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The final 53: Potential might just outweigh experience

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Cowboys Blog - The final 53: Potential might just outweigh experience

Fresh off of watching some hard to watch preseason action in week 4, it's time to make some really tough decisions for the final cuts. From my last 53 there aren't too many changes, though.

I reiterate my disclaimer: The Cowboys will look hard at the waiver wire following Saturday’s final cut and there may be some guys who make it simply for their Special Teams value, regardless of offensive or defensive potential. With both Orlando Scandrick and Jakar Hamilton now serving 4 game suspensions to start the season, this does give the Cowboys a little flexibility to table a few difficult decision for a month from now.

 

Offense:

Quarterback: Tony Romo, Brandon Weeden, Dustin Vaughan

Vaughan is the first guy I suspect the Cowboys will use one of the above-mentioned extra spots on. As stated previously, the Cowboys are just one bad hit away from diving in the scrap-heap for someone to back up Weeden; it makes sense that the Cowboys keep an insurance policy.

Wide Receiver: Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Dwayne Harris, Devin Street, LaRon Byrd

Jamar Newsome has earned consideration here, but Byrd – in my view – has won the 6th spot, should the Cowboys decide to keep 6.

Tight End: Jason Witten, Gavin Escobar, James Hanna

Nothing new at TE…yet. This is another position the Cowboys will watch on the waiver wire for a  good blocker.

Running Back: DeMarco Murray, Lance Dunbar, Ryan Williams, Joseph Randle

Ryan is the DeMarco Murray backup and potential starter for 2015, should the Cowboys be unable to retain Murray’s services following this season. Lance Dunbar will remain the change-of-pace back. Randle is an excellent Special Teams contributor.

Full Back: none / waiver wire

The Cowboys would really like to have a Full Back, however, given the difficult decisions elsewhere on the team, this is not a luxury the final 53 can afford.

Tackle: Tyron Smith, Doug Free, Jermey Parnell

Guard: Zack Martin, Mackenzy Bernadeau, Ronald Leary, Uche Nwaneri

Center: Travis Frederick

I have been saying for weeks that if the Cowboys keep more than 8 offensive lineman, Wetzel and Weems are battling for that last position. Neither did themselves any favors in the 4th preseason game. I’m standing pat from my last 53.

Defense:

Defensive End: DeMarcus Lawrence, George Selvie, Anthony Spencer, Jeremy Mincey, Tyrone Crawford, Kenneth Boatright, Caesar Rayford

Once again, the Cowboys may very well add a player before they face the 49ers. For now, Rayford makes the team based on the injury situation; otherwise, he would be on the outside looking in. That being said, it is very possible for him to be a late cut next week if the Cowboys find someone else following the NFL-wide final cuts.

Defensive Tackle: Henry Melton, Terrell McClain, Davon Coleman, Zach Minter

For several weeks now I have suspected that the Cowboys would keep Hayden based on his experience. Given how poorly this unit has performed, at this point, I wouldn't be surprised if the Cowboys decided to roll the dice on youth across the board, defensively.

Based on what we have seen, the Cowboys defense is going to struggle regardless of who makes the final 53; therefore, on my final edition of the Cowboys season-opening roster, potential beats experience. Dartwan Bush is one to watch, however, I believe he is a guy the Cowboys will have a better chance of sliding to the practice squad without incident.

Linebackers: Rolando McClain, Justin Durant, Bruce Carter, Anthony Hitchens, Kyle Wilber, Cameron Lawrence

Lawrence is a new addition to my 53 due to word that Special Teams coach Rich Bisaccia has selected Lawrence and one other player as contributors he cannot do without. Otherwise, no further changes necessary; this is one of the easier groups to discern in terms of who makes the team.

Cornerbacks: Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne, Terrance Mitchell, Sterling Moore, Tyler Patmon

Mitchell is on very thin ice. The amount of penalties this young man has garnered would likely land him on the street were it not for the impending Scandrick suspension. The late addition of Jemea Thomas from the Patriots is interesting, considering he was a player the Cowboys reportedly liked in the draft.

Nevertheless, given the necessity for players who know the system now, I find it difficult to believe that he was brought in for anything more than a quick look and the potential of moving him to the Practice Squad.

Safety: Barry Church, J.J. Wilcox, Ahmad Dixon, Jeff Heath

Heath is the other player Bisaccia selected as a key Special Teams contributor, so he is safe.

Special Teams:

Kicker: Dan Bailey

Punter: Chris Jones

Long Snapper: L.P. Ladouceur

Bailey and Ladouceur are still locks. Jones is clearly safe, as well, and I would add that he showed improvement as he progressed through preseason. Nonetheless, I still suspect the Cowboys will continue their search to improve the punter position next offseason.



I am 35, married and a father of 2 boys. I have been a Cowboys fan since Jimmy Johnson took over; not because I had anything against Tom Landry, but because it just so happens I was old enough to start following and understanding football right as that new era began. Since then, I haven't missed games if I could help it.

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2018 Draft Class Season Review: LB Leighton Vander Esch

Kevin Brady

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Leighton Vander Esch Lands on List of NFL's Top 10 Rookies

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.5 Studs and Duds From the Dallas Cowboys 2018 Season

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.



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What Is The Cowboys Most Pressing Offseason Need?

Kevin Brady

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Can we Believe General Manager Jerry Jones?

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.



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3 Things We Learned About The Dallas Cowboys In 2018

Kevin Brady

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Sean's Scout: Starting Front 7 Sets Tone Early, Cowboys Depth Falters in Loss to Bengals 1
AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth

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.



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