Assessing The Cowboys Roster, OTA Edition: Ranking Players Regardless Of Position

The mighty Dez takes the number one spot in our initial ranking - Ronald Martinez

Who are the best (and worst) players on the Cowboys roster, regardless of position? Ol' Rabble takes a stab at ranking the current roster, from one to eighty-eight.

As you know, most standard roster assessment posts look at the top players by each position group. This is a reasonable methodology, and one I have oft pursued. However, it doesn't fully take into account the talent distribution across the team. Often the fourth OLB can be better than, say the starting RG. As a result, an organization has to make difficult decisions when it comes time for roster cuts, as they will almost certainly have to release good players at positions of strength to keep weaker players at positions thinned by injury or lack of talent.

When looking at the Cowboys roster in late May, we must ask: how much of a disparity exists between the various position groups? In an effort to answer this question, I ranked all the players currently on the Cowboys roster from one to eighty-eight, regardless of position. What this will show us, I hope, is a couple of things: First, how strong our beloved 'Boys are at some positions, and where they will need be relying on duct tape, baling wire and a few hosannas; and, second, there in the standard "53" they are strong, and where they are weak.

My rankings reflect the players on the mothership's roster as of Wednesday, and are influenced by the reports that have emerged from the first two weeks of OTAs. Ranking last year's major contributors was easy; slotting the newcomers and draft picks was much more difficult, largely because we have seen so little of them. How good are Terrence WIlliams and Justin Durant? I can't honestly tell, so I've tried to make fair, educated guesstimates.

So, without further ado, here's Ol' Rabble's admittedly subjective stab at ranking the 2013 Cowboys hopefuls:

1-10 Comments
Dez Bryant, WR
Anthony Spencer, DE
Tony Romo, QB
DeMarcus Ware, DE
Dan Bailey, K
Tyron Smith, T
Sean Lee, MLB
Jason Witten, TE
Miles Austin, WR
Bruce Carter, OLB
The Cowboys boast an enviable top ten. All are potential Pro Bowlers, and many play key positions: QB, WR, DE, OT. Moreover, they are balanced: five offensive, four defensive players and one special teamer. If this group stays healthy (and that’s a big if), the Cowboys should be in the NFC East race into December.
11-20 Comments
Morris Claiborne, CB
Brandon Carr, CB
Jason Hatcher, DT
DeMarco Murray, RB
Jay Ratliff, DT
Barry Church, S
Travis Frederick, C
Tyrone Crawford, DE
Orlando Scandrick, CB
Justin Durant, OLB
A couple more potential Pro Bowl talents at CB, and one at RB, if he can stay healthy. After that, however, the talent drops off, and a little too precipitously for my taste. It's roster numbers 15-20 that I’d like to see improved - preferably by some younger players currently sitting in the 21-40 range.
21-30 Comments
Doug Free, T
Danny McCray, ST
Kyle Orton, QB
Nate Livings, G
James Hanna, TE
Matt Johnson, S
B.W. Webb, CB
SeanLissemore, DT
Dwayne Harris, WR
L.P. Ladouceur, LS
A hodge-podge of fading veterans, guys coming off of injuries, promising backups, and youngsters on the come. To my mind, this area of the roster joins with 15-20 as the place where the most upgrades are needed for the team to make a jump forward. If this is to happen in 2013, that will have to come from within (see positions 35-40)
31-40 Comments
Costa, Phil C
Albright, Alex LB
Mackenzy Bernadeau, G
Will Allen, S
Ronald Leary, G
Gavin Escobar, TE
Sterling Moore, CB
Kyle Wilber, DE
J.J. Wilcox, S
Terrance Williams, WR
A few serviceable vets here. The good news is that young guys whose arrows are pointing up populate this tenspot for the most part. The Cowboys need for them to improve, and quickly – and to contribute in 2013. If they have a good year, slots 35-40 will move up and assert themselves.
41-50 Comments
Cole Beasley, WR
Ben Bass, DT
Joseph Randle, RB
Ernie Sims, LB
Ryan Cook, OL
Chris Jones, P
Rob Callaway, DT
Danny Coale, WR
Lance Dunbar, RB
Kevin Kowalski, C/G
One thing Garrett has managed to do is to improve the bottom of the roster. The Cowboys actually look pretty good in this section – so long as none of these guys needs to log too many meaningful regular season snaps…
51-60 Comments
Phillip Tanner, RB
Lawrence Vickers, FB
Jakar Hamilton, S
David Arkin, G
Darrion Weems, T
Caleb McSurdy, LB
Anthony Hargrove, DE
Nick Hayden, DT
Taylor Reed, LB
Kendial Lawrence, RB
A really interesting group here. There are the guys who will be fighting for the final spots on the roster - and all of these guys are worthy of being on an NFL "53." Again, a testament to the degree to which Garrett and Co. have overhauled the bottom of the roster.
61-70 Comments
Cameron Sheffield, DE
DeVonte Holloman, LB
Andre Smith, TE
Brandon Magee, LB
Ike Igbinosun, DT
Brandon Underwood, CB
Anthony Armstrong, WR
Edawn Coughman, T
Tim Benford, WR
Micah Pellerin, S
A group of players who are likely to flash in training camp – but not enough to justify a roster spot. I wouldn’t be surprised to see several of these players on the practice squad come September.
71-80 Comments
Colin Cochart, TE
Ray Dominguez, G
Jared Green, WR
Xavier Brewer, CB
Eric Rogers, WR
Cam Lawrence, LB
Monte Taylor, DE
Nick Stephens, QB
Devin Smith, CB
Deon Lacey, LB
A tensome of camp bodies. It's possible that one of these guys surprises and makes the team, but not likely. So the best they can hope for is to get noticed by another team and end up on an NFL practice squad.
81-88 Comments
Paul Freedman, TE
Malik James, CB
Jeff Heath, S
Anthony Amos, WR
J.B. Shugarts, OT
Dalton Williams, QB
Jackson Anderson, LS
Spencer Benton, P
The final eight is largely composed of camp bodies at peripheral positions, where guys run a lot, so the team needs numbers to run its practices. Don’t be surprised to see a good deal of turnover in this section between now and late July as Dallas works to finalize its camp roster.

