Throughout training camp, coaches continually tweak their depth charts as players’ standings rise and fall based on their performances. With merely one week’s worth of practices complete and NFL audiences receiving only a whiff of the 2018 season after last night’s Hall of Fame Game, final spots on the 53-man roster are far from decided.
But that shouldn’t stop Dallas Cowboys fans from getting a snapshot of the current state of the team. Here are my roster and depth chart projections after the first full week of training camp.
*Note: The following is based on what I think the team will do. Roster positions are constantly in flux, and some of these rankings will change over the coming weeks.
Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush, Mike White
Not much to note here. Prescott is the clear starter, and Rush still holds the primary backup position, since he typically leads the second-string offense.
Running Back (4)
Ezekiel Elliott, Rod Smith, Bo Scarbrough, Jamize Olawale
The 2016 rushing leader will again carry the load for what should be a dominant ground attack in 2018. Rod Smith’s years of grinding culminate with him being the versatile second runner, and Olawale acts as the lone fullback. Scarbrough will likely remain a weekly inactive and injury replacement throughout the season.
Wide Receiver (7)
In no particular order: Allen Hurns, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Michael Gallup, Deonte Thompson, Tavon Austin, Lance Lenoir
Whether Dallas keeps six or seven receivers, including Austin, is undetermined. But Lenoir’s performance thus far has been promising. He gets the nod over Noah Brown (who’s missed time with a sore hamstring) due to displays like the one below.
Lance Lenoir pic.twitter.com/WP4cDLJaI9— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) August 2, 2018
But if special teams coordinator Keith O’Quinn feels Brown is more useful on kick/punt coverage, then look for him to leap ahead of Lenoir.
Tight End (3)
Geoff Swaim, Blake Jarwin, Dalton Schultz
Despite my earlier musings about Rico Gathers before camp, his chances look unlikely at the moment. He moves slower than expected and has yet to impress. But he’ll have a chance to change that over the next week. Gathers needs to show a better understanding of his run and pass assignments in the pre-season. Doing so will garner him serious consideration for the squad.
Offensive Line (8)
Offensive Tackles: Tyron Smith, La’el Collins, Cameron Fleming
Centers/Guards: Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, Connor Williams, Marcus Martin, Joe Looney
Similar to the last few years, the Cowboys stay “light” on the offensive line. Joe Looney beats out Chaz Green for the last offensive lineman spot. However, the coaches may decide to stick with a second backup tackle rather than a second backup guard/center, due to Tyron Smith’s previous health issues.
With the drafting of Williams at left guard, along with the free agent signings of Fleming and Marcus Martin, all expectations are that this group will return to the top of the food chain in 2018.
Defensive Line (9)
Defensive Ends: DeMarcus Lawrence, Tyrone Crawford, Taco Charlton, Dorance Armstrong, Randy Gregory
Defensive Tackles: Jihad Ward, Brian Price, Datone Jones, Maliek Collins
David Irving will start the season on the suspended list; that’s why he’s not shown here. With Gregory’s reinstatement, Dallas has an abundance of talent at defensive end. They could keep six edge rushers, but there may not be enough snaps to go around. Although Kony Ealy is taking more first-team reps than Armstrong, the rookie has shown more explosiveness off the line. And given Gregory’s elite potential, Ealy barely misses the cut on this list.
Jihad Ward is catching everyone’s attention, and he’s versatile enough to play both the 1-technique and 3-technique. An underrated name also turning heads is Brian Price. He’ll likely be the only true 1-technique on the roster. Collins is still on the PUP list with no set timetable for his return, but his spot is likely secure. Don’t be surprised if Datone Jones makes the team. He was steady in his short stint for the Cowboys last year and has a history of durability.
Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch, Damien Wilson, Joe Thomas, Justin March-Lillard, Chris Covington
Jason Garrett and Rod Marinelli say they’ll have a three-man rotation for the top two linebacker spots on their nickel defense. Expect that to be the first three names above, even though Wilson has received more work with the starters than Vander Esch. Meanwhile, Dallas has kept all-pro and team captain Lee in “bubble wrap” thus far.
Byron Jones, Chido Awuzie, Anthony Brown, Jourdan Lewis, Donovan Olumba
Early returns on Jones’s transition to corner from the safety position have been positive. He and Awuzie appear to have locked down the top two spots. Anthony Brown currently takes the majority of nickel snaps despite Lewis’s promising rookie season last year. The word is if the Cowboys keep five cornerbacks, then Olumba may currently hold the upper hand on that last spot. His measurables fit Kris Richard’s mold for an outside corner, and some of his teammates have taken notice of his play.
Xavier Woods, Jeff Heath, Kavon Frazier, Jameill Showers
This position group is the thinnest on the roster, with its last slot being the most tenuous. Woods, Heath, and Frazier are locks to make the team. After that, it’s anyone’s guess. There’s a slight chance they could ride with only three safeties, but those odds are minuscule when one accounts for injury protection.
Special Teams (3)
Dan Bailey, Chris Jones, L.P. Ladouceur
Bailey is returning from an uncharacteristically down year in which he dealt with a groin injury that affected his accuracy. All indications are he’s the kicker of old while Jones and Ladouceur are returning stalwarts at punter and long snapper.
Here’s a graphic of my projected depth chart after one week of camp:
You can follow Allan on Twitter at @AllanUy22