Now that the NFL Draft has come and gone, the Cowboys are sitting at the max of 90 players on their roster. It’s possible that some minor roster churning could still happen between now and the start of training camp, but for the most part this will be the group of guys that Mike McCarthy and company will have to whittle down to 53 by the end of August.
It’s far too early to know what the Cowboys will do at any position, although some areas are a little obvious. So with that in mind, here’s a way too early prediction of how the Cowboys’ 53-man roster could turn out.
The battle for Dak Prescott’s backup will be an interesting one to watch this year, and for now it won’t involve Jeff Driskel. Cooper Rush’s number being given away to Hunter Niswander can’t bode well for him, while Garrett Gilbert showed last year against Pittsburgh that he can play at a serviceable level if need be.
Ben DiNucci could force Mike McCarthy’s hand with a really good preseason, but his limited playing time last year likely makes him a solid candidate for the practice squad this time around, as Dallas goes light at quarterback in favor of other needs.
Nick Ralston (FB)
Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard are givens here, and Rico Dowdle finished seventh on the team this past season in special teams snaps. If he can continue to provide value to John Fassel’s unit, Dowdle should be able to stave off competition from JaQuan Hardy and Brenden Knox. Nick Ralston is a darkhorse, though, because of his experience playing running back, fullback, and tight end. In addition to that, his aggressive attitude should make him an early favorite of Fassel’s on special teams, securing him a roster spot.
The top three are more or less set in stone. Beyond that, it becomes more a question of how many receivers the Cowboys want to keep. They went with six last year, and it’s safe to assume they’ll do that again. Cedrick Wilson and Noah Brown both saw their moments in the receiver rotation last year, with 31 catches between the two of them. Additionally, Wilson contributed on punt returns and Brown was fifth on the team in special teams snaps. Fifth-round pick Simi Fehoko isn’t guaranteed a roster spot, but his rare blend of size and athleticism makes it highly unlikely he’d make it to their practice squad otherwise, thus earning him the final spot on this position grouping.
This might be the Cowboys’ most underrated position group right now. Blake Jarwin didn’t get a chance to show what he can do as a starter, but Dalton Schultz sure did. The two of them together should be a sight to see, especially with this receiver trio garnering all of the attention. Aside from those two, Jeremy Sprinkle is a veteran blocking tight end who easily fills Blake Bell’s intended role from last year. Sean McKeon could give some serious competition here, as could Nick Eubanks, but Ralston’s ability to help out at tight end pushes those two to practice squad consideration.
This will be an intriguing group to watch. Tyron Smith and La’el Collins are the unquestioned starters, but how they recover from season-ending injuries last year, and specifically how much work they get in training camp and preseason, will be worth keeping an eye on.
Ty Nsekhe has quietly been one of the better swing tackles the last few years, and figures to be the early front-runner for that job. Brandon Knight and Terence Steele, both of whom got plenty of experience last season, should also figure into the battle for that top swing tackle job. The interesting omission here is Josh Ball, the Cowboys’ developmental tackle they selected in the fourth round of the draft. Between Ball’s raw skillset and the experience of Nsekhe, Knight, and Steele, it’s likely he gets the short end of the stick. Whether or not Dallas is able to sneak him onto the practice squad will be a different story.
Interior offensive line
It wouldn’t be a surprise if Dallas ends up bringing back veteran Joe Looney, but for now it seems as if they’re going to roll with a lot of young players vying for his backup role. Tyler Biadasz is ready to take hold of the starting center role, and Connor McGovern will go for round three of competing with Connor Williams at left guard after injury cut his rookie season short and the pandemic robbed him of a proper training camp and preseason last year. Beyond that, Dallas doesn’t have too many intriguing prospects, so the position versatility of rookie Matt Farniok could earn him a roster spot.
Assuming that the Cowboys change things up this year and go with five defensive tackles and five defensive ends, as is Dan Quinn’s preference, things will get interesting. Trysten Hill was showing promise as a 3-technique on nickel downs last year, while Neville Gallimore showed versatility as the season progressed. Osa Odighizuwa is another pass-rushing interior player, and as a third-round pick he’s likely a lock to make the team.
Dallas needs to think about that run defense. Brent Urban was signed for that reason, but the final spot could come down to Carlos Watkins and Quinton Bohanna. If it does, Bohanna could potentially win out just because of how helpful his massive frame will be in eating up blocks on early downs. But Watkins can’t be counted out until he’s officially released.
Dorance Armstrong Jr.
Assuming only five players stick, this group is easier to predict. DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory are going to lead the team in snaps on the edge, while Tarell Basham’s two-year deal suggests they want him in the rotation. Chauncey Golston’s draft pedigree makes it hard to justify cutting him as well. The final spot probably comes down to Bradlee Anae and Dorance Armstrong Jr. Both have the versatility to fit into Quinn’s scheme, but Armstrong is faster and has longer arms, two traits that are evident points of emphasis under the new defensive coordinator.
Leighton Vander Esch
The linebacker room is suddenly very crowded after the draft, which makes it a little easier to predict. Micah Parsons is a lock, as are both Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch for contract reasons. Keanu Neal’s connection with Quinn, as well as his ability to play safety, improve his odds significantly as well. And Jabril Cox’s draft pedigree, along with him likely being their second best coverage linebacker already, earn him a spot too. Like last year, Dallas only goes with five linebackers, with Armstrong having the ability to play linebacker in some alignments as well.
Kelvin Joseph seems like a safe bet to be starting opposite Trevon Diggs, with Jourdan Lewis and Anthony Brown once again fighting over the starting slot role. Nahshon Wright could potentially see some snaps both inside and outside, but will mostly be used on special teams right away. Speaking of special teams, C.J. Goodwin is a special teams ace and is almost certainly a lock, rounding out this position group.
Donovan Wilson is your starting strong safety, while Damontae Kazee will fill the free safety role he locked down for four years in Atlanta under Quinn. Jayron Kearse provides depth at both spots, in addition to contributing on special teams, while Israel Mukuamu will likely have a bit of a red-shirt season while learning the nuances of the free safety role from Kazee.
Notably, this means Reggie Robinson II gets cut. It’s still unclear if Robinson will stay at safety or be moved back to cornerback, but either way his chances don’t look good. Dallas drafted three cornerbacks, with one of them being moved to safety, and while Neal is moving to linebacker he’s effectively another safety on this roster. The chances for Robinson to make this roster seem slim right now, although a good offseason could cure that.
Not too many surprises here. Greg Zuerlein enjoyed a rebound year, and Jake McQuaide has no competition at long snapper after reuniting with Fassel. Hunter Niswander will compete with Bryan Anger, but with nine seasons under his belt it’s likley Dallas didn’t bring Anger in just to push Niswander. The good news is both of these guys were in the top 15 in yards per punt last year, so there’s not much of a wrong answer for the Cowboys.