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Pre-NFL Draft 53-Man Roster: Where are the Holes?

The NFL Draft is coming and there is still a lot of work the Dallas Cowboys need to do to fill out the roster ahead of the 2018 NFL season. Yes, I know it’s a bit early, but I want to take a look at the 53-man roster and figure out where the holes on the depth chart are, which might give us an indication of where the Cowboys may go in the draft.

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Dallas Cowboys WR Allen Hurns (Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports)

Offense (23)

Quarterback (2)

✭ Dak Prescott
✭ Cooper Rush

This should not be a surprise. The Dallas Cowboys felt confident enough in this tandem to release and move Kellen Moore to the practice squad last season. Dak Prescott is the QB1 on this team, of that there is no doubt. What is pretty impressive is the growth Cooper Rush has accomplished in such a short time. From a UDFA to QB3 to the primary backup in less than a year.

You don’t hear a lot of rumblings about the Cowboys adding another quarterback. They didn’t do it in free agency and you haven’t heard much about drafting one during the process.

Now, they still have time before training camp to add a veteran name, if they want to, but it seems more likely they will add another UDFA or two from this year’s rookie crop as camp arms and to compete with Rush.

Running Back (3)

✭ Ezekiel Elliott
✭ Rod Smith
✭ Jamize Olawale (FB)

There is room here for the Dallas Cowboys to draft a runner in the middle to late rounds, or to pick up a veteran or UDFA after the draft. They won’t go into the season with just these three, and a name that I like in the middle rounds is Nyheim Hines out of NC State.

He’s a smaller, quicker back who can catch the ball and serve as a “change of pace” option to Ezekiel Elliott and Rod Smith. Hines ran for more than 1,100 yards and 12 touchdowns in his final season with the Wolfpack.

Wide Receiver (6)

✭ Allen Hurns
✭ Cole Beasley
✭ Terrance Williams
✭ Ryan Switzer
✭ Deonte Thompson
✭ Noah Brown

I really didn’t think there was any way the Cowboys would release Dez Bryant. There’s been a lot said on that, and I don’t care to get too deep into it here, but Dallas could use a youthful addition to the WR depth chart. Wide receiver now becomes a priority for the Dallas Cowboys in the top 100 of the NFL draft.

Terrance Williams’ contract and current injury situation doesn’t allow for much movement there. Cole Beasley would have the easiest contract to move on from, but he is a Dak-friendly receiver, so I doubt they’d move on from him.

While these are the six guys they have right now, they’ll add a top-100 pick and one or two of these guys will be off the roster — and perhaps on the practice squad — come week one.

Tight End (4)

✭ Jason Witten
✭ James Hanna
✭ Geoff Swaim
✭ Rico Gathers

To me, this is the make or break season for Rico Gathers. If he can’t earn a roster spot in 2018, it’s time to move on.

James Hanna is still a candidate to be cut if the team needs to free up some cap space. The team likes him for his blocking prowess, but they also like Swaim as well.

Blake Jarwin is a dark-horse candidate to compete for a roster spot, but if he wins one, it likely means Hanna is gone and that Gathers didn’t make the roster again.

I’d really like to see them take a Dallas Goedert or Mark Andrews if they’re available in the third round, but I get that with the current group of tight ends, they may feel they can be a bit more patient in finding the heir to Jason Witten’s throne.

Offensive Line (8)

✭ Tyron Smith
✭ Travis Frederick
✭ Zack Martin
✭ La’el Collins
✭ Cameron Fleming
✭ Joe Looney
✭ Chaz Green
✭ Marcus Martin

The biggest question mark on the offense is at left guard on the offensive line. I would really like to see La’el Collins get another year at tackle to see if that could be his spot long-term before moving him back to guard again.

The Cowboys will tip their hand a bit during the draft as far as what they’re going to do with La’el Collins. If they draft a guard in the first couple of rounds, then we know Collins is staying at tackle. If they don’t, then it might mean a move for Collins back to guard.

Cameron Fleming was a really nice signing. He started the last five games of the season for the New England Patriots and their three playoff games. That definitely counts for something. If the team feels like he could be the full-time right tackle then we might see them move Collins back to guard this season. If they keep Collins at tackle, then Fleming provides a much better tackle insurance policy than Chaz Green.

Marcus Martin and Kadeem Edwards, while nice depth with potential, shouldn’t be counted on as anything more than that.

The only name I’m not sure about being on the roster is Chaz Green. He needs a good camp to keep his job.

Oh the intrigue!!!

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Dallas Cowboys DE DeMarcus Lawrence (Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports)

Defense (17)

Defensive Line (5)

✭ DeMarcus Lawrence
✭ David Irving
✭ Maliek Collins
✭ Tyrone Crawford
✭ Taco Charlton

There are other guys currently on the roster who could make the team out of training camp, but the only guys I’m sure of are these five.

