In my last post, I tried to look at the chances different players from the Dallas Cowboys rookie minicamp had of making the final roster this year. My objective with these posts, if you haven't noticed, is always more about entertainment than accuracy. After all, there are obviously too many variables at this point to really predict who has exactly what chance of making the team, outside of Morris Claiborne. He is as close to guaranteed to make the team as it gets, but for all the rest, there is always a chance for a stumble.
The (sometimes totally irrelevant and irreverent) comment thread showed that I had gotten some of you to think about things. One comment in particular from therock got me to thinking. He talked about how the changes that have already taken place this year, with veterans being let go and such, have opened up a lot of positions. So just how many might be there for the rookies?
We all know that there are some veteran players that will make the team barring a health issue or something else unexpected. So to make a sort of companion piece for the previous article, I thought I would try to figure out just how many spots on the roster are reasonably safe right now. That would tell us how many places are really open for rookies and veteran backups to compete for.
Again, this is all based on my personal opinion and what I think I understand about how the coaches, particularly Jason Garrett and Rob Ryan, are approaching things this year. I know that JG5000 has talked about wanting competition from the top of the roster down, but does anyone think that Tony Romo, DeMarcus Ware, or Jason Witten really have to prove they deserve their roster spots? Of course, the call is not nearly that clear cut on everyone, so there may be a lot to hash over. Again, entertainment trumps accuracy, especially when dealing with as many unknowns as I am.
Enough exposition. On to how I see it after the jump.
In order to have a starting point, first we have to take a guess at how the 53 roster slots will be apportioned among the positions. This, as was pointed out in a post by OCC last summer, is not by any means cut and dried. The team changes the composition from year to year, and make adjustments in midseason. I am going to put up a "baseline" distribution of players based on recent history.
That is a sort of average dispersion of the positions from 2011. So from there, we can start seeing how many of those positions are filled. I'm going to look at some options to fill them as well. I'll try to make this all make sense in the end.
Quarterback:Tony Romo and Kyle Orton fill two slots, obviously. Here, the assumption is that the third backup job is up for grabs - but with no rookies at all in camp, this leaves a fight between Stephen McGee and Rudy Carpenter. I am for now going to assume that there will be three quarterbacks on the final roster. It does clearly offer one opportunity for a free agent, however, and the team could bring in another body at any point. So although this could easily see a change, it doesn't offer an opportunity for a rookie, which is what I am looking at. That's 1 new free agent possible, but 0 rookies as it now stands.
Running Back: DeMarco Murray and Felix Jones should be secure. The third running back position is clearly open to challenge, and likely will come down to Phillip Tanner and Lance Dunbar. 0 or 1 rookie here.
Fullback: I don't see any realistic challenge to Lawrence Vickers. This is a very likely position for a practice squad player, but that is not part of this discussion. 0 rookie.
Tight End: The first totally open slot, with only two incumbents in Jason Witten and John Phillips, and no tight end free agents signed to date. 1 rookie.
Wide Receiver: With only Dez Bryant and Miles Austin to depend on, I would say that If there is a place that the team may sacrifice the third quarterback to provide another slot, this would be it. With only two players who know they will be lining up here, that is three totally open positions. Plenty of veterans and rookies are competing here. I see at least one veteran backup (Raymond Radway or Dwayne Harris would be my guess) making the team and at least one rookie (Danny Coale fans unite!), with a swing spot that could go either way. 1 or 2 rookies.
Offensive Line: Now it gets really interesting. How many current players are secure? I would say Tyron Smith, Doug Free, Jermey Parnell (based on his new contract), Nate Livings, Mackenzy Bernadeau and . . . well, no one. It is certain that some of the current linemen on the roster will stay with the team, but the opinion varies widely as to who. Who, of David Arkin, Phil Costa, Kevin Kowalski, or Bill Nagy would you say is a lock right now? Then you add all of them up, and that is only nine names for ten positions, unless I missed someone. One experienced player will almost certainly fill the center position. That leaves four available backup spots. Given that Parnell is the only backup tackle, and the very positive comments about Ronald Leary, I see 1 or 2 rookies here - and that may be pessimistic.
Defensive Line: Without rehashing earlier discussions, I see that Jay Ratliff, Jason Hatcher, and Sean Lissemore are pretty solid. I tend to feel Clifton Geathers (given his contract) and Josh Brent are as well, leaving Kenyon Coleman and Marcus Spears fairly likely to be challenged, just on age if nothing else. Tyrone Crawford is, I think, almost certain to bump one (likely Coleman). Spears will have to fight to keep his spot. However, the situation is complicated by Robert Callaway, who could also take a position. This is a bit of a guess, but I think this is 1 or 2 rookies here, with 1 being the most likely.
Inside Linebacker: Sean Lee, Dan Connor, and Bruce Carter are in. Orie Lemon will be fighting to take that last slot. This is 0 or 1 rookie.
Outside Linebacker: DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer are set. Victor Butler and Alex Albright will have to hold their ground. I don't see both doing so with Kyle Wilber coming on, and could see neither of them coming back. 1 or 2 rookies.
Cornerback: We know that Pick 6 will be here. Basically, though, there are three good veterans on the team in Brandon Carr, Mike Jenkins, and Orlando Scandrick, and two vacancies to fill. The question is can one of the experienced guys like Mario Butler hold off both the UDFA rookies still hanging around, Isaac Madison and Lionel Smith? This will likely be one of the last cuts. 1 or 2 rookies.
Safety: This is about as wide open as anything could be. Brodney Pool and Gerald Sensabaugh will be there in September. Outside of that, you have Barry Church and Danny McCray who have experience, but could be challenged. And the fifth slot is pretty much wide open, with Matt Johnson looking better all the time. This is numerically just about the same as the wideouts. 1 or 2 rookies, with 1 being the most likely.
Specialists: They brought in people to challenge Dan Bailey, Chris Jones, and L P. LaDouceur (and the punter is gone already). But I really don't see any big opportunity here for any new guys, outside a practice squad possibility.
So what does that give us? Remember, this is looking strictly at the number of rookies that may be able to make the team. I'm going with a low and a high range here.
I don't think that the low number is off much at all. For that to be wrong, there would have to be a whole bunch of players who could not get on the field last year suddenly being solid contributors, and I just don't see that happening very often. Even if there are some holes in my logic, I don't see how any fewer than five true rookies make the roster - and really, I will be shocked if it is less than the seven I came up with.
Now, fifteen would require a whole big bunch of things to fall just right, and for a lot of rookies to come in and, well, play better than rookies do. But given the names ahead of them, there are just a ton of opportunities for the new guys. After taking a longer look at this, I honestly see double digit rookies making the team as a real possibility. Just take the fact that there is a definite spot for another O lineman, and the team did not draft any (despite Leary being as good as a draft pick according to most), and you have one almost bonus opportunity right there.
There are going to be a lot of new faces on the team this year. And I see that as a very good thing.