In less than four months time, the NFL will be back and dreams will be realized. Getting drafted isn't the end of a dream, it's the beginning. Generally, only players drafted in the third round or higher are guaranteed locks to make an NFL roster. Fourth rounders all the way down to UDFA's have to know that poor performances through the offseason work could end up derailing their dreams before they get off the ground.
The 53-man roster has very little room for promise and potential, it only loves production. On the flip side, should these lower-pedigreed players find their way on the roster, that means that someone else, likely a veteran, will find his agent burning up the phone lines trying to find them a new home. Such is life in the league.
Let's take a look at an entirely too premature prediction as to how the Dallas Cowboys 53-man roster will look come August 30th (final cutdown day). Players preceded by "(S)" are my starters, all rookies are designated by a "*".
(S) Tony Romo, Brandon Weeden
After hearing some of the things I've heard, I have a hard time believing that Kyle Orton is going to be a member of the Dallas Cowboys come September. I think the team likes Brandon Weeden as a Romo backup despite his professional struggles to this point. I think Orton wants to be somewhere else in the NFL, starting, and I think that Dallas can actually get some semblance of value in a trade.
Practice Squad: Dustin Vaughan*
Running Backs (4)
(S) DeMarco Murray, Lance Dunbar, Joseph Randle, J.C. Copeland* (FB)
Unless something changes, Dallas is only taking three true backs into the season. Copeland was my last man in and I might even rewrite this section by the time I'm ready to post.
Practice Squad: Ben Malena*
Wide Receivers (6)
(S) Dez Bryant, (S) Terrance Williams, (S) Devin Street*, Cole Beasley, Dwayne Harris, Chris Boyd*
Those who follow me know that I consider a team to have 27 starters. Three special teams spots plus third corner and third receiver. So count 5th-rounder Street as one of my rookie starters.
Most probably expected me to include L'Damian Washington, but I think as of right now Chris Boyd has a better skillset. I'll have a write up on him later in the week to look inside his production at college, but I think he forces Dallas to go six deep here.
Practice Squad: L'Damian Washington*
Tight Ends (4)
(S) Jason Witten, Gavin Escobar, James Hanna, Jordan Najvar*
Good ol' Witten returns for his 127th year with the club. Yes, I decided between Escobar and Devin Street for the 12th offensive starter, and the rookie won. Escobar will be heard from, though. I'm more concerned about the third guy here, thinking they might make a move for a better blocking tight end. Najvar makes the 53 just because the Cowboys like to have a blocking TE for those short-yardage situations. Also, because I only had 52 spots at the end of the exercise and he seemed the most likely candidate.
Offensive Line (7)
(S) Tyron Smith, (S) Doug Free, Darrion Weems
I think Parnell makes it through camp so that they have enough to go three deep through preseason games, but that salary doesn't justify a fourth tackle. Besides, there's this rookie who is capable of playing on the outside, maybe you've heard of him...
(S) Zack Martin*, (S) Ron Leary, Mack Bernadeau
Martin has the ability to slide outside in a dire emergency, considering he spent 52(!) games there in college! Bernadeau is the backup center, meaning that with just 7 guys, Dallas will be able to have four tackles, three guards and two centers available for any given game. That versatility means everything for a roster. Maybe they look at Brian Waters if he has his surgery, but I'm not sure I see the need.
(S) Travis Frederick
Practice Squad: Jerrod Pughsley*
Defensive End (6)
(S) Demarcus Lawrence*, (S) Tyrone Crawford, George Selvie, Jeremy Mincey, Caesar Rayford, Ben Gardner*
I have a feeling, as others do, that Anthony Spencer is going to start the season on the PUP List and miss the first third of the season. If he is ready to go, than he will probably slot out Rayford who would slide to the PS.
Defensive Tackle (5)
(S) Henry Melton, (S) Terrell McClain, Ben Bass, Ken Bishop*, Davon Coleman*
I'm a big fan of both of the rookies and think this battle might be for the next productive one under Dallas' umbrella. Bishop is so nasty and Coleman does just about everything well. If Melton is healthy, the Cowboys have a solid rotation of guys capable of penetrating, especially if Crawford can kick inside thanks to plus play by either Spencer or Selvie.
(S) Devonte Holloman, (S) Bruce Carter, Kyle Wilber
Holloman and Wilber is a toss-up for starting Sam backer, but we'll go with the playmaking ability of Holloman here. Carter's looking over his shoulder at guys on the practice squad, for now, but I expect a bounce back year.
(S) Sean Lee, Anthony Hitchens*
You heard Jerry. Hitchens is the perfect backup for Sean Lee. We'll assume that's just bad Jerry speak making him sound like a career backup. Yeah.
Practice Squad: Will Smith*, Dontavis Sapp*
(S) Brandon Carr, (S) Orlando Scandrick, Morris Claiborne, Sterling Moore, BW Webb, Terrance Mitchell*
Yes, I have Scandrick starting over Mo, at least initially. Just my gut feeling. Also, I hope the club doesn't make last year's mistake and let Sterling Moore sit out while the young guys play. Moore makes plays on the field. Not the greatest player, but he's better than inexperience. I think Mitchell proves enough to make the final cut.
(S) Matt Johnson, (S) JJ Wilcox, Barry Church, Jeff Heath, Ahmad Dixon*
Just kidding. Barry Church and Wilcox are the starters, but I just wanted to see who was paying close attention. Not that Matt Johnson can't take the role, I'll just have to see it to believe it. Heck, I'm jumping out there just thinking he'll be healthy enough to make it to the 53. Ahmad Dixon's ferociousness beats out Jakar Hamilton in this iteration.
Practice Squad: Jakar Hamilton
Special Teams (3)
(S) Dan Bailey, (S) LP Ladoucer, (S) Cody Mandell*
The first two are self-explanatory and any punter signed I'd have put in ahead of Chris Jones. Unless he double dips on HGH over the summer, his kicks just aren't powerful enough to survive our frequently stalled drives.
A couple of notes.
We're saying goodbye to a good bit of salary here. Kyle Orton, Justin Durant and Jermey Parnell are all over $1 million each. I think WR Byrd was insurance if they couldn't get one of the tall receivers they ended up with, so he's gone, as is FB Tyler Clutts. Nick Hayden and his air guitar? Playing somewhere else. Also worthy of consideration, Cam Lawrence, Orie Lemon and Martez Wilson. The Cowboys linebackers weren't very good, so big turnover shouldn't come as much of a surprise.
I'm leaving the practice squad at seven, because Dallas will undoubtedly make some moves during camp as players get released from other squads. I should probably leave more room, but wanted to make sure to state which of the young guns I feel most have a future. DT Chris Whaley is rumored to be an IR candidate as a redshirt season, so I'm leaving him there instead of the PS.
All in all, I have four rookie starters (Martin, Lawrence, Street and Mandell) out of the draft class and 13 making the initial 53 including 4 UDFAs (Copeland, Boyd, Coleman, Mandell). Knowing how barren the cupboard was coming into the draft, I'm not sure you could ask for much more. We'll have to wait until training camp to see if this is how things shake out in reality.
So, BTB, how does this work for you? Any changes you anticipate here?