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Plumbing the depths of the Cowboys’ offseason roster

A look at strengths and weaknesses on the Cowboys 2021 team as it currently stands.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys Minicamp Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

It seems like we are stuck in a horribly long desert of Dallas Cowboys news and developments, but training camp in Oxnard is now just three weeks away. One of the main focuses of those practices is of course to winnow the 91 camp attendees down to the 53-man regular season roster. There are 91 instead of 90 because the team still has an international player exemption for OT Isaac Alarcón. Just as they get that extra spot to carry, they also have four preseason games instead of three due to being in the annual Hall of Fame game, which also means they get an earlier start to camp than most teams.

Earlier, we took a look at how the team might allocate the 53 roster slots by position. Today, let’s consider things from a different perspective. Which positions are deep in talent coming into camp, and where are things looking shallow? This is another factor that intertwines with everything else in making those cuts in August. It also can give us an idea where the staff is studying the current free agent market, as well as where they might be looking when the rest of the league has to make their final cuts and could release some worthwhile talent. As a certain now-departed red-haired head coach might put it, projecting the 53-man roster, which so many of us like to do, is a process.

Quarterback - shallow

This is an example of how numbers can be deceiving. Having four QBs to go into camp, with your starter not only established but primed for a big year, would seem like a good place to be. And for the first four years of Dak Prescott’s time in Dallas, the QB2 didn’t matter at all. Then last season, he was injured and lost for the final three quarters of the year. Fortunately, the Cowboys had signed arguably the best backup in the league in Andy Dalton.

And it didn’t matter. The team had far too many issues for Dalton, who also struggled through a concussion, to overcome.

Still, you have to have a backup who can at least carry the team for a couple of games, or step in to finish one, and still give them some hope of winning. With Dalton gone to be the presumptive starter for the Chicago Bears, the Cowboys are looking to find one or more reliable backups from the group of Garrett Gilbert, Cooper Rush, and Ben DiNucci. That is not at all reassuring, and currently they seem to be leaning to a roll of the dice on Gilbert. There is a fairly solid chance that the QB2 for the regular season is not on the roster yet, and will be added from the pool of players released after the final cutdown.

Running back - good

Based on an expectation that they are most likely to roll with three on the roster, and all three of last year’s RBs are back, this is not a problem. Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard should both have good years with a presumably much healthier offensive line and quarterback, and Rico Dowdle showed some promise. They also have four other candidates to challenge Dowdle, although most are largely unproven. Still, the team seems set to be in good shape here, and could even weather an injury, provided it is not of the season-ending variety.

Wide receiver - deep

Again, they have the whole group back from 2020 in Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, CeeDee Lamb, Cedrick Wilson, and Noah Brown. Simi Fehoko looks poised to be a reason to go deep here, and there is the usual bevy of camp WRs who will be fighting to seize a spot, although they really might be vying for a practice squad berth. Part of the evaluation of this being a deep part of the roster is the quality, because the three starters could all be a top three WR on just about any NFL roster, and Wilson could probably be WR3 on many.

We discussed the Cowboys wide receiver group in the latest episode of our Training Camp Preview series on the Blogging The Boys YouTube Channel. Subscribe to our channel (which you can do right here) so you don’t miss any of our episodes!

Tight end - shallow

With Blake Jarwin still working his way back from his season-ending injury, which came in the first game last season, the team really has only one proven and healthy TE, Dalton Schultz. Even if we assume Jarwin will be fine for the regular season, the four contenders to back the top two up are all rather unproven, with the exception of Jeremy Sprinkle, who was more a journeyman than anything else in his four years with the Washington Football Team. The position may be less important with the weapons at wide receiver, but it still is lacking in depth.

Offensive tackle - deep with an asterisk

The asterisk is of course about the health of Tyron Smith and La’el Collins. If the reports of good health for both this year are accurate, then this position is in very good shape with Ty Nsekhe added in the offseason, Brandon Knight and Terence Steele having basically a full season each starting last year, and Josh Ball picked up in the draft. We have to cross our fingers a bit and also hope for injuries to regress to the mean, but we’ll be guardedly optimistic here.

