As training camp begins this week and the Dallas Cowboys begin the process of figuring out who is going to be on their 53-man roster week one. Though the final roster won't be finalized until week one of the regular season, 80% of the roster is locked in for the week one matchup with the Carolina Panthers.
It's a reality in the NFL that most of an NFL roster is set in stone even before they ever report to training camp.
We want to believe that there is competition up and down the roster. While that's true, typically it doesn't impact a player's standing on the roster as much as it does the depth chart.
For example, Dak Prescott is going to be the starting quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys no matter what his preseason and training camp look like.
When I did this exercise a few months ago, I had 42 slots on the 53-man roster already spoken for. I'm at 43 names at the moment. Not many differences from May, but there are a few.
The chart below indicates who I believe has already locked their roster spot down heading to Oxnard, California.
The only difference here is that I've added Cooper Rush as a roster lock. I think I overvalued the idea of Mike White as a draft pick in making Rush potentially expendable in my previous "Roster Lock" piece.
Rush has the confidence of the coaching staff and has the experience edge over White, even if it is only one year. That one year matters to this group of coaches.
Roster construction and injuries could change the dynamic of how many quarterbacks they feel like they can keep, but I'm nearly 100% certain that these three will be on the roster.
In my previous post, I had Tavon Austin listed with the running backs. Since then it's been confirmed by Austin himself as well as people covering the team like Mike Fisher and Bryan Broaddus that he is a WR.
He'll be used in the backfield some, but for all intents and purposes, he's with the WR group.
The training camp battle at running back is between Bo Scarbrough and Darius Jackson.
Special teams play will be the key to this roster decision. It's even possible that the team could opt to run with only two traditional tailbacks on the 53-man roster with Tavon Austin's ability to take a few handoffs per game.
The change here from the previous edition is obviously the move of Tavon Austin to wide receiver. He may be listed by the team as a running back, Austin sees himself as a WR.
And as I've said from the day he was acquired, the Tavon Austin 'web-back' thing is foolish. He considers himself a WR and has mostly been practicing there. Certainly, tho, there is matchup fun to be had by lining him up in backfield WITH Zeke. https://t.co/YGOf9ibop1
The bigger move is the removal of Terrance Williams from the depth chart.
I'm fairly certain that he's on the roster come week one, but allegedly being intoxicated in public and running his Lamborghini into a light pole, his status on the roster could change. There is a chance that a suspension comes for violating the Personal Conduct policy. That's the only thing creating doubt for Williams at this point. If he avoids a suspension, Williams will be on the roster.
Noah Brown and Deonte Thompson are the top candidates to be the sixth wide receiver on the roster, with sixth round rookie draft pick Cedric Wilson and UDFA and practice squad veteran Lance Lenoir as dark horses to make the squad.
I believe that seven spots are already locked down. The starting five of Tyron Smith, Connor Williams, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, and La'el Collins are written in permanent ink on Jason Garrett's depth chart.
Cameron Fleming and Joe Looney are entrenched as the primary backups at tackle and center. This leaves backup guard as the one place where the Dallas Cowboys still have a question.
We know that Looney can play some guard, but other candidates are Chaz Green, 2018 free agent signee Marcus Martin, and Ka'Deem Edwards.
Backup guard will be a competition through camp and most analysts see the Dallas Cowboys only keeping eight offensive lineman, leaving one spot for the three backup guard candidates mentioned.
Even though it's a question, it's much better than having to figure out who is starting at guard.
Randy Gregory isn't officially allowed to practice with the team or take part in the preseason games as Mike Fisher from 105.3 The Fan and 247Sports is reporting he has some conditions he still needs to meet. However, he's on track to be on the roster come week one.
Kony Ealy and Charles Tapper could possibly be the odd men out on the depth chart. With five already looking at a roster spot at defensive end, they will need a strong camp to force the team to keep them on the roster. Ealy has a bit of an inside edge as he can play on the inside in pass rushing situations.
David Irving's suspension means that he won't be on the 53-man roster opening weekend. He will be on the team when he's eligible to return week five, but that's not the exercise we are doing here.
Jihad Ward and Datone Jones are new additions to this chart. Previously it was only David Irving and Maliek Collins, but with the suspension to Irving, I don't see a scenario where Ward and Jones aren't on the week one roster versus Carolina.
They have very little experience on the interior of the defensive line and Datone Jones and Jihad Ward seem to fit the bill of guys who can play 3T and be penetrators on the interior.
No changes here. Love the depth that they have this year after being so weak at the position last year. I've always liked Damien Wilson as a strong side linebacker in a limited role. He's been very good against the run at setting the edge. I like him even better as a player off the bench.
