While I was waiting for some kind of hint as to what went on in the arbitration hearing yesterday, I got to mulling over the odds that are facing the Dallas Cowboys rookies this year.
That led me to study the list of the newbies and putting them in some roughly defined groups as to what chances I think they have of making the team. Now, these are my own opinions, and based strictly on the limited information that I have access to (most of which is gleaned from the articles here, of course).
I will also state that I am influenced by some of the optimism about the new players, and not just here. OCC's piece on Gil Brandt's evaluation of the newbies from a few days back is just one thing that helps get the juices flowing. The thought of seeing up to nine players from the rookie minicamp make the team, as Brandt says is possible, is almost staggering. That would be 17% of the roster turned over. And since the point in keeping new players over old ones is to upgrade the roster, that would imply a huge improvement in the talent level of the Cowboys. Even five players would be pushing a 10% rate - and would have the upside of indicating that several current roster incumbents stepped up their game enough to stave off the new guys.
But there are a lot more than five or nine names in the mix, even with the cutting of UDFA CB Troy Woolfolk. So who has a great chance, and who needs to be lining up future employment?
Check my best guess after the jump.
As I said, I have grouped the rooks based on the odds as I see them, and have the names in roughly the order I would expect things to fall.
The Lock - 100% chance to make the team.
It's a small group, consisting of Pick 6. CB Morris Claiborne, if he is healthy and does not commit a felony caught on video in the interim, will be on the team. The only question is whether he will be a starter or the number three cornerback. And I say it's about 80% he starts on September 5.
Outside of him, no one is certain.
The Solid Bets - 75% chance to make the team. First, all four of these players have talent and measurables that should get them onto an NFL team. For these, the issue becomes whether or not they can find a place on the roster (usually by taking someone else's).
DE Tyrone Crawford. Obviously the team thought very highly of him. And he promises to give the team a way to improve the push up the middle of the defense. And with Kenyon Coleman and Marcus Spears ahead of him, he has a couple of players that he could beat out without causing any noticeable angst for the team. He can almost certainly contribute from day one.
G Ronald Leary. Yep. I think he has at least the third best chance to make the team, and may even have a slight edge on Crawford. This is composed of two things. First, he was seen by some to be a third round value in the draft, but concerns about his knee likely caused him to slide. If he is correct in asserting that the knee is not a problem, then he could be the steal from this year's crop of UDFA. For the entire NFL. The second thing is the number of guards on the roster. He doesn't have to be the best option at guard. He just has to be better than someone ahead of him on the roster now. The most obvious targets would seem to be David Arkin and Kevin Kowalski. And that is based on the team carrying six C/G this year. They could go with seven (ten total OL and just three OT), which would basically open a slot for Leary.
S Matt Johnson. With all due respect to FA signee Brodney Pool, the team still needs another piece at safety. Right now, I think Johnson is possibly the third best safety the team has, right behind Gerald Sensabaugh and Pool. At worse, he is in a pretty dead heat with Danny McCray and Barry Church. I think he makes the team, and makes us glad.
OLB Kyle Wilber. The big thing he has going for him is that he is being slotted to back up Anthony Spencer, which means he could become the replacement if Spencer does not come back after next season. And since there seems to be some uncertainty about how the team would like to use Alex Albright, this may be a job that is his for the taking.
It would not be any surprise at all to see all four of these guys stick, but the history of how draft picks pan out would indicate that there is very good chance one of them might stumble, and two is not beyond imagining. But my feeling is that three or four of these guys make the team.
Strong Contenders - 50% chance of making the team. Now it gets iffy. These are players with talent, but whether it is NFL level is not a certainty, or at least not as likely as the preceding group. It really becomes a numbers game here. This is the group that will elicit the "Aw, dammit" reactions from many if they get cut.
TE James Hanna. He almost squeaked into the preceding group, just because there is a vacancy for the third tight end. His competition would come from the UDFA ranks. But I just got a bit of a lukewarm vibe about him. This may simply be a misreading on my part. But I don't hink the coaches have completely bought him yet. Still, his is one of the easiest paths to the final 53.
WR Danny Coale. My pet cat, and I so wanted him to rank higher. The issues for him of course are the wideouts already with the team and the UDFA competition. Balancing that are the rave reviews from his college days and his reputation for getting open and catching everything that comes near him. I would love to see him make the team as a possession receiver, if not the outright number 3. This is one position that often varies in how many the team carries, and some of the other names out there, it makes me hope for maybe carrying six.
ILB Caleb McSurdy. Reading the various reports, he seems to have "Special Teams Ace" written all over him. I would not be terribly surprised to see him make the team as a fourth ILB if Orie Lemon is not the answer for that - and if the team could go with a fifth one to make sure he has a roster spot.
RB Lance Dunbar. I like this kid, a lot. And the team was, from all indications, going to draft Cyrus Gray if he had made it to them (perhaps the one calculation they got wrong during the draft). The likely showdown between him and Philip Tanner is not one I look forward to with any pleasure, because I will hate whoever goes. I would also like to see an extra back get carried - but I know I can't have all the extra positions I want.
I think two or maybe three of this group is going to stick. And if Brandt is right about nine players making it onto the final roster, this total list has the ones I would likely predict.
But often someone will fall on their face unexpectedly. This lets someone unexpected get a shot. There are a host of names that have a small chance of breaking through - and that will also be the prime source for the practice squad.
Long Shots - 10% to 25% chance at best.
CBs Mario Butler, Isaac Madison, Lionel Smith, Justin Taplin-Ross, Teddy Williams and C. J. Wilson. Here is a bit of a conundrum. You look at the roster, and just by the numbers, it seems at least one of these guys will make the team so there will be five corners available. If they go with six, then two could make it. The problem is, I don't have any read on who is ahead in this race. Butler showed some skill in the minicamp, but he also has experience with the defense. Madison and Smith are the ones I am watching with the most interest. (This also is where the non-rookie players who were eligible start showing up.)
ILB Orie Lemon. How does he stack up against McSurdy? That is the question for him, and I think McSurdy got a leg up in the minicamp. But it could all just be media hype.
DE/OLB Adrian Hamilton. I keep hearing about how impressive he looked on video. And despite protestations to the contrary from the Dallas coaches, I think they would love to see some more pass rush.
OTs Jeff Adams, Levy Adcock, Taylor Deaver or Tyrone Novikoff. The team may want to add some depth, since Jermey Parnell is the only backup tackle currently on the roster. This is the same scenario as with the cornerbacks, but it is not certain that the team will want to go with more than three tackles, or it could develop one of the guards for this. I think some had some T experiance somewhere along the line.
DL Robert Callaway. Just based on some things I remember from last year, he may break through. 6'5", 312. Might fit in well with Ryan's defense.
WR Saalim Hakim. Blazing speed, and he had a lot of teams interested in him. The team may find a way to get him on the roster. But the competition at wideout is stiff.
The rest of the first year players seem like camp bodies or practice squad material at best - but it is very, very early, and you never know when someone will blossom unexpectedly.