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Post Minicamp Dallas Cowboys 53-Man Roster Projection

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Here’s one guy’s wildly speculative guess of what the Cowboys would do if they set the 53-man roster now.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys-OTA Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

While we may not have learned a great deal from the Dallas Cowboys OTAs and minicamp, we do have a slightly more clear view of the team. So, despite the fact that many, many things are certainly going to change between now and the final cut to the initial 53-man roster (which often changes several times before the season opener), here is my guesstimate of how the roster will wind up. The players are chosen based on what I think the team will do. I have also included my own "wish list" of how I might prefer things to be done if I was that rich guy with the Johnny Walker Blue and the folksy sayings.

Quarterbacks (3)

  • Tony Romo
  • Kellen Moore
  • Dak Prescott

For some time now, the publicly stated plan has been for Moore to be the backup, and the selection of Prescott at the end of the fourth round will pretty much ensure him a roster spot so the team can develop him for the future. If he has any potential, even as a career backup, he cannot be exposed to the risk of waivers or the practice squad.

My wish: To see Jameill Showers push Moore off the roster. Moore is no longer practice squad eligible, but would anyone be likely to sign him? He could essentially serve as an emergency quarterback sitting at home should the worst occur.

But the main thing is that Showers and Prescott both appear to have much higher ceilings than Moore, and floors that may be higher than his as well, once they learn the playbook and system. If either of them were to manage to convince the coaches that he is a better QB2 than Moore, there is really no reason to keep the latter. The fact is that Moore is either bumping up against his ceiling or very close to it, while neither Prescott nor Showers looks to be at all near their growth limit.

Running backs/fullbacks (4)

  • Ezekiel Elliott
  • Alfred Morris
  • Darius Jackson
  • Rod Smith

With Lance Dunbar possibly starting the season on PUP and Darren McFadden still recovering from his case of falling iPhone elbow, Elliott, Morris, and Jackson get the roster spots almost by default, and Smith serves the dual purpose of giving Jason Garret the fullback without which he apparently cannot sleep well and can serve as the fourth running back in a pinch.

My wish: It would be nice if Dunbar and McFadden could heal up in time to be in a real competition to make the roster. Both have made contributions, although Dunbar’s have been very limited by injury. Right now it looks like they both may miss out entirely, because despite McFadden’s performance last year, any delay in getting into the mix in camp may put him too far behind to catch up. The best thing would still be for them to get a fair shot, but life is just not fair.

Wide receivers (5)

  • Dez Bryant
  • Terrance Williams
  • Cole Beasley
  • Brice Butler
  • Lucky Whitehead

The top five receiver positions look fairly well established already. Whitehead is the only one who may face a serious challenge, and his year in the system will probably give him enough of an advantage to hold it off. Devin Street is probably done unless the team tries to use the new PS rules to keep him around that way. He has not participated in the offseaon practices due to some injury concern, and that is likely to mean he misses the cut.

My wish: As seems to be the case every year, there are several UDFAs and former PS players who have flashed in practice. It would be great if one of them could establish himself as a kickoff and punt returner. It may force the team to carry six receivers, but that is still a weak spot for the special teams, and they need a better solution than putting Elliott or another starter back to return.

Tight end (3)

  • Jason Witten
  • James Hanna
  • Geoff Swaim

I think Gavin Escobar is going to wind up on PUP because of his injury (wink wink, nudge nudge, say no more). The team just does not seem to be able to figure out how to use him and may just put him on IR for lack of a better way to go. PUP could also leave the door open to bring him in later, but hope is kind of fading for him to pan out.

My wish: If Rico Gathers could somehow make tremendous strides, he has all the tools to be a very potent red zone weapon. The PS seems like the most likely route for him to go as the team works to get him ready for 2017, but if he could beat the odds and make the 53, he would create some massive problems for the defense if the Cowboys put a 12 package on the field down near the goal line.