Joe Thomas is a solid multi-positional linebacker who can play the WILL and MIKE positions and will help on special teams.
The lead story will be on Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith, and Leighton Vander Esch. All three have some injury concerns, but if all three are healthy, they will be one of the more dynamic and possibly dominant groups in the NFL.
Nothing has changed amongst the defensive back groups, though as many of us in Cowboys Nation wish, hopefully a splash will be made to bring in a certain All-Pro safety.
Despite Dan Bailey's end of season struggles in 2017, he's the place kicker. I don't expect that trend to continue into preseason or the regular season.
Chris Jones is one of the best punters in the NFL and his ability to run fakes is a very underrated aspect of his game. He's converted fakes each of the last couple seasons at very important times in the season.
He's such a weapon.
L.P. Ladouceur is as perfect as a long snapper as there is in the NFL. There will come a day when he retires, but hopefully that day doesn't come any time soon.
There will be a few changes to the roster, but typically related to injuries. This is the majority of the roster that will be there come Week One.
Who do you think the other nine guys are that will be on the roster when the team suits up week one at the Carolina Panthers?
Dallas Cowboys Pro Bowlers Show Promise for Future
The next class of players to join the Dallas Cowboys may be on the field at Mobile, Alabama this week for the Senior Bowl, but their young core is well represented in front of the Cowboys coaching staff at the Pro Bowl.
With Left Tackle Tyron Smith and Right Guard Zack Martin not participating, the Cowboys have six Pro Bowl participants. The improved health of their offensive line is still one of the best things going for this team in the early part of the offseason, expecting four-time Pro Bowl Center Travis Frederick to rejoin Smith and Martin as soon as OTAs.
A compilation of the best linemen in the NFC will have to do for Quarterback Dak Prescott and Running Back Ezekiel Elliott - making their second Pro Bowl appearance together. It took the addition of Wide Receiver Amari Cooper for the Cowboys offense to find their expected form under Prescott and Elliott in their third season, as Cooper will appear in his fourth Pro Bowl in as many years.
Both times Elliott's made the Pro Bowl, he's done so as the league's rushing champion.
Hardly on track to reach Orlando with the Oakland Raiders, Cooper put up 725 yards and six touchdowns on 53 catches in nine regular season games for the Cowboys. He followed up this resurgent performance with seven catches for 106 yards in the Wild Card Round vs. the Seahawks and six for 65 and a touchdown at the Rams in the Divisional Round.
The Cowboys shouldn't be done adding talent at wide receiver, with Cooper serving as the bold reminder of what Prescott can do with dynamic talent on the outside. Moving on from Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan already this offseason, the next steps towards building the offense around Dak's strengths is yet to be determined.
Meanwhile, their established strengths will be on display, and not just on offense at the Pro Bowl. Making strides as one of the best young defenses in the league this season, Cowboys rookie Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch will be joined by Defensive End DeMarcus Lawrence and Cornerback Byron Jones.
Though its unlikely their coaching will match the intensity of the season, the best thing these three defenders have going for them is more time under Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard. One of Richard's first moves with the Cowboys was moving Jones to cornerback, where he became a first-time Pro Bowler.
Unable to reach his full athletic potential at safety, Jones was the elite corner the Cowboys needed at a position still in need of depth. His length and range should make him a fixture in Richard's secondary for a long time.
Vander Esch becomes the 11th Cowboys rookie to make a Pro Bowl, the third on the defensive side of the ball. Surely the Wolf Hunter will look forward to another week of football, going from eight man HS player to one-year starter at Boise State and finally a Cowboys fixture at linebacker.
The Cowboys did what was thought to be proved impossible this season by fielding a competent defense (mostly) without Sean Lee. Vander Esch and teammate Jaylon Smith deserve the credit here, with Leighton making a larger immediate impact than ever expected as the 19th overall pick.
Last but nowhere near least is DeMarcus Lawrence, much closer to the Cowboys top priority in free agency this offseason than an afterthought at his second Pro Bowl. Putting together consecutive seasons with at least ten sacks, the Cowboys don't have to see anything further from their top pass rusher to do whatever it takes to re-sign him.
The rest of the Cowboys "Hot Boyz" have a lot of potential and promise, but Lawrence is a rare proven commodity at defensive end with 25 sacks in his last 32 games. Rushing the passer in the Pro Bowl is a relatively futile task, but the Cowboys know Lawrence is capable of saving his best plays for the biggest moments. Also a dominant run defender, there simply shouldn't be a reality where the Cowboys are forced to field a defense without Lawrence at left end in 2019 and beyond.
