so far this off-season. But, it's Anthony Hitchens injury that has really hampered the LB position.
I don't think Jaylon Smith is ready to open up the season at MLB, but the Cowboys might not have a choice. Durant might get the nod to start at MLB, but that also depends on Wilson's availability. I expect the Cowboys to really look hard at LB options outside the organization, hopefully finding a proven veteran who might be a salary cap casualty. Of course, a trade is another option to find a starting caliber LB as well.
Nolan Carroll, Orlando Scandrick, Anthony Brown, Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, Marquez White
As things stand right now, Nolan Carroll has yet to be suspended by the NFL, which means he could be available to start the 2017 season. I think Carroll, Scandrick, and Brown will be the starters when the season gets underway, which shouldn't be all that surprising considering their rookie CBs have been battling injuries.
Awuzie looked capable enough to become a starter earlier in the preseason, but the Cowboys have been cautious with him to ensure he is ready when the season gets underway. Lewis on the other hand hasn't really been able to get on the field much, so the coaching staff will have to wait and see what kind of role he will have. White on the other hand has had moments in preseason and practices. He is worth keeping around if nothing more than an insurance policy.
Byron Jones, Jeff Heath, Xavier Woods, Kavon Frazier
Like it or not, Byron Jones and Jeff Heath are going to be the starting safeties for the Dallas Cowboys in 2017. Byron Jones is vastly underrated, but I expect him to have a breakout season this year. I also believe Jeff Heath is underrated, but I think he will prove that he is just as capable of starting as the departed Barry Church.
Although Xavier Woods was bitten by the injury bug, I think he more than proved he is capable of contributing in several ways as a rookie. He can play both safety positions or in the slot. His versatility could prove to be invaluable throughout the season. Frazier on the other hand will more than likely be a core special-teams player, but has the capability of filling in as a strong safety.
Special Teams (3)
Dan Bailey, Chris Jones, L.P. Ladouceur
There is nothing surprising about these three players. All three could be chiseled in stone. This is probably the only position that the Cowboys coaching staff are completely comfortable with.
Do you agree or disagree with this 2017 Cowboys roster prediction?
#WASvsDAL: Why This Game Holds Increased Importance
It feels incredibly cliche to call the week 7 match-up between the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins a "must win." Especially for someone like me who values statistics, logic, and analytics in sports.
But when the analytics agree with the narratives, those narratives do tend to get my attention. And this week that would appear to be the case.
According to Brian Burke of ESPN, the Cowboys's week 7 game has the highest playoff probability leverage in the entire NFC, and is second to only the Houston Texans' big game with Jacksonville around the entire league.
Playoff leverage for week 7. DAL, WAS, PHI, CAR, MIN, CHI with a lot on the line in the NFC. HOU, CIN, and JAX in the AFC.
What does this mean? Well playoff probability leverage is pretty intuitive. Basically it is the difference between a win this week and a loss this week in terms of probability to make the playoffs.
For the Cowboys that number is at 27%, with a win over Washington catapulting their playoff probability over 50%. On the other hand, a loss would take a big hit to their playoff hopes just 7 games into the NFL season.
As you might expect, this game means a lot to the Redskins' playoff probability as well. Their playoff leverage this week is at 14%, but a win would mean "more" to Dallas than Washington based on the probabilities.
Fellow NFC East foe, the Philadelphia Eagles, also have a lot to gain/lose this Sunday, with their leverage sitting at 22%. According to Burke's model, the Eagles and Cowboys have the best chances of making the playoffs at this point, but if each team wins Sunday the Eagles will still have a higher percentage.
Of course a lot can and will change week to week, despite what the metrics say. The Cowboys still have two games remaining with the NFC East favorite Eagles this year, and will get another crack at Washington at home later in the season. Plus the Cowboys have a few NFC wild card and playoff contenders remaining on their schedule, such as the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons. (Yes, the 2-4 Falcons are very much alive in this crazy conference).
