The NFL Draft is done, and the Dallas Cowboys have also added the main UDFA signings. So now it is easy to project who will be on the roster to start the season. Not.
OK, there are a lot of names that are no-brainers. So much of any projection will include a lot of players that are easy to get right. But the fun from now on is trying to figure out where the meaningful camp battles might be, and trying to identify a surprise or two to stick. So here is my first cut at who I think makes the 2019 Cowboys, followed by a position-by-position breakdown of the logic, and where I may wind up being out to sea.
Projected Cowboys roster
|QB||Dak Prescott||Mike White|
|RB||Ezekiel Elliott||Mike Weber||Tony Pollard|
|WR||Amari Cooper||Cedrick Wilson|
|WR||Michael Galllup||Jon'Vea Johnson|
|Slot||Randall Cobb||Tavon Austin|
|TE||Jason Witten||Blake Jarwin||Dalton Schultz|
|LT||Tyron Smith||Cameron Fleming|
|LG||Connor Williams||Connor McGovern|
|C||Travis Frederick||Joe Looney|
|RT||La'el Collins||Mitch Hyatt|
|DE||DeMarcus Lawrence||Dorance Armstrong||Kerry Hyder|
|DT||Maliek Collins||Tyrone Crawford|
|DT||Antwaun Woods||Trysten Hill|
|DE||Robert Quinn||Taco Charlton||Joe Jackson|
|WLB||Leighton Vander Esch||Sean Lee|
|MLB||Jaylon Smith||Joe Thomas|
|SLB||Justin March-Lilliard||Chris Covington|
|CB||Byron Jones||Jourdan Lewis|
|CB||Chidobe Awuzie||Michael Jackson|
|FS||Xavier Woods||Kavon Frazier|
|SS||George Iloka||Jeff Heath||Donovan Wilson|
|(PR/KR)||Tavon Austin||Tony Pollard|
Some of the positions may not line up this way, but the important thing is the names. And while I am loathe to admit it, injuries will likely drive a change or two (hopefully not more). But those are totally unpredictable.
Right off the bat, here is a departure from last season, with only two on the roster. That is something that the team will have to do to keep a player elsewhere (spoiler: it is an offensive lineman). And Cooper Rush is the man left out. He is a good bet for them to get to the practice squad. Under current rules, up to four PS players can have two seasons on a roster and still be eligible. That is how they can keep Rush as a ready disaster call-up.
Sorry, Darius Jackson, but Mike Weber gets your slot.
Tony Pollard is an interesting player, because he should be viewed as much as a receiver as a runner. He is also, as noted, expected to have a big role in the return game. If Kellen Moore uses him correctly, assuming he has the freedom to do so, Pollard can have an out-sized impact on the offense, if the team was at all correct in evaluating him.
Here is one place where this could be all wrong, with Allen Hurns the player that could turn up and make his way to the roster. But his return from injury is not at all certain. I hope he can, but UDFA Jon’Vea Johnson has some intriguing traits. He would be more of a future move, since it is unlikely six receivers would be active on game day. Pollard factors into this thinking as well.
Tavon Austin is also on somewhat shaky ground and really needs to stay healthy. Pollard can fill the role Austin was envisioned to have. But if he is able to stay on the field, his speed would be a major reason to keep him around.
Only carrying three puts a lot of faith in Moore actually making some real changes to the offensive approach. But the fact Dallas not only did not draft a TE, but also didn’t sign one as a UDFA is a big clue. Maybe it is projecting personal hopes onto things, but part of a more modern approach on offense involves less use of “heavy” sets that let the defense load up the box to stop the run. This also is where Jamize Olawale may see a new role, motioning out of the backfield to an H back spot and serving as a blocker, or finally getting incorporated as a receiver. And sorry, Rico Gathers stans, I think the experiment is over.
Connor McGovern will be the second interior line backup. Xavier Su’a-Filo was serviceable at best, and McGovern has a much higher ceiling.
And I am calling for Mitch Hyatt to be the player who forces them to drop the third QB. His signing looks like the long-term plan to replace Cameron Fleming as the swing tackle when his contract is up. He would be another game-day inactive, but given his college pedigree, the risk of trying to stash him on the PS is far too great.
Also, don’t look for any position switch between Connor Williams and La’el Collins. Embedded in this is another prediction, that Collins will be allowed to go in free agency in 2020. Williams will likely kick out to become the new RT then, with McGovern moving to the starting LG job. But all that is a year away.
Here is where the position flex so many players have makes things interesting. I am one of a handful that thinks Taco Charlton will finally start to pay off, and that may involve some work inside as a 3T. I am also high on Joe Jackson, who along with Kerry Hyder is going to force the team to go very heavy here, possibly with two DL inactive each week. But Rod Marinelli loves to send his linemen at the other teams in waves, and depth is key to that.
There looks to be a lot of talent in this group, which is why both free agent Christian Covington and seventh round pick Jalen Jelks don’t make the cut. Jelks would almost certainly be a player they try to get to the PS.
Now, if the idea of not carrying three QBs does not work out, this is where the slot would likely have to be carved out. The projection has the defense with 26, leaving only 24 on offense, so that is one place it would be no surprise for this to be in error.
Here is another place where the D line may have to give up a position. The Cowboys like to carry seven backers because they are so important to the special teams. However, they did not draft one. Maybe one of the UDFAs will catch fire and force their hand, but for now, it looks most likely that the six from last year will carry the load, and all would probably be active because of that ST need. However, Chris Covington will have to fight the rookies off in camp.
This is another place where the roster is heavy, but DBs are also prime ST fodder. The two they drafted, Michael Jackson and Donovan Wilson, just fit the Kris Richard model too well to not keep them on the roster. I know they didn’t invest much draft capital in the safety position, which was a real surprise, but I also am low-key excited about this group.
For years, this was the most predictable trio on the roster. Then last season, we were stunned when Dan Bailey was released.
But Brett Maher is hardly secure, even though the team has not brought in another place kicker. They will for camp. And we saw that assuming they are just bringing in a body to share the load in camp is foolish.
Chris Jones will also have to stay on top of his game to keep his job. Kicking is going to merit a lot more attention than in the past. It is within the realm of possibility that we could see two new names putting their feet to the ball in the fall.
There you have it. It is all subject to change as the players start practicing. But for now, I am putting a marker down. It just doesn’t have a lot of money behind it.