Interior offensive line - good, if they find a backup center

That is the question, with Tyler Biadasz to start in the middle between Connor Williams and Zack Martin. Martin is one of the elite players in the league, while Williams is somewhat underrated. Connor McGovern is alright as a backup guard, but the team has to make sure they have someone they can rely on to handle snapping the ball if Biadasz misses any time. His history is not that encouraging in this respect. The team seems to be looking at seventh-round rookie Matt Farniok for a backup role, and in OTAs, Brandon Knight was being worked at guard as well. Still, things are really dependent on identifying that backup center.

EDGE - good

This is one position that leans to deep, based on the top duo of DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory, and the fact that there may well be a choice made between keeping Dorance Armstrong or Bradlee Anae. If both would make the 53, that would almost certainly push Tarell Basham off the roster, since Chancey Golston is one of the higher draft picks that are going to be on the team. Both Armstrong and Anae have some upside, which some won’t agree with, so that was one reason not to go with a stronger rating.

Interior defensive line - fair

Basically, this is a compromise between good and poor here. There are numbers, but Neville Gallimore is the closest thing to a proven commodity, with Trysten Hill still very much to be determined. Lots of new talent here in free agents Brent Urban and Carlos Watkins plus rookies Osa Odighizuwa and Quinton Bohanna, but there’s that unproven thing again. If the team sticks with Mike McCarthy’s preferred number of five for this group, someone will miss out. But will the remaining ones be good enough?

Linebackers - poor

How well will Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch bounce back from a puzzling down season with Dan Quinn now in charge? Keanu Neal seems a solid addition, but he’s switching positions from safety. Rookie Micah Parsons is expected to do well, but he and Jabril Cox are still making the often challenging jump from college. And no one really expects any of them to be challenged by Francis Bernard, Luke Gifford, or UDFA Anthony Hines III, all of whom are probably hoping to catch ST coordinator John Fassel’s eye just to have a shot at the 53-man roster. This could go well, or really be an issue, especially early in the season. And it is another place where we really hope health does not play a role.

Cornerback - good

Sheer numbers play a part here. With nine currently on the roster (if you count Israel Mukuamu as a safety, which seems to be the plan) there is a good chance of going into the season with a strong group here. Trevon Diggs did well as a rookie and is expected to improve, Joudan Lewis seems to be the man in the slot, and Anthony Brown provides a more solid player to line up opposite Diggs than many think. Rookie Kelvin Joseph got off to a rough start, but they aren’t going to cut a second-rounder. Nahshon Wright, Maurice Canady, C.J. Goodwin (who is believed to be a lock as a special teams ace anyway), Deante Burton, and Reggie Robinson II are all contenders to make the roster, and there is a good chance at least one of them will emerge as quite good during camp and preseason games. Perhaps this is too optimistic here, but I feel quite comfortable with this bunch.

Safety - fair

This was a close call, because an argument can certainly made that this should be poor. Donavan Wilson and Demontae Kazee should be a solid pair of starters, but the remainder of the group, including Mukuamu, are not that reassuring. Jayron Kearse may be the best of the rest.

Special teams - good

There is really no concern about just carrying one long snapper and one kicker into camp, because that is actually quite normal. There is a legitimate competition at punter, although Bryan Anger is seen to have an advantage thanks to his ties to Fassel.

And for candidates from the various position groups to be kept mainly to help on kicking plays, there are plenty of other options to join Goodwin. While he may not have full autonomy in keeping more than one or two players, there will be others where Fassel gets to put his thumb on the scale. He should have some solid punt and kickoff units.

Quarterback is one place the team may wind up going back into the free agency market, and a few other positions may get that treatment as well. As much as we hate to acknowledge it, injuries do happen in preseason and practices. (Fell free to find some wood and knock vigorously.) The poor and fair groups are places where that may become vital if luck goes against Dallas.