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2017 Dallas Cowboys depth chart: Hard cuts ahead to reach 53-man roster limit

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Early clues as to how position battles in camp are shaping up may come from the latest unofficial depth chart released by the Cowboys.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Los Angeles Rams Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

The Cowboys released their second official depth chart of the 2017 season because the NFL requires all teams to do so prior to each preseason game.

Unfortunately, what the league wants and what the league gets can be two completely different things. So if you were hoping that this depth chart was put together by Jason Garrett and his coaching staff after hours of debate and hand wringing, you're bound to be disappointed. The depth chart probably originates from somewhere in the PR department, and if we're lucky, it wasn't some intern who threw this together.

Be that as it may, it is something the Cowboys have put their name to, and even if you may want to take it with a grain of salt, it is still worth a look. Here's what the full depth chart currently looks like, with returning players marked in green, rookies marked in yellow, and free agent additions marked in orange:

OFFENSE
POS First Second Third Fourth
WR1 Dez Bryant Brice Butler Lance Lenoir Brian Brown
LT Tyron Smith Kadeem Edwards Dan Skipper
LG Chaz Green Jonathan Cooper Nate Theaker
C Travis Frederick Joe Looney Ross Burbank
RG Zack Martin Byron Bell
RT La'el Collins Emmett Cleary Clay DeBord
TE Jason Witten James Hanna Geoff Swaim 4. Rico Gathers
5. Blake Jarwin
SWR Cole Beasley Ryan Switzer
WR2 Terrance Williams Andy Jones Noah Brown Uzoma Nwachukwu
QB Dak Prescott Kellen Moore Cooper Rush Luke McCown
RB Ezekiel Elliott Darren McFadden Alfred Morris 4. Rod Smith
5. Ronnie Hillman
FB Keith Smith
DEFENSE
POS First Second Third Fourth
LDE Tyrone Crawford Taco Charlton Damontre Moore 4. David Irving
5. Woody Baron
1-tech DT Cedric Thornton Stephen Paea Richard Ash Joey Ivie
3-tech DT Maliek Collins Lewis Neal Jordan Carrell
RDE Demarcus Lawrence Benson Mayowa Charles Tapper Lenny Jones
SLB Damien Wilson Kyle Wilber John Lotulelei Kennan Gilchrist
MLB Anthony Hitchens Jaylon Smith Joseph Jones
WLB Sean Lee Mark Nzeocha Darnell Leslie
CB Nolan Carrol Leon McFadden Sammy Seamster
CB Anthony Brown Duke Thomas Jourdan Lewis
CB Orlando Scandrick Chidobe Awuzie Marquez White
SS Jeff Heath Kavon Frazier Jameill Showers
FS Byron Jones Robert Blanton Xavier Woods
SPECIAL TEAMS
POS First Second Third Fourth
K Dan Bailey
P Chris Jones Sam Irwin-Hill
LS L.P. Ladouceur Zach Wood
KR Ryan Switzer Jourdan Lewis Lance Lenoir
PR Cole Beasley Ryan Switzer Jourdan Lewis

Notes / Observations from the initial depth chart:

Color by numbers: You'll notice that almost all projected starters are marked in green, indicating that they are returning players from 2016. The only exception is free agent acquisition Nolan Carroll, but the pending disciplinary action for his DUI might see him sit out a few games to start the season.

Last year, the Cowboys had two rookie starters in Week 1 in Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott, and added two more (Maliek Collins, 14 starts; Anthony Brown, 10 starts) later in the season. The current depth chart suggests the Cowboys won't have any rookie starters at the start of the season, though that could obviously change as the season progresses. But getting another four starters from the 2017 rookie class feels like a tall order.

Two types of receivers. This is the first depth chart I've ever seen from the Cowboys that has a separate row for slot receivers. Cole Beasley and Ryan Switzer caused strong fan reactions in the few instances where they lined up together in training camp. This depth chart seems to indicate that the slot receiver could be more than just another receiver in the Cowboys' scheme and that the slot guys will be an integral part of the Cowboys' offense.

Also, if the depth chart lists the X, Y, and Z receivers, is there a chance the Cowboys go two deep at each and keep six receivers?

Why are there players missing? Justin Durant, even though he took part in practices last week, is nowhere to be found on the depth chart. That's a bit puzzling. Additionally, the four players added last week (CBs Dejaun Butler and John Green; TE M.J. McFarland; WR Corey Washington) were not included by whoever put together this depth chart.

Cornerbacks: The Cowboys show three rows of cornerbacks, which one could assume would be the two outside corners and the slot corner, with their respective backups. But that doesn't seem to be the case here. Chidobe Awuzie is penciled in as the backup to Orlando Scandrick, while likely slot corner Jourdan Lewis is penciled in behind Anthony Brown and Duke Thomas. Sure, Lewis hasn't practice much in camp so far, but that still looks odd.

Undrafted free agents: The Cowboys have traditionally been a team where UDFAs have done well, even if not a single UDFA made the team last year. This year, Lewis Neal looks like he could have a shot at a fourth DT spot, Joseph Jones could be in play for a seventh linebacker spot as the MLB depth guy and special teams demon, and Cooper Rush could push the team to keep three quarterbacks. For a team that was already stacked to begin with, signing up to three UDFAs will result in some unexpected cuts somewhere else.

Offensive line continuity: Much has been made about the Ronald Leary's departure and Doug Free's retirement, but if you look at the five starters and five primary backups listed for the O-line above, nine of the ten players listed were with the Cowboys last season already. Byron Bell is the only one out of the ten who joined the team this year via free agency. None of this obviously means the line will return with the same quality, but at least it'll have some continuity.

First- and second-day draft picks. Seven of the eight players drafted in the first round since 2010 (Morris Claiborne is the exception) are still with the team, and six of them are penciled in as starters (Taco Charlton is the odd man out). That's quite an accomplishment.

Can't say the same thing about the second-rounders. Sean Lee (2010) and Demarcus Lawrence (2014) are the only second-rounders since 2010 to be penciled in as starters in the depth chart above. Bruce Carter (2011) and Gavin Escobar (2013) are gone and Randy Gregory (2015) is suspended. Jaylon Smith (2016) and Chidobe Awuzie (2017) are listed as primary backups, but both look to have a good chance of eventually becoming starters.

It may not be much of a consolation, but for what it's worth, five of the seven third-rounders drafted over the period are still with the team (only DeMarco Murray and J.J. Wilcox left for greener pastures), and four of them (Tyrone Crawford, Terrance Williams, Chaz Green, Maliek Collins) are penciled in as starters.

Hard cuts are coming: There are already 68 players listed on offense and defense in the First, Second and Third column, and that excludes the three special teamers likely to make the roster. That probably means that very few - if any - of the players in the Fourth column will make the team, and that at least 18 players in the column marked "Third" still need to be cut. There will be some very hard cuts to be made this year.

What's your take on this early depth chart? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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