Dez Bryant takes a throw during training camp.
In less than a month, the Cowboys and all other NFL teams will announce their first roster cuts when they have to reduce their squad to 80 players on August 28. A week later, on September 2, the roster will be cut down to the final 53.
As there are no practices scheduled for today, the Cowboys coaches are probably busy watching and re-watching film from practice this week. And one of the things they are likely doing in the process is slotting their players into some kind of a depth chart; a depth chart they already had going into camp and one that is constantly being reconfigured.
Today, we're going to do a similar exercise and take a look at what the Cowboys' final 53-man roster could look like, based on little more than three days worth of impressions from training camp. A lot of this will be nothing but conjecture of course, and it isn't made any easier by almost a dozen players not having practiced with the team so far for various reasons.
Nevertheless, we take a look at a tentative 53-man roster projection after the break..
But before jumping into the roster details, here's a look at how the opening-day 53-man roster compares over the last few years.
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|of which: S||4||6||5||4||5||4|
Notice that there is a lot of movement in the number of players at a given position over the years. Notably, there doesn't appear to be a position where you could say, "The Cowboys always carry so and so many players at this position."
This is particularly true of the QB position. Nowhere is it written that the Cowboys have to keep three QBs. And with that thought, we transition smoothly into the roster projections:
We know that Garrett likes McGee, and he could still end up on the roster. Right now though, I see too much talent elsewhere to justify the luxury of a third QB - and in all honesty, McGee has done little in camp so far to stand out. Carpenter on the practice squad should be insurance enough.
Running Backs (3)
While both Lance Dunbar and Ed Wesley have shown flashes of potential, they haven't shown it consistently enough to make the roster.
I like what I've seen so far from Jamize Olawale, but in the battle for the last few remaining roster spots he lost out to players who've already shown more in camp. However, the 250-pound former college wide receiver gets a spot on the practice squad.
Tight Ends (3)
At this point, I could easily see Hanna replaced by a late veteran acquisition, but for now the Cowboys will be rolling with these three guys.
Wide Receivers (6)
Until we see clearer separation among the candidates in camp, or until a veteran is brought in, I'll have to make this a luxury position and go six deep.
After three days in Oxnard, Dwayne Harris looks like the leading candidate for the 3rd spot, beating out Tim Benford narrowly. Cole Beasley offers intriguing potential for what I'll call his 'spatial awareness': He always seems to have a clear understanding of where each defender is, even the guys behind him, and this ability allows him to get separation and be open. Yesterday, Beasley had a very nice reception in which he ran his route perfectly to find the hole between four defenders.
For now, Coale and Holmes make the roster for their draft pedigree and intriguing measurables respectively, relegating Tim Benford and Saalim Hakim to the practice squad. Looking at Hakim in particular, he is clearly not ready for an NFL roster yet, but his speed is undeniable. My guess is the Cowboys won't play him a lot, if at all, in preseason and try to slip him onto the practice squad quietly, if such a thing is still possible in today's NFL.
Offensive Linemen (9)
Tough break here for Bill Nagy whose high ankle sprain will likely sideline him for too long to play much of a role on the roster this season. And after three days in which Bernadeau didn't practice, I'm penciling Arkin in as the starting right guard.
Defensive Ends (5)
You know what all these players have in common? They made plays in practice. Marcus Spears did not, and that is going to cost him his roster spot - if the roster were being finalized today.
It's going to be tight, tight, tight on the defensive line and at linebacker this year. Great depth.
Nose Tackles (2)
I'm keeping Josh Brent on the roster out of convenience and familiarity, and because I think he could potentially show significant improvement in his third year. But I don't like his body language in camp. He seemed lethargic at times on the sidelines, and didn't appear to hustle much. I wouldn't be surprised if 6-5, 324 Robert Callaway wins the job away from 6-2, 320 Brent at the end of camp, so I'm keeping Callaway on the practice squad.
Inside Linebackers (4)
Albright wins out narrowly over Orie Lemon, and really the only reason is Albright's versatility. They say you can never have enough linebackers in a 3-4, but the overall roster numbers just don't add up, so Lemon had to go as the final cut.
Outside Linebackers (5)
This is an exciting group of pass rushers. The Cowboys keep five guys as they begin the search for Spencer's successor. I am very excited about Kyle Wilber after three days of camp. He has been a constant disruptive force against the second team, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him get reps against the first team soon. To me, Wilber is just one of those players that immediately stand out for some unexplainable reason as I watch the defense line up. There's always something going on with 51 that draws my eyes.
And Hamilton has flashed too much potential already to ever make it to the practice squad. The challenge here obviously is to get all these guys enough snaps because DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer (contrary to many popularly held beliefs) are no bums.
Assuming that Mike Jenkins will return healthy at some point, there really is no discussion about the top four corners on the team, which essentially leaves one slot open, and that goes to C.J. Wilson. Wilson has easily outplayed the other candidates for the fifth spot in camp so far, perhaps because he has more experience than the other players, so that gap may narrow over time, but for now he's in.
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Going five deep here for Matt Johnson's potential. He hasn't played yet in camp and only took part in one day of minicamp, so Johnson is way behind. He'll have to work very hard to make the team, but it's unlikely he'll clear waivers for the practice squad, so he's penciled in. McCray, even though he may not see a lot of snaps on defense, gets a roster spot for his Special Teams role.
I don't even want to think about the days when the Cowboys carried four specialists.
Practice Squad (8)
QB Rudy Carpenter, WR Saalim Hakim, WR Tim Benford, OT Jeff Adams, FB Jamize Olawale, CB Justin Taplin-Ross, ILB Caleb McSurdy, DE Ben Bass
So there you have it. 26 defensive players, 24 offensive players and three specialists. Three UDFAs make the roster (Hamilton, Beasley, Leary). Six of seven draft picks make the team, with only Caleb McSurdy relegated to the practice squad.
Of course, all of this is just a snapshot. Weigh in with your thoughts in the comments below, and use the roster builder below to build your own roster. Clicking on the button below opens a separate window with the roster builder. The roster builder will stay open as long as you keep this window open.