The Cowboys at the Pro Bowl will tell you they'd prefer to be missing the game in preparation for the Super Bowl. Getting within two games of this feat after a 3-5 start is still impressive enough for the Cowboys to feel great about their future, in large part because of the six players representing America's Team this week.
Handing out Hardware for the Dallas Cowboys 2018 Season
The 2018 NFL season for the Dallas Cowboys was literally a roller coaster ride with as many ups and downs as the Texas Giant. Through the first seven games of the season the Cowboys alternated home wins with road losses to get to 3-4. They made as big of a personnel move as they've made in recent years when they traded for Amari Cooper only to all to 3-5 in his debut on Monday Night Football to the Tennessee Titans.
Then the team went on an improbably five game winning streak to put themselves in position to win the NFC East for the third time in five years by mid December. The Cowboys were able to pick up the win in the wild card round over the Seattle Seahawks before being ousted by Todd Gurley, C.J. Anderson, and the Los Angeles -- battering -- Rams' offensive line.
The season always ends with a little disappointment for 31 of the NFL's 32 teams, but this year felt different at the end because of where they were to start the season and after eight games. After the Tennessee game, this team was written off. They were Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant. They stormed back and made the 2018 season a memorable one, even if it didn't end with a sixth Lombardi Trophy.
Let's give out some post season awards to your Dallas Cowboys.
Dak Prescott, Quarterback
Many will scoff at this choice and think it could be Ezekiel Elliott, and I understand, but nobody had a greater impact on the Dallas Cowboys making the playoffs and winning their matchup with the Seattle Seahawks than Dak Prescott did.
Over the final eight games of the season, Dak averaged 278 passing yards per game, 2 total touchdowns, and threw only three interceptions. His numbers down the stretch over a 16 game pace were phenomenal. On 71.6% passing, he was on pace for 4,450 yards, 24 passing touchdowns, eight rushing touchdowns, only six interceptions on the season, with a passer rating of 103.4.
Not to make this about Dak, but I'm going to make this about Dak. 2nd in success rate, 3rd in EPA and EPA/play among playoff QBs. #CowboysNation https://t.co/Evyf73uzJ9
His play in the win over the Seattle Seahawks was instrumental in getting the victory to move on to the divisional round. Though they fell short against the Los Angeles Rams, Dak was able to bring them back from 16 down early in the second half to make it a one score game in the end.
Dak Prescott is still a developing player, and in reality, all players are trying to grow their game. Every season. Prescott is a good quarterback, who is on his way to being great and we saw this season the potential that he has.
He threw for a career high 455 yards against the Eagles and three touchdowns and then threw for 387 yards and four touchdowns against the New York Giants. There's evidence now that Dak can throw the ball, and that should scare teams.
In the playoffs, Prescott stepped up and was a big reason why the Cowboys beat the Seahawks and hung in there against the Rams.
Offensive Player of the Year
Ezekiel Elliott, Running Back
Three years, two rushing titles, and it almost seemed like a "meh" season for Ezekiel Elliott. Sure he had some big games, but only a couple times this season did it feel like Elliott took over the game. Some of that is due to the offensive line injuries and inconsistencies, but some of that may be due to Elliott who saw a much bigger workload than he had in his career to date.
He was much more actively involved in the passing game this season as he more than doubled his previous career high with 77 receptions for 567 yards. Though he won the rushing title, this was the lowest rushing yards per game he's had in his short three-year career. Elliott only scored nine touchdowns this season, which tied with his 2017 total that he accrued in only 10 games.
Elliott struggled some in the red zone because the team struggled in the red zone. Some of those issues related to the offensive line and some because of the play calling, but you'd hope that Elliott would be able to overcome some of that where it mattered most.
Defensive Player of the Year
DeMarcus Lawrence, Defensive End
No player on defense has a bigger impact for the Dallas Cowboys than Defensive End DeMarcus Lawrence. Whether it's in the run game or the passing game, DeMarcus Lawrence is elite in both categories and makes life incredibly difficult on the opposing offense.
On the season he had 10.5 sacks, finishing with double-digit sacks for the second year in a row. While that may not be as impressive as his 2017 total of 14.5, he was doing his thing with much less help along the defensive line. There wasn't another player who flirted with double-digit sacks this season. Though Randy Gregory, Maliek Collins, and Tyrone Crawford performed well, teams gave all of their attention to Lawrence in both the run and pass game.
And he was still amazingly effective.
