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Three Different Dallas Cowboys 53-man Roster Projections (Pre-Camp)

A look at three recent roster projections to try to understand how the 2016 roster may be developing.

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Like all other NFL teams, the Cowboys have wrapped up their OTAs and minicamps, and the next official activity of any kind won't take place until the start of training camp. But that doesn't mean that nothing's been going on at Valley Ranch since. The Cowboys coaches were almost certainly busy watching film the OTAs and reviewing their practice notes before taking some vacation time. And one of the things they were likely doing in the process is slotting their players into some kind of a depth chart; a depth chart they have been building since the start of OTAs and one that is constantly being reconfigured.

So we're going to do a similar exercise today and take a look at what the Cowboys' final 53-man roster could look like based on what we've seen so far in OTAs. To do that, we're going to look at three separate projections. One from Todd Archer published today on ESPN, another one from Jon Machota of the Dallas Morning News published three weeks ago, and a final one from BTB's Tom Ryle published two days ago.

These roster projections may feel like they have a certain degree of certitude and finality, but they don't, not really. Because it's still early in the season, and nobody has seen the players in pads yet, the projections could be way off; players are bound to rise and fall, and there may yet be some surprise cuts and late additions that nobody saw coming.

But what these projections do give us is an early glimpse at how the depth chart may be shaping up and where the pressure points could be for the Cowboys.

I've combined all three projections in the table below. The table highlights (in yellow) the spots that do not yet appear to be locked down, and where there is still competition for a roster spot. Look closely and you'll see that even this early, there aren't many of those spots left, if these three projections are anything to go by.

Todd Archer, ESPN
Jon Machota, DMN
Tom Ryle, BTB
Romo Romo Romo
Moore Moore Moore
Prescott Prescott Prescott
Elliott Elliott Elliott
McFadden McFadden Morris
Morris Morris Jackson
Rod Smith (FB) Jackson Rod Smith (FB)
Witten Witten Witten
Escobar Escobar Hanna
Hanna Hanna Swaim
Swaim Swaim
Bryant Bryant Bryant
Williams Williams Williams
Beasley Beasley Beasley
Butler Butler Butler
Whitehead Whitehead Whitehead
Smith Smith Smith
Collins Collins Collins
Frederick Frederick Frederick
Martin Martin Martin
Free Free Free
Looney Green Leary
Green Leary Green
Leary Looney Brown
Brown Brown Brendel
Irving Irving Irving
T. Crawford T. Crawford T. Crawford
Thornton Thornton Thornton
Mayowa Mayowa Mayowa
McClain McClain McClain
J. Crawford J. Crawford J. Crawford
Tapper Collins Collins
Russell Tapper Tapper
Collins Russell Russell

Lee Lee Lee
McClain McClain McClain
Hitchens Hitchens Hitchens
Wilber Wilson Wilson
Gachkar Gachkar Gachkar
Wilson Wilber Wilber
Nzeocha Nzeocha
Scandrick Scandrick Scandrick
Carr Carr Carr
Claiborne Claiborne Claiborne
Brown Olatoye Olatoye
Olatoye Brown Brown
Church Church Church
Jones Jones Jones
Heath Heath Heath
Frazier Wilcox Wilcox
Specialists (3)

With that in mind, here a few thoughts on three projections above.

Quarterbacks: By picking Prescott in the fourth, the Cowboys have committed to a third QB on the roster, and as much as fans of Jameill Showers may cry foul, that's as many QBs as the Cowboys are going to carry.

Running backs: Ryle goes with the bold move and cuts veteran Darren McFadden in favor of sixth-round rookie Darius Jackson, but that may not be how the cookie crumbles for the Cowboys here. Looks like one key discussion will be about whether to keep a fullback or not, and it seems that Rod Smith has the edge here.

Tight ends: Ryle pushes Escobar off the roster, Archer and Machota keep him, but none of the three has room for rookie Rico Gathers.

Wide receivers: One of the least surprising projections of any position group. Will the Cowboys keep six receivers? Feels like a bit of a luxury, and they haven't done it in the last three years, but they did in the two previous years:

Years QB RB WR TE FB OL DL LB CB S Specialists
2015 2 4 5 4 1 9 10 6 5 4 3
2014 3 3 5 3 1 9 11 7 4 4 3
2013 2 4 5 4 - - 10 10 6 4 5 3
2012 2 3 6 4 1 9 3-4
5 5 3
2011 3 4 6 4 - - 9 5 4 4
2010 3 3 5 2 2 10 3 6 3

Offensive line: Will they go short and only keep eight offensive linemen?

Defensive Line: Demarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory don't count against the 53-man limit during their suspensions. Perhaps in anticipation of the duo's return, all three writers go short at DL with just nine guys, where the Cowboys have liked to go with 10 or 11.

Linebacker: Will Mark Nzeocha force the Cowboys to keep seven linebackers? Feels like a bit of a luxury on a defense that's probably going to play more than two thirds of its snaps in the nickel, but would you trust that whichever guys you'd release would make it through waivers?

Secondary: Machota penciled in Terrance Mitchell as a sixth corner, but that took care of itself when the Cowboys released Mitchell. Interestingly, CB Anthony Brown appears is the only sixth-round pick projected as a roster lock. At safety, Kavon Frazier will have to unseat J.J. Wilcox, which feels like a tall order for the rookie, though Archer thinks it's possible.

If the consensus here holds true, not one of the Cowboys UDFAs from this year would make the roster, and just one of the sixth-rounders looks assured of a spot. And not every returning veteran from 2015 is assured of a roster spot either. Is this a sign of better depth all across the roster, or is it simply a function of simply picking the names you are most familiar with so far?

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