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Three different Dallas Cowboys 53-man roster projections

Three different roster projections provide an early look at where the roster battles might happen on the 2021 team.

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NFL: NOV 04 Cowboys at Giants Photo by Rich Graes fourthsle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Cowboys are barely done with the rookie minicamp, and already we have the first roster projections for the 2021 Cowboys. And we’re going to compare three of those projections today. One from Jon Machota of The Athletic, another from John Owning of the Dallas Morning News, and a final one from David Howman from BTB.

For the most part, NFL teams have a pretty good idea of what their roster will look like long before training camp opens. Sure, there will be a couple of tweaks and perhaps a surprise or two, but there are probably no more than a handful of spots that are completely up in the air. As always, injuries remain the big unknown, but for a down-roster guy to make the 53, he’ll have to show sustained impressive performance through camp to make the roster.

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 eight years as documented in the NFL game books.

Years QB RB WR TE FB OL DL LB CB S Specialists
2020 3 3 5 3 - - 9 9 6 7 4 3
2019 2 3 5 3 1 10 10 6 5 5 3
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

I’ve combined the three 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 may be surprised by who is considered a roster lock and who isn’t - at least if these three projections are anything to go by.

Note that the order of the names may differ from the order they were originally published in, but the order here makes the three projections more comparable.


Jon Machota,
The Athletic
John Owning,
David Howman,
Prescott Prescott Prescott
Gilbert Gilbert Gilbert
Elliott Elliott Elliott
Pollard Pollard Pollard
Dowdle Dowdle Dowdle
Ralston (FB)
Jarwin Jarwin Jarwin
Schultz Schultz Schultz
Sprinkle McKeon Sprinkle
Cooper Cooper Cooper
Gallup Gallup Gallup
Lamb Lamb Lamb
Wilson Wilson Wilson
Fehoko Fehoko Fehoko
Brown Eagles Brown
Smith Smith Smith
Williams Williams Williams
Biadasz Biadasz Biadasz
Martin Martin Martin
Collins Collins Collins
Nseke Nseke Nseke
McGovern McGovern McGovern
Knight Knight Knight
Ball Ball Steele
Farniok Farniok

The color coding here suggests there might be competition for roster spots at all positions except quarterback.

It’s probably a stretch to think the Cowboys will carry a fullback, but the third TE spot could be an interesting camp battle. How many and which offensive linemen the Cowboys will keep on the roster will remain a discussion point until final roster cuts in September.

The sixth wide receiver looks to still be open, but the competition for that spot may not include rookie Simi Fehoko, who looks like a roster lock in these projections.


Surprisingly, things seem to be a lot less fluid on defense.

Jon Machota,
The Athletic
John Owning,
David Howman,
Gallimore Gallimore Gallimore
Hill Hill Hill
Odighizuwa Odighizuwa Odighizuwa
Urban Urban Urban
Bohanna Bohanna Bohanna
Lawrence Lawrence Lawrence
Gregory Gregory Gregory
Basham Basham Basham
Golston Golston Golston
Armstrong Armstrong Armstrong
Anae Anae
Parsons Parsons Parsons
Smith Smith Smith
Vander Esch Vander Esch Vander Esch
Neal Neal Neal
Cox Cox Cox
Diggs Diggs Diggs
Joseph Joseph Joseph
Brown Brown Brown
Lewis Lewis Lewis
Wright Wright Wright
Goodwin Goodwin Goodwin
Wilson Wilson Wilson
Kazee Kazee Kazee
Kearse Kearse Kearse
Thompson Coyle Mukuamu
Zuerlein Zuerlein Zuerlein
McQuaide McQuaide McQuaide
Anger Niswander Anger

On the defensive line, the question seems to be whether the Cowboys keep 10 or 11 guys, with Bradlee Anae likely being that 11th guy.

Nothing happening at linebacker either, though keeping “only” five linebackers may be a bit low given the Cowboys have kept either six or seven in each of the last eight years.

Even more surprising is the consensus at cornerback, where six players appear to be locks. At safety, on the other hand, things seem to be very much in flux, at least at this early stage of the season.

And finally, the Cowboys will have to make a decision at punter.

If the consensus here holds true, eight of the Cowboys’ 11 draft picks make the roster. Josh Ball, Matt Farniok, and Israel Mukuamu may have to fight for a roster spot, though it looks like at least Mukuamu has already started turning some heads:

The Cowboys have signed nine free agents from other teams so far this season, and all but two look to make the team. Jeremy Sprinkle may have to fight for a spot at tight end, and DL Carlos Watkins doesn’t show up on any projection.

As you look at the lists here, keep in mind that they also reflect 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 a handful of players each year to work their way onto the roster, but that’s pretty much it.

What’s your take on the combined projections above, and which down-roster player do you think will unexpectedly make the roster come September?

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