With 2017’s organized team activities and minicamp out of the way, and training camp still over a month away, the long lull of the NFL offseason is here. There are no more free agency or draft possibilities to obsess over, there are no OTA reports to look forward to, there is just the wait. In the spirit of that wait let’s put a slight spin on the 53-man roster projections that so often bounce around at this time of year and take a look at what the composition of the team that actually suits up against the Giants may look like in just over two months. This is a projection of the Cowboys 46-man game day roster when they take on the Giants on September 10th.
Quarterback (2): Dak Prescott, Kellen Moore
This is self-explanatory, barring anything unexpected Prescott will be the starter, Moore will be his backup and the Cowboys likely won’t spend another roster spot on a third quarterback.
Running Back (4): Ezekiel Elliott, Darren McFadden, Keith Smith, Rod Smith
Alfred Morris seems to have fallen out of favor with the coaching staff and will likely be traded or released sometime in August or early September. Elliott and McFadden are the 1-2 punch and Keith Smith will be the fullback in formations that call for one, as well as a core special teamer. Rod Smith and roster bubble rookie Jahad Thomas are the other contenders here, but this early in the season I expect the coaching staff to round out the game day roster with special teamers like the two Smith’s.
Wide Receivers (5): Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Ryan Switzer, Brice Butler
The first three are self-explanatory. Aside from that, I expect Switzer to replace Lucky Whitehead on at least punt returns, if not kick returns, and Butler provides depth at “outside WR” behind Dez and Williams as Beasley and Switzer are primarily slot-only receivers.
Tight End (3): Jason Witten, Geoff Swaim, James Hanna
This one is completely reliant on the health of Swaim and Hanna who missed all of minicamp and OTA’s. If they’re healthy I expect their experience and special teams ability to win out over Rico Gathers early in the season, although if either misses additional team Gathers will quickly take their spot.
Offensive Line (7): Tyron Smith, Jonathan Cooper, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, La’el Collins, Chaz Green, Joe Looney
Cooper seems to have the inside track to the starting left guard spot but even if he doesn’t win that job I expect him to be active given his versatility and the fact that the staff is cross-training him as a center. Same goes for Looney who can play guard or center. If healthy Green is the likely swing tackle, if not the starter at left guard. I feel like these seven, if healthy, are near locks to be active against the Giants, while Byron Bell could push for a spot with his extensive starting experience and versatility to play guard or tackle. The really interesting thing to note here is the ripple effect of who wins the left guard position. If Green ends up winning that spot, it may be Bell who is active over Looney, so that if someone is injured you aren’t playing with new guys at two spots, while if Cooper wins it as I have here, it’s likely Looney over Bell. Of course the team could just say to heck with it and make all eight active but for now I’m going with seven, as is usually customary for the Cowboys.
Defensive Line (8): Taco Charlton, Maliek Collins, Cedric Thornton, Demarcus Lawrence, Tyrone Crawford, Stephen Paea, Benson Mayowa, Damontre Moore
As it stands David Irving will miss the first four games of the season, so with that in mind the first seven are mostly self-explanatory. If Irving were available you have to feel like Paea may be inactive given the nature of the Giants offense and Irving’s ability to also play inside, but that isn’t a possibility as of right now. With him gone the real question comes down to Damontre Moore, who has flashed during OTA’s and minicamp according to reports, vs. guys like Charles Tapper on the edge, and Joey Ivie or Jordan Carrell on the interior. This early in the season I’m going with the veteran Moore, who will play a role on special teams if offseason reports are to be believed, because I expect to see Tyrone Crawford at defensive tackle more, and because the emphasis will be on getting after Eli Manning and the Giants pass-first offense as opposed to stopping the run.
Linebacker (5): Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith, Anthony Hitchens, Damien Wilson, Kyle Wilber
Assuming health the first four are locks to be active. Lee and Smith are the headliners but Hitchens and Wilson have quietly developed into solid contributors who can play all three downs if need be. The last spot comes down to Kyle Wilber, a core special teamer, vs. someone like Mark Nzeocha or John Lotulelei. Early in the year I expect Wilber’s experience and special teams ability to win out but that fifth linebacker spot is probably one of the most “up for grabs” roles on the team.
Defensive Backs (9): Orlando Scandrick, Nolan Carroll, Anthony Brown, Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, Byron Jones, Jeff Heath, Xavier Woods, Kavon Frazier
Along with the fifth linebacker the third and fourth safety spots are probably the other most “up for grabs” positions. Woods will be in contention with Kavon Frazier and Robert Blanton, but at this point I’m going with the higher upside Woods who plays with his hair on fire, which should translate to special teams, and Frazier who has been in the system for a year and was a core special teamer late last season. Awuzie’s versatility to play some snaps at safety is also something to keep note of here. The cornerback group, barring something extremely unexpected, should be pretty much set. Going a little heavy here in the secondary with nine is probably necessary given the Giants’ propensity for spreading the formation with 3-, 4-, and 5-wide sets.
Specialists (3): Dan Bailey, Chris Jones, L.P. Ladouceur
No explanation needed.
So there you have it, yet another projection of how the roster will look as we navigate through the dead period of the NFL offseason. The first regular season game is just over 11 weeks away, who do you think we will see wearing the star when that time comes?