After cutting Cody Mandell and trading Ben Bass to the Patriots for Justin Green, Paul has updated his first preseason projected 53 man roster. Check out his picks for the defensive line. And in case you've missed it, this series of staff projections is a weekly deal during the preseason, so check out the other staff projections out already: Mike Harlos, Jonathan Day, Christopher Mak.
Defense (28 players)
Safety - 4
To me, Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox are the only locks of this unit. Jakar Hamilton has seemed to impress the coaching staff and guys like Bryan Broaddus all off-season, so I think he makes it but he’s been hurt. Maybe Dallas tries to sneak him on the PS to start the year. This could be where the Scandrick deal really bites them in the ass. Jeff Heath provides depth and gained a lot of experience by being thrown to the wolves last year. Also a solid special teams member. Ahmad Dixon is kind of my pet cat. Brings a ton of attitude to defense and special teams, which is badly needed.
Cornerback - 6
With the four-game suspension for Scandrick, I think the Cowboys are forced to keep six corners. I think it’s too early to give up Webb at this point, but man does he ever need to get it rolling. I believe that last spot comes down to Webb, Tyler Patmon, and the newly acquired Justin Green.
Outside Linebacker – 4
Again, pretty simple to me. Carter, Holloman, and Wilber are all locks. And Will Smith is a 6th round pick that will help enough on special teams to stick. Wilber will also be used a lot as a nickel rusher, so kind of a two-for-one deal.
Inside Linebacker – 3
All locks. The biggest question is who wins the starting role. According to camp reports both McClain and Durant are off to hot starts. One of those two guys will not be here next year so this will be an excellent year for Hitchens to relax and learn from Sean Lee while getting in on special teams action. Camp reports also have him looking good at OLB.
Defensive Line - 11
Henry Melton DT
Nick Hayden DT
Terrell McClain DT
Davon Coleman DT
DeMarcus Lawrence DE
George Selvie DE
Jeremy Mincey DE
Tyrone Crawford DE/DT
Ken Boatright DE
Ken Bishop DT
Anthony Spencer DE
11 D-lineman is a big number but I’ll try to explain.
Defensive Tackles: Of course Melton is a lock. And say what you want about the Golden Cock Nick Hayden, but the coaching staff loves him. Terrell McClain provides too much depth and position flex to let go. If you aren’t familiar with Davon Coleman then you need to be. I think we have our next UDFA future super star here.
Defensive End: Originally I had Spencer starting the season on PUP. But recent reports seem to show that the Cowboys front office think he will be ready to roll by week 2 at the latest. The plan for the d-line is to attack in waves, which is the reason for keeping so many guys. I decided to keep Boatright over Ben Gardner simply because I think Gardner could slip through to the practice squad considering his injury, and that we haven’t seen him play at all.
Offense (25 Players)
Quarterback – 2
I seriously considered keeping Caleb Hanie as a 3rd QB simply because of the uncertainty of Romo’s back. But I just couldn’t justify cutting from another position group.
Running Back/Full Back – 4
Murray and Dunbar are the only locks. And boy is it going to be fun to watch the battle between Ryan Williams and Joseph Randle. I just can’t possibly see them keeping 4. I could see them trading Williams much like they did Donte Rosario last year after the 53 was finalized. Neither of the FBs on the roster have really impressed but Clutts, by all accounts, has been the better of the two.
Again, pretty simple. One of the young UDFAs would have to come on strong to steal a roster spot because all five of the WRs listed are locks. They will have to force them to keep six. Keep an eye on Chris Boyd for that.
Tight End – 3
Because that’s all we’ve got. Literally. None of the other TEs stand a chance. If they keep four, it’s going to be a blocking TE from another team’s cuts.
Pretty solid group right there. Fantastic mix of youth and experience that could be one of the best units in the NFL.
Special Teams – 3
Dan MFN Baily K
LP French Canadian Daddy LS
Chris Jones P
No surprises here. These are the guys and I have zero issues with it.
