With the preseason complete, every team in the NFL has until 3 p.m. CST on Saturday to whittle their 90-man rosters down to 53 players. Below is my final roster projection for the Dallas Cowboys.
*Note: The coaching staff and front office are not finished tweaking the roster. Expect them to make a handful of changes before the season opener.
Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush, Mike White
There’s been some speculation that Jason Garrett and his staff will try to sneak Mike White onto the practice squad. That’s unlikely, as the staff won’t want to risk the fifth-round rookie going to waivers. They’ll keep him as the third quarterback and trust in Kellen Moore’s ability to develop him.
Running Back (4)
Ezekiel Elliott, Rod Smith, Darius Jackson, Jamize Olawale
In recent weeks, Darius Jackson has been the more dynamic contributor over Bo Scarbrough. Since both players underwhelmed last night in Houston, the question becomes should they keep the 2016 draftee or the 2018 selection?
Speaking of last night’s game, Jackson got the start over Scarbrough. This was a possible indication that Jackson was slightly ahead of the Alabama product heading into the pre-season finale.
Wide Receiver (6)
In no particular order: Allen Hurns, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Michael Gallup, Deonte Thompson, Tavon Austin
Although Lance Lenoir is one of the stars of training camp, Deonte Thompson offers more in Scott Linehan’s scheme. His speed and experience provide Dallas a true deep threat that can attack defenses who stack the box in the run game. Unfortunately for Lenoir, who’s played well-enough to earn a roster spot, he’ll be caught up in a numbers game as the team is thin at safety and offensive line. If Lenoir clears waivers, then they’ll try to put him on the practice squad.
In this scenario, the Cowboys place Noah Brown on injured reserve. He could be Terrance Williams’ replacement in 2019, as they like his run-blocking prowess and raw talent.
Tight End (4)
Geoff Swaim, Blake Jarwin, Dalton Schultz, Rico Gathers
They keep four tight ends because it’s highly unlikely the team cuts a fourth-round rookie in Dalton Shultz.
The deciding factor for Rico Gathers comes down to one word: investment. This will be Gathers’s third season, and the coaches decide they don’t want to see him blossom on another team after spending two years teaching him. The former Baylor basketball player has shown enough improvement to keep hope alive that he can develop into a contributor.
However, the tight end coach’s position has been a revolving door for over a decade. Doug Nussmeier won’t have the same attachment to Gathers as the front office might. His spot is tenuous, as he could be the first player cut should the team add a 10th offensive lineman or fifth safety.
Offensive Line (9)
Offensive Tackles: Tyron Smith, La’el Collins, Cameron Fleming
Centers/Guards: Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, Connor Williams, Joe Looney, Parker Ehinger, Kadeem Edwards
Travis Frederick’s availability for 2018 is undetermined due to an autoimmune disorder. This means the front office will need to acquire an extra lineman. According to last night’s reports, a trade for soon-to-be-former-Chief Parker Ehinger is in the works. He’s a player that can man multiple spots on the line.
They may not be finished adding offensive linemen. The team could bring in another interior lineman or add an extra tackle, as Cameron Fleming lacks consistency.
Defensive Line (9)
Defensive Ends: DeMarcus Lawrence, Taco Charlton, Dorance Armstrong, Randy Gregory
Defensive Tackles: Tyron Crawford, Maliek Collins, Antwaun Woods, Datone Jones, Jihad Ward
David Irving will start the season on suspension and won’t count towards the final roster; that’s why he’s not shown here. Tyrone Crawford is back at 3-tech given Randy Gregory’s performance these past two pre-season games.
Datone Jones is suffering through a knee injury, and some outside the organization wonder if he’s a candidate for injured reserve. Should that be their plan, then Brian Price or Daniel Ross could make the cut on Saturday. Otherwise, Jihad Ward edges out both of them since he has more pass rush ability. But I won’t be surprised if it’s Ross or Price that gets the nod over Ward.
Kony Ealy hasn’t impressed and will be released. Charles Tapper is practice squad eligible, so watch for him to remain with the team as a scout player and injury replacement.
Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith, Damien Wilson, Leighton Vander Esch, Joe Thomas, Justin March-Lillard, Chris Covington
With the team hurting at safety and offensive line, the staff decides to roll with six linebackers. Chris Covington barely loses out to Rico Gathers for the 52nd or 53rd man on the roster because he has a better chance to clear waivers and sign on with the practice squad.
Byron Jones, Chido Awuzie, Anthony Brown, Jourdan Lewis, Donovan Olumba
Both Byron Jones and Chido Awuzie have impressed as the starting corners. Anthony Brown and Jourdan Lewis have been up-and-down thus far but are assured a spot unless they’re used as trade bait.
The last cornerback spot would’ve been filled by Charvarius Ward, but he’ll be traded to Kansas City sometime Friday. Instead, Donovan Olumba beats out the rest of the pack due to his play last night. Marquez White and Duke Thomas are candidates for the practice squad.
Xavier Woods, Jeff Heath, Kavon Frazier, Tyree Robinson
The fourth safety, Tyree Robinson, is more of a token roster player and could be replaced before the season opener. Anyone outside of the top three in this group has done little to distinguish themselves. However, Dallas won’t face Carolina with only three safeties, especially with Xavier Woods likely to miss the first one or two weeks.
Special Teams (3)
Dan Bailey, Chris Jones, L.P. Ladouceur
No surprises here. All three are stalwarts on special teams and are among the best in the league at their jobs.
Here’s a graphic of my projected depth chart after one week of camp:
You can follow Allan on Twitter at @AllanUy22