Lawrence finished fifth among EDGE players -- 4-3 defensive end and 3-4 outside linebackers -- in tackles, fourth in the NFL in Pro Football Focus' "stops" measure with 44, and 15th in total pressures. Pro Football Focus ranked Lawrence as the seventh best EDGE defender, ninth best pass rusher, and the 12th best run defender. J.J. Watt and Khalil Mack were the only other EDGE defenders who ranked in the top 12 as both a pass rusher and run defender per Pro Football Focus.
DeMarcus Lawrence is heading into the offseason looking to get a long-term deal done.
Rookie of the Year
Leighton Vander Esch, Linebacker
While Connor Williams and Michael Gallup had really good starts to their NFL career's no rookie for the Dallas Cowboys was as impressive as 19th overall pick Leighton Vander Esch. He led the Dallas Cowboys in tackles and "stops" and had the second highest grade of any defender as graded by Pro Football Focus.
In tackles, he was second only to future Hall of Fame inductee Luke Keuchly and fellow rookie Darius Leonard. Vander Esch did all this while playing a limited number of snaps as the Dallas Cowboys eased him in at the start of the season and then attempted to find a way to have Vander Esch, Jaylon Smith, and Sean Lee on the field together.
It was an impressive year for the former Boise St. Bronco and the sky is the limit for Vander Esch. He's now played just his second season as a starter in 11-man football. If you remember, he didn't start for Boise St. till the 2017 season and had played 8-man football in high school.
I'm really looking forward to seeing what kind of progression Vander Esch can make to his game in 2019. He's going to be a great player.
Most Improved Player
Jaylon Smith, Linebacker
The 2017 season was not kind to Jaylon Smith. It was his first attempt at playing football since January of 2016 when he tore his ACL in the Fiesta Bowl. It was amazing that he was even playing, though he didn't play considerably well.
2018, however, was a different story.
Jaylon Smith could make a case for team MVP. He may not have had as many tackles as Vander Esch, or as many sacks, but by playmaking defensive EPA, he was nearly as effective at making big plays on defense as DeMarcus Lawrence.
Overall playmaking EPA rank among all NFL defenders: 5. DeMarcus Lawrence 7. Jaylon Smith 58. Leighton Vander Esch
EPA measures the effect a play will have on the score. Not all plays are weighted the same, as some weigh heavier because of down and distance, turnovers, etc. Jaylon Smith had an excellent season for the Dallas Cowboys and looks to be the guy that they thought he would be when they selected him at the top of the second round in the 2016 NFL Draft.
Having Smith and Vander Esch roaming around the middle of the field for the Dallas Cowboys moving forward is huge. They're excellent at moving in space and are excellent definitions of "sideline to sideline" players.
Jaylon Smith is one of the players I'm already looking forward to watching again in the 2019 season.
Comeback Player of the Year
Randy Gregory, Defensive End
After sitting out all but two games of the 2016 season and all of last season, Randy Gregory came back this season and had a good year. With only one sack in his career heading into the 2018 season, Gregory had a nice comeback year with five sacks and finished tied for second on the team with 37 pressures according to Pro Football Focus. According to Pro Football Reference, Gregory was second on the team in tackles for loss.
The Cowboys have Randy Gregory under contract for the 2019 season for just under $1 million.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
The Dallas Cowboys have a lot to feel optimistic about as they look to roster build this offseason in preparation of the 2019 season. They have several ascending players playing key roles for them. This team looks primed to contend again in 2019.
Dak Prescott And Amari Cooper Added To 2019 Pro Bowl
As is usual now that 30 teams' seasons have concluded, players on playoff teams are beginning to drop out of the 2019 Pro Bowl. Notably, New Orleans Saints quarterback/wide receiver connection Drew Brees and Michael Thomas each decided they will stay home next Sunday, rather than participate in the NFL's All Star game.
As replacements for these two, Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper have been added to the NFC Pro Bowl roster.
DallasCowboys wide receiver @AmariCooper9 and quarterback @dak have both been added to the NFC #ProBowl roster! → https://t.co/9HYuqBvi7z
For quarterback Dak Prescott this is his second Pro Bowl selection in his first three seasons. While Pro Bowl selections aren't always a great indicator of being a top tier quarterback, especially if added as an alternate, Prescott's selections do show that he has been among the NFC's best for much of his young career.
With Prescott on the NFC roster are Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky and Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, making this a very mobile quarterback depth chart.
This will be wide receiver Amari Cooper's third Pro Bowl appearance, and his first as a member of the Dallas Cowboys.
Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper had instant chemistry after adding the Pro Bowl wide out via trade midseason, and it's exciting to see them added to this All Star game together. Despite what some fans may think, both Prescott and Cooper do "deserve" to be additions to the game, boasting some of the best performances in the conference during the second half of the season.
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