If the rankings were based on snap counts, this would be the section of the group that would log about 100 to 200 snaps for the Cowboys. These are players that will go into training camp in the middle of a heated position battle, but are likely going to be relegated into a reserve role. Some of these players will earn many of their snaps on special teams. You may see a starter emerge from this group, but that will be a rarity and there could even be a name or two that doesn’t make the 53-man roster.
Here are the rankings for the Cowboys roster for players 41 through 50.
50 Emmett Cleary
You probably have your list already made out as to which players you’d like to see fill out the remaining spots of the offensive line. You got your starting left guard, reserve guard, backup center, and even your swing tackle. Chances are - none of those names are Emmett Cleary.
What do we really know about Cleary? Well, he’s an undrafted free agent signed by the Indianapolis Colts in 2013. He has spent four years on six different teams as he’s been signed, waived, and placed on the practice squad multiple times.
After stints on teams with suspect offensive lines, he joined the talent-filled OL of Dallas last year and as luck would have it - he finally got to see some action. He started out as the second string swing tackle for the Cowboys last season. After Chaz Green got hurt (again), he moved up the depth chart. And when Tyron Smith was injured in week 16 against the Detroit Lions, he got to swing into action and played left tackle. He then started at LT the following week against Philadelphia. Fans were freaking out a bit about the thought of the team’s third string tackle protecting the blind spot of both Dak Prescott and Tony Romo, but Cleary held his own.
So what’s the outlook for Cleary this year? While all the other reserve OL guys are testing the waters inside, he fits best on the edge. He’s got good mobility for a guy his size, gets off the ball quick, and has a good punch to fend off pass rushers. Don’t be surprised if Cleary is the teams new swing tackle.
49 Jahad Thomas
The undrafted free agent running back from Temple is my pet cat this year so he’s a lot higher in these rankings than others. One of the biggest reasons I’m so high on him is because of how well he’ll fit in the Cowboys offense. His traits are perfect for what the team needs. Let’s face it, there weren’t a lot of offensive needs. The team only used two of their nine draft picks on offense, which is understandable since they need more help on the defensive side of the ball. So what do you get an offense that has everything? Well, you get them a versatile little gadget player.
Thomas is a quick-footed runner that has great vision. He doesn’t have home run speed, but he has this Groundhog’s Day ability to know how the play develops as if he’s seen it before and just shoots right through the gaps. His elusiveness is impressive. When you consider he’ll have a great offensive line paving the way for him, it’s a great combo. He’s also a great pass catcher so he’s the perfect player to come in a take Lance Dunbar’s role. But unlike Dunbar, this kid is resilient. He wore a single digit number at Temple which is reserved for players that exhibit toughness.
And if you’re looking for someone to take the other half of Lucky Whitehead’s return responsibilities, Thomas is a great candidate for that. He has good experience as a kick returner. Claim your love for him now because once preseason starts and he’s getting good dose of work, everyone’s going to start loving him.
48 Noah Brown
Here we go again with these project guys. Due to an injury and dismal passing attack last year, the Ohio State Buckeyes receiver doesn’t have a slew of experience at wide receiver. He doesn’t have great speed, his route running is suspect, and he doesn’t create much separation for himself. So why would the Cowboys use a draft pick on this guy?
Well, he may be lacking in some traits, but he’s the “right kind of guy” for this team. Brown is a physical receiver. Despite not being able to get much space between him in the defender, he makes up for it with the ability to haul down contested catches. By now, you may have seen the ridiculous touchdown catch he had against Oklahoma. Anyone can catch the ball, but not many can do while catching the cornerback as well.
Thank you Noah Brown for making the most memorable and insane catch of the season.— Arrogant Urban Meyer (@ArrogantUrban) January 8, 2017
Wish you all the best in the NFL.
⭕ ⭕ pic.twitter.com/WXFCYi8xCk
He’s got good size and he uses it well, often times man-handling defenders. He’s an excellent blocker, which is music to the ears of the Cowboys coaching staff. Mickey Spagnola had this to say about Brown during camp:
Brown just looked powerful. I don't think anyone should just take for granted that he's an end-of-the-draft choice. I think guys like Lucky Whitehead and Brice Butler better be on spot when the competition begins.
Brown needs work, no doubt. But if he can work on some of his deficiencies, he has a shot to be a valuable contributor in this offense. It’s going to be real tight when it comes down to who secures that last wide receiver spot.
47 Kyle Wilber
The veteran linebacker and special teams ace has been a solid fixture in the Cowboys lineup for the last five seasons. He’s one of the three fourth-round linebackers the team has on their roster, but he’s a guy that doesn’t get much attention. After playing out his rookie season, the front office gave him a little raise with a two-year extension. He will become a free agent again after the 2017 season.