Still, the difference between 4-3 (2-0 in the division) and 3-4 (1-1 in the division) is huge, as is shown by Brian Burke's playoff probability leverage metric.
Cowboys WR Tavon Austin Skipping Surgery, May Return in 2018
A groin injury sustained last week against Jacksonville won't send Tavon Austin to injured reserve, at least for now. The Dallas Cowboys receiver has elected to forego surgery at this time, giving him a chance to return to action in 2018.
There was concern that Austin could land on IR initially following the Jaguars game, but he sought a second opinion this week. It appears that this new information was enough for Tavon and the Cowboys to decide that surgery can wait.
Sounds like WR Tavon Austin will not have surgery at this time after getting a second opinion on his groin injury. He could miss a few weeks, however. #cowboyswire
Austin should miss this Sunday's game with the Washington Redskins. He has been the team's punt returner this season and a useful tool on offense, playing mostly receiver but also lining up the backfield at times.
Despite his limited opportunities, Tavon is tied with Cole Beasley for the team lead with two receiving touchdowns in 2018.
How long Austin will remain out is unknown at this time. After the Washington game, Dallas will have their bye week and then host the Tennessee Titans on Monday Night Football.
Both of these are games that the Cowboys, feeling good after a blowout victory over Jacksonville, should be able to win without Austin. But they would certainly like him back for the Week 10 road game with the Philadelphia Eagles.
In Tavon's absence, Cole Beasley will likely field punts. We may see more of Deonte Thompson in the speed routes that Austin ran on offense, though Dallas could also finally see what recently returned Brice Butler has to offer.
With an expiring contract this year, Tavon will likely want to get back soon and trying to improve his stock for the 2019 offseason. Hopefully, he can still have a positive impact on his value and the Cowboys season in the weeks ahead.
Terrance Williams: Details, Impact of 3-Game Suspension
Terrance Williams was already missing games on injured reserve, but now the Dallas Cowboys receivers is going to lose some money as well. Williams was finally hit with a three-game suspension by the NFL, starting immediately, for his public intoxication arrest last May.
Dallas placed Terrance on IR in Week 5 just a day before their game against the Houston Texans. Williams had been struggling with a foot issue since the offseason, which included a surgery that he hadn't fully recovered from.
Many were surprised that Williams wasn't suspended to start the season, given that his arrest occurred several months prior. But when charges were eventually dropped after Terrance took part in some required alcohol education courses, it appeared the league might be letting the issue go.
However, as Cowboys fans know all too well, Roger Goodell's NFL operates its own judicial system.
In Williams' case, the suspension will only result in lost game checks. Players still get paid when on IR, but Terrance will lose that amount of his $3.5 million base salary.
Because he can serve the suspension while injured, Terrance will still be eligible to be recalled from injured reserve in December after sitting the mandatory weeks.
The real issue for Williams now is how this event, and his general fall from grace in the Cowboys offense, will affect him in the next offseason.
Terrance is in just the second season of a four-year, $17 million contract he signed in 2017. If he's released after this year, Dallas would save $2.25 million of his scheduled $4.75 million cap hit in 2019.
Williams' cap hit isn't the issue by itself. That would be a bargain for a significant contributor in your offense, even if he was just the third receiver.
But Terrance appears to have fallen well below that spot on the depth chart. Cole Beasley, Allen Hurns, and Michael Gallup are the top three receivers these days, and veteran Deonte Thompson has also been getting looks. Dallas also brought back Brice Butler a few weeks ago, though he hasn't really been worked in yet.
Not only that, but the Cowboys will have the option to recall Noah Brown from IR in just a few more weeks. He was one of their more intriguing young prospects prior to getting hurt.
Dallas could let Terrance come back next year to compete, hopefully with full health and less personal baggage. But after six seasons, they may be ready to move on to players with more room to grow.
For now, though, Terrance Williams is out of action and out some money. We'll see what the future holds.
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