What will this year’s 53-man final roster look like for the Dallas Cowboys? As the team looks to solidify the depth on their roster, the front office will have some tough choices to make. What happens over the next few weeks will loom large over some of those decisions. With the first preseason game completed, here is my first attempt at the Cowboys 53-man roster.
A great majority of this roster has already been determined. There are only a handful of spots that are really up for grabs. I will focus on these areas and take a close look at which players are on the rise, and which are falling. But before we get to that, let’s get the locks out of the way.
These are the stars on the team. To be in this group, you have to at least made the Pro Bowl once. These players are one of the very best at their position and there is very little doubt that they are the cream of the crop of the Cowboys roster. Your actual order may differ from mine, but they should consist of the same players.
This next group consists of players on the cusp of breaking out. Any one of these players could make the Pro Bowl this season and it wouldn’t be surprising. A few of these players may come across as having more to prove before they should be allowed in this tier, but even if they don’t reach the next level, you should be able to count on them to be one of the stronger starters on the team. Notice that all of these players have a "1" next to them as they are the top player at their position, with the exception of La’el Colllins who has an All-Pro guard ahead of him.
The Cowboys have been top heavy with some big stars for many years, but it’s the skill of these middling guys that speaks to the strength of their roster these days. All these players have key roles on the team and when healthy – are dependable performers.
There is nothing sexy about this group. At times, these players can make good plays. At others, they have issues. Overall, they are players who can contribute to the team and who should still be a lock to make the final roster.
DEVELOPING – SAFE
These players still have a lot to prove. Most of them are young and have limited experience in the league. And for that reason, they could be given a longer leash to showcase their ability so the chances of getting released isn’t very high. There will be a large amount of variation between how many snaps these players log as it should be determined by how they produce going forward, but it would be shocking if one of these players didn’t make the team.
Dak Prescott – He moves to the top of the list with a great debut and don’t be surprised to see him continue to rise.
Anthony Brown – With an impressive camp so far, his job keeps getting safer.
Kellen Moore – After Dak's performance, some fans are toying with the idea of cutting him loose, but it has to be a little intriguing that the coaches had him higher on the depth chart than Prescott. Is it possible he’s got some game in him? If they’ve earned some of our trust with Dak, then why not Kellen? This could make things interesting once he gets back from injury. Of course, we are all hoping that Prescott is so good that Kellen is no more.
Lucky Whitehead – He’s got wheels, he’s got heart, and now he’s got the Cowboys first touchdown of the 2016 preseason. There’s are reasons he’s on this team and we all witnessed 101 of them on Saturday.
Chaz Green – He struggled against the Rams, but he still will get a lot of chances. Just because the Cowboys scouts have been pure gold at assessing their offensive linemen doesn’t mean they’re all going to be winners, however, the jury is still out on Green.
Jack Crawford – This is Crawford’s sixth year in the league, so he’s the veteran of this group. While he has struggled to take that next step, he’s still a viable player on the defensive line.
Ryan Russell – Big things are expected from Russell this year. He got a lot of action on Saturday and made some plays. He "almost" had a nice play on the Benny Cunningham touchdown, but was just a tad bit late getting there.
Brice Butler – It was once thought he could challenge Terrance Williams for the number two spot, but that has all been put to rest. Then, there was some thinking that Andy Jones might take his spot, but again – that doesn’t seem very likely. Butler has been playing well and should be a good weapon on this offense.
Maliek Collins – He’s been injured and hasn’t shown anything yet. His draft stock keeps him here.
Charles Tapper – He’s off to a slow start in camp and didn’t play on Saturday due to a sore lower back.
BUBBLE – FRONT RUNNERS
These players are fighting for a roster spot, but have the inside track. What happens over the next few weeks could play a huge role in whether or not the start the season with the Dallas Cowboys.
Randy Gregory (suspended) – What happened to the Cowboys 2015 second-round pick is anyone’s guess. If he responds well to the treatment he is receiving, then maybe there’s a future for him, but Cowboys fans are putting him out of sight, out of mind.
Lance Dunbar (injured) – It’s hard not seeing Dunbar in the mix. He’s a dynamic player and provides the Cowboys offense another way to beat you. With the strong depth at the running back position, there is certainly no need to rush him back.
Darren McFadden – This one is tricky. He’s still a solid running back, but his role on this team could be reduced dramatically. The strange thing is that whether or not he makes the team may have nothing to do with what he does in upcoming weeks. His spot on the roster may be at the mercy of how Darius Jackson performs.
Geoff Swaim – His two dropped passes didn’t help his cause, but he’s still a good blocking tight end. And with how the Cowboys use tight ends in this offense, he still has value to the team.
