It’s 53-man roster projection season in Dallas and across the league. Cuts have begun, but we are still two weeks away from the initial group of 53 this year. There are a lot of positions where the Dallas Cowboys are short on clear answers. Quarterback depth has us nervous, the offensive line backups are a bit of a hot mess, defensive tackle just took a big hit with Neville Gallimore’s injury, and we face the perennial shortage of NFL quality safeties. It would be nice to have some places where the team is in good shape, or perhaps better than just that.
Glad you asked for them! Here are the positions where the team is deepest, and some speculation on how they will play out.
It is entirely plausible that the team will go into the season with only three backs of any description on the roster. That would almost certainly be the same names as last year:
- Ezekiel Elliott
- Tony Pollard
- Rico Dowdle
However, spicing things up a bit is Mike McCarthy’s preference to carry a true fullback on the roster. Coming into camp, that looked like a role Sewo Olonilua was set to fill. He is unfortunately a bit nicked up, and that has opened a window for Nick Ralston. Additionally, JaQuan Hardy looked quite good in the preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals. That could leave him poised to step in if one of the top three have a problem in the final two preseason games. (Feel free to knock on the nearest wood.)
They probably roll with three running backs and a fullback this year, with Ralston grabbing the FB spot. Olonilua is a candidate for an IR stash, and Hardy will likely be on the practice squad as a ready reserve.
When you have Elliott and Pollard as your one-two punch and nice depth behind them, you are sitting pretty.
As with the runners, WR returns all the starters and key backups from last season.
- Amari Cooper
- CeeDee Lamb
- Michael Gallup
- Cedrick Wilson
- Noah Brown
With Dak Prescott expected to be fully ready for the regular season, that top three could be one of the most lethal groups in the league. Wilson and Brown both have shown that they are deserving of staying on the roster. All good so far.
That is not the entire roster from last year, however. Malik Turner appeared in four games as a special teams player, but was inactive for the remainder of the season after he was claimed off waivers before the start of the 2020 season. He saw such limited action because this is one place the team had good injury luck last year. Now he has staked a claim to come back with a very strong preseason and camp. You may have overlooked that with all the key players on IR during the season. WR is one of the most vulnerable positions in terms of being hurt due to the collisions they can endure and how they are often unable to protect themselves when concentrating on making a catch. He could be very valuable.
It really makes sense to have six receivers again this year. While several of the depth players brought in for camp have flashed, this really comes down to a decision between Turner and rookie Semi Fehoko. Now Turner is dealing with a foot injury from the preseason loss at Arizona. That probably means Fehoko makes the team as WR6. Turner is another candidate for an IR stash. One or even two of the many other wide receivers could wind up on the practice squad, and don’t be surprised if the team adds a player waived somewhere else if they see him as an upgrade over what they have.
These are the top names at this point.
- DeMarcus Lawrence
- Randy Gregory
- Tarell Basham
- Dorance Armstrong
- Bradlee Anae
- Ron’Dell Carter
- Chauncey Golston
Bear in mind that both Mike McCarthy and Dan Quinn have stated that they prefer to carry five DEs and five DTs on the defense. Normally, Golston’s status as a third-round pick would mean they would find a way to keep him on the 53, but he has spent training camp on PUP. It is getting to the point where also going on IR looks like the outcome for him.
With Lawrence and Gregory the starters and Basham already seeing reduced work to protect him in the preseason, that leaves Armstrong, Anae, and Carter in a fight for the final two spots. Armstrong had a very strong game against the Cardinals with five tackles including two sacks. But he has looked very good in preseason before and then been less effective when the games count. Anae saw almost no action last season to the chagrin of the fan base, but may have a new lease on life under Quinn. Carter also flashed in Arizona with a sack and two total tackles, plus two additional QB hits.
This one is hard, especially because Carter was poached off the practice squad by the Indianapolis Colts last season before being waived and claimed back by Dallas. But he came to the team originally as a UDFA, where Armstrong and Anae both represent mid-round picks in the past. Look for that to be a deciding factor in them joining the top three to round out this room. Hopefully Carter can make it back to the PS, because he seems to have something.
In the previous groups, only the most likely players were listed, but all the current CBs on the roster are here for discussion. Alphabetically, they are:
- Anthony Brown
- Kyron Brown
- Deante Burton
- Maurice Canady
- Trevon Diggs
- C.J. Goodwin
- Kelvin Joseph
- Jourdan Lewis
- Reggie Robinson II
- Nahshon Wright
Right now, Diggs, Anthony Brown, and Jourdan Lewis would be penciled in as the starters. Joseph is going to make the team due to his being a second-round investment. Canady has probably played his way onto the 53 and could be challenging for a starting job at some point. Wright has been one of the darlings of camp, and will also make the team.
That is six, with Goodwin making it seven as a special teams ace unless we are collectively mistaken about how that will go. It is probably the absolute limit on how many they can carry. That leaves Kyron Brown, Burton, and Robinson as the odd men out. One or more will likely be invited to come back on the PS.
But this is a deep group, and it is fast and long as well. The Cowboys are in far better shape here than they have been in a long time.
Those are the projections for these groups.