A few thoughts:

Positions of strength: Several positions jump out as having the desirable combination of quality and depth. Cornerback, where the team has three in the top 20 and five in the top 40, looks to be a position of strength - as does tight end, with three in the top 36. And, surprise, surprise: the team has impressive depth at center, where Fredbeard holds court, Phil Costa may well be the league's best backup, and Ryan Cook and Kevin Kowalski provide nice depth and position flex. Finally, you have to love that they have three defensive ends in the top 20.

Weaker positions: Nothing other than the obvious ones: OG and safety. For the first, we have to trust that the veteran free agents the team brought in last season perform at a higher level, or that Ronald Leary enjoys a supernatural leap forward. At safety, Dallas has a lot of options that ooze potential - but until that potential is realized, players like Matt Johnson and J. J. Wilcox are no better than Keith Davis.

Thin middle: As mentioned in the comments above, the very top and the bottom of the Cowboys roster looks pretty good. The top fifteen players are all of the quality whereby they could conceivably have Pro Bowl-caliber seasons. And the bottom of the roster has considerable more quality and depth than it had in recent years. The place where improvement/ replacement appears most necessary is in the 15-30 range.

Reasons for hope: There are several young players in the 21-40 range that have the ability to step up and solidify thin positions (the aforementioned O-line, safety). If guys like James Hanna, Matt Johnson, B. W. Webb, Ronald Leary, Gavin Escobar, Sterling Moore, Kyle Wilber, J. J. Wilcox, and Terrance Williams can take over starting positions or provide solid part-time play, this roster will be much more dangerous.

I'll do this exercise again throughout the off-season, and then several times during training camp. In the meantime, what rankings do you like? With which ones do you vehemently disagree? Go to the comments section and let it all hang out, people!

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