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2021 is a test of the special teams impact on the Cowboys roster

For years, there has been a very reliable predictor for some spots on the 53. Will it hold up this season?

NFL: Dallas Cowboys Training Camp
Will this be Darian Thompson’s ticket to stick with the team?
Jason Parkhurst-USA TODAY Sports

We are less than a week from the final cutdown to a 53 man roster for the Dallas Cowboys, and just a couple of weeks away from the team taking the field against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after the inevitable churn and maneuvering to finalize things. That means a lot of roster projections are going to come your way.

One thing that has been something of a constant over the past few years is there always being a few names that wind up on the team due to the role they have on special teams. We all know about C.J. Goodwin, but given that ST play can account for around 15 to 20% of all snaps during a game, the team has to have more than just him. Backups are preferred for this role to keep from risking starters in these plays.

We discussed the state of the special teams among a variety of topics on the latest episode of Ryled Up on the Blogging The Boys podcast network. Make sure to subscribe to our podcast so you don’t miss any of our episodes. Apple devices can subscribe here and Spotify users can subscribe here.

For years, who has been playing a lot of ST snaps has been a key indicator for some of the backup players who wind up on the 53. We didn’t have that data last year with the loss of the preseason due to the pandemic, but in 2018 our own One Cool Customer put together an analysis of this. It is chock full of good information, and here are two key points from that:

In 2016, I listed the first-team special teamers in my camp report. Every single one of them made the team (even if some ended the season on IR).

In 2017, all but one of the first-teamers made the team. The guy who didn’t make it was Mark Nzeocha, and I’ll happily admit to some bias there on my part for my fellow German.

Admittedly, that was a different regime for the Cowboys. We don’t know if Mike McCarthy and his staff will take a similar approach, but Will McClay is still in the brain trust, and John Fassel has already shown his influence in hand-picking his three specialists. So if the team continues to use the “first team” special teamers to build the 53, the following tweet is interesting.

As Sturm indicates, not all buy into this theory, especially with the new staff involved. But none of the names he lists are ones that show up on a lot of roster projections.

There is also one thing from HBO’s Hard Knocks that might lend some credence to this entire idea. They have shown Azur Kamara getting a lot of reps and coaching, which just might be an indication that they are grooming him to be able to contribute as a backup pass rusher while primarily filling a role on teams. He is undersized for a DE, which might actually be in his favor on teams, where there is a lot more running involved.

If nothing else, this presents a way to test this theory when the 53-man roster is built. If several of the names Sturm lists are on it when the team takes the field in Tampa Bay, we will have a strong indication that this is indeed valid. If not, then we have a useful lesson in how things have changed under McCarthy.

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