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The Dallas Cowboys Defensive Depth Chart After Two OTA Practices

The Cowboys have completed two OTA sessions and the rookie minicamp so far, and kick off their third OTA session today. That's a good time to take a look at what an updated defensive depth chart could look like.

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Two of three Organized Team Activities are in the books for the Dallas Cowboys, and the third session kicks off today. Only one practice has been open to the media, but there's been enough information published to give us a better idea of what the team's depth chart could look like.

Before going any further though, keep in mind that this is an early June depth chart. All practices have been conducted without pads, and a lot will change between now and the end of the preseason in August. Even more importantly, players like Jaylon Smith (knee), DeMarcus Lawrence (back), Tyrone Crawford (shoulder), Stephen Paea (knee), Benson Mayowa (knee), and Kavon Frazier (foot) sat out the practice open to the media, so any reports about the first-team lineups are necessarily incomplete. For the depth charts below, I've simply made assumptions about where each of these players will fit on the depth chart, starting with the defensive line. 2017 draft picks are marked in green, 2016 draft picks are marked in blue.

Defensive Line
POS Starter Backup Depth Others
LDE David Irving DeMarcus Lawrence Charles Tapper Lenny Jones
3-Tech Tyrone Crawford Maliek Collins Joey Ivie Richard Ash
1-Tech Cedric Thornton Stephen Paea Jordan Carrell Woody Baron
RDE Taco Charlton Benson Mayowa Damontre Moore Lewis Neal

With the Cowboys expected to rotate the defensive linemen heavily during games, dividing players into starters and backups is a distinction without a meaningful difference. Similarly, the distinction between RDE and LDE or 3-Tech and 1-Tech may be clearer on paper than it is on the field: Maliek Collins can play both internal positions, David Irving played all over the line last year, Taco Charlton moved inside for a few snaps yesterday (Broaddus: "When he was moved inside, Charlton’s best move was the spin, which caught the guards by surprise freeing him up on the rush and allowing him to get home."), and as usual, nobody knows where Tyrone Crawford will ultimately play.

In the end, the defensive line will come down to a numbers game: Barring injuries, I assume the top eight here will all make the roster, and given Irving's looming suspension, Tapper and Moore will likely make the roster as well. Which leaves rookies Ivie and Carrell in a battle for the last potential roster spot.

POS Starter Backup Depth Others
SLB Damien Wilson Kyle Wilber Kennan Gilchrist Darnell Leslie
MLB Anthony Hitchens Jaylon Smith Mark Nzeocha
WLB Sean Lee Joe Jones John Lotulelei Lucas Wacha

At linebacker, Lee is a lock at WLB, and I'm leaving Hitchens penciled in at the MLB spot until we know for sure how far along Smith is in his recovery.  Wilson is the default SAM, but like Smith and Nzeocha, he can play all over the line, just as Kyle Wilber offers additional versatility as a potential DE. That's six linebackers, and probably as deep as the team will go at the position.

Defensive Backs
POS Starter Backup Depth Others
LCB Anthony Brown Marquez White Leon McFadden Jeremiah McKinnon
SCB Orlando Scandrick Jourdan Lewis
RCB Nolan Carroll Chidobe Awuzie Sammy Seamster Duke Thomas
SS Jeff Heath Kavon Frazier Robert Blanton
FS Byron Jones Xavier Woods Jameill Showers

The Cowboys will play more than half their snaps in some form of sub package, so the slot cornerback is a de facto starter on this defense. Scandrick, Brown, and Carroll got first-team reps at yesterday's OTAs, but they'll be challenged hard by the rookies for their for their starting spots throughout camp and throughout the season, so this depth cart could look very different over time.

At safety, there's a good chance the Cowboys will only go with four players, given that they'll likely want to keep six corners on the roster. That could mean the roster battle here will come down to Blanton vs. Frazier for the final roster spot.


The tables above may suggest that there is ample room on the roster, given that I've listed the depth guys and even have a column called 'others'. But the reality is that it's going to be a tightly contested battle for roster spots almost everywhere. Here's what the number of roster spots looked like on the opening-day rosters on defense over the last four years.

Years 2013 2014 2015 2016
Defensive Line 10 11 10 8
Linebackers 6 7 6 7
Defensive Backs 9 8 9 10
of which: CB 4 4 5 5
of which: S 5 4 4 5
Total 25 26 25 25

Those numbers likely won't change all that much this year: 9-10 rushmen, 6-7 linebackers, 9-10 defensive backs - and those numbers probably can't add up to more than 25 players.

Agree, disagree? Let us know in the comments whose pet cats I've slighted and which players I've grossly overrated.

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