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Assessing The Cowboys Roster, Mid-Camp Edition: Ranking Players 1-90, Regardless Of Position

Who are the best (and worst) players on the Cowboys roster, regardless of position? After two weeks of camp and a preseason game to gather information, Rabbs and McCool rank the current roster, from one to ninety.

Greg Hardy reacts to his #6 ranking
Greg Hardy reacts to his #6 ranking
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Last year at camp, during our "deep immersion Cowboys nerd weekend," my podcast partner, Landon McCool, and I set about to rank the 2014 Cowboys from 1-90. This was no easy task; we spent two and a half hours with index cards spread across one of our beds making agonizing decisions. As this weekend marks this year's deep immersion sojourn, we decided to revisit the exercise. Strangely, it wasn't nearly as arduous; we hit some rough patched as we ranked the second half of the roster, but most of it went surprisingly smoothly.

As many of you know, the 1-90 ranking is a favorite exercise of mine. Most standard roster assessment posts look at the top players by each position group. This is a reasonable methodology, and it's how we began the assessment process for this exercise, but there is a crucial drawback: it doesn't offer the clearest of pictures about the talent distribution across the team; as those of you who have studied the Cowboys' roster know, the sixth cornerback can be better than, say, the backup left tackle. And, while organizations certainly look at the various position groups as they prepare for difficult roster cut decisions, they must also rank the entire roster if they are to, as Jason Garrett says, "keep the best 53."

This is a good time to conduct this experiment. We are two weeks into camp, and have each watched the Chargers game twice, so there is considerable more clarity than there was when camp got underway on July 30. Just those few days ago, slotting the 2015 draft picks and UDFAs was a difficult endeavor, largely because we had seen little to nothing of them. Now, after twelve camp practices, a preseason game, and several tete-a-tetes with other careful observers, we have a much better handle on the roster.

Before we begin, a couple of notes: our rational was largely driven by a question and a rubric. The question: how good is this player at what his position asks him to do? The rubric: we used last year's performance as a baseline, using training camp performance to adjust the ranking. Also please note that, when applicable, I've included the player's rank at this time last year (which had no bearing on this year's rankings). Okay, here we go:

Rank Player
1 Tyron Smith, OT (2)
2 Dez Bryant, WR (1)
3 Zack Martin, OG (9)
4 Tony Romo, QB (4)
5 Dan Bailey, K (3)
6 Greg Hardy, DE
7 Jason Witten, TE (5)
8 Travis Frederick, OC (7)
9 Tyrone Crawford, DT (16)
10 Sean Lee, LB (NR)

Thoughts: The top ten hasn't changed a lot since the last time I did this exercise, as befits a steady team that enjoys a degree of continuity. Seven of the top ten were there a year ago, and one of the new additions, Lee, was in the top ten two years ago. Happily for a team that struggled to rush the passer in 2015, the two other new faces are free agent Hardy and Tyrone Crawford, who jumps up from the sixteenth spot. The list was once populated by veteran Pro Bowlers; now, it's led by the future of the franchise: youngsters Smith, Bryant, Martin, Bailey, and Frederick. And: the top ten reflects the relative strength of the Cowboys offense, with the top four players and six of the top ten. Here's the next group:

Rank Player
11 Cole Beasley, WR (18)
12 Rolando McClain, LB (29)
13 Orlando Scandrick, CB (10)
14 DeMarcus Lawrence, DE (25)
15 Doug Free, OT (11)
16 Terrance Williams, WR (13)
17 Ronald Leary, OG (31)
18 Mo Claiborne, CB (14)
19 Barry Church, S (12)
20 Byron Jones, CB/ S

Thoughts: To my mind, this is the most interesting decade on the list. This group doesn't have a lot of established stars, and those it does have - Scandrick, Free, Church - seem to have their arrows angled downward since last year, when they were all on the cusp of the top ten. The good news is that their respective downticks might be a result of the roster's overall improvement; there's a lot of Pro Bowl potential throughout the 11-20 range, starting with Lawrence, who is arguably the most improved player on the roster. Also, the defense takes six of the ten spots, helping to balance out the top 20 (ten offense, nine defense, one special teams)

Rank Player
21 Jeremy Mincey, DE (27)
22 Brandon Carr, CB (19)
23 J.J. Wilcox, S (26)
24 Joseph Randle, RB (40)
25 Randy Gregory, DE
26 Corey White, CB/ S
27 Gavin Escobar, TE (23)
28 Anthony Hitchens, LB (57)
29 La'el Collins, OG
30 L.P. Ladouceur, LS (33)

Thoughts: This is where solid starters and key substitution players can be found. Two of the Cowboys' three "first round" rookies are here - one of many indications that the 2015 draft class is looking like another strong one. Two of my favorites in this decade are White and Escobar; both have had impressive camps during which they exceeded our expectations. Finally, if you recall our assessment criterion ("how good is this player at what his position asks him to do?"), one could justify ranking Ladouceur even higher than # 30.

