Cowboys Depth Chart and 53-man Roster Projection after Preseason Opener

08/13/2018
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With the first preseason game in the books, the Dallas Cowboys’ depth chart is beginning to take shape. Although a lot will change by September 1st, the day they must cut their roster from 90 to 53, the staff likely has a good feel for most of their team.

Here’s a look at my 53-man roster and depth chart projections after Thursday’s loss to the 49ers:

*Note: The following is based on what I think the team will do. Players with an asterisk (*) are on the bubble.

Quarterback (3)

Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush, Mike White

No change from last week. Dallas will still keep three signal-callers with Mike White as the developmental third quarterback.

Running Back (4)

Ezekiel Elliott, Rod Smith, Bo Scarbrough, Jamize Olawale (FB)

Bo Scarbrough displayed his straight-line speed and the power to break arm tackles against the 49ers. He’s clearly distanced himself from Trey Williams and Darius Jackson, even though both of them showed their talent as runners, as well.

As expected, the two former Buckeyes will man the top two spots with Elliott a prime candidate to lead the league in rushing. Smith has grown as a runner and will act as the all-purpose backup.

Wide Receiver (7)

In no particular order: Allen Hurns, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Michael Gallup, Deonte Thompson, Tavon Austin, Lance Lenoir

Dallas goes “long” at the wide receiver position. Although Deonte Thompson has been unavailable recently with a sore/strained Achilles, expect him to make enough of an impact in the pre-season to keep him on the team. His speed and technical abilities are hard to ignore.

Lenoir further separates himself from the pack. Multiple people at training camp say he’s impressed each day. Add to that the nicely-run route and body control on his touchdown catch at San Francisco, and it’s understandable why he makes my 53-man roster.

Tavon Austin continues to show proficiency on intermediate routes. His hands and precise route running at these depths are crucial if he and the team want him to be more than a mere gadget player.

Tight End (3)

Geoff Swaim, Blake Jarwin, Dalton Schultz

All three of these tight ends played extensive snaps with either the first or second team this past Thursday. By comparison, Rico Gathers saw little action, outside of Scarbrough’s goal line touchdown, until later in the second half.

The former Baylor basketball player remains on the outside looking in. Despite my previous argument that he should make the team if he shows a “minimum level of competency”, he actually must demonstrate a higher level of consistency in his blocking and route running. That’s unlikely at this point, but not impossible. Even if he were to make significant strides in his development, he could be the victim of a numbers game due to other positions on the roster. However, with each play like the one below, Gathers incrementally betters his chances.

Offensive Line (8)

Offensive Tackles: Tyron Smith, La’el Collins, Cameron Fleming

Centers/Guards: Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, Connor Williams, Joe Looney, *Kadeem Edwards

The injury to Marcus Martin’s right big toe will have a significant impact on the offensive line’s depth. Watch for the team to make some type of move there. The good news is Joe Looney has performed admirably as a backup center and will likely man the swing guard position.

The question is whether or not the team should keep one swing tackle (Cameron Fleming) or two (Chaz Green). That issue could sort itself out, as Green didn’t have the best night against the 49ers. But the health concerns to Tyron Smith’s back in recent years may require them to keep two extra tackles and only one extra guard/center.

Defensive Line (9)

Defensive Ends: DeMarcus Lawrence, Tyrone Crawford, Taco Charlton, Dorance Armstrong, Randy Gregory

Defensive Tackles: Datone Jones, Jihad Ward, Antwaun Woods, Maliek Collins

Antwaun Woods appears to have overtaken Brian Price as the primary 1-technique. That could still change by the end of the pre-season, but the coaches have often had Woods line up with the starters in walkthroughs.

Not a lot has been said of Datone Jones, but he’s also lined up with the first team. Maliek Collins has yet to be taken off the PUP list. Still, expect him to make the team, as he’s been the starting 3-technique the last two seasons.

Kony Ealy has done little to make a case for himself to this point. According to Clarence Hill of the Star-Telegram, he’ll receive extra work at defensive tackle. He might carve himself a more noticeable role there.

Linebacker (7)

Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith, Damien Wilson, Leighton Vander Esch, Joe Thomas, Justin March-Lillard, *Chris Covington

This past Thursday was the first time the public saw Leighton Vander Esch in a game situation. His lack of experience showed, as he was a bit tentative when reading and reacting to plays, indicating he needs more time in the oven. However, the rookie displayed some promising traits. His athleticism was evident, as was his length when taking on blocks.

Jaylon Smith is the starting middle linebacker, but don’t be surprised if Damien Wilson starts the season ahead of Vander Esch at the strongside linebacker spot. The current snapshot indicates the rookie might take over for Wilson and/or earn regular playing time in a rotation with Smith sometime during the year.

The coaches removed Sean Lee’s bubble wrap for the first time this week, and he could see action at home this Saturday against Arizona. Joe Thomas played an outstanding game Thursday night, nabbing an interception, three tackles (one for a loss), and a pass deflection. He’ll be Lee’s backup at weakside linebacker.

Justin March-Lillard also impressed with his fast play in the run game. Chris Covington, who was dealing with bronchitis this past week, returned to practice yesterday and fills out the rest of the linebacker corps.

Cornerback (5)

Byron Jones, Chido Awuzie, Anthony Brown, Jourdan Lewis, *Duke Thomas

Right now, four of the corner spots are secure with Byron Jones and Chido Awuzie firmly entrenched as the top two. Anthony Brown and Jourdan Lewis will be the third and fourth corners but their order isn’t set.

Many fans have clamored for Lewis to receive more first-team snaps as the third cornerback. But Kris Richard hasn’t given any indication that Brown has lost the nickel corner spot, even though he didn’t have the best performance at San Francisco.

As far as a fifth or possibly sixth corner, those slots are up for grabs with no one in the lead. For the sake of this exercise, Duke Thomas gets the nod over Donovan Olumba, Charvarius Ward, and Marquez White.

Safety (4)

Xavier Woods, Jeff Heath, Kavon Frazier, *Marqueston Huff

The safety position should see some upheaval this week. Marqueston Huff is out with a groin strain from Thursday’s game after working with the second team during camp. Depending on the severity of his injury, the team could place him on injured reserve. However, he was able to work off to the side with athletic trainer Britt Brown yesterday. Kavon Frazier also returned to practice Sunday after dealing with a swollen knee on Saturday. The team may sign a free agent to act as a camp body for the time being.

Whoever steps into Huff’s shoes isn’t necessarily guaranteed to make the roster. Jamiell Showers, Kameron Kelly, and Tyree Robinson have done little to distinguish themselves at this point. But Robinson was given the nod for Huff’s spot in yesterday’s practice. Presuming the team keeps four safeties, that fourth slot may be filled by someone not currently on the team. Don’t expect that to be Earl Thomas.

Special Teams (3)

Dan Bailey, Chris Jones, L.P. Ladouceur

Bailey didn’t kick in the game, as the coaches don’t want to overwork him. Despite missing a few field goal attempts in practice last week, the coaches aren’t concerned. Chris Jones and L.P. Ladouceur are obvious locks for the final roster.

Depth Chart

Here’s a graphic of my projected depth chart after the pre-season opener at the San Francisco:

 

You can follow Allan on Twitter at @AllanUy22

*Animations derived from NFL Game Pass.

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