Organized team activities are in the books for the Dallas Cowboys and now it’s time to move on to minicamp. There wasn’t a whole lot to go off of, but these last few weeks have provided a small amount of buzz for certain players. It’s way too early to know how the Cowboys roster will shake out come September, but that’s not going to stop us from trying. Here is what the 53-man roster might look like if the season started today.
Note: Players in blue are considered roster locks, and players in green are currently front-runners to make the team. Players in yellow are on the outside looking in, yet at some point has generated some type of noise to keep them in consideration.
OFFENSE - 24 players
Most of this group has already been sorted out, with seven players locked down as having roster spots. While there is still a lot to be figured out in terms of who plays where, the team offers a very strong core of players at the position. Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, Travis Frederick, La’el Collins, and Connor Williams are your starting five with Cameron Fleming and rookie Connor McGovern the top reserves.
All 10 of the players listed are roster-worthy, and it feels weird to leave Xavier Su’a-Filo off the team after filling in so nicely for Dallas last season. But things have changed and the interior offensive line has gotten stronger with the return of Frederick and the addition of McGovern. This group is just not big enough for both Su’a-Filo and Joe Looney. Instead, the team uses the last available roster spot to help develop undrafted free agent Mitch Hyatt into a future swing tackle.
This is a group that we expect to shuffle around an awful lot over the next few months so don’t get too attached to those colors. Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and recent free agent addition Randall Cobb are the three starters.
After that, things get murky. It could come down to health. It may also come down to which skill-sets complements the offense the most. As long as he stays healthy, Tavon Austin should have a spot on the team because of his playmaking ability. There is nothing exciting about Noah Brown, but his exceptional blocking ability finds him a role on the team. And Cedrick Wilson’s route-running and familiarity with the highly complex Boise State offensive system gives him an edge on the new Kellen Moore-driven offense.
Allen Hurns could still crack the roster if he shows that he’s back at full strength after a gruesome ankle injury in the playoffs last season. Jon’Vea Johnson wants to be the guy who “takes the top off the defense” but he still needs work to be a consistent enough fixture on the offense. And Reggie Davis flashed some good plays at OTA’s where he’s now on the radar.
This is a deep group, so expect things to move around a lot as training camp rolls around.
To Rico or not to Rico? That’s the question, and to be honest - that’s the only question. Jason Witten, Blake Jarwin, and Dalton Schultz are all making the team. This is most likely the year that the lights go out on the dream of having an athletic power forward transition into a playmaking tight end. Rico Gathers still has another training camp to show what he can do, but unless he demonstrates some significant growth, he’s going to be left off the roster.
We can’t rule out a last second add at the position if the team is adamant of having four tight ends on the team. However, having Noah Brown on the roster gives them some extra flexibility if they go short at the position.
Ezekiel Elliott is the workhorse back, Tony Pollard is the fresh new toy, and Jamize Olawale will hold down the fullback responsibilities. But then what?
The Cowboys were surprised that Ohio State’s Mike Weber was still available in the seventh round and he could be the player that takes the bulk of the carries should something happen to Zeke. It seems likely that he’ll hold down a roster spot, but don’t throw dirt on Darius Jackson just yet. The Cowboys aren’t keeping five running backs, so the last spot will come down to those two.
Dak Prescott is the starter, but who will backing him up? Mike White and Cooper Rush will battle it out, with the loser likely being released. Before, it made sense to hold on to both as the team properly evaluates each player, but now it’s time to make a decision. The team will have a combined five training camps worth of evidence to make their choice on which backup is worth hanging on to. My money is on Mr. White.
DEFENSE - 26 players
This position group should be interesting to watch as there are several things not set in stone. DeMarcus Lawrence and Robert Quinn are the bookends, but after that - it’s anyone’s guess. Will this be the year Taco Charlton breaks out? Or will he fade into obscurity and not even make the team? Both Dorance Armstrong and Kerry Hyder have upside and either of them could push for a stronger role in the rotation.
And then there’s Randy Gregory. It’s unclear how his situation is going to play out, but should he get reinstated - you can add him to the list and color it blue. Both of the draft picks, Joe Jackson and Jalen Jelks, seem destined for the practice squad. But if one of them makes a lot of noise in camp, that could all change.
The Cowboys depth at defensive tackle is stronger than it’s been in a long while. Not only is there a dogfight for starting reps, but there are going to be some good battles going on for those last couple spots on the roster. You could actually draw any two names out of a hat and it wouldn’t be surprising if those players logged the most time on the interior line. It’s a talented group with nobody running away as the clear cut superior.
Both Daniel Ross and Daniel Wise are capable of making the team, but it’s just hard seeing someone ahead of them getting bumped off.
If there is a position group where most of the players are settled into their roles, it’s the linebacker spot. Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith are the main starters and that’s not changing. Sean Lee will start at strong-side linebacker as long as he remains healthy. And Joe Thomas, Justin March-Lillard, and Chris Covington will serve as the team’s reserves and provide reps on special teams.
If there is any question about this group, it centers around what type player will Covington be this year. He has the physical ability, but where will he be with his mental game and technique? There’s upside here as it would be great if he slid into a bigger role down the line, but we’ll have to wait and see how he looks when people are actually hitting each other.
The Cowboys had a very reliable group of four corners holding down the position needs last year. With Byron Jones, Chidobe Awuzie, Anthony Brown, and Jourdan Lewis all locked in with key roles on the team, it doesn’t leave much room for others. Rookie Michael Jackson will have plenty of chances to strut his stuff and is almost guaranteed a roster spot, but would the team dare go deeper than five guys?
Right now, Donovan Olumba and Chris Westry are undrafted free agents that might have a shot to break into the 53, and all it would take is for one of them to outperform Jackson.
It might be surprising that after a free agency filled with a variety of talent combined with a slew of top collegiate prospects available that Jeff Heath and Xavier Woods are still the team’s top safeties. But that is where we stand.
Those two are still the lead dogs for the starting jobs, but things could get scrappy rounding out the depth. My pet cat Donovan Wilson could be one of those wild card, late-round picks that show up. Yesterday, Darian Thompson was identified as a super-sleeper guy who might surprise people. And then there’s still Kavon Frazier.
You might be shocked to see George Iloka left of the roster, but there’s going to be a handful of surprises and Iloka hasn’t been showing much lately to make anyone feel good about him upgrading the position group.
Normally, this is the time where we just pencil in Dan Bailey, Chris Jones, and L.P. Ladouceur, but as we saw last year - that was a mistake. Brett Maher is now the team’s kicker, but will that still be true when the season starts? Will some outside guy come in and steal his job like he did to Bailey last year? Will punter Casey Redfern put any pressure on veteran Chris Jones?
It’s tough to say, but after last year, it’s worth keeping an eye out on as camp progresses.