How Good Is The Dallas Cowboys' Roster Depth?

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

We try to answer 13 depth-related questions to assess the Cowboys' roster depth.

Two days ago, Pat Kirwan of CBSSports penned an article in which he looked at roster depth across the league. Kirwan provided a list of 13 questions (actually it's 12 questions, he skipped the backup QB one) that have to get a positive answer for a team to qualify as having solid roster depth.

So I went ahead and tried to answer those questions. Given that we're still four weeks away from training camp, and even more from the start of the season, not all of Kirwan's questions can be answered with certainty. At the same time, questions where the answers may not be obvious today could be very obvious after training camp, and vice versa, so there's a high degree of ambiguity inherent in answering these questions this far ahead of actual football being played.

But I tried to answer the 13 questions anyway. I chose to answer each question with "Yes," "No," or "Probably," and provided a brief rationale for each answer below. If we assign two points for a "Yes," one point for a "Probably," and zero points for a "No," I gave the Cowboys 16 points for the 13 questions below. As you go through the list, how many points would you award?

Depth Criteria Cowboys Status
1. Does your team have a capable backup QB that can go at least 2-2 in a four-game stretch? No
With Kyle Orton, I'd have said "yes" to a possible 2-2 record. For Brandon Weeden, that would probably be a little optimistic at this point. He has a 5-15 career W/L record, and while there is an extenuating circumstance of having compiled that record with the Cleveland Browns, until Weeden shows otherwise, this is a "No." Of course, Kirwan thinks Jason Campbell is good depth in Cincinnati (his fifth NFL team), as is Tarvaris Jackson in Seattle (his fourth NFL stop), so I could just as easily call Weeden a "Yes." But what would be the point of inflating the answers here? 
2. Does your team have a real swing offensive tackle, a guy that can play left or right tackle and has experience? Yes
The Cowboys have Tyron Smith and Doug Free, both of whom have played left and right tackle in the NFL. They also just drafted Zack Martin, who could play right tackle as well, given that he played the position for four years in college. Additionally, there's perennial backup Jermey Parnell who's the official backup swing tackle, for now.
3. Does your team have a solid inside offensive lineman that can play guard or center? Yes
Mackenzy Bernadeau has been taking snaps at center with the express intent of getting him ready to play center in a pinch, just as Zack Martin has already taken some snaps as the center.
4. Is there a quality second running back that can deliver a 100-yard rushing day if he had to start? Probably
Lance Dunbar is No. 2 as the change-of pace back, but outside of his one 82-yard performance against Oakland last year, he hasn't run for more than 26 yards in a game in his two years in the league. The task of replacing Murray in case of injury will fall to either Joseph Randle or Ryan Williams, neither of whom has had a 100-yard rushing game either. But both get the benefit of the doubt because they'll be running behind a top offensive line, so either one will probably be able to hit the 100-yard mark if needed.
5. Is there a good second tight end on the roster? Probably
Gavin Escobar is that second tight end, and while the Cowboys are planning to use him a lot more this season, they haven't done so yet. Another "probably" here.
6. Can the third wide receiver step up and start in the two-WR packages if a starter went down? Yes
Because the Cowboys offense features Jason Witten so heavily (Witten is effectively the No. 2 receiver on the team) the second wide receiver in the Cowboys' offense seldom gets more than 50 receptions a season, which translates to 3.1 receptions per game. That's a level of production that anybody out of the trio of Cole Beasley, Dwayne Harris or even Devin Street should be able to easily achieve if called upon.
7. Does your team have a designated pass-rush specialist who could play the early downs if need be? Yes
This is a question that's formulated with Bruce Irvin and the Seahawks in mind, but not every team has a specialist pass rusher who is largely limited to passing downs. The Cowboys have enough edge rushers in Mincey, Selvie, Crawford, Lawrence and perhaps even Gardner to make this a moot point. 
8. Is there a third defensive tackle that not only plays in a rotation but could play the whole game if need be? Yes
The Cowboys brought in two DTs in free agency (Melton, McClain) who'll likely be the starters, and have Nick Hayden as the third defensive tackle who showed last year that he could play the entire season.
9. Is there a quality nickel corner on the roster, since most teams are at least 50 percent sub defenses? Yes
Orlando Scandrick is that nickel corner.
10. Is there a fourth corner for dime packages? No
There are lots of candidates for that fourth corner spot, and the Cowboys will eventually select one for their roster. But today we can't say with any certainty that whoever they select will be a quality backup in case one of the top three guys misses time.
11. Is there a third safety for big nickel defenses? No
The Cowboys don't play in a big nickel defense, but the point is valid nevertheless: The Cowboys do not have a proven third safety.
12. Is there a return specialist that can either handle both punt and kick returns or contribute as a real position player? Yes
Dwayne Harris can do anything.
13. Does your team have a special-teams linebacker that leads the specials and can play inside linebacker in a pinch? No
Last year, LB Kyle Bosworth had the fourth-most special teams snaps (248), Cameron Lawrence had the sixth-most (229). Bosworth is now a free agent, and Lawrence probably isn't the guy this question is meant for. Anthony Hitchens could be that guy, but for now, the answer here is "No."

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