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Cowboys 53-man roster predictions and position battles

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An early look at what could be the Cowboys 2018 roster.

2016 Cowboys Draft Board

After hitting up free agency, drafting nine new college players, and making a few trades, the Dallas Cowboys have a large assortment of players to work with in 2018. There are still over four months before the new NFL season kicks off and a lot can happen between now and then, but we already know the 2018 roster will look very different than the 2017 roster.

Let’s examine what this year's 53-man roster might look like and identify some key position battles.

OFFENSE

QUARTERBACK (3) - Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush, and Mike White

The Cowboys quarterback group has had a complete makeover in recent years. In 2015, four different quarterbacks played for them, but none of those players are on the roster now. Some have moved on to other things like broadcasting, whereas others have stuck around as the team’s new quarterback coach.

Led by the 24-year old veteran Dak Prescott, the team has their quarterback for the future. After catching lightening in a bottle with Dak, it appears they got lucky again with the acquisition of UDFA Cooper Rush. He had a remarkable preseason last year and has established himself as the team’s backup. And since it’s worked out so nicely for them the last two years, the team was at it again this draft and selected another young arm in Mike White.

For a position that once scared us to death in terms of depth, the Cowboys have now given us multiple players to be excited about. It should to be fun to watch Rush and White battle it out for the number two spot, but despite who wins, the consolation prize should end up being QB #3.

RUNNING BACK (5) - Ezekiel Elliott, Rod Smith, Tavon Austin, Bo Scarbrough, and Jamize Olawale

It’s a great sense of relief to know that Ezekiel Elliott is expected to be the Cowboys running back for all 16 games this upcoming season. Barring something fluky, he’ll be handling the workload for a great majority of snaps. But sometimes crazy stuff happen and the team needs to be ready just in case. Rod Smith flashed some good play last season and is a solid depth piece at the running back position. Plus, he offers the team something in special teams. The Cowboys drafted Bo Scarbrough in the seventh round and he should be a nice complementary punch for Elliott. The thought of Zeke wearing down the defense, only to have Bo come powering through afterwards is very appealing. If you have any catchy “Flash & Crash” slogans for this duo, now is the time to share them.

Newly acquired “web-back” Tavon Austin is included with this group because of how the team plans to use him in the offense. Austin will give the team some nice speed and provide Prescott with another exciting target.

The Cowboys lost fullback Keith Smith in free agency to the Los Angeles Raiders, but then turned around and traded a late-round draft pick to take their fullback, Jamize Olawale.

WIDE RECEIVER (5) - Allen Hurns, Michael Gallup, Cole Beasley, Terrance Williams, and Cedric Wilson

Whether they’ve been released, traded, or just not re-signed - they Cowboys have lost three of their wide receivers from last season. Dez Bryant, Brice Butler, and now Ryan Switzer - are all gone. To replace these guys, the Cowboys signed Allen Hurns in free agency and drafted both Michael Gallup and Cedric Wilson. The Cowboys have swapped out receivers who had a specific role for a slew of guys that do a little bit of everything. Most importantly, they can get open as the route-running ability of the Cowboys position group just got a whole lot better.

Cedric Wilson is a sixth-round pick and he’s not guaranteed a roster spot, but don’t let that draft price fool you - Wilson has a lot to offer the team. It’s possible the team could keep six receivers and that would open the door for Deonte Thompson or Noah Brown to find their way on the roster. It speaks to the strength of depth of the Cowboys WR group as both these guys are good players, but the team only has so much room.

TIGHT END (4) - Rico Gathers, Geoff Swaim, Blake Jarwin, and Dalton Schultz

It pains me to not include Jason Witten in this group. For the first time in 16 seasons, the Cowboys will not have Witten lining up for them at tight end. While that’s a much bigger loss than a lot of people realize, there are some players that have many of us intrigued. Of course, none is more tantalizing than the great enigma that is Rico Gathers. What will the team get from him this year? He had a great preseason before he suffered a concussion/head injury that ended his year. Will this former Baylor basketball star emerge as a playmaking target for Dak? Geoff Swaim and new draft pick Dalton Schultz are both in-line tight ends that haven’t demonstrated much in the passing game. They should have definitive roles within the offense and that will focus primarily on blocking.

