The Cowboys released their first official depth chart of the 2016 season because the NFL requires all teams to do so prior to the season opener.
Unfortunately, what the league wants and what the league gets can be two completely different things. So if you were hoping that this depth chart was put together by Jason Garrett and his coaching staff after hours of debate and hand wringing, you're bound to be disappointed. The depth chart probably originates from somewhere in the PR department, and we're lucky, if it wasn't some intern who threw this together.
Be that as it may, it is the official depth chart, even if you may want to take it with a grain of salt, and it is still worth a look. Here's what the full depth chart currently looks like, with returning players marked in green, rookies marked in yellow, and free agent additions marked in orange:
|WR1||Dez Bryant||Brice Butler|
|TE||Jason Witten||Geoff Swaim||Gavin Escobar|
|LG||La'el Collins||Ronald Leary|
|C||Travis Frederick||Joe Looney|
|RT||Doug Free||Chaz Green
|WR2||Terrance Williams||Cole Beasley
|QB||Dak Prescott||Mark Sanchez|
|RB||Ezekiel Elliott||Alfred Morris||Lance Dunbar||Darius Jackson|
|1-tech DT||Terrell McClain||Cedric Thornton|
|3-tech DT||Tyrone Crawford||Maliek Collins|
|RDE||Benson Mayowa||Charles Tapper|
|SLB||Andrew Gachkar||Kyle Wilber||Damien Wilson
|MLB||Anthony Hitchens||Mark Nzeocha
|WLB||Sean Lee||Justin Durant|
|RCB||Morris Claiborne||Dax Swanson|
|SCB||Orlando Scandrick||Anthony Brown|
|FS||Byron Jones||Jeff Heath|
|SS||Barry Church||J.J. Wilcox||Kavon Frazier|
|PR||Lucky Whitehead||Cole Beasley|
Notes / Observations from the initial depth chart:
Color by numbers: Notice how the column with the No. 1 players is mostly a tranquil sea of green, indicating that most of the key players in the column are returning players from 2015. The three exceptions are Ezekiel Elliott, who was drafted to be a starter, Dak Prescott, who moves up the depth chart due to Romo's injury, and Benson Mayowa, who is the Cowboys' free agent answer to the (many) questions at pass rusher.
Note also that outside of Mayowa, all the veterans brought in this year (marked in orange) are shown in the second column as key backups, and Mayowa might move into the backup column once Demarcus Lawrence returns from his suspension. It may be coincidence that the depth chart has them all lined up in the second column this year, but it is a reflection of the Cowboys' approach of recent years: fill gaps in your depth chart with bargain free agents, and acquire top talent via the draft.
The two types of tight ends? The TE depth chart is a little surprising in that Geoff Swaim is listed ahead of Gavin Escobar. This might be an indication that Swaim is the number two guy ahead of Escobar, it might indicate that Escobar has not progressed far enough in his rehab from a torn Achilles, it might simply be a clerical error in the PR department, or it might be an indication that the Cowboys use two different types of tight ends.
Last year, Escobar was the "move" or "F" tight end prior to his injury, which is usually a guy who is a better receiver than a blocker. By contrast, Witten, and Hanna played the "Y" position, which is a player that usually lines up in-line and has a much bigger blocking than receiving role. This depth chart seems to suggest that Witten and Swaim could be the "Y" or blocking tight ends, while Escobar might be the "F" tight end. Or I could be simply reading too much into this.
Linebackers: Andrew Gachkar is listed as the starter at strongside linebacker. if this is true, then he's recovered well enough from his thumb fracture to start against the Giants, which would be good news. Gachkar's recovery in turn would likely mean that Kyle Wilber will get snaps at defensive end for at least as long as Charles Tapper remains out of action. Hard to imagine a DE rotation of less than four players.
First-round picks: Every single player drafted in the first round since 2010 (Dez Bryant through Ezekiel Elliott) is penciled in as a starter. That's quite an accomplishment, considering that only five other NFL teams (ATL, CAR, HOU, PIT, BAL) managed to retain all their first rounders since 2010.
If only we could say the same about the Cowboys' second-rounders. Sean Lee (2010) is the only second-rounder since 2010 to be penciled in as a starter in the depth chart above. Bruce Carter (2011) is gone, Gavin Escobar (2013) is pretty far down the depth chart, DeMarcus Lawrence (2014) and Randy Gregory (2015) are suspended, and Jaylon Smith (2016) will sit out the season on the NFI list.
It may not be much of a consolation, but for what it's worth, five of the six third-rounders drafted over the period are still with the team, only DeMarco Murray left for greener pastures.
Tony Romo is officially still on the 53-man roster, so why he isn't included by the staffers at Dallascowboys.com is a bit puzzling. Then again, Romo is not exactly a threat to play against the Giants on Sunday, but leaving him off is a bit odd regardless.
Share your thoughts on the depth chart in the comments section.