Richard Ash, Kony Ealy, Datone Jones, and a few others will be competing for roster spots, but they aren’t names that’ll prevent the Dallas Cowboys front office from investing draft picks to upgrade the position.

As we know by now, 1T defensive tackle is a huge need for this team. They struggled against the run for much of the season and, while Maliek Collins was serviceable, he was playing out of position for much of the year.

Vita Vea is the hot commodity, but this team hasn’t placed a premium on a 1T in as long as I can remember. He would plug in immediately on early downs for the Dallas D. If they didn’t spend a first on him, there are options deeper in the draft to make a move.

I don’t see them going after a top-100 3T because they already have three of those on the roster in David Irving, Collins, and Tyrone Crawford. Anything is possible, but I don’t see them investing a premium pick where they already have three guys who could take meaningful snaps at the position.

Defensive end is still a place where they could upgrade their weakside rusher. At the moment, all their ends are what I like to call “long and strong” guys. Taco Charlton, while still developing, hasn’t shown the burst and bend that is needed to be a formidable EDGE rusher. Tyrone Crawford is solid in his role, but could also be a cap casualty at the end of training camp.

Linebacker (4)

✭ Sean Lee
✭ Jaylon Smith
✭ Damien Wilson
✭ Joe Thomas

There are a couple of guys on the 90-man roster who could break camp with the team, but if I were Will McClay and the front office, I wouldn’t feel great about my primary backups being Joe Thomas, Justin March-Lillard, or Tre’Von Johnson.

Thomas would be fine for a spell but not someone who should be counted on long-term.

The Dallas Cowboys need to attack this position with a couple picks and preferably in the first four rounds. They need guys who could step into a rotational role right away. Barring an unforeseen drop by Roquan Smith to pick 19, they should be targeting guys in rounds two through four.

NaVorro Bowman is still unsigned and would be an excellent addition to this linebacker group. If they haven’t made inquiries yet, they should look into it after the draft. He would be solid insurance at MIKE linebacker if Jaylon Smith still isn’t ready to play.

Cornerback (5)

✭ Byron Jones
✭ Chidobe Awuzie
✭ Jourdan Lewis
✭ Anthony Brown
✭ Marquez White

Dallas could certainly make a late-round selection to add some competition for Marquez White and Duke Thomas — who could push for a roster spot — but the top four guys are set and they aren’t adding a top-100 cornerback.

This group, along with the safeties, is the unit I’m most excited to see in training camp with the addition of former Seattle Seahawks Defensive Coordinator and Defensive Back Guru, Kris Richard.

He gets the best out of his DBs and was instrumental in the rise of the Seattle Seahawks defense.

Safety (3)

✭ Jeff Heath
✭ Kavon Frazier
✭ Xavier Woods

If there’s a place I could see them spending a top-100 pick for the secondary, it’s at safety.

The talent here is solid, but aside from Heath, we still don’t know what we have in Xavier Woods and Kavon Frazier. Even if they don’t go safety early on, they’ll probably draft one at some point.

I really like Xavier Woods’ promise as the ball-hawking free safety we’ve been looking for since Monte Kiffin installed the Tampa-2 scheme. The fact remains, though, that Woods is a second year player from small-school Louisiana Tech and still has some growing to do. He and Heath should rotate the FS snaps during the preseason and season.

Kavon Frazier really came on strong at the end of the season and provided an edge to the secondary that had been missing. He was a physical tackler and supported against the run very well. He will likely get a chance to earn the “box safety” role on early downs with Woods spelling him on passing downs.

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Dallas Cowboys K Dan Bailey (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Special Teams (3)

✭ Dan Bailey
✭ Chris Jones
✭ L.P. Ladouceur

Same story, different year. Other than bringing in a camp leg to spell Dan Bailey during the preseason, the special teams specialists remain the same, and that’s a good thing.

The kicking operation with L.P. Ladouceur snapping, Chris Jones holding, and Bailey kicking keeps a great and solid operation together for another year.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

By my count, that’s 43 roster spots accounted for, though a lot could change, and with the draft looming a lot of the names I listed could be pushed off the roster.

From my depth chart analysis, I’d argue the most pressing needs on the team right now are wide receiver, left guard, linebacker, 1T defensive tackle, safety and EDGE rusher. If they came away with players at each of these positions, then I will call it a successful draft, even if they don’t draft my guys.

Where do you think they need to make additions to the roster?

What do you think?

John Williams

Written by John Williams

Dallas Cowboys optimist bringing factual, reasonable takes to Cowboys Nation and the NFL Community. I wasn't always a Cowboys fan, but I got here as quick as I could.

Make sure you check out the Inside The Cowboys Podcast featuring John Williams and other analysts following America's Team.

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