Offensive line (9)

  • Tyron Smith
  • La’el Collins
  • Travis Frederick
  • Zack Martin
  • Doug Free
  • Ronald Leary
  • Chaz Green
  • Charles Brown
  • Jake Brendel

The starters are seen as the best line in the NFL, and at least one writer sees it as the best offensive unit of any description the league has. Leary is not going anywhere unless some team gets desperate enough to make Dallas an offer they can’t refuse. Brendel will possibly have to fend off Boston Stiverson to keep his spot as the backup center.

My wish: Chaz Green needs to step up so they could drop Charles Brown. Going with eight offensive linemen is rather shallow, but it is not unprecedented, and there are other places (like that sixth WR) the team can use the spot.

Offensive total: 24

Defensive End (5)

  • Benson Mayowa
  • Jack Crawford
  • Charles Tapper
  • David Irving
  • Ryan Russell

As grating as it is, the team has to plan for the absence of both Randy Gregory and DeMarcus Lawrence to start the year. Mayowa’s recovery is hoped to be far enough along for him to be available at the start of camp or shortly thereafter. Mike McAdoo may have an outside chance of forcing his way into the mix.

My wish: Roger Goodell gets off his duff and cancels DeMarcus Lawrence’s suspension. I don’t know if it will be dropped or reduced, but the team seems to think they have a good case. It just seems ludicrous that the NFL has no kind of established timetable for these things. The owners and players both should insist on a more formalized structure in the next CBA, if not before. This little power play every time there is a suspension is getting really old.

Defensive Tackle (5)

  • Tyrone Crawford
  • Cedric Thornton
  • Terrell McClain
  • Maliek Collins
  • Casey Walker

This is about everyone they have except Rodney Coe. I think Walker gets the nod because he is such a huge, double-team eating specimen, and can let Tyrone Crawford or Thornton prosper. The team could also go deeper on ends and leave Walker off, but to start the season, they may prefer the balance, with Walker a likely cut to make room for one of the suspended ends when they come back.

My wish: Not much here, outside of someone emerging as a real sack threat up the middle.

Linebackers (7)

  • Rolando McClain
  • Sean Lee
  • Anthony Hitchens
  • Andrew Gachkar
  • Damien Wilson
  • Kyle Wilber
  • Mark Nzeocha

The team tends to go heavy at linebacker because that is prime material for the special teams. Dallas also likes to teach the depth players all three spots for flexibility.

My wish: For that nerve to fire up in Jaylon Smith’s knee. With Rolando McClain, there is always something, and his work ethic just seems to be at odds with everything Jason Garrett and Rod Marinelli are trying to do. Smith would be such a wonderful insurance policy for problems this season, and he is clearly the hope for the future as the starting MIKE linebacker.

Cornerbacks (5)

  • Brandon Carr
  • Orlando Scandrick
  • Morris Claiborne
  • Ayodeji Olatoye
  • Anthony Brown

With the questions about the defensive line, the Cowboys need some good coverage in the secondary. With the return of Scandrick and a good start in the OTAs for Claiborne, that may be coming, although the slight injury concern with Claiborne in minicamp is not reassuring. But both Oyatoye and Brown have gotten good reviews, so there may be good depth there.

My wish: Find a way to keep Jeremiah McKinnion on the roster. He has also looked good in the practices, and the team may elect to go deeper at CB.

Safeties (4)

  • Barry Church
  • Byron Jones
  • Jeff Heath
  • J.J. Wilcox

My wish: For Kavon Frazier or Rolan Milligan to supplant Wilcox through a superior understanding of geometry. This is one of the real battles to watch in camp. Of course, no one touches the GOAT, Heath, who not only is a special teams ace but seems to have a real knack for being in the right pace at the right time when he is in coverage.

Defense total: 26

Specialists (3)

Kicker Dan Bailey, punter/holder Chris Jones, long snapper L.P. Ladouceur

My wish: For these guys to keep performing at the same level for the next decade or more. That may be a bit much for Ladouceur, who is in his second decade with the team, but it is not out of the realm of possibility for the two kickers.

There is my projection, along with some desires. To build your own 53, use the most excellent roster building tool available here.

Follow me @TomRyleBTB