Practice Squad – 8
Jamar Newsome WR, Chris Boyd WR, Ronald Patrick G, Ben Gardner DE, Dartwan Bush DT, Will Smith LB, and Tyler Patmon CB.
2018 Draft Class Season Review: LB Leighton Vander Esch
As the first round draft pick of America's Team, any player would be under a ton of pressure from all angles. Whether it's from the fans on the outside or the organization on the inside, the expectations around being a first round pick for the Cowboys are immense. But the pressure placed upon linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, from the second he was announced as the 19th overall draft pick, was second to none.
It felt like Cowboys Nation let out a collective groan when Vander Esch was taken, with fans hoping for a more glamorous first round selection. Someone like wide receiver Calvin Ridley or edge rusher Harold Landry would've done the trick, but after Vander Esch's rookie season it's hard to imagine either of those players would have had the impact Vander Esch did in 2018.
Though he didn't start a game until week 4, and didn't become the unquestioned full-time starting WILL until week 10, Vander Esch earned Pro Bowl honors for his rookie season. Tallying 140 total tackles and 2 interceptions, Vander Esch made his presence felt week in and week out.
No counting stats can fully measure Leighton Vander Esch's impact as a rookie, however.
Prior to the 2018 season, the Cowboys defensive success often came down to the health of Sean Lee. When available and playing at his best, Lee led an overachieving Cowboys defense to solid performances each week. But, when Lee went out (as he often did), the entire Cowboys defense seemed to fall apart.
This year, though, that all changed. When Sean Lee was out with injury the Cowboys defense got better. Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith became a versatile, hard hitting tandem the NFL immediately feared, and helped to direct the Cowboys defense to signature wins throughout the 2018 season.
There are arguments against taking any off-ball linebacker in the first round, as the value of the position has been questioned due to the new style of offense in the NFL. Nowadays linebackers are relegated to two-down players, taken off the field in favor of faster defensive backs on critical passing downs.
Leighton Vander Esch is athletic enough to be both an old school run stopper, but also a three down linebacker in today's fast paced NFL.
Despite the doubts which surrounded the pick, the Cowboys absolutely nailed their first round selection in 2018. And Leighton Vander Esch made Dallas' front office look like geniuses each and every Sunday.
What Is The Cowboys Most Pressing Offseason Need?
Finishing their season with a Division Round loss, Dallas Cowboys fans are getting a somewhat late start on the 2019 offseason. Of course, we'd much rather a later start, but the results are what they are.
Now Dallas must get better, and re-tool before heading into Dak Prescott's fourth season, and the Cowboys' 2019 campaign. Though they didn't feel all that close to a championship this season, looking around the roster, it's actually tough to identify one key need the Cowboys must address.
They are filled with young, talented players that they have high hopes for across the board. And in the places they are "older," such as across the offensive line, they have established veterans who aren't going anywhere anytime soon.
So what is the Cowboys' most pressing offseason need?
Well, despite already using their 2019 first round pick to address it, the answer very well might be wide receiver.
Adding Amari Cooper midseason provided a massive jolt to the Cowboys previously anemic passing attack, but on his own he is not enough to take this passing game to where it needs to be to compete in this new NFL.
Third round pick Michael Gallup is going to be a very good pro, and progressed really well as his rookie season went on. I think he can play opposite Amari Cooper nicely, and be the number two option in the passing game going forward.
Though arguably their best wide out against man coverage, Cole Beasley is a free agent, and if the reports are true about Scott Linehan returning in 2019 it could very well mean Beasley will not be opting to sign back with Dallas.
Regardless of Beasley's decision, however, the Cowboys need to seriously evaluate their pass catchers heading into next season.
This is a passing league. The rules have dictated that you must be able to pass the ball efficiently if you want to compete with the best of the best around the NFL. To take the next step in their progression, and reach an NFC title game and/or Super Bowl, Dak Prescott will need to have as explosive a group of pass catchers as possible.
The Cowboys have already taken solid steps to making this a reality, but another move or two this offseason could go a long way to putting Dallas in the conversation with teams like the Rams and the Saints in 2019.
