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Cowboys roster rankings 31-40: Savvy vets, key backups, and special team aces

The rankings continue with some familiar faces locking down roster spots.

NFL: New York Giants at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

As we continue to rank the roster for the Dallas Cowboys, we are getting into the players that are sitting in good shape to make the 53-man roster. Most of these players are savvy vets, key backups, or special team aces. Some may even have a shot to break into the starting lineup.

Here are the rankings for the Cowboys roster for players 31-40:

40 Cedric Thornton

Thornton was signed by the Philadelphia Eagles as an undrafted free agent in 2011. He slowly worked his way into the defense and saw a larger and larger role with each new season. The Eagles had a pretty strong defensive line and he became expendable when his contract was up last year. So the Cowboys made their move.

There was a little bit of excitement about him last offseason. He wasn’t a high priced acquisition. He wasn’t a star from another team. But most importantly, he wasn’t Nick Hayden. But that excitement subsided rather quickly when he wasn’t logging the snaps that many people expected. Terrell McClain finally had a healthy season so he held down a great majority of the work at the 1-tech position. But now, McClain is gone and Thornton will have a chance to earn more playing time in Dallas.

Thornton has a taller build and that makes it tough for him to anchor down and use his power. He’s got good burst and is a very active rusher who doesn’t get caught standing around. He moves well laterally which has helped him become an effective run stopper. While McClain is gone, he’ll now have to battle new free agent Stephen Paea for snaps. The Cowboys have some good competition going at the 1-tech spot and they both have attributes that fit well within this defense. Don’t be surprised if we see a bounce back season for Thornton.

39 Joe Looney

There is not much use for a backup center when you have an All Pro than never misses a snap. But every team has one and Joe Looney has that job for the Cowboys. Even though he didn’t play a snap at center last year, he still managed to get some playing time on offense. Both La’el Collins and Ron Leary suffered injuries to where Looney had to step in and log some reps at guard. He also found some playing time along the edge in the “Jumbo Joe” package after the Cowboys were without both blocking specialist tight ends, James Hanna and Geoff Swaim. All in all, Looney played 165 snaps.

Looney isn’t a player fans are excited about as a starter. He plays stiff, his mobility is uninspiring and he’ll struggle against the quicker defensive linemen. He’s a low ceiling guy, but his floor is pretty good. With Looney, the Cowboys are going to get a dependable blocker who can play with power and they’ll have a role for him.

There’s a great chance a player like Jonathan Cooper or Chaz Green emerges as the starting left guard, but your guess is as good as mine as to which one it will be. While Looney may compete with these guys for the starting gig, he’s likely to lock down a spot on the bench.

38 Damontre Moore

It’s always exciting to get a new edge rusher. With the inconsistent career of DeMarcus Lawrence and the consistently nonexistence career of Randy Gregory, Cowboys fans are delighted to get anyone that gives them a chance. And that’s really what the Damontre Moore signing offers - a chance.

The Cowboys signed Moore to a two-year, $1.65 million deal with only a $100k signing bonus. It’s all on Moore to earn his paycheck. It’s a fresh start for him after failed stints in New York (Giants), Miami, Oakland, and Seattle. He will now try to work himself into the Cowboys pass rushing rotation. The defense has a lot of guys who can contribute reps, but they are still lacking a bona fide starter along the edge. Where Moore is appealing is that he has the build and athletic traits that fit the right side. He’s gets off the ball quick, has great bend to sneak around the edge, and uses his hands well to get blockers off balance. Reports out of camp are positive so far. Here is what Bryan Broaddus had this to say about him:

"If the season started this weekend, Damontre Moore would likely be your starter at right end. There were questions about his work ethic and attitude but he has come in and worked extremely hard to earn a spot on this roster.

Moore has the raw tools to be a good pass rusher in the league. He just hasn’t been able to keep it together from a mental standpoint. And this is a trait Cowboys fans are all too familiar with and have very little patience for. Moore is working hard to change his stripes and had the privilege of being one of the eight players selected to the Pass Rushing Summit organized by Moore’s college teammate, Von Miller. Attendance was by invite only and included some of the games elite edge rushers like: Atlanta’s Vic Beasley, Seattle’s Cliff Avril, New York’s Olivier Vernon, Oakland’s Khalil Mack. That’s some pretty good company.