Sleeper Alert: Blake Jarwin The Cowboys signed the Oklahoma State tight end as a UDFA last year, but a crowded house relegated him to the practice squad. The team then had to promote him to active roster to prevent the Philadelphia Eagles from poaching him. Jarwin’s athleticism and crisp route-running makes him an interesting player to keep an eye on. He was buried on the depth chart and got lost in all the Rico-hype last year. The opportunities didn’t present themselves last year, but that should change this season.

OFFENSIVE LINE (8) - Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, Travis Frederick, La’el Collins, Connor Williams, Cameron Fleming, Joe Looney, and Marcus Martin

The Cowboys have done a great job bolstering the offensive line position group. They are six strong. With the second-round selection of Connor Williams and free agent acquisition of Cameron Fleming, the team now has five strong starters and a solid swing tackle who has the flex to shift inside if needed. The only question is - who will fill out the depth of this group.

Joe Looney is a great candidate to land one of the spots as he can serve as a backup center. Of course, the ever reliable Travis Frederick has yet to miss a snap in his five-year career.

The produce guy at my grocery store is a 300+ guy named Lenny. He has a bum knee and you can see that maneuvering from the lettuce to the cantaloupes is no easy task. I’d rather see Lenny out there in his apron playing left tackle before ever seeing Chaz Green walk on the field again. Okay, that’s a little bit of an exaggeration, but I think you get the message I’m trying to send. Green is terrible. Is it possible that his talents can be refurbished into something viable? I have no idea, but that Atlanta game still haunts me.

Marcus Martin is the Cowboys new free agent guard. I’m not sure what to expect from him.

Sleeper Alert: Kadeem Edwards With how terrible all the veterans were playing last preseason, I was surprised when Edwards didn’t make the roster. He did make the practice squad and if he’s improved his game, he could be a player that could challenge for the backup swing tackle. Remember, Fleming is only on a one-year rental.

Total players on offense: 25

DEFENSE

DEFENSIVE END (6) - DeMarcus Lawrence, Tyrone Crawford, Taco Charlton, Kony Ealy, Charles Tapper, and Dorance Armstrong

I can’t think of what I love more... a star edge rusher or the remarkable depth of the rotation. Okay, fine - it’s the first thing. Yes, having DeMarcus Lawrence break out into one of the game’s best pass rushers is great for a lot of reasons. It restores hope that this coaching staff can properly evaluate talent at the position.

Which brings us to the next fella - Taco Charlton. After a ho-hum rookie campaign, fans are excited to see if he can take a step forward and be what this team believed he could be with their first-round investment last year.

Tyrone Crawford and Kony Ealy are good veteran players and help solidify the rotation. Wildcard fourth-round players like Charles Tapper and recent draftee Dorance Armstrong offer some possible upside to the group, but are severely lacking in experience. I loved a lot of picks the Cowboys made over the weekend, but I never saw the war room more excited than when they got Armstrong. They really see something in him they love.

Sleeper Alert: Randy Gregory. I don’t want to waste a lot of words on a player that just hasn’t been on the field, but it has to be mentioned that his return is a possibility. Yes, he could be a great player for the team, but I’ll believe that when I see it.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE (4) - Maliek Collins, David Irving, Brian Price, and Jihad Ward

The defensive tackle position has a couple great players in Maliek Collins and David Irving, although one has to wonder how long Irving will be around for. The team only put a second-round tender on him so they are slowing their roll on how invested they want to be. The 2018 season should be telling in how the team wants to proceed with him in the future. Collins looks to be in store to handle 1-tech responsibilities, at least part of the time. It’s unclear how much of his regression in 2017 had to do with playing out of position or his foot injury. I hope it’s the latter.

After those two, things are wide open. The team snagged Brian Price off the Green Bay Packers practice squad last year, but he didn’t get much of a chance to show what he can do as his season ended early due to an injury. The Cowboys just traded Ryan Switzer to the Los Angeles Raiders for Jihad Ward, but expectations should be tempered. Despite being the Raiders second-round pick in 2016, he has struggled so far in his short career. His raw ability should make him a good depth guy, but nothing is guaranteed.

