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Cowboys roster tiers: A lot of players are in, a few are out, and some are in between

Here’s yet another angle on projecting the Dallas roster.

Dallas Cowboys v New York Giants Photo by Al Pereira/Getty Images

Roster projection is a fun puzzle for us. The Dallas Cowboys are still working toward their first non-contact practices, but we can still make some solid judgments about a lot of the positions on the regular season roster. We just took a look at how the team might allocate the 53 available spots between the different positions. Now it’s time to come at things from a different angle.

We already know most of the roster right off the top of our heads. That is true this year, and it is true every year. Returning starters, key free agent signings, and draft picks all go right to the front of the line when those roster jobs are handed out. Camp battles are fun, but they are not nearly as widespread as many think.

So this exercise for your entertainment looks at five tiers for the players on the roster.

Starter: They have a job. Period. All they have to do is stay healthy and not break any significant laws. There are 26 listed here, including the specialists. This is one extra, because the team can have either a starting SAM linebacker or a slot corner, something that has not been constant from week to week in the past.

Backup: A depth or rotational player who has his spot just as firmly sewn up as the starter. You must have depth in this league.

Bubble candidate: Here are the camp battles. These are all players who are fighting for a depth job. Any movement between backup and starter is just going to be moving pieces around. The former starter and backup just swap places on the depth chart.

Practice squad likely: These are players for whom the PS is probably the best case scenario, although you cannot completely rule them out for the last spot or two on the game day roster. That can be as much about how the team is managing their spots as the talent or need for development involved.

Long shot: This is traditionally pronounced “camp body.”

All placements in this chart are strictly the responsibility of the author, who reserves the right to be completely out to lunch.

Current Cowboys roster

Position Starter Backup Bubble candidate PS likely Long shot
Position Starter Backup Bubble candidate PS likely Long shot
QB Dak Prescott Andy Dalton Ben DiNucci Clayton Thorston
RB/FB Ezekiel Elliott Tony Pollard Sewo Olonilua
Rico Dowdle
Darius Anderson
TE Blake Jarwin Blake Bell Sean McKeon Cole Hikutini Charlie Taumoepeau
Dalton Schultz
WR Amari Cooper Cedrick Wilson Noah Brown Tevin Jones
Michael Gallup Devin Smith Jon'Vea Johnson Aaron Parker
CeeDee Lamb Ventell Bryant
IOL Zack Martin Connor McGovern Adam Redmond Marcus Henry
Joe Looney Tyler Baidasz Cody Wichmann
Connor Williams
OT Tyron Smith Cameron Erving Brandon Knight Wyatt Miller Terrence Steele
La'el Collins Mitch Hyatt Isaac Alarcón
DE DeMarcus Lawrence Aldon Smith Joe Jackson Ron'Dell Carter Ladarius Hamilton
Tyrone Crawford Dorance Armstrong Jaylon Jelks
Bradlee Anae
DT Gerald McCoy Anwaun Woods Trysten Hill Justin Hamilton
Dontari Poe Neville Gallimore
LB Jaylon Smith Joe Thomas Luke Gifford
Leighton Vander Esch Justin March Francis Bernard
Sean Lee
CB Chidobe Awuzie Trevon Diggs Daryl Worley Deante Burton Luther Kirk
Anthony Brown Reggie Robinson II C.J. Goodwin Savion Smith
Jourdan Lewis Chris Westry
S Xavier Woods Donovan Wilson Darian Thompson
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix
LS L.P. Ladouceur
K Greg Zeurlein
P Chris Jones
Total (81) 26 19 19 9 8

I don’t know if you are like me, but tables like this can be useful in understanding the dynamics of the roster. (It may not show up as well on a smartphone, working best on a tablet or computer.)

The Cowboys carry 81 bodies for camp because they have Isaac Alarcón, who as a member of the International Player Pathway program does not count against the limit. The rules pretty much make him an automatic 17th member of the PS.

Speaking of numbers, if you add the starters and the backups, that gives you 45. Only eight spots remain to fill from the 19 bubble players listed - and a few of those are not quite as much on the bubble as others. Brandon Knight and Luke Gifford are both close to being locked in as backups. Conversely, it was quite tempting to go ahead and put Trysten Hill in the PS list. It is just the most likely way to go barring a need to back-fill someone ahead of him in the DT group.

With the 53-man roster and the expanded 16 player PS, that only leaves eleven players that have to go. There will still likely be some churn before we get to the end of camp, but it is still a brighter prospect than the bottom of the roster types have ever faced. The money may not be the best on the PS, but it is still professional football, being a part of a team and working to improve your game. And there’s always that chance of a call-up and chance to shine, which is just better this year with the two elevations allowed each week.

There are still some intriguing battles that we wish we could watch closer. The third running back/fullback job is pretty open, given that all three candidates are UDFAs. Mike McCarthy’s view of the tight end and H back positions being the same in his scheme means that the real competition for someone like Sean McKeon or Cole Hikutuni might be Sewo Olonilua or Rico Dowdle. Wide receiver is pretty much wide open, especially if the team carries six, and if we are lucky, one of the presumptive camp bodies may turn some heads and at least claw his way onto the PS. On defense, the last DE spot (remember, McCarthy wants six, with four DTs) is going to be fiercely contested, and there is also a large group vying to make the cornerback room.

If nothing else, this might be a handy table to have when you are doing your own roster projection, or trying to keep track of who is shining once the reports from practices begin. It was done as much for ordering my own thoughts about the roster as anything. However, I’m not saying I built a table and then found a way to write an article around it. Really. You can trust me.