This is part two of the way-too-early roster projections for the Dallas Cowboys, and it continues today with an analysis of the tight ends and offensive line. Check out part one here.
Previously we discussed quarterbacks, running backs, and wide receivers.
Those three positions counted 11 towards the 53 count total to begin the season.
How will the rest of the offense shake out? Let's dive in.
Tight Ends (3)
With the Cowboys letting Dalton Schultz walk in free agency (since signed by the Houston Texans) after a year under the franchise tag, second year man Jake Ferguson has been thrust into the starting role.
The term “starting” is relative for an offense that loves to run out of 12 personnel (one running back and two tight ends).
When in single tight end sets, Ferguson will be on the field as the primary option for Week 1.
How long that lasts depends on the development of the next player on the list…
Taken with the 58th overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, Luke Schoonmaker is projected by many to step in as the first string tight end right away.
I don't believe that is feasible.
Tight end is one of the positions in the NFL that takes a little longer for rookies to understand the nuances of the game.
It's possible that Schoonmaker can take over the “lead” role from Ferguson by mid-season, but we will have to wait to see it happen.
I reluctantly place the second year player as the final piece of the tight end trio for the 2023 roster.
Peyton Hendershot is considered to be the purest receiving threat out of the three, possessing the skillset to basically be another wide receiver when he is on the field.
He needs to step up his game if that skillset is to be utilized.
His 11 receptions for 103 yards and 2 touchdowns while suiting up for 17 games isn't going to be enough to make an impact.
It wouldn't surprise me if the Cowboys elect to make him inactive in favor of Sean McKeon at some point in the season depending on the matchup.
Just outside of the bubble: Sean McKeon
Offensive Line (8)
Zack Martin is entering his 10th season as starting right guard for Dallas.
He has been the most consistent lineman on the Cowboys' offensive line, holding his right guard spot since his rookie season.
Father Time is undefeated, and surely “The President” will start to slow down soon. However, regardless of age he continues to perform at an All-Pro level.
Let us all hope 2023 is not the year his play starts to decline, as there is no one currently on the roster that can come off of the bench to replicate his dominance.
Taken in the 4th round of the 2020 NFL Draft, Tyler Biadasz entered the league with unrealistic expectations.
Coming out of the University of Wisconsin, Biadasz was unfairly expected to seamlessly fill the shoes of the previous center taken by the Cowboys from Wisconsin, Travis Frederick.
It was a rocky start for the young player, but he has brushed off the criticism to become the anchor of the offensive line in front of Dak Prescott.
He was even able to block his way into his first Pro Bowl in 2022.
His performance in his contract year of 2023 will determine whether or not Dallas retains him with a contract extension, or if they look elsewhere at center in 2024.
The second Tyler on the starting offensive line is not in a contract year, but instead is entering his second season.
Tyler Smith lived up to his 1st round selection of the 2022 NFL Draft by performing above expectation at left tackle in the wake of Tyron Smith's injury.
Upon Tyron's return, Tyler bumped back inside to left guard where he had spent the entire training camp, and continued to perform well.
His starting position for 2023 is still up in the air, pending the health of Terence Steele.
The only thing we are sure of is that he is a left side player, and will remain there for the upcoming season.
The undrafted free agent from Texas Tech University has made incredible strides since arriving to Dallas in 2020.
Hard work and dedication has paid off for Terence Steele in the form of a starting right tackle position for the most recognized franchise in all of sports.
Unfortunately for him, Steele did not finish the 2022 season healthy after suffering a torn ACL in a Week 14 game vs the Houston Texans.
If healthy by Week 1 of 2023, expect Steele to resume his duties as the starting right tackle despite comments made by the Joneses that he could possibly fill in at left guard.
I mentioned above how time is undefeated. If Zack Martin is nearly there, then consider Tyron Smith over the hill.
2023 marks the 13th season for the former #9 overall pick from USC.
Smith has not played a season injury free since 2015, and there isn't any evidence to think that streak will be broken this upcoming season.
When healthy, Smith is arguably still one of the top three tackles in the NFL.
“When healthy” being the key statement there.
Upon his return from injury in 2022, the former Trojan was relegated to swing tackle duty until the Steele injury forced him to play right tackle.
A position he had not played since his rookie season in 2011, and it showed.
Should Steele not be ready to return Week 1, Smith will likely slide back into the starting lineup at right tackle.
Outside of that scenario, Tyron should have no other role besides backup left tackle where he is more comfortable, and mentor to Tyler Smith.
A 7th round pick for the Cowboys in 2021, Matt Farniok is a utility lineman with the position flex that Dallas covets.
Farniok has the versatility to play at any of the three positions on the interior of the offensive line.
With virtually no competition for the left guard spot aside from newly acquired journeyman Chuma Edoga, I suspect Farniok will be in the starting lineup when the season starts.
If a newer solution at left guard arises between now and then, Farniok will still make the team as one of the top reserve linemen on the bench.
Matt Waletzko was taken in the 5th round of the 2022 NFL Draft, and impressed coaches from the start of training camp.
He suited up for three regular season games before being placed on Injured Reserve with a subluxation of his shoulder.
He has since had surgery to have it mended, and should be ready to go for Week 1.
The Cowboys' coaching staff liked what they saw from Waletzko in a small sample, and I believe they will give him every chance to compete with Tyron Smith for the starting right tackle spot should Steele not be ready for Week 1.
I award the final roster spot for offensive lineman to the rookie 4th round pick, Asim Richards.
This one may take many by surprise, but my logic is simple.
Richards played offensive tackle in college, but many scouts believe he would make a better guard in the NFL.
Dallas recently signed veteran Guard Chuma Edoga prior to the draft to cover their bases, but I don't believe his services will be needed.
With Farniok able to play in any of the interior positions, I believe Dallas feels safe choosing the youth and upside of Richards over what they already know they're getting in Edoga.
Just outside of the bubble: Chuma Edoga