Wilber is a name that comes up a lot as a guy that the team can live without as he doesn’t posses any real upside. He can get lost in the running game as he struggles to disengage from blockers. But he’s still around because he’s a nice safety net for the linebacker group. He’s got good footwork and a high motor so he’s always going to give the team something.
A let’s not forget his value on special teams. In 2015, he returned a block punt for a touchdown against the Philadelphia Eagles and then had this game changing strip against the Minnesota Vikings last year.
The Cowboys were trailing early in the fourth quarter when this strip/fumble recovery set the offense up deep in Vikings territory. Dez Bryant would score on the very next play to give Dallas the lead.
46 Xavier Woods
The patient front office of the Dallas Cowboys just couldn’t take it anymore when they saw Louisiana safety Xavier Woods slide in the draft. The team decided to jump when he was still lingering on the board in the sixth round. It was a great value pick player for that late in the draft.
While he’s a little undersized, Woods has great ball skills. Whether it’s a running play or passing play, you always find him in the middle of the action. He has great hands and very good at tracking the ball out of the quarterbacks arm. He’s also a big hitter, not a great tackler, but can deliver the blows to the ball carrier. His approach makes him a little bit of a riverboat gambler. If he guesses wrong, that’s bad news and it could result in a big play. His propensity to take chances to make the big play will have to be dialed in before he’ll be trusted as the team’s last line of defense.
Woods has been relatively quiet in camp. He’s not making any noticeable plays, good or bad. He can’t hit anyone yet so he has to shelf any idea of laying he wood on anyone until August. While he’s fighting for his spot among the depth chart at safety, he’s not in any jeopardy to get cut. Woods is the first player on the rankings that, barring a fluke occurrence, is a lock for a roster spot. The Cowboys are certainly going to give this draft investment every shot they can to help the team.
45 Charles Tapper
The Cowboys already had one of their fourth-round draft picks from 2016 turn into a star. It’s greedy to ask for another one. Charles Tapper was selected number 101 overall last year, 34 spots ahead of new franchise quarterback Dak Prescott. While Prescott hit the ground running last season, Tapper never saw the field. During OTA’s, it was discovered that he had pars defect (stress fracture in the vertebral arch) and was sidelined, eventually being placed on injured reserve, ending his season before it started.
The red-shirt defensive end is back now. He’s been rehabbing where he’s dropped 20 pounds to help make him more agile around the edge. He’s also building up his core strength which will be vital in helping alleviate the stress placed on his back. Health will be a huge key for Tapper, but if he can get his body ready - it’s hard not to be intrigued about what he can add to the defensive line rotation. He’s a SPARQy so if he can translate some of that athleticism into results, it will be huge for the defense.
Tapper joins a crowded defensive line group and there are several players that could emerge as good contributors. It’s going to be interesting to see how Tapper’s body can handle the wear and tear once training camp moves into full swing. The extra depth along the DL will allow the team to proceed cautiously with Tapper as he’s eased into action.
44 Marquez White
After the Cowboys used both their day two draft selections on cornerbacks, not a lot of people cared much when they spent a sixth-rounder on another one. I mean after all, what type of CB can you really get in the sixth round?
Oh yeah, I forgot.
Anthony Brown was on a disastrous Purdue defense and those touchdown totals sent the wrong message. Fortunately, if you look past those results, you’d find a pretty good corner. Marquez White’s story paints a different picture. He only allowed two touchdowns over three seasons at Florida State which might indicate he’s a shut down corner, however, the tape reveals more of an average player.
That’s okay though. What’s appealing about White is that he’s still raw. As a former basketball player, he’s got great athleticism and his game will continue to improve the more experience he gets at football. He’s got great size so if the Cowboys coaches can develop his game, the potential to be a solid corner is there.
The Cowboys took a giant step in rebuilding their cornerback position and White is a part of it. The other two rookie corners will get all the love, but don’t sleep on this guy.
43 Jonathan Cooper
In a perfect world, the Cowboys offensive line would consist of four first-round draft picks plus an undrafted free agent that should have been a first-round draft pick. What a wall that could be. All of the Cowboys first-round offensive linemen that they drafted have turned out to be All Pros and are regarded as one of the top at their respective positions. But the same is not true for the seventh overall selection in the 2013 draft by the Arizona Cardinals, Jonathan Cooper.
It has been a rough go round for Cooper. He’s had to battle through injuries and has shuffled around with three different teams as he’s tried to kick-start his NFL career. Now he finds himself with team #4, who just so happen to feature some great blockers around him. Can Cooper play at a level to be that missing piece?
