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Cowboys 53-man roster projection after one week of training camp

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Seven practices in we take a first stab at predicting who makes the roster and who doesn't.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys Training Camp Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

In a little over a month, on September 2nd, the Cowboys and all other NFL teams will announce roster cuts that will reduce their rosters from 90 players to the final 53.

And even though the Cowboys have only had seven practices in camp so far, we're going to look at what that final 53-man roster could look like, based on little more than the early impressions from training camp. A lot of this will be nothing but conjecture of course, but so be it.

Before jumping into the roster details, here's a look at what the opening-day 53-man roster looked like over the past few years.

Years QB RB WR TE FB OL DL LB CB S Specialists
2016 3 4 5 3 2 8 8 7 5 5 3
2015 2 4 5 4 1 9 10 6 5 4 3
2014 3 3 5 3 1 9 11 7 4 4 3
2013 2 4 5 4 - - 10 10 6 4 5 3

Notice that there is a lot of movement in the number of players at a given position over the years. Outside of wide receiver, where the Cowboys have consistently carried five guys over the last four years, there's no position where you could definitively say, "The Cowboys always carry so and so many players at this position."

And with that thought, we transition smoothly to the roster projections:

Quarterbacks (3)

Dak Prescott, Kellen Moore, Luke McCown.

I see a lot of talent all across the roster, which makes it very hard to justify the luxury of a third QB. But the Cowboys gave McCown an $80,000 signing bonus, and guaranteed $170,000 of his base salary. Combined, that's $250,000 and feels like a lot to pay a guy who would only be brought in as a camp arm and would be expected to be released in four weeks, so he's likely staying.

Unless the Cowboys can convince Kellen Moore to take on an assistant coaching position after camp, the Cowboys will roll with three QBs this year.

Running Backs (3)

Ezekiel Elliott, Darren McFadden, Rod Smith.

Obviously the projection here assumes Elliott won't be suspended.

Rod Smith has stood out at the RB position over the first week of camp, something he'll have to repeat in the many preseason games. Also, Smith offers more options on special teams, so he makes the team ahead of Alfred Morris, who will likely be used as trade bait by the Cowboys.

Fullbacks (1)

Keith Smith.

It's hard to evaluate a fullback when there's no hitting in camp, but the Cowboys liked what he did last year, so they are keeping Smith as a fullback.

Smith was targeted on just four passes all of last year. Interestingly, he has easily eclipsed that number in the few practices in camp so far, which could mean the Cowboys are looking to use him in the passing game a little more.

Tight Ends (4)

Jason Witten, James Hanna, Geoff Swaim, Rico Gathers.

Rico Gathers simply hasn't done enough in camp so far to warrant a spot on the 53. But the Cowboys strongly believe that his upside is just too big to try and hide him on the practice squad for another season.

Also, keep in mind that the Cowboys paid Gathers the full rookie minimum of $465,000 despite Gathers being on the practice squad, where the standard salary maxes out at about a quarter of that over an entire season.

Wide Receivers (5)

Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Brice Butler, Cole Beasley, Ryan Switzer.

None of the down-roster receivers have made a case so far for keeping a sixth wide receiver, and barring injury, the five players above are it heading into the season.

Brice Butler in particular is a pleasant surprise this year, as he seems to have improved a lot versus last year, particularly with his route running, and he complements Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams, who have traditionally stretched the field outside. In addition, the Cowboys now have two guys who can create separation underneath with their 'spatial awareness': Beasley and Switzer always seems to have a clear understanding of where each defender is, even the guys behind them, and this ability allows them to get separation and be open.

Offensive Linemen (9)

Starters: Tyron Smith, Chaz Green, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, La'el Collins

Backups: Jonathan Cooper, Joe Looney, Byron Bell, Emmett Cleary

The Cowboys went with just eight linemen last year, and they could do that again. But given the question marks about Green's ability to stay healthy, they might have to roll with nine players here.


Defensive Ends (5)

Tyrone Crawford, Demarcus Lawrence, Benson Mayowa, Taco Charlton, Charles Tapper.

With David Irving and Damontre Moore suspended for the start of the season, I don't have to make some of the hard choices today that the Cowboys may have to make at some later point.

I have no idea who I would have cut had Irving and Moore not been suspended.

Defensive Tackles (3)

Maliek Collins, Stephen Paea, Cedric Thornton.

The Cowboys are going to rotate some of their defensive ends like Tyrone Crawford, Demarcus Lawrence, and perhaps even Taco Charlton, inside on occasion, so I'm comfortable with three DTs for now. Joey Ivie and Jordan Carrell will get a year on the practice squad to develop and fight for a roster spot next year.

Linebackers (7)

Sean Lee, Anthony Hitchens, Damien Wilson, Kyle Wilber, Jaylon Smith, Mark Nzeocha, Justin Durant.

Seven linebackers may feel like a lot, but the Cowboys have gone with seven guys twice in the last four years. Also, nobody knows how when Jaylon Smith will be ready to play, and Damien Wilson's status is also up in the air, both legally and with the league, after his arrest for aggravated assault.

By the time camp is done, the situation at linebacker might change significantly versus today, and guys like Lucas Wacha or perhaps John Lotulelei could make a push for a spot.

Cornerbacks (6)

Orlando Scandrick, Nolan Carroll, Anthony Brown, Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, Marquez White.

This is a very interesting group of young corners the Cowboys have assembled. Awuzie and Lewis are no-brainers to make the team, but even sixth-round pick Marquez White has turned enough heads in camp to warrant serious consideration for a roster spot.

Safety (4)

Byron Jones, Jeff Heath, Xavier Woods, Kavon Frazier.

Going five deep here is just not in the cards given the constraints at other spots, so veteran Robert Blanton is the odd man out. The Cowboys signed Blanton before the draft as veteran insurance in the defensive backfield, but it turns out they don't need that insurance and will roll with the young guys they now have.

Specialists (3)

Dan Bailey, Chris Jones, L.P. Ladouceur

I don't even want to think about the days when the Cowboys carried four specialists.

Suspended (2)

David Irving, Damontre Moore


So there you have it. 25 defensive players, 25 offensive players and three specialists. . Six of nine draft picks make the team, with only the three seventh-rounders relegated to the practice squad.

Of course, all of this is just a snapshot. Weigh in with your thoughts in the comments below, and head on over to our Interactive Roster Builder to whittle down the list of names to your own 53-man roster.