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Winners and losers from four different Cowboys 53-man roster projections

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We look at four different roster projections to get a better feel for who makes the roster this year

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NFL: DEC 16 Cowboys at Colts Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Final roster cuts are just a few short days away. And right now, Cowboys coaches are almost certainly busy watching film from the last few practices and preseason games, as well as reviewing their practice notes. And one of the things they are likely doing in the process is slotting their players into some kind of a depth chart; a depth chart they have been building since the start of OTAs and one that may or may not have been constantly reconfigured.

So we’re going to do a similar exercise today and take a look at what the Cowboys’ final 53-man roster could look like based on what we’ve seen in training camp and in the first three preseason games. To do that, we’re going to look at four different roster projections. One from Jon Machota of The Athletic, another one from Clarence Hill of the Star-Telegram, a third one from Calvin Watkins of the Dallas Morning News, and a final one from BTB’s Tom Ryle.

I’ve combined all four projections in the two tables below, one for offense, one for defense. The table highlights (in yellow) the spots that do not yet appear to be locked down, and where there might still be competition for one of the final roster spots. Look closely and you’ll see that there aren’t many of those spots left, if these four projections are anything to go by.

OFFENSE

Jon Machota,
Athletic
Calvin Watkins,
DMN
Clarence Hill,
Star-Telegram
Tom Ryle,
BTB
QUARTERBACKS
Prescott Prescott Prescott Prescott
Rush Rush Rush Rush
RUNNING BACKS
Elliott Elliott Elliott Elliott
Pollard Pollard Pollard Pollard
Olawale Olawale Olawale Olawale
Chunn Chunn Chunn
TIGHT ENDS
Witten Witten Witten Witten
Jarwin Jarwin Jarwin Jarwin
Schultz Schultz Schultz Schultz
WIDE RECEIVERS
Cooper Cooper Cooper Cooper
Gallup Gallup Gallup Gallup
Cobb Cobb Cobb Cobb
Austin Austin Austin Austin
Smith Smith Smith Smith
Wilson Wilson Wilson Wilson
OFFENSIVE LINE
Smith Smith Smith Smith
Williams Williams Williams Williams
Frederick Frederick Frederick Frederick
Martin Martin Martin Martin
Collins Collins Collins Collins
Looney Looney Looney Looney
Fleming Fleming Fleming Fleming
McGovern McGovern McGovern McGovern
Su'a Filo Redmond Su'a Filo Su'a Filo

Doesn’t look like there’s much debate on offense. The ninth offensive lineman and the depth at running back seem to be the only remaining question marks.

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 six years as documented in the NFL game books.

Years QB RB WR TE FB OL DL LB CB S Specialists
2018 3 3 5 4 1 9 9 7 5 4 3
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

As you can see, the Cowboys have had at least three RBs on their roster in each of the least six years, so that would speak to keeping three again this year, be it Jordan Chunn or Alfred Morris. But there is a minor caveat here: last year, the Cowboys listed three running backs on their opening day roster, but one of them was Tavon Austin, who is listed as a WR this year, so Machota’s idea of keeping just Elliott and Pollard may not be that far off.

On the OL, Watkins gives the nod to Redmond over Su’a Filo for the last roster spot. Redmond gives the Cowboys a little more versatility as he can play center and both guard spots, while Su’a Filo doesn’t play center, but do the Cowboys really need to go three deep at center?

DEFENSE

Things seem to be a little more fluid on defense.

Jon Machota,
Athletic
Calvin Watkins,
DMN
Clarence Hill,
Star-Telegram
Tom Ryle,
BTB
DEFENSIVE TACKLES
Collins Collins Collins Collins
Woods Woods Woods Woods
Hill Hill Hill Hill
Covington Covington Covington Covington
Wise
DEFENSIVE ENDS
Lawrence Lawrence Lawrence Lawrence
Crawford Crawford Crawford Crawford
Charlton Charlton Charlton Charlton
Armstrong Armstrong Armstrong Armstrong
Hyder Hyder Hyder Hyder
Jackson Jackson Jackson Jackson
LINEBACKERS
Vander Esch Vander Esch Vander Esch Vander Esch
Smith Smith Smith Smith
Lee Lee Lee Lee
Thomas Thomas Thomas Thomas
Covington Phillips Phillips Phillips
March March March
Gifford Gifford Covington
CORNERBACK
Jones Jones Jones Jones
Awuzie Awuzie Awuzie Awuzie
Brown Brown Brown Brown
Lewis Lewis Lewis Lewis
Goodwin Goodwin Goodwin Goodwin
Jackson Olumba Olumba
SAFETY
Woods Woods Woods Woods
Heath Heath Heath Heath
Wilson Wilson Wilson Wilson
Frazier Frazier Frazier
SPECIALISTS (3)
Suspended/PUP (3)
Gregory
Quinn
Brown

To my great surprise, the consensus here suggests the defensive line is pretty much fixed, with the only question being whether Daniel Wise can claim the fifth and final DT spot. But whether they keep 10 or 11 guys, the tough decisions will come when Robert Quinn comes back after Week 2, and possibly when Randy Gregory come back at some point later in the season.

There’s not much of a consensus at linebacker beyond the top four guys. It looks like Justin Phillips, Justin March, Chris Covington, and Luke Gifford are battling for the final two or three spots here.

At defensive back, it looks like C.J. Goodwin makes the roster as the fifth corner, with only outside chances for Donovan Olumba and Michael Jackson, and the Cowboys will likely roll with four safeties.

Winners & Losers

If you’ve followed the Cowboys over the offseason, the consensus 53-man roster above shouldn’t really come as much of a surprise to you. Sure, you may quibble over this or that name, but overall the rosters shown are pretty much a consensus of where Cowboys fans are at right now.

But that may not have always been the case. In May, just before rookie minicamp, Jon Machota (then still with the DMN) published his first roster projection of the year. If we compare that initial roster with our consensus roster today, we get an idea of who played himself on or off the roster.

Losers:

  • QB Mike White. Some had expected him to take the backup job from Cooper Rush. Never happened.
  • RB Mike Weber. The rookie seventh-rounder was expected to be the third running back, but he seems to have fallen behind Jordan Chunn on the depth chart.
  • WR Allen Hurns. Hurns turned out to be a surprise cut, but he caught on quickly with the Dolphins, so he may turn out to be a winner anyway.
  • CB Michael Jackson. Machota initially slotted the fifth-round pick as the fifth corner, but that doesn’t look like it will happen.
  • S George Iloka. At least he didn’t get released one week into camp like another veteran safety, Brodney Pool, did in 2012, but Iloka will likely get cut on Saturday.

Winners:

  • WRs Cedrick Wilson and Devin Smith. Aided in part by the release of Allen Hurns and an injury to Noah Brown, but also because of a strong offseason performances, both receivers look to have battled their way onto the roster.
  • CB C.J. Goodwin. The Cowboys are Goodwin’s seventh NFL team since 2014, so I’m not sure that there were any realistic expectations of Goodwin making the team, but it looks like he did.

As you look at the list of winners and losers, there frankly hasn’t been a lot of change since May, at least according to Machota’s projection. That may be because Machota has the gift of prophesy (which could well be the case), or it reflects the stark reality of NFL life: Rosters are largely set before the offseason program even begins, and most of the extra players brought in are little more than sparring and training partners for the roster locks. Injuries and standout performances in camp provide the opportunity for maybe three to five players each year to work their way onto the roster, but that’s pretty much it.