Mark Nzeocha – With each new snap, the Cowboys second-year player keeps showing improvement. He had a nice interception against the Rams and did a good job chasing down runners. With his upside far from reached, there should be a place on the team for him.
Kyle Wilber – He’s a player that is there if you need him. He’s like your backup date to the prom.
Jeff Heath – He used to be a player I made fun of. Now, that player is J.J. Wilcox. While Heath is still a liability at the safety position, he plays hard and is a valuable piece to special teams.
Deji Olatoya – After watching so many deflected passes slip through the hands of Cowboys defenders last season, it was nice watching a cornerback make such an effort to secure the pick. If you’re keeping score at home, he now has the Cowboys last two interceptions, dating back to the week 16 game against Buffalo last season.
Rod Smith – It looks like the battle of the Smith’s at fullback will go to Rod. And since he plays special teams, he’s should be able to sneak on the roster.
Joe Looney – The second unit offensive line looks terrible. Looney is still the team’s best option to fill in for Travis Frederick should he get hurt, but he’s not running away with the job.
Damien Wilson – His little paint-balling escapade has delayed any type of assessment. If Rolando McClain was around, we could be talking about Wilson fighting for a roster spot. He still could be, but he still has a reasonable shot to make it.
BUBBLE – REPLACEMENTS
These players are on the outskirts of the 53-man roster, but due to injuries and suspensions, the Cowboys should have a few extra spots to allocate when week one rolls around. These players aren’t direct replacements, however, since two edge rushers will be suspended, it is imperative that the Cowboys at least have one DE on this list.
Darius Jackson – Can he do enough to earn a spot? It’s going to get tougher when Ezekiel Elliott returns as Jackson will be running with the bench guys, but if he can just get himself in space a few times, that might be all it takes. He doesn’t have to jump McFadden for his spot, but rather just match him. Tie goes to the rookie. He’s younger, cheaper, and you can throw him in on special teams.
Mike McAdoo – He’s having a good camp and the Cowboys will need edge rushers. He could do enough to at least hold down a temporary job.
Andrew Gachkar – He’s recovering from thumb surgery and it’s a crowded house at the linebacker position.
Kavon Frazier – The rookie hasn’t done very much to earn a spot yet, but at least with him, there’s a chance you might get something. With J.J. Wilcox, there’s not.
BUBBLE – OUTSIDERS
These players are on the outside looking in. If they want to make the roster, they have a lot of work to do. The Cowboys should find a lot of their practice squad candidates from this list.
Andy Jones – Camp favorite to game-day goat in a matter of two passes. But it’s just one game. He’s still got time to prove himself, but it’s going to be a large task to jump Butler.
Shaneil Jenkins – He’s the only Cowboys player with a sack so far so he warrants our attention.
Jameill Showers – He’s another guy who was impressing in camp, but then his stock took a hit after the preseason game. Of course, a lot of that had to do with how well Prescott played. Showers could be looking at another stint on the practice squad.
J.J. Wilcox – It's roster or bust for Wilcox. So far, he’s been working his way towards the unemployment line. Fortunately for him, the Cowboys don’t have another safety lining up to take his spot.
Derek Akunne – He made a great first impression by hitting the NFL’s number-one-overall pick in the draft, causing an interception. I’m pulling for this kid just so I can do Akunne Matata jokes.
Jake Brendel – With Looney not impressing anyone, the door is open. The problem is – he’s not impressing either. Zack Martin may want to practice snapping the ball.
Jeremiah McKinnon – I saw a lot of number 37 around the ball on Saturday. He’s caught my eye, but he’s going to have to make a bigger splash to be a legitimate threat. He’s my super-sneaky deep sleeper pick.
Devin Street – His career in Dallas has been disappointing so far as it appears his days could be numbered. He hasn’t had a lot of opportunities to catch passes from decent arms in previous preseason years, but he played well against the Rams. Does he have one last surge left in him?
Rico Gathers – He hasn’t done anything to warrant a roster spot, but this one is going to come down to guessing his potential. If the coaches like what they see, it will come down to how much of a risk it will be to put him on the practice squad.
Rodney Coe – He had the perfect opportunity to strut his stuff as the Cowboys interior line is banged up, but Coe’s been a no-show so far.
Dax Swanson – He’s not making a lot of plays, but he’s also not burnt toast like Josh Thomas.
Lawrence Okoye – He’s got to make more out of his opportunities if he is to have a shot.
Zach Wood – See Rodney Coe.
Note: There is no Rolando McClain on this list. While he's not been officially released, it should just be a formality once his 10-game suspension ends.
Do you agree with this roster ranking? Which players do you have higher? Which players have fallen?