The team is likely to go deep at defensive end and that could mean fewer spots for defensive tackle. They are still lacking a big body, which could open the door for Richard Ash (330 pounds) to earn a spot. Lewis Neal has been moved to fullback, which could open up the backdoor for him to land a roster spot. It should be a good battle for the last remaining defensive tackle spot.

Sleeper: Datone Jones While he’s not your prototypical DT, the former first-round pick from 2013 logged some snaps from that spot late in the season for the Cowboys. He wasn’t bad and offers up some sneaky upside.

LINEBACKER (6) - Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch, Damien Wilson, Joe Thomas, and Chris Covington

In just a matter of one draft weekend, the Cowboys are now strong at linebacker. That is what happens when you take one of the top linebackers in the draft. The team now has the trio of Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith, and Leighton Vander Esch leading the way. A healthy Lee gives the Cowboys one of the game’s best ball pursuers in the league. The team is still optimistic that the best of Jaylon is still to come. And just in case they suffer a setback with one of those guys, Vander Esch has joined the squad to make sure chaos doesn’t ensue.

Barring injury, snaps will be hard to come by for the rest of the linebacker group. There should be some good competition as this group tries to earn time on special teams.

Justin March-Lillard was on four different teams last season, with his last stop being in Dallas. With three new linebackers added via draft and free agency, things have suddenly gotten crowed and his chances of making the team are slim.

CORNERBACK (5) - Byron Jones, Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, Anthony Brown, and Duke Thomas

The Cowboys remodeled their cornerback group last season when Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne left in free agency, only to be replaced by fresh new draft picks Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis. The team made another big move this offseason when they released veteran Orlando Scandrick. The numbers didn’t change however, as they shifted Byron Jones over to cornerback. Jones, Awuzie, and Lewis are your starters, with Anthony Brown serving as CB #4. Brown, who had a great rookie season in 2016, struggled for most of the season last year, but then turned it on once he started coming off the bench.

The Cowboys are sitting in good shape with their top four guys and that likely leaves one roster spot up for grabs. Marquez White was drafted in the sixth round last year, but was just a practice squad guy. Duke Thomas is another bottom roster guy that could contend for that last spot. An injury cost Thomas his season last year before it could even get started.

Sleeper Alert: Duke Thomas He was showing up on tape in preseason games last season before he got hurt.

SAFETY (4) - Jeff Heath, Xavier Woods, Kavon Frazier, TBD

The Earl Thomas saga appears to be over at least for now, but the aftermath leaves the Cowboys a little depleted at the safety position. It’s the usual suspects for Dallas with Jeff Heath, Xavier Woods, and Kavon Frazier returning to hold down the fort. Heath has shown up at times with some big splash plays, but it doesn’t feel like he’s going to get any better. Woods and Frazier are both young players who showed strong improvement as the season progressed last year. Is it possible one of them can provide the answer at one of the starting safety positions?

Former quarterback/turned safety, Jameill Showers, is still on the team for now because the Cowboys love him and he’ll just do whatever is asked of him. Despite the lack of depth the team has at the position, Showers is still holding on by a thread.

Look for the team to add a safety somewhere down the line as they try to shore up this position group.

Total players on defense: 25

SPECIALISTS

Kicker (1) - Dan Bailey

Unless there are any lingering effects from his injury last season, Dan Bailey should be the one-and-only guy to be kicking field goals for Dallas. Let’s hope whatever he was going through late last season is long gone.

Punter (1) - Chris Jones

What’s not to like about Chis Jones? Whether it’s with his legs or arms, his exceptional athleticism helps carry out some crafty fake punts. While that’s exciting and all, the true value of Jones is how he kicks the ball. He was masterful at pinning teams deep inside their own territory last year. And if by some stroke of luck a returner gets loose and has some room to run, Jones will punish you with his tackling ability.

Long snapper (1) - L.P. Ladouceur

He snaps the ball and he snaps it far. That’s what long-snappers do. And he also snaps it right where it needs to be. What more can you expect from the longest tenured Cowboys player who has never made a mistake in a game. Ever.

Do you agree with these projections? Which players do you have making the team that I didn’t include on the roster?