With the 2021 Draft and much of free agency in the rearview mirror, most of the roster-building phase for NFL teams is over. Sure, teams will always churn their roster, and there still may be some surprises coming up, but as of now teams have a pretty good idea of who they will take to camp and start the season with in terms of a roster.
That obviously include the Cowboys who are in the midst of finishing up their rookie minicamp. Bleacher Report took this time to try and predict each team’s starting lineup. For the Cowboys, it’s a fairly easy process for the offense. Barring injuries keeping anybody out, it’s almost certain the Cowboys starting eleven on offense will look like this:
Offense: QB Dak Prescott, RB Ezekiel Elliott, WR Amari Cooper, WR Michael Gallup, WR CeeDee Lamb, TE Blake Jarwin, LT Tyron Smith, LG Connor Williams, C Tyler Biadasz, RG Zack Martin, RT La’el Collins
The big name is Dak Prescott back in action, but almost equally important would be the return of his bookend tackles Tyron Smith and La’el Collins. Probably the only name you could even debate would be Tyler Biadasz at center, but that would have only been had they brought back Joe Looiney. Since they didn’t, it looks like they have full trust in Biadasz.
Defense is where it gets a little harder. Not only in personnel, but in scheme since it looks like Dan Quinn is determined to be multiple in his lineups and there looks to be a lot of guys who could come in an specialize in certain situations. Let’s see what Bleacher Report predicted.
Defense: edge DeMarcus Lawrence, DT Neville Gallimore, DT Trysten Hill, edge Randy Gregory, OLB Jaylon Smith, ILB Leighton Vander Esch, OLB Micah Parsons, CB Trevon Diggs, CB Anthony Brown, FS Donovan Wilson, SS Keanu Neal
Lawrence and Gregory seem set to be the starting defensive ends. In the middle, there are players who could push Gallimore and Hill. Brent Urban is one, and draftee Quinton Bohanna could see work on early downs when runs are expected if he has a good camp. Also, Osa Odighizuwa should be in the fight for playing time, but Gallimore and Hill are probably the front-runners as of now.
Their linebacker selection is interesting only for the fact that the Cowboys are working Micah Parsons at the MIKE, not on the outside as predicted here. It’s a good bet, though, that when the Cowboys are running a 4-3 scheme, Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch and Parsons will be the three. Jabril Cox may get his share of specialty plays in pass coverage, and Keanu Neal might also. The linebacker look could change drastically depending on run/pass scenarios.
In the secondary is where this prediction falls apart. Donovan Wilson will almost certainly not be the starting free safety, his skills are made for the strong safety/box position. The Cowboys brought in Damontae Kazee to man the free safety position and given his skillset and former ties to Dan Quinn, he’s a heavy favorite to start if he’s fully healthy. With the Wilson/Kazee pairing, that pushes Keanu Neal out of the starting strong safety position, but Dan Quinn has already said he wants to look at Neal more as a hybrid linebacker. He could still get some reps behind Wilson at strong safety.
One starting corner is surely going to be Trevon Diggs. But who mans the other corner? And for that matter, who mans the slot which is basically a starting position? Bleacher Report has Anthony Brown lining up outside and that’s not a bad call. It would give the Cowboys some experience there and he has played outside before although he seems like a better slot corner. That would mean Brown beat out second-round pick Kelvin Joseph which is fair given Joseph’s limited time as a big-time corner. It might take him a while to earn a spot. Probably the more interesting questions is who plays slot in alignments with three corners. Jourdan Lewis could also be in that mix.
Who do you have as your starting eleven on defense?