One. Spot. Left.
Projecting and breaking down the roster is about as much fun as we're going to get during the days leading up to the games over the next two weeks. Rabble beat me to the submit button with his Player Rankings article from a few days ago, so I returned to the drawing board and decided to add a twist to my rankings.
I am going to attempt to rank all 53 players who I believe are going to be Dallas Cowboys come September 1st. I will then choose the 8-man practice squad, and I will also attempt to identify the seven players who will make the roster, but will not be active on gameday (err, game night) against the New York Giants September 8th.
My ranking criteria is simple: Who's the better pound-for-pound player? That's a mix of talent and value to the team. As we move to the later stages of the rankings, I will highlight "gray" the seven players I think the team plans to have inactive. Let's get it.
The Top 5
I took a poll on the Top 5 Cowboys on Twitter two nights ago... The response count hit 30 before a single person differed from the grouping of Ware-Bryant-Romo-Witten-Lee in some order. This matches my exact sentiment, obviously. I think Lee has a chance to end the season as the Cowboys best defender, if he actually is still playing when the Cowboys season ends. Shout out to an extra $1.5 milly.
I think Witten's YPA will bounce back from a career low in '12 and the TDs will kick up, even as he is no longer Romo's primary target. But the Top 3? I'm uber-comfy.
What I've seen in flashes of game action, and with the reports from training camp, Ware is ready to reclaim the throne as the league's best pass rusher. Romo, I think with solid protection automatically vaults into being a Top 6 QB in the NFL, and it's looking like he might get that in '13. Dez Bryant warrants people to make videos like this. #ItsTheOnlyArgumentINeedShawn.
(The Rest Of The) Top 16
Shortly after the poll, I came to the conclusion that the Cowboys have a Top 16, and then everyone else. Think about that, if you can say that you have 16 players in the upper tier of their position contemporaries, you should be fielding a good team. Provided they remain healthy, of course.
The fact that three of the Top 7 players on the team exist on the D-Line is something I love, but it remains to be seen if allowing the "main four" to rush all the time instead of mixing and matching rushers is the elixir needed to catapult this defense upward. "Split'Em" Bailey is a weapon, whether you want to admit it or not. He will get a chance at the long field goals this year, his leg is stronger.
Call Claiborne unproven, but there's a reason he was tested so infrequently last year. He gave up 1.14 yards per snap, good for 25th in the NFL. Frederick needs to just keep on keeping on and Ratliff just needs to make it to 12 games. I still think when he plays he has a lot to offer.
Ocean's (Next) Eleven
The next 11 rounds out the guys who I feel are going to be key guys in 2013, barring injury. Scandrick leads this group based on his tremendous camp, but I still worry a bit about how much of that is simply knowing Garrett’s offense. OS almost made it into a Top 16, but as @BMoSports214 said yesterday, (paraphrasing) We always hear about awesome Scandrick camps. Let's have an awesome Scandrick regular season.
There’s a lot of offense-minded players in this group, and you’d hope to have some of these guys creep up to make things more even at the defense-heavy top.
7 (Player) Theory + A (Career) Resurrection
Shout out to Pac. This group right here? I love this group because it's all about untapped potential. Hayden is the only player with extensive experience here. The rest are all first- or second-year players that are fighting for respect and opportunity. Well, MJ is fighting some sort of geechi monster, but you get the point. He's tumbling at the moment, but for now he stays on the team.
The Final Four(teen) And Cinderella
These are the last guys that make the cut, and it's a collection of contingency plans, reclamation projects and players with plenty of strides to make before they make a serious impact. Lissy just doesn't seem to fit the 4-3 rushmen style of The Montenelli. Costa wasn't good enough this last camp to force Dallas to move Fredbeard to guard and solve that issue. Selvie's on the come up...
Webb has a ways to go. Magee will be the only rookie UDFA to make the roster, according to me. The backup tackles round out the Top 49, and in the case of Demetress "Dinner" Bell, I do mean round.
Number 50 is just some QB guy. Nothing to see here. Yet. I have Tanney as 50 of 51; but his position is tenuous as well. I think he's safe because Dallas at least needs to work on a cheap backup for Romo.
Miss me with that "LP is soooo underrated" stuff. He's a long snapper. Most in the league are really, really good, ok?
Last Man Standing
Here's the dilemma. We're choosing between a group of players that all brings a unique situation to the table. Ryan Cook is a veteran presence that can play up and down the line. His downside is a $1 million cap hit to be the 10th lineman. Kevin Kowalski has interior position flex, but injuries have prevented him from having a chance to make an impression. I've been preaching about how Nate Livings contract situation forbids the Cowboys from outright cutting him all offseason. If it wasn't for this knee situation he'd be on the team, but it's looking like IR for Nate.
Jeris Pendleton has been a monster in run defense, but does Montinelli care about run defense enough to put him with the big club? Micah Pellerin is showing up, but will have the same value on the practice squad to the team. Danny McCray is a special teams ace and adequate run stopper... but hideous in coverage and comes with a non-guaranteed $1m+ cap hit... which leaves us with...
Slowly but surely, the Cowboys have been working Heath into each special teams unit and he is acquitting himself rather well. This, to me, is so that they don't have to shell out big money for a special teams guy like McCray.
Game Day Inactives: Why?
QB Tanney is a practice squader the team wants to protect. Do the Cowboys need four running backs? Yes, do they all need to be active on gameday? No; Randle sits as Tanner plays all ST units and is a short-yardage back. I battled between sitting Costa and Arkin, but here's what I figured. If Smith or Free goes down, Parnell comes in. If Frederick goes down, your choices are Bernie or Costa. You'd prefer Costa, but what if a guard goes down? With only 7 active linemen, you need #7 to be a guard, and Costa is definitely not that. So, he's inactive on gamedays.
On defense, Sims ability to play both Mike and Sam means that Holloman is inactive initially. BW Webb doesn't seem NFL ready at this point.
I'm keeping one of the inactive spots for the inevitable injury. Le Sigh.
The Practice Squad
I like this crew. You can't go TE heavy and not have one in the chamber, so Smith gets the nod here. Danny Coale makes the PS because Anthony Armstrong is obviously ineligible. I love what Pendleton and Pellerin have been doing these last couple games. The team would be well-advised to keep them close. McSurdy and Weems get more chances to prove their worth. I'm not 100% sure that Gibson meets the PS criteria. If he doesn't, slide Toby Jackson into his spot.
So what do you think, BTB? How close am I? What would you do differently? Let's talk it out in the comments section.
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