Last Saturday it was reported that Fullback Jamize Olawale is opting out of the 2020 season under the NFL’s COVID-19 policy. While it’s natural to wonder what this means for the Cowboys’ other fullback and other connected positions like RB and TE, Olawale’s absence could trickle down to many other spots on the roster.
While technically listed among the Cowboys starters, Olawale only played on about 10.5% of the offensive snaps in 2019. As you likely already know, the FB position has been greatly marginalized in the modern NFL. While still key in short-yardage and goal-line situations, FB appearances in the general offense are becoming a rare sight.
It was only natural that when Olawale’s absence was confirmed the first thought went to Sewo Olonilua, the only other FB listed on Dallas’ roster right now. He certainly has a better shot at making the team now than he did a week ago.
There’s also been discussion around other ways the Cowboys can cover Jamize’s offensive duties. A tight end could potentially line up in the backfield to block, or perhaps Ezekiel Elliott could even do it occasionally. A stout WR like Noah Brown might be useful in an H-back role.
Last year Olawale also served as Dallas’ emergency #3 running back, so his absence could work out for a player like Darius Anderson or Rico Dowdle. As long as the blocking duties are covered, one of these undrafted rookie RBs should now have an easier path to the roster.
Finding fill-ins for those offensive roles is the easy part. The bigger task is replacing Jamize Olawale on special teams, where he played on about 63% of the snaps (2nd on the team) and was one of Dallas’ key contributors in 2019.
This is where his departure could end up creating a roster spot on the Cowboys’ defense.
Replacing Olawale on special teams units could still come from an offensive position. We’ve seen RBs like Rod Smith and Phillip Tanner be key special teamers. It’s also where guys like Noah Brown and Ventell Bryant could make the team at receiver, or perhaps prompt Dallas to keep a fourth tight end.
But that special teams need could easily lead to Dallas keeping an extra linebacker, cornerback, or safety as well. In fact, we’ve seen a few times through the years where the Cowboys converted a LB to the fullback role. That was Keith Smith, Olawale’s predecessor, who was also a special teams standout.
Right now Dallas appears likely to keep six linebackers in 2020 and five of them should be locked in: Leighton Vander Esch, Jaylon Smith, Sean Lee, Joe Thomas, and Luke Gifford. The current projection has veteran Justin March and UDFA Francis Bernard battling it out for the last spot, and special teams value is sure to play heavily into that decision.
But with Olawale now gone, could special teams usage allow Dallas to keep both?
Again, we’re talking about a bigger role in the overall picture of the team than fullback. Olawale appeared on 277 special teams snaps last year; more than double his 118 snaps on offense.
Special teams need could also allow Dallas to keep an extra cornerback or safety instead of an offensive player. It could be a big thing for C.J. Goodwin, who was the Cowboys’ best special teams player in 2019 but was looking shaky for a roster spot with the heavy number of CBs going into training camp.
The point here is that while it’s easy to look to at Jamize Olawale’s as an opportunity for Sewo Olonilua or some other fullback candidate, his true value was in a special teams role. That means his roster spot could really go just about anywhere, perhaps giving a defensive player a better opportunity at making the team in 2020.