3 Things We Learned About The Dallas Cowboys In 2018
Coming into the 2018 season, loads of questions surrounded the Dallas Cowboys and the future of their roster.
Could their defense stay intact when the annual Sean Lee injury occurred? Was Kris Richard going to lead the Cowboys young secondary to places we thought they could be? And would Dak Prescott earn a contact extension and become the official franchise quarterback of America's Team.
Of course, there are tons of other questions that may have gone unanswered, but these three critical areas seem to find clarity in 2018.
Leighton Vander Esch And Jaylon Smith Are Legit
The Dallas Cowboys caught a lot of flack for their selection both of these linebackers, each for different reasons.
When they snagged Jaylon Smith in the second round of the 2016 draft, it was still unknown to the public if Smith could ever even play football again. When they took Leighton Vander Esch 19th overall last April, fans questioned how valuable an off-ball linebacker would be on a defense that already had Sean Lee.
Well, after their first full season together, it's easy to say that both Vander Esch and Smith are the linebacker options of the future in Dallas. Named to the Pro Bowl during his rookie season, Vander Esch took the world by storm in 2018. When Lee went down, he was there to not only fill his shoes, but to outplay the veteran all year long.
What is fun to consider is that as good as Vander Esch was this season, Jaylon Smith might be even better. Both posses insane sideline to sideline pursuit ability, and are some of the surest tacklers in all of football.
Watching these two grow together will be a pleasure over the coming seasons.
Their Young Secondary Is Coming Together
Like their linebackers, the Dallas Cowboys secondary is a young group, who fans are excited to watch grow throughout the years. It seemed like more pressure sat on the shoulders of young cornerbacks Byron Jones and Chidobe Awuzie than of Smith and Vander Esch, however.
With Kris Richard joining the staff and making the decision to move Jones to cornerback full time, it was do-or-die for the former first round pick. Byron Jones answered all the doubters, earning not only a Pro Bowl selection but also First Team All Pro honors for his performance.
Opposite him, Awuzie had a rough start to his sophomore campaign. While typically right there in coverage, wide outs too often made contested catches over him. Over the final few weeks of the year, however, that changed and Awuzie played some of the best football yet.
Xavier Woods, Anthony Brown, and Jourdan Lewis (in much fewer snaps) all had fantastic seasons as well, giving the Cowboys great hope and confidence in their secondary moving forward. They may need to add another safety during the offseason, however, though Jeff Heath remains more than just a viable option.
Dak Prescott Is Here To Stay
Whether or not you think it's justified, Dak Prescott is the quarterback of the future in Dallas. And he earned that right the back-half of 2018 and during the postseason. After a shaky start to his 3rd season, Prescott turned things around nicely, leading the Cowboys to a 7-1 finish to the regular season.
Prescott played the best football of his young career down the stretch, and showed just how valuable he is both on the field and in the locker room. It seemed like every game he made 2-3 winning plays that put the Cowboys over the top that afternoon.
Dak is going to get a contract extension, and will be locked in as a Cowboy for the foreseeable future, and with the way he played the final 10 games of his season, I can't second guess this decision much at all.
Star Blog1 week ago
Should Tavon Austin’s Role Get Expanded Against His Former Team?
Dallas Cowboys1 week ago
Texas Forever? Kris Richard Appears Closer to Staying with Cowboys
Dallas Cowboys19 hours ago
5 Potential Candidates Cowboys Could Target to Replace OC Scott Linehan
Dallas Cowboys3 days ago
Cowboys Getting Over $30 Million Cap Space from Expiring Dead Money
Dallas Cowboys5 days ago
What’s Next for Cowboys Coaching Staff After Divisional Round Loss?
Dallas Cowboys1 week ago
It’s Time To Stop Doubting the Dallas Cowboys
Player News2 weeks ago
Allen Hurns Injury: Status, 2019 Prospects, Teammate Reactions
Dallas Cowboys4 days ago
Cowboys Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan Will Return in 2019