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What snap counts from the 49ers game tell us about potential roster decisions

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Some surprise names are making a case for the Cowboys roster.

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

We finally got to see the 2018 Dallas Cowboys in live game action. Now it’s time to look at some playing time decisions and what they could tell us about the eventual makeup of the team’s 53-man roster. While many players are already guaranteed a roster spot, many are competing for a right to wear the star. We’ve divided the roster into three groups:

  • Those certain to make the team
  • Those competing for a spot
  • Those providing training camp depth with virtually no shot at making the team

The default category for a player is “competing” if their status could be argued either way. Also, while offensive and defensive snap numbers are informative, decisions on many of those competing for roster spots will come down to their ability to contribute on specials teams. Keep that in mind as we look at each position group.

Finally, once final roster cuts are made the Cowboys are likely to make a move or two. This could be trading a player not likely to make the Cowboys roster, trading for a player currently on another team or picking up a player who was cut by another team. All things to consider.

Tight ends

If it seemed like Rico Gathers didn’t get much playing time Thursday it’s because he didn’t. This is a turnaround from last year when Gathers received significant playing time in pre-season. Gathers also doesn’t play special teams. Rico’s tenure with the Cowboys is looking mighty tenuous at this point. Swaim, Jarwin and Schultz seem fairly well established as the top three tight ends.

Wide receivers

Keep in mind three names not seen on the list above: Cole Beasley, Noah Brown and Deonte Thompson. Beasley can be added to the “certain” group meaning we can confidently etch the following names onto the final roster:

  • Beasley
  • Williams
  • Hurns
  • Gallup
  • Austin

That leaves Lance Lenoir, Noah Brown, Deonte Thompson and Mekale McKay competing for (likely) only a single spot. Lenoir has had a strong camp and solidified his spot with a touchdown catch against the 49ers. Perhaps more importantly from a long-term perspective he was the team’s only punt returner and handled the duties fine (including a wise decision to let a ball go, bouncing into the end zone for a touchback). He’s likely the lead candidate for that final spot. This would leave Brown and Thompson on the outside looking in. Thompson received a $1M signing bonus, so if he’s not on the team the Cowboys’ are looking at $1M in dead cap money.

Running back

Ezekiel Elliott, Rod Smith and Jamize Olawale are locks for the final roster. This leaves seventh-round pick Bo Scarbrough, Darius Jackson and Trey Williams fighting for the final RB spot. Scarbrough played well and was also used extensively on special teams. Add the fact the team invested draft resources in him and he’s likely moved up in the pecking order. Jackson, of course, has been here before and always seems to do whatever is asked of him. It’s too early to make any firm decisions here as both players are making the decision difficult for the coaching staff.

Offensive lineman

We can probably make seven of these names final. I listed both Cameron Fleming and Joe Looney as “competing” but it would be shocking if either failed to make the team. In addition, Chaz Green did himself no favors with a 2017-like performance that makes his position extremely vulnerable. Which leaves us with Marcus Martin and Kadeem Edwards as the final two names. They could both make the squad if the team elects to keep nine offensive lineman but that seems unlikely.

Defensive ends

Remember, Randy Gregory’s name is not on this list and he’s almost certain to grab one of the final roster spots. Add Demarcus Lawrence, Tyrone Crawford and Taco Charlton as locks. That leaves Charles Tapper, Dorance Armstrong, Kony Ealy, and Lewis Neal to compete for one, two spots at most. Ealy carries a non-guaranteed salary of $800,000 making him easier to cut.

Armstrong has been outstanding since day one and as a fourth-round pick probably has the inside track. Tapper has flashed well as well. Armstrong (21) and Tapper (23) and Neal (23) are all younger than the Ealy (26) Overall, youth, performance and cap implications probably put Armstrong and Tapper ahead of Ealy and Neal.

The bottom line is a player many of us like is not going to make the team. This is a good problem. The depth at the defensive end position is better than it has been in years. It’s possible one of these players ends up being moved in a pre-season trade for a safety, tight end, defensive tackle or low-level draft pick.

Defensive tackle

Two names not shown above are Maliek Collins and David Irving. Collins is a lock for the roster. Irving is of course suspended for the first four games and has been completely absent from training camp; it’s questionable if he’ll return after four weeks.

You’ll also note that none of the names listed are certain to make the final roster. Brian Price probably ranks first among the competitors. Antwaun Woods has been a revelation in training camp and received limited snaps mostly against the 49ers’ ones and twos. That would seem to indicate he’s jumped over the others on the depth chart for the (current) third spot. Thus we would have:

  • Maliek Collins
  • Brian Price
  • Antwaun Woods
  • Ross / Jones / Ash / Ward competing for a fourth spot unless and until Irving returns.

It’s concerning that, currently, there isn’t a single healthy DT on the team that is certain to make the squad. If any position is likely to see a player added before opening day it’s defensive tackle.

Linebacker

We know Jaylon Smith and first-round pick Leighton Vander Esch will make the roster. Joe Thomas has quickly emerged and while listed as “competing” he’s almost certain to make the roster. That gives us four names:

  • Sean Lee
  • Jaylon Smith
  • Leighton Vander Esch
  • Joe Thomas

Damien Wilson and Justin March-Lillard are clear front-runners for the two remaining spots, assuming the team keeps six. The depth at this position also looks better than it has in recent years.

Finally, we have some interesting numbers in the secondary. In particular, Jameill Showers played extensively on defense and on special teams. That could indicate either the team is giving him a final opportunity to earn a spot or perhaps they see something in Showers most of us haven’t. The team already has seven locks in the secondary:

  • Chidobie Awuzie
  • Jourdan Lewis
  • Byron Jones
  • Anthony Brown
  • Jeff Heath
  • Kavon Frazier
  • Xavier Woods

The team will likely add at least one more to that group, possibly a corner like Duke Thomas or Marquez White, unless one of the UDFAs make a move. There are also a few safety candidates, too. Jameill Showers will have to beat out a number of players who have taken turns making positive plays and offsetting them with negative plays. Still, the fact Showers plays most special teams is the kind of contribution that could result in a surprise name on the final roster. Duke Thomas also played quite a bit on special teams.

What do you think BTB? Anything in the snap counts make you think differently about the team’s final roster?