Camps like theses aren't just about honing skills, they're about sharing knowledge. Specifically, knowledge on how to break a quarterback's will. The established players at the camp know a thing or 10 about how to do that, and younger players like Marsh and Armstead can really benefit from what they know. As they try to take the next step toward becoming great players, looking for little changes in their game that reflects what they've learned should be an interesting exercise.

Oh, and this guy was there helping out. You might recognize him from somewhere.

If Moore gets his mind right, this could be a good thing for the Cowboys defense.

37 James Hanna

For years, James Hanna has been one of the most underappreciated players on the team. A sixth-round pick in 2012, he had found a home on the team as a point-of-attack blocking tight end and special teams contributor. But after three solid seasons, health started hindering his performance. He spent the 2015 season dealing with an ACL sprain and then missed the entire year last season when he had a bone bruise that turned out to be more serious than initially thought, requiring two surgeries last season.

While coming out of Oklahoma as a pass catching tight end with no real blocking skills, Hanna has been the complete opposite in the pros. He’s been a vital piece to the Cowboys running attack. It’s a role the team values so much that they went out and got another one in Geoff Swaim in 2015. Now, both of them are in the mix at the tight end spot. Swaim had showed good promise last year and had developed some chemistry with new franchise quarterback Dak Prescott. But a pectoral injury put an abrupt end to his season. Then, he broke his foot during offseason conditioning so now the Cowboys have both their blocking specialist TE’s coming back from an injury.

Gavin Escobar is gone and Rico Gathers is a raw blocker, so the only thing standing in Hanna’s way is his own health.

36 Damien Wilson

After the Cowboys got great production out of fourth-round linebacker, Anthony Hitchens in 2014, it was real easy to muster up excitement when the team took another fourth-round LB the following year. Damien Wilson was a tackling machine in college and has good quickness to hang out in coverage.

He was having a good spring last year when a paintball accident threw a wrench in his availability in training camp. After Rolando McClain was suspended last offseason, the team signed Justin Durant to a one-year deal. And when you combine all that with the fact that the Cowboys typically only have two linebackers on the field at once, it was hard to find snaps for Wilson.

This season presents new opportunities for him. While the health of Jaylon Smith will greatly affect how the linebacker group shapes out, there will be a role for Wilson somewhere. Besides being one of the team’s more reliable special teams player, Wilson should get the nod for the Deacon position, formerly occupied by Justin Durant. When the team is in obvious passing situations, they will only rush three defensive linemen and play two coverage linebackers. Sean Lee is one of them and Wilson’s coverage ability should make him the other one.

The upside of Smith and the resurgence of Anthony Hitchens means Wilson is down the depth chart a bit. But that’s more a testament to the strength of this position group rather than a knock on Wilson. He’ll be a good contributor for the team.

35 Chaz Green

The offensive lineman out of Florida has spent his first two seasons in the NFL doing what he did in college - getting hurt. He had durability issues entering the draft which allowed him to fall late in the third round at the 91st overall pick. And just like college, his time in the pros have been limited due to injury. He suffered a hip injury his rookie season that put him on the physically unable to perform list. Last year he suffered an ankle injury that kept him out several weeks only to return in time to suffer a back injury. He had surgery for a herniated disc and was eventually placed on IR.

There was a time where Green was thought to be the eventual replacement of Doug Free. But that is no longer in the works now as La’el Collins has made the move to right tackle. Green now finds himself in a position battle for the left guard spot.

Green is an intelligent player with good footwork. His athleticism is good for a guy of his size, but he knows he going to have to keep himself in control for the unit to be effective.

"If you're playing offensive line and everyone's not working together, everybody's not on the same page, it doesn't matter how good three players are," Green said. "If all five aren't good together, it's not going to matter. ... By nature, you've got to be close as an offensive line."

Green has the tools to be a starter on the offensive line, but he’s in a position battle with Jonathan Cooper and Joe Looney. Of course, the biggest battle he has is with his own self and his ability to stay healthy.

34 Nolan Carroll

When you played for the Philadelphia Eagles last year, it’s going to take a while for Cowboys fans to warm up to you. And when you get arrested for a DUI, it will take even longer. Fans have their own favorite new corner projected onto the team’s starting unit, but it will be the veteran corner Nolan Carroll who will have first crack at it.

