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The Top Five Pitfalls Of Preseason 53-Man Roster Projections

Roster projections early in preseason are best approached with caution. We identify the five most common pitfalls as we look back at four different Cowboys roster projections from 2013.

Do not leave this guy off your roster projection.
Do not leave this guy off your roster projection.
Rick Yeatts

Last year, immediately after the Hall Of Fame game against the Miami Dolphins, and after two weeks of training camp, we looked a three different 53-man roster projections here on BTB: Tim MacMahon had published one for ESPN Dallas; Rabblerouser and I added our projections to the mix. That same week, Jon Machota of the Dallas Morning News also published his early take on the 53-man roster for the offense and the defense.

Today, we’re going to look back at those four roster projections to see what the pitfalls in early roster projections are, something that should come in handy as we review the next batch of roster projections that are likely to hit us in the coming weeks.

The table below summarizes our four 53-man roster projections for the Cowboys from last year. Note that the players are not necessarily shown in the order in which they were originally published, as I reordered them in some instances to make the projections more transparent across the four sources. Green denotes starters on the opening day of the 2013 season, the other players on the season-opening 53-man roster are marked in yellow. Players who did not make the 53-man roster are marked in red.

MacMahon, ESPN Machota, DMN rabblerousr, BTB OCC, BTB
Romo Romo Romo Romo
Orton Orton Orton Orton
Murray Murray Murray Murray
Dunbar Dunbar Dunbar Dunbar
Randle Randle Randle Randle
Tanner Tanner Tanner Tanner
Witten Witten Witten Witten
Escobar Escobar Hanna Hanna
Hanna Hanna Escobar Escobar
A. Smith A. Smith
Rosario Rosario Rosario Rosario
Bryant Bryant Bryant Bryant
Austin Austin Austin Austin
Williams Williams Williams Williams
Harris Harris Harris Harris
Beasley Beasley Beasley Beasley
Smith Smith Smith Smith
Leary Leary Leary Leary
Frederick Frederick Frederick Frederick
Bernadeau Bernadeau Bernadeau Bernadeau
Free Free Free Free
Parnell Parnell Parnell Parnell
Costa Costa Costa Costa
Arkin Arkin Arkin Arkin
Weems Bell
Livings Livings Livings Livings
Ware Ware Ware Ware
Selvie Selvie Selvie Selvie
Spencer Spencer Spencer Spencer
Wilber Wilber Wilber Wilber
Hatcher Hatcher Hatcher Hatcher
Hayden Hayden Hayden Hayden
Ratliff Ratliff Ratliff Ratliff
Lissemore Lissemore Lissemore Lissemore
Bass Pendleton Bass Bass
Lee Lee Lee Lee
Carter Carter Carter Carter
Durant Durant Durant Durant
Holloman Holloman Holloman Holloman
Albright Sims Sims Sims
Magee Magee Magee Albright
Carr Carr Carr Carr
Claiborne Claiborne Claiborne Claiborne
Scandrick Scandrick Scandrick Scandrick
Webb Webb Webb Webb
Moore Moore Moore Moore
Church Church Church Church
Allen Allen Allen Allen
Wilcox Wilcox Wilcox Wilcox
McCray McCray Frampton Frampton
Johnson Johnson Johnson

If you start summing up the green cells, you'll quickly see that all four predictions had the 22 Week 1 starters penciled in. Which brings us to our first learning about roster projections: Projecting the top guys on the roster isn't a hard thing to do. Barring injury, almost every projection should have the eventual starters on the roster. But where these projections get interesting are on players we missed on. The bulk of the "red" players in the table above were either traded or put on IR. Rosario and Lissemore were traded before the season opener, Johnson, Albright, Bass, Livings, and Ratliff were placed on IR or PUP. Projecting these trades and injuries before camp is impossible, but they will make any projection look weak in hindsight.

But there's more to watch out for than just the IR list. As we've tracked these early projections over the last few years, a handful of roster projection pitfalls have emerged which can be broadly classified in the following five categories:

The "Progress Stopper"

"Progress stopper" is a term Bill Parcells introduced to Cowboys Nation. The term has stuck around and is mostly used for veteran players with no upside who fans and media alike believe should leave to make room for an exciting young talent they believe has almost unlimited potential. But coaches don’t always think in terms of potential. Instead, they see reliability versus lack of experience, and will often take the former over the latter. It’s not sexy and it’s not what fans and the media want, but it’s what coaches do.

Rabble and I chose not to include Danny McCray in our projections, opting instead to go with the younger Matt Johnson, possibly for no other reason than that the new is more exciting than the old. Johnson ended up on IR again, so the point is moot to an extent, but the Cowboys did keep McCray and added another "exciting" safety in UDFA Jeff Heath.

As you look at roster projections, look closely at where there’s a tradeoff between a middle-of-the-pack veteran and a young (and unproven) player. The veteran may have the edge more often than you think.

The Guy With A Story

Sometimes, a player joins the roster whose story is just so compelling, you want him to make the roster, and don’t look too closely at his performance in camp.

Remember how Danny Coale was supposed to always be open? He made a lot of early roster projections but ended up on the practice squad and eventually was released.

Last year, Alex 'Trickshot' Tanney was all the rage, and while none of us had him making the roster in our projections, Tanney's name still keeps popping up whenever there's talk about the Cowboys' QB situation.

Watch out for underdog fever. You know, guys with impressive youtube videos or something like that.

The You-Can-Never-Have-Enough-Players-At-His-Position Guy

CB Sterling Moore showed up on all four projections but didn’t make the roster. We all thought the Cowboys would go with five corners, with Moore either the fourth or fifth guy. The Cowboys went with four, and picked Webb over Moore, who went unclaimed and unsigned for nearly three months before the Cowboys re-signed him on November 25.

Building the roster is not a color-by-numbers exercise. Beware of the guy who tells you that you can’t have enough corners, or that you can’t have enough linebackers, or that you can't have enough linemen. Of course you can have enough.

The System Guy

TE Andre Smith only made it onto two of our projections, but still made the roster. Who would have thought that some teams actually like their tight ends with at least a modicum of blocking ability? The coaches knew it, Machota and I certainly didn't.

The Pet Cat

Everybody has a pet cat. And whether we do it knowingly or not, we all construct our projections to some way, some how fit in that one player we’ve taken a linking to. Because deep in our hearts we know that if we close our eyes and wish for something really, really hard, it is bound to happen.

And this year, with the multitude of late-round picks and another promising UDFA class, roster projections will inevitably feature a pet cat plague of biblical proportions.

CB Terrance Mitchell is bound to show up on a few projections, DT Ken Bishop will likely be penciled in high on any depth chart, safety Ahmad Dixon could be the special teams freak to take Danny McCray's vacated spot, RB Ben Malena is getting a lot of positive press, and QB Dustin Vaughan could emerge as a candidate for a third QB spot.

And your roster projection would probably get up and slap you in the face if you don't include Ben Gardner.

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