Rank Player
31 Tyler Patmon, CB (59)
32 Terrell McClain, DT (28)
33 James Hanna, TE (39)
34 Darren McFadden, RB
35 Damien Wilson, LB
36 Nick Hayden, DT (44)
37 Jeff Heath, S (38)
38 Kyle Wilber, LB (21)
39 Mackenzy Bernadeau, OC/ OG (22)
40 Lance Dunbar, RB (15)

Thoughts: An interesting hodge-podge of key rotational guys (McClain, Hanna); important backups who could play key roles before the season ends (Bernadeau); and talented youngsters on the come (Patmon, Wilson). Oh, and one starter: the always unheralded and under-rated Nick Hayden - the guy everybody always wants to replace. Although not every one of this ten-some has been awesome in camp, none has done anything to make us think they won't make the final 53.

Rank Player
41 Jack Crawford, DT
42 Devin Street, WR (42)
43 Brandon Weeden, QB (37)
44 Tyler Clutts, FB (41)
45 Lavar Edwards, DE
46 Jasper Brinkley, LB
47 Darrion Weems, OT (50)
48 Andrew Gachkar, LB
49 Lucky Whitehead, WR
50 Geoff Swaim, TE

Thoughts: This is the group you want to be populated largely if not exclusively by young players that we can easily see being in a higher decade next year. While most of these players are young and have impressed in camp (and could play important rotational roles in the coming years) there are still three comparative greybeards who are either not particularly talented (Clutts, Weeden) or serve as roster insurance (Brinkley). And, although its difficult to rank him much higher, we believe Andrew Gatchkar is, with Corey White, this year's free agent find. He'll be a terrific special teams player and, in camp, has shown that he can run, hit and cover.

Rank Player
51 Davon Coleman, DT (35)
52 Reggie Dunn, WR
53 Danny McCray, S
54 Ryan Russell, DE
55 Ken Bishop, DT (48)
56 Ken Boatright, DE (82)
57 Chris Jones, P (49)
58 Joel Ross, CB
59 Nick Harwell, WR
60 Chaz Green, OT

Thoughts: This group extends beyond the 53, yet contains several players capable of pushing guys in the 41-50 range off the Cowboys roster. In particular, Davon Coleman and Ryan Russell have really flashed in camp; both just need to be more consistent to secure a roster spot. Because of this upside, we think Coleman is ahead of Bishop, which really hurts, because we love Bishop's power and hustle. McCray and Jones are probably shoo-ins; when he 's healthy (which might not be in 2015), Chaz Green should give Weems a run for his money.

We have been saying there are 60 NFL players on the Cowboys' 90 man roster, a claim that is borne out by this exercise. Because certain positions are more in demand, and due to our admitted biases, some of those 60 might be found near the top of our last grouping, which covers players ranked 61-90:

Rank Player
61 Ben Gardner, DE (66)
62 Robert Steeples, CB
63 Shane McDermott, OC
64 Mark Nzeocha, LB
65 John Wetzel, OG/ OT (85)
66 Tim Scott, S
67 Keith Smith, LB (80)
68 A.J. Jenkins, WR
69 Dustin Vaughan, QB (86)
70 Jameil Showers, QB
71 R. J. Dill, OT
72 Laurence Gibson, OT
73 Donnie Baggs, LB
74 Ray Agnew, FB
75 Antwan Goodley, WR
76 Ben Malena, RB (74)
77 Ron Patrick, OG (58)
78 Gus Johnson, RB
79 Deontay Greenberry, WR
80 George Farmer, WR
81 Casey Kreiter, LS (90)
82 Efe Obada, DE
83 Ka'Lial Glaud, LB
84 Brandon Smith, CB
85 Lache Seastrunk, RB
86 Brandon Barden, TE
87 Johnathan Brown, LB
88 Michael Hill, RB
89 Tom Hornsey, P
90 Cody Clay, OG

Thoughts: At the top of this section are a handful of names who have a very real opportunity to make the team, displacing someone higher on the list. Two of them are late-round draft choices: Nzeocha has the skillset to become a valuable backup LB/ special teams demon, and Gibson has raw ability that the coaches might want to stash in order to develop. O-linemen McDermott and Wetzel could be good practice squad candidates. And, of course, there's quarterbacks Dustin Vaughan and Jameil Showers; has either of them shown enough to justify keeping over a sixth corner, fourth tight end or fifth defensive end?


Okay, that's it for now. I'll do a version of this exercise again closer to the end of the preseason, as we gear up for final cut-downs. In the meantime, what rankings do you like? With which ones do you vehemently disagree? Go to the comments section and let it all hang out, people!

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