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Seven random musings about the 2018 Cowboys roster

The unheralded but pedigreed defense; Dallas day delivers; UDFAs to the rescue; more.

Dallas Cowboys v Houston Texans Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

The initial 53-man roster the Cowboys reported to the league on Saturday didn’t stay intact for very long, as the additions of OL Adam Redmond and S Ibraheim Campbell have already altered last Saturday’s version. The Cowboys are undoubtedly looking for some more late additions to the team, so it’s unlikely that the current iteration of the 53-man roster will stay the way it is for very long.

But it’s good enough to make it comparable to previous years and allow us to look at some of the odds and ends of this particular version of the Dallas Cowboys roster.

Here’s how the current 53-man roster compares to the opening-day rosters of the previous years as documented in the NFL game books.

POS 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
QB 2 3 2 3 3 3
RB 4 3 4 4 4 2
WR 5 5 5 5 6 6
TE 4 3 4 3 3 4
FB - - 1 1 2 1 1
OL 10 9 9 8 8 9
DL 10 11 10 8 8 9
LB 6 7 6 7 7 7
CB 4 4 5 5 6 4
S 5 4 4 5 4 5
ST 3 3 3 3 3 3

Versus 2017, the Cowboys created roster space by going with only two running backs and four corners, creating four extra spots compared to last year. They invested those four spots in an extra lineman to cover for Travis Frederick, an extra safety to cover for Xavier Woods’ injury, an extra defensive tackle to cover for Datone Jones’ knee injury, and an extra tight end.

This is an important thing to keep in mind: Going short at RB and CB is only partly about the quality of the guys who did not make the roster as the third RB or the fifth CB. It’s just as much about the need for depth at other positions.

Here are some other random observations:

1. The return of the ... linemen

Last year, Anthony Hitchens missed the first four games with an injury, and bolstered the numbers at linebacker once he rejoined the team. This year, Travis Frederick and Datone Jones remain on the roster despite not being able to play. The fact that the team did not put either player on IR (where they would have had to remain for at least eight games) suggests the Cowboys expect both players back earlier, which in case of Travis Frederick would be fantastic news, simply because coming back from the Guillain-Barre Syndrome that quickly is much faster than could have been reasonably expected.

Add David Irving possibly coming back at some point, and the team could actually get stronger in the trenches as the season progresses.

2. Who are going to be the seven gameday inactives?

Travis Frederick and Datone Jones are obvious choices, as they will be inactive until they are fully healthy. Mike White as the third QB is also obvious. Leighton Vander Esch might also miss the opener as he continues to recover from his groin strain. Beyond that, it gets a little murky. The fourth TE (Dalton Schultz?), the fifth safety (Ibraheim Campbell?), and the ninth offensive lineman (Adam Redmond?) look like the most obvious candidates.

3. UDFAs to the rescue!

Just one undrafted free agent (Tyree Robinson) made the 53-man roster this year, but it likely would have been two had the Cowboys not traded away Charvarius Ward. Whether this means that the roster depth has gotten better or that this year’s UDFA class wasn’t as good as in the previous years remains to be seen.

4. Dallas Day Delivers

Every year, the Cowboys conduct a “Dallas Day” for draft eligible prospects from colleges and high schools within the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area. From this year’s invitees, S Tyree Robinson made the 53-man roster and CB Charvarius Ward made the Chiefs roster. OL Jake Campos, RB Jordan Chunn, CB Donovan Olumba, LB Kyle Queiro, at least made it to the practice squad. That’s quite an impressive haul.

5. A mixed bag of player acquisitions in 2018

Free agency opened in mid March, and by the end of April, the Cowboys had added nine players. Six of them made the roster.

Aquired via Made the roster Did not make the roster
Trade FB Jamize Olawale DT Jihad Ward
Free Agency LB Joe Thomas OG Marcus Martin (IR)
WR Deonte Thompson DE Kony Ealy
WR Allen Hurns
OT Cameron Fleming
K Brett Maher

The period until mid May covers what is often called the first phase of free agency, and of the nine players signed/acquired over that period, six made the roster. Considering that the Cowboys were late to the party in free agency, and held tight to their purse throughout, that’s not a bad retention rate.

In the second phase of free agency, the Cowboys went on to sign free agent veterans like Antwaun Woods (who made the roster) and a series of free agent vets like OT Korren Kirven, DE Joby Saint Fleur, WR Dres Anderson, DT Caraun Reid, S Dominick Sanders and S Jeron Johnson (none of whom made the roster). Perhaps those recent signings have somehow tempered our collective enthusiasm about the Cowboys player acquisitions, but if we stick to the first phase of free agency, the Cowboys came away with a solid class of acquisitions in 2018.

6. I just can’t get enough

Building the roster is not a color-by-numbers exercise. Beware of the guy who tells you that you can’t have enough corners, you can’t have enough running backs, or you can’t have enough linemen.

Of course you can.

7. The unheralded but pedigreed defense

Maybe the most stunning thing about the 2018 Cowboys is that the defense has quietly become quite a pedigreed unit.

The Cowboys make headlines with their offense and with their many first-round picks. Five former first-round picks on offense (Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, Tavon Austin, Ezekiel Elliott) are easily more than the three former first-round picks on defense (Taco Charlton, Leighton Vander Esch, Byron Jones).

But take a look at the latest Cowboys roster below where I’ve highlighted the players picked in the first three rounds of the draft.

Week 1 unofficial Cowboys depth chart
POS First Second Third Fourth
WR1 Allen Hurns Michael Gallup
LT Tyron Smith Cameron Fleming
LG Connor Williams
C Joe Looney Adam Redmond Travis Frederick*
RG Zack Martin Parker Ehinger
RT La’el Collins
TE Geoff Swaim Blake Jarwin Rico Gathers Dalton Schultz
SR Cole Beasley Tavon Austin
WR2 Terrance Williams Deonte Thompson
QB Dak Prescott Cooper Rush Mike White
RB Ezekiel Elliott Rod Smith
FB Jamize Olawale
POS First Second Third Fourth
DE DeMarcus Lawrence Randy Gregory Taco Charlton Dorance Armstrong
DT Maliek Collins Datone Jones*
DT Antwaun Woods Daniel Ross
DE Tyrone Crawford
SLB Damien Wilson Justin March-Lillard Chris Covington
MLB Jaylon Smith Leighton Vander Esch
WLB Sean Lee Joe Thomas
CB1 Byron Jones Jourdan Lewis
SCB Anthony Brown
CB2 Chidobe Awuzie
SS Jeff Heath Kavon Frazier Ibraheim Campbell
FS Xavier Woods Tyree Robinson
POS First Second Third Fourth
P Chris Jones
K Brett Maher
LS L. P. Ladouceur

The defense leads the offense by 12 to 8 in the number of players picked between rounds one and three of the NFL draft. That’s a lot of quality on defense that simply has to pay dividends and could change the entire narrative about the Cowboys this year.

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