Carroll was drafted in the fifth round by the Miami Dolphins in 2010. He played out his rookie contract and then signed with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2014. He’s been a solid corner for the Eagles, but there is nothing flashy about him. He’s got good size and moves pretty well. He can close the gap quickly and is a smart guy who understands his assignments. The real issue with Carroll is his judgment. He doesn’t posses good instincts and can often get caught out of position. He’s had to handle receivers like Odell Beckham Jr. and Dez Bryant so he’s had his hands full, but he’ll have stronger support in the Dallas secondary and won’t just be out there running amok.

Carroll’s got good physical traits to be a contributor for the Cowboys. He has good quickness and can change direction well. He has good speed for a seven-year veteran. With some good young prospects joining the squad, Carroll could slowly see his playing time reduced as the rookies become acclimated, but for now - don’t write him off.

33 L.P. LaDouceur

How great has L.P. LaDouceur been throughout his 12-year career with the Cowboys? Seriously, does anyone know because I have no idea how to evaluate a long snapper.

Louis-Phillipe LaDouceur comes from a family of wire walkers and traveled around the world as a young child as his family partook in different vaudeville performances. His father, as you might know, earned notoriety by walking across the World Trade Center in 1974. Okay, none of that is actually true. I just got done watching The Walk starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and that sounded way better than anything I could come up with about LaDouceur.

The actual story of how L.P. became a Cowboys player is actually kind of interesting. This one’s true, I promise.

After visiting the San Francisco 49ers the third week of the '05 season, the Cowboys stayed in California to prepare for the Oakland Raiders. Rookie snapper Jon Condo was struggling so Dallas gave Ladouceur, who played at the University of California, Berkeley, and was in the area, a tryout.

Former Cowboys coach Bill Parcells was so impressed with Ladouceur that he cut Condo right off the team bus before practice.

And it’s been L.P.’s job ever since. LaDouceur has been the epitome of consistency during his time with the team. He’s played in every single game and he’s been clean on every single snap of his career. So the next time someone says, “nobody’s perfect” you make sure to remind them that this son of a wire walker begs to differ.

32 Keith Smith

If there is ever a player that embodies a Rudy story, it would be Cowboys linebacker fullback, Keith Smith. He was an undrafted free agent in 2014 because nobody wanted him. He worked hard to earn a roster spot on the Cowboys, but he just didn’t have the talent to keep a job in the NFL. The Cowboys cut him six times over the span of two seasons. He spent time on the active roster, practice squad, and even worked the concession stands (no he didn’t). He did everything he could to be a part of this team. And that included changing his position.

Last season, he moved from linebacker to fullback and became a 16-game starter for Dallas. Surprisingly, Smith picked up things fast and looked like a natural fullback. Picking up blitzes aren’t always easy, especially when you have to race across the pocket without getting into the quarterbacks throwing lane. Sometimes the little things can turn into big things.

He’ll enter the 2017 season with a firm hold on the starter position again. Even though the fullback plays sparingly, Smith is also a special teams ace so barring something unfortunate, his place on the team is locked down.

31 Geoff Swaim

The Cowboys spent a 2016 sixth-round pick on Geoff Swaim, only they did it in the seventh round of 2015. The team felt compelled to acquire Swaim that they traded a future draft pick to the San Francisco 49ers to grab him. He played in only four games in 2015 and fell a bit off the radar. But after Hanna was unavailable last year, Swaim took on a larger role. After dropping a couple passes from Dak Prescott in the first preseason game, fans were ready to send him packing. But then after a successful bootleg against the Washington Redskins on fourth down in week two, everyone was back to loving him.

Swaim was playing well last year. While he wasn’t racking up the stats, he had a key role in the running game. He tore his pectoral muscle against the Pittsburgh Steelers and was placed on IR a few days later.

Between the two blocking tight ends, Swaim has the edge. He’s younger and cheaper. And with Hanna’s knee situation being a bit of a mystery, Swaim could be the healthier choice as well. Look for him to resume his offensive role this year.

Do you agree with these rankings? Which players aren’t getting enough love? Or are there players I’m overrating?

Make sure to check out the earlier ranking articles:

Ranking The Cowboys Roster 61-70: Which Players Are On The Outside?

Ranking The Cowboys Roster 51-60: Which Players Are On The Bubble?

Ranking the Cowboys roster 41-50: Which players will surprise and earn roster spots?

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