After Ron Leary left in free agency and La’el Collins moved over to right tackle to replace the retired Doug Free, the Cowboys now have a starting left guard spot up for grabs. Several players are candidates for this spot. Besides Cooper, the team has Chaz Green, Byron Bell, and even Joe Looney all fighting for the starting and reserve guard position.
If you look at the Cowboys big three on the offensive line, you’ll see how much the team values mobility. Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, and Travis Frederick are all massive players who can overpower their opponents, but what really separates them is how well they can move in space. This is where Cooper has an edge over his competition. While he doesn’t posses the strength the other linemen have, he’s got good footwork and can be effective in the second level. He’s also got good football intelligence and can pass off twists and stunts.
During the last three days of practice, the first two days consisted of he and Green getting one day each with the starting unit. Green however, got the nod during the third day. Is that an indicator that Green might have the upper hand right now? Maybe. All we know is this is a battle to keep a close eye on and the lead could change several times before this one is decided. Cooper just needs to harness that athleticism he had prior to his injury so he can find a way to be an effective blocker for the Cowboys interior line.
42 Stephen Paea
Cowboys fans were treated to a nice surprise last season when defensive tackle Terrell McClain started 15 games and finished with 2.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, and 39 tackles - all career highs for him. There was a point last year where he was the best performing defensive player on the team. For his efforts, the Washington Redskins rewarded him handsomely with a four-year, $21 million deal.
While McClain had a great season, he had struggled to stay healthy the previous two seasons, missing a total of 17 games over that span. The Cowboys chose to go a different direction, and that direction included new free agent Stephen Paea. Some fans saw this as a cheapskate signing as Paea will only cost the Cowboys $2 M this season and that’s only if he makes the roster and earns all his incentives. Some forget that when the Cowboys signed McClain, he was a cheap signing as well as he inked a three-year, $3 M deal back in 2014.
The Cowboys targeted McClain because he had the attributes they were looking for from this position. And when you break down the type of player Paea is, you’ll find some very similar traits. Check out the draft profiles for both McClain and Paea:
The only thing different about these guys is their haircuts.
McClain is coming off a strong year so his stock is up, whereas Paea was essentially invisible in Cleveland last year. Even taking that into account, Paea still has three times as many sacks as McClain and has played in a full season more worth of games. Paea has the skills to be successful in a Rod Marinelli defense, but the question becomes - can he piece it together and get himself back on track?
Paea will be competing for reps with last year’s free agent DT signing, Cedric Thornton. This roster battle is wide open and will be one to keep an eye on when training camp rolls around.
41 Kellen Moore
The Cowboys struck gold when they drafted Dak Prescott in the fourth round of the 2016 Draft. Besides leading his team to a 13-3 record during his rookie season, the new franchise quarterback seems to posses all the athletic traits you look for in a quarterback.
For example, Prescott:
- has a strong arm
- stands tall in the pocket
- has an over the top delivery
- is a mobile quarterback who can be a threat with his legs
But then there’s Kellen Moore, who’s essentially the exact opposite.
In contrast, Moore:
- has a weak arm, cannot drive the ball down the field with velocity
- is short, under six feet tall
- has a 3⁄4 sidearm release
- a sitting duck in the pocket, very slow with his feet
Many Cowboys fans don’t feel very confident with the former Boise State gunslinger behind center. And can you blame them? The last time we saw Moore, he threw for 779 yards, four touchdowns and six interceptions in the last three games of the 2015 season. It was a level of uneasiness to where Cowboys fans felt the team would go out and look for another option this offseason. But here we are at the end of June and Moore is firmly entrenched as the teams #2 quarterback.
The coaches like what they have seen from Moore. He has become more comfortable and gets a good dose of reps in practice now. He’s a smart guy and while he’s unlike Prescott in a lot of ways, he shows great leadership and the ability to control the huddle. In college, he had a good understanding of his route progressions and was an accurate passer. But that’s college. What is it than he has now that has people so enamored? His offensive coordinator, Scott Linehan explains:
"He's like a machine," Linehan said. "He anticipates and sees guys open. He's extremely accurate. A lot of guys get it done different ways, but guys don't last long if they can't hit moving targets on the run. That's what he does best."
Wide receiver, Brice Butler adds:
"He throws passes with a high level of anticipation. Guys like to talk about his arm strength like he doesn't have it, but if you beat it with smarts and anticipation it doesn't matter how strong your arm is; the ball is going to be there when it's supposed to be."
After years of problemns with the backup quarterback situation, it’s understandable that we have trust issues. But give the team some credit, they had their act together last year so maybe this Moore fella ain’t all that bad.
If you haven’t checked out the previous two articles, it’s not too late.
Do you agree with this list? Which players do you believe should be higher/lower?