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Dallas Cowboys roster cuts: What preseason snap counts tell us about who could make the roster

A look at the preseason snap counts yields some surprising results.

NFL: Pro Football Hall of Fame Game-Arizona Cardinals vs Dallas Cowboys Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

If you had to take a guess, who do you think played the most snaps for the Cowboys this preseason?

You might struggle to name that player, but do you think can at least figure out which position that player is playing?

Perhaps it’s a down-roster linebacker with tons of special teams snaps? Perhaps a safety who’s been forced to play extra snaps because of all the injuries at the position? Or is it a wide receiver doubling as a special teams regular?

It’s not a quarterback, it’s not a running back, and it’s certainly not the fullback.

The player leading the Cowboys in preseason snaps is OG Kadeem Edwards, with 228 snaps over four games (221 on offense, 7 on special teams). Edwards feels a little bit like the forgotten guy on the depth chart. He was drafted in the fifth round by the Buccaneers in 2014, waived injured, then spent 2015 and part of 2016 in Jacksonville before the Cowboys signed him to their practice squad in November, 2016.

The O-line has generated a lot of headlines this preseason, from Tyron Smith’s back, Travis Frederick’s health, Zack Martin’s knee, Marcus Martin’s toe, Connor Williams’ strength, all the way to Joe Looney’s surprise performance at center. Absent in all of these stories: Kadeem Edwards, who is listed as the backup left guard being Connor Williams.

Yet despite playing the most snaps of any player, that may not mean all that much in the end. Of the top 10 players as ranked by offensive or defensive snaps, five are offensive linemen:

Most regular snaps, 2018 preseason
POS Name Regular Snaps ST snaps Total
G K Edwards 221 7 228
OT C Fleming 174 5 179
WR L Lenoir 160 36 196
G C Green 157 8 165
C J Looney 148 5 153
OT J Campos 136 16 152
LB J March-Lillard 132 67 199
S T Robinson 131 58 189
TE B Jarwin 128 44 172
WR M McKay 126 9 135

That picture changes slightly when we look at the top players by total snaps, where some of the special teams mainstays show up.

Most total snaps, 2018 preseason
POS Name Regular Snaps ST snaps Total
G K Edwards 221 7 228
LB J March-Lillard 132 67 199
WR L Lenoir 160 36 196
S T Robinson 131 58 189
OT C Fleming 174 5 179
TE B Jarwin 128 44 172
G C Green 157 8 165
CB M White 118 41 159
TE D Schultz 113 45 158
C J Looney 148 5 153

Edwards retains his spot at the top, but the surprising name for me here is LB Justin March-Lillard, who moves up the ranks thanks to his team-leading 67 special teams snaps. WR lance Lenoir also received some serious consideration in terms of snaps, but whether that results in a spot on the 53-man roster remains t be seen. Last year WR Noah Brown had the most preseason snaps of any wide receiver, and he made the roster as the sixth wide receiver.

Dalton Schultz is the only 2018 draft pick to make the top 10 in total snaps. The draft picks with the next-highest snap count totals are DE Dorance Armstrong (125), LB Chris Covington (118), and RB Bo Scarborough (116).

By themselves, preseason snap counts probably don’t mean all that much. Kadeem Edwards for example is not suddenly going to be a starter and neither is Lance Lenoir. But sometimes these snaps can give you an early hint of how the depth chart may be filling out ahead of tomorrow’s roster cuts.

Take linebackers for example. It’s not totally clear today how many linebackers the Cowboys will keep - maybe six, maybe seven - but whoever that last linebacker may be, he’d better bring it on special teams.

Linebacker snaps, 2018 Preseason
Name Regular Snaps ST snaps Total
J March-Lillard 132 67 199
C Covington 76 42 118
T Johnson 83 34 117
J Thomas 80 34 114
D Wilson 70 35 105
K Queiro 58 26 84
J Smith 54 10 64
L Vander Esch 32 13 45
J Lanning 30 1 31
E Pinkins 16 17 33
S Lee 10 0 10

Going by these numbers, it looks like Justin March-Lillard has the edge for that sixth spot, but keep in mind that Chris Covington missed the first preseason game with bronchitis, so he’s short about 50 or so snaps. Which makes this a much tighter race than the numbers above suggest. And don’t discount the Cowboys keeping seven linebackers, like they did in 2017 and 2016, so both March-Lillard and Covington could end up making the roster.

Similar situation at wide receiver, where at least five players are in contention for a possible sixth spot. We already know that Lance Lenoir leads all wide receivers in terms of snaps, but by how much?

Down-roster WR snaps, 2018 Preseason
Name Regular Snaps ST snaps Total
L Lenoir 160 36 196
M McKay 126 9 135
D Anderson 66 0 66
K Cannon 35 0 35
D Carrington 19 0 19
N Brown - - - - - -

Lance Lenoir has logged by far the most snaps of this group. Will it be enough?

Maybe, maybe not. Here’s Nick Eatman of

To me, it was pretty simple: Lance Lenoir played the whole game. Deonte Thompson didn’t play at all. And even further to that, Lenoir really didn’t do much despite getting a lot of opportunities on both punt return and at receiver.

Also, don’t discount recent signing Dres Anderson. He recorded his 66 snaps in just two preseason games and might be an option for the practice squad.

At the end of the day, the last roster spots like the seventh LB or seventh WR could very well come down to which player offers more upside on special teams, so here’s a look at the top special teams players this preseason:

Special teams snaps, 2018 Preseason
POS Player ST snaps
LB J March-Lillard 67
S T Robinson 58
RB D Jackson 46
RB B Scarbrough 46
TE D Schultz 45
TE B Jarwin 44
LB C Covington 42
CB M White 41
CB D Thomas 41
CB J Lewis CB 41

One of the objectives of giving guys playing time in the preseason is the chance to evaluate them in a competitive situation, as Garrett explained yesterday.

“Obviously, you have a lot of different objectives going into each of the games,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said after Thursday’s 14-6 loss. “It starts with the playing time of your guys. You’re looking at different people. Certainly you want to win every time you go out there, we’re competing to win, but that doesn’t override some of the other objectives that we have.”

The snap counts tallied above don’t tell us anything about how the Cowboys evaluated each player’s performance, but we’ll find out soon enough whether these snap counts mean anything.

Roster cuts have to be in by 4:00 pm ET on Saturday.

Of course, looking at the players who didn’t get any snaps in last night’s game might be just as instructive as looking at the snap counts of players who did. Here are the players who didn’t play a snap against the Texans, and it’s probably safe to assume they are all roster locks:

No snaps vs Texans
D Lawrence T Crawford S Lee B Jones J Heath
T Charlton A Woods J Smith C Awuzie X Woods
R Gregory D Wilson A Brown K Frazier
D Jones J Thomas
L Vander Esch
D Prescott E Elliott A Hurns G Swaim T Smith
R Smith T Williams C Williams
J Olawale T Austin J Looney
C Beasley Z Martin
D Thompson L Collins
T Frederick

As you wonder about roster depth and roster spots, it’s always helpful to keep in mind how previous Cowboys 53-man rosters were split by position. Here are the numbers from the opening-day rosters of the last five years as documented in the NFL game books.

Years QB RB WR TE FB OL DL LB CB S Specialists
2017 3 4 6 3 1 8 8 7 6 4 3
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

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