The first place to look if you are thinking about Cowboys’ roster battles is our own 2017 Dallas Cowboys Interactive Roster Builder. This handy tool is kept up to date by OCC, and is well worth the visit because it shows that roster battles aren’t always within position groups, but across groups. For example, keeping a third quarterback or a tenth or eleventh defensive lineman means going light somewhere else. We also know that roster churn is a year round business, so there are likely to be some new names by training camp, and potentially even after final cut down day. With that caveat, let’s begin.
Part VI - Defensive Line
These are the players currently on the roster. We’ll lead with the locks, followed by the probables, then get to the fight for the last spot. With 17 defensive linemen at the moment, this is likely the most fluid position group on the roster.
- Maliek Collins. We’re taking these guys in order of the number of snaps they received in 2016. Maliek Collins, despite being a rookie, and despite missing OTAs, minicamp, training camp, and most of the preseason, still led the defensive line in snaps, and tied for the highest Approximate Value, with 7 AV. There have been multiple articles suggesting he could be the “War Daddy” or breakout defensive linemen the Cowboys need. Count me among the believers.
- Tyrone Crawford. Crawford is now the veteran of the line. The question is: where does he play, inside or out? With the drafting of Taco Charlton, the signing of Demontre Moore, the rising ability of Benson Mayowa, and the return to health of Charles Tapper and DeMarcus Lawrence, there should be enough defensive ends to go around. We aren’t even counting David Irving, who is facing a four-game suspension to start the year. Expect Crawford to move inside again.
- (David Irving.) He’s in parentheses because of his suspension. Along with Collins, the Cowboys have to hope Irving reaches his potential, because when he’s on, he has been their most dominant lineman.
- Benson Mayowa. Mayowa started slowly, and was benched for three games for Ryan Davis, but when he returned, he went on a sack-a-game spree and ended up leading the team with six sacks. The Cowboys need his best game all the time.
- DeMarcus Lawrence. If he stays healthy and out of trouble, he may have the best shot of any Cowboy to reach double digit sacks. In a contract year, he should be plenty motivated to do so. Will he? As with many of the Cowboys’ linemen, it’s a big question.
- Taco Charlton. The tall end from Michigan will be given every opportunity to make an impact. Will he as a rookie? It’s too early to tell.
- Damontre Moore. He lit things up in OTAs and minicamp, and is on a cheap two-year deal. All signs point to him making the team.
- Cedric Thornton. The Cowboys’ biggest free agent splash in 2016, Thornton was a serious disappointment in 2016, playing in only 277 snaps. With his dead cap $2.5 million more than his cap hit, he’s a lock, even if he wouldn’t be just off his talent.
- Charles Tapper. Coming off a back injury, Tapper has lost weight and added muscle to contend for that right side end. With three more years of cheap control, he’s likely a lock, unless he shows nothing in training camp and preseason.
- Stephen Paea. He’s looking to revive his career by reuniting with Rod Marinelli, under whom he had his best seasons in Chicago. There’s no dead cap if he doesn’t make the roster, however, so he’ll have to make it on merit, and he’s yet to show anything as a Cowboy as he returns from injury.
Fighting For That Last Spot
That’s nine locks or probables, NOT counting David Irving because of his looming four-game suspension.
DT - Collins, Crawford, Thornton, Paea
DE - Lawrence, Moore, Charlton, Mayowa, and Tapper
Who is left to fight for the last spot? And what will the final count be?
- Joey Ivie. Rod Marinelli was excited when Ivie was picked in the seventh round. His best opportunity would be to try to unseat Stephen Paea inside. Here is Cole Patterson’s overview of Ivie.
- Jordan Carrell. Dawn Macelli and I picked him as a pet cat. Here’s what I wrote.
The Cowboys' last pick in the seventh round, Carrell is a long shot to make the team, but there is something about him that I like. In my post on the defensive line, I put together a little table comparing Jay Ratliff, a 7th rounder when he was selected, Joey Ivie, and Jordan Carrell. Carrell wasn't up to Ratliff's numbers, but he was better than Ivie at the 3 cone, 20-yard shuttle, broad jump, vertical jump, and 40-yard dash, suggesting he may have a little quickness to him. At Colorado as a senior, he had 51 tackles (the most on their D-line) and 5.5 sacks, which is nice from the interior. Plus, he appears to have a great upbeat attitude. He's easy to root for.
- Richard Ash. Brought in as a sub last year for the end-of-season Philly game when so many linemen were rested, he’s still on the roster as a defensive tackle. A longshot at best.
- Lewis Neal. He’s Joseph Hatz’s pet cat.
Led LSU in sacks with eight in 2015 when playing as a 4-3 defensive end, although he struggled adjusting to the 3-4 the Tigers switched to during his senior season. He was still able to finish fourth on the team in sacks though, despite playing out of position. He's a tweener, not really athletic enough to play full-time on the edge and not big enough to play full-time inside but he fits the profile of an overlooked, undersized, low center of gravity, slower DE type that Marinelli can pack a few lbs on and attempt to convert to a 3-technique who can also play some on the edge on occasion. He shouldn't make the roster this year given the depth on the line but I think he's a strong candidate for the practice squad who could make the roster in Year two given his work ethic and passion for the game.
Others include: Lenny Jones, Zach Wood, and Woody Baron.
Along with defensive backs, this is going to be where so much of the action will be in training camp and preseason. It’s fairly easy to see nine guys making the roster, and ten may be likely. The Cowboys only took eight last year, but took 10, 11, and 10 the three seasons before, so it’s easy to see them going long here again. That may be especially true if they decide they like another team’s young castoff more than what they have. This is how David Irving joined the roster, and he may be one of the Cowboys’ best linemen.
The last guy is likely to come down to a battle between Ivie and Carrell, with the loser becoming a prime practice squad candidate.
Part VI - Defensive Line
Part VII - Linebacker
Part VIII - Cornerback
Part IX - Safety
Part X - Special Teams