The NFL goes through different phases in the offseason. The most well-known is the mock draft season, which starts, well, pretty much immediately after the draft and ends when the NFL Draft begins. But there are others, and possibly second to mock draft season is roster projection season. It is, like the draft, based on what various fans, pundits, writers, and analysts think. It does have the slight advantage of at least being partly right, since some players are so obviously going to make the final roster coming out of training camp that anyone can name them. However, the rest of the roster is really just guesses and players we want to see make it. It serves very little real purpose other than to generate discussion.
And we love it.
This is the first Dallas Cowboys roster projection since the rookie minicamp, and unlike how it was with the first projection KD Drummond put up, the rookies have actually practiced in front of members of the media. So we have (a very teeny bit of) real data to factor in, but I won't claim that it makes my guess any more accurate than his. Another fun part of this is trying to figure out the mix of positions the Cowboys will keep. So with no further ado, here is my projection.
Quarterbacks (2): Tony Romo, Brandon Weeden
I am sticking by my theory that Kyle Orton, for whatever reason, has soured things with the team to the point he is not going to be with the Cowboys this fall. That leaves the 108 million dollar man and the guy who made fans of the Cleveland Browns so ecstatic to see a draft choice used to select Johnny Manziel. Unlike many, I would not be at all dismayed to see Weeden become the backup. With the players he has around him here, particularly the wide receivers and the offensive line, he might actually be competent.
Running backs (4 HB, 1 FB): DeMarco Murray, Lance Dunbar, Ryan Williams, Ben Malena, J.C. Copeland
My guess is that Joseph Randle is not going to make it, but he could be saved if there is an injury along the way. With Williams' history, that is not at all out of the question. However, I think these would be the best four to come out of camp. Williams would back up Murray, and Malena would be able to fill in for both Murray and Dunbar if needed. Copeland is just a load as a lead blocker, and it sounds like he might also be a target sneaking out of the backfield, a la a certain Daryl "Moose" Johnston back in the day.
Tight ends (3): Jason Witten, Gavin Escobar, Jordan Najvar
I don't think the 12 package figures as prominently under Scott Linehan as we thought it was going to for the Cowboys last season. The 21 and 11 groups are going to be the predominant combinations of players we see. The Senator is a given (and he recently said in an interview he hasn't even thought about retirement), Escobar gets a chance to show why he was drafted, and Najvar is reputed to be the blocker who can also catch that the team wants for the promised revival of the running game. James Hanna becomes the man left out.
Wide receiver (6): Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Dwayne Harris, Cole Beasley, Devon Street, L'Damian Washington
No matter how much the Cowboys seek to make the ground game more important, they are still going to be a passing team with Romo at the helm, and he needs targets. Linehan is talking about going deep more as well, which is why I think Street was drafted. His route running is touted as exceptionally polished for a kid just out of college. Since Harris is on the roster as much for his return prowess as receiving skills, I think the team will make room for Washington. Maybe I am overly influenced by his backstory, but he is one rookie that I have to pull for. Beasley will continue to get chances in the slot, but there will also be times the team will go with a taller receiver there.
Offensive line (8): Tyron Smith, Ronald Leary, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, Doug Free, Mackenzy Bernadeau, Darrion Weems, Jarrod Pughsley
With the addition of Martin, Leary and Bernadeau will be competing for the other starting guard position, and because Bernadeau is also a backup center, I think he will be the one spending his time on the sideline. Weems will be the backup tackle partly because the team is also looking at him as a guard, and we all know Jason Garrett loves him some multiplicity. This year will sadly signal the end of the Jermey Parnell experiment. Pughsley is largely a guess here, but I would feel absolutely no surprise if some other candidate emerged as the last backup.
George Selvie, Tyrone Crawford, Ben Bass, Henry Melton, Jeremy Mincey, Terrell McClain, DeMarcus Lawrence, Ben Gardner, Ken Bishop, Davon Coleman
The team goes deep here to make sure that they do not fall into the situation of last season, where they were almost down to auditioning any big, athletic looking human being they found walking down the street. It is unknown whether several of these players will line up inside or outside, and I would not be at all surprised to see some of them playing both tackle and end at various times. Nick Hayden took more snaps than anyone else on the defensive line last season, but this group will simply have players that are all more capable than he was. Anthony Spencer is believed to be headed for PUP to start the season, where he may be available later if his knees hold up. Chris Whaley will also be there or on IR, depending on when the team thinks he might be ready to compete.
Linebackers (6): Sean Lee, Bruce Carter, DeVonte Holloman, Kyle Wilber, Anthony Hitchens, Will Smith
Again, inside versus outside, and Will versus Sam is still up in the air for some of these players. Carter, of course, has a lot to prove, but I am going to assume he gets his head straight. Justin Durant loses out. So does Orie Lemon, which kind of makes me sad, but there is a reason he has been just hanging around the Cowboys and sometimes filling in as injuries pile up.
Cornerbacks (5): Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne, Orlando Scandrick, B.W. Webb, Terrance Mitchell
Claiborne says he is healthy and will be more successful this year. I hope he is right. Mitchell, even though he was taken just three spots before the end of the draft, looks like a very solid bet to make the team, probably more so than Webb.
Safeties (5): Barry Church, J.J. Wilcox, Matt Johnson, Jeff Heath, Ryan Smith
Yes, I believe this is the year the unicorn of Dallas turns out to be real and Johnson actually gets to play in a real NFL game. Wilcox should be better without having to deal with personal tragedy the way he did last summer. Ahmad Dixon is having physical issues already, and I think he will go the PUP route as well. If he does get healthy, then I think Heath will be dropped to make way for him.
SPECIAL TEAMS (3): Dan Bailey, Chris Jones, L.P. Ladouceur
Nothing to mess with here. I know that some may want to see Jones challenged, but I think he wins out, not least of all because he is Bailey's holder.
That is my first run at things. I think Dustin Vaughan, Martin Glasco, Chris Boyd, and Jakar Hamilton will be on the practice squad. Outside of them, I am not sure.