With the Cowboys final preseason game this Sunday, and week one of the regular season quickly approaching, it’s time to start narrowing down the roster to 53. While there could be a few injuries, or possibly a few cuts around the league that could change the overall outlook of the roster for the Cowboys, we’re going to take a crack at predicting the 53-man roster before the final preseason game.
There are some tough decisions to make on the roster this year, most notably at wide receiver, defensive line, and safety, but the front office should have a good idea in what direction they are going to go, with just a few spots still to be decided this weekend, or as players are released around the league.
Let’s dive in.
The quarterback room has been a hot topic of conversation for the Cowboys so far in 2021. With Dak Prescott sidelined for most of the offseason, and an inconsistent battle for the QB2 job, there’s been a lot of question marks in the QB room for the front office. After Garrett Gilbert seemingly ran away with the QB2 title for most of the offseason, Cooper Rush has now entered the chat to win that job as we approach week one. Listening to Jerry and Stephen Jones, and Mike McCarthy talk over the last week or so, it seems that Rush has taken the lead in the QB2 battle, but the final week of practice and final preseason game could be a deciding factor in who wins the job.
Running Backs (3)
With Rico Dowdle headed to the injured reserve, that opened up a roster spot for fullback Nick Ralston, who wouldn’t have made the roster prediction before the injury to Dowdle. It’s known that Mike McCarthy does like carrying a fullback on his roster, and had a lot of success with John Kuhn in Green Bay for years. With Ralston likely to play a limited role in 2021, Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard will play a vital role in the Cowboys running and passing game and will be used a ton in single-back and dual-back personnel groupings.
Wide Receivers (5)
The biggest question mark surrounding the receivers is if they’ll keep five or six. With Malik Turner finishing off the offseason sidelined with turf toe, it really comes down to Simi Fehoko, but so far he hasn’t done done enough to earn a roster spot. Now the Cowboys may decide to carry Fehoko on the 53 to avoid exposing him to waiver claims, or if they are concerned with Cooper’s long-term health in the 17-game season, but he’ll likely need a big week of practice and a big final game in the preseason in order to force the Cowboys hand in keeping him on the roster.
Tight Ends (3)
Like the receivers, there is no real surprise here with the tight ends. With Sean McKeon dealing with an ankle injury, that likely cements Jeremy Sprinkle onto the roster, unless the team likes a player released on cutdown day for the league. Both Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz have TE1 skillsets, and work well together in 12-personnel groupings in Kellen Moore’ offense.
Offensive Line (9)
For the first time in what seems like a long time, this unit seems to be close to full strength and has some decent depth behind the starting five heading into week one. While this unit shouldn’t be viewed in the same light they were in 2016, getting both Tyron Smith and La’el Collins back is a huge boost. The biggest question mark still comes at center, but Biadasz should become more comfortable the more time he spends practicing and playing with the familiar faces on the line. Nsekhe, McGovern, Steele, and Knight bring starting experience and versatility to the offensive line depth, which is key to success in a 17-game season.
Defensive Ends (6)
With DeMarcus Lawrence and Tarell Basham working back from injuries, this group could be a little deeper starting the season than in past years. Rookie Chauncey Golston will likely remain on the PUP list. Dorance Armstong and Bradlee Anae have had really strong preseasons, and the front office is very fond of Carter, after writing him a nice UDFA check last season, and re-claiming him after waiving him mid-season in 2020. If healthy, this group has some really exciting potential rushing the passer, but lingering injuries could have this unit struggling a bit to start off the regular season.
Defensive Tackles (5)
With Neville Gallimore sidelined for what seems like a 6-8 week window, we’ll have to see if the Cowboys decide to add a defensive tackle to the fold before they cut the roster down to 53, but Carter’s ability to play inside and out, may have them roll the dice with only four interior defensive linemen to start the season. While this unit by far is the biggest question mark on the roster, it’ll be interesting to see how they play after an awful 2020 season from the defensive tackle group, but in new years, come new faces, and that’s exactly the case in 2020. Every defensive tackle healthy and on the 53 to start the year will likely be a new face, unless Trysten Hill works off of the PUP list before the start of the season.
Leighton Vander Esch
Out of every position group on the roster, the linebacking unit may be the most exciting heading into the 2021 season. With rookie phenom Micah Parson leading the way, this linebacker group has looked great this offseason. Parsons already looks like the most complete linebacker on the roster showcasing the ability to run, hit, tackle, cover, and rush the passer this offseason, but Keanu Neal has also impressed in his limited action this preseason. With Vander Esch looking healthy and more confident in 2021, the Cowboys have a talented group of linebackers both at the top and down the depth chart for the 2021 season. While Jaylon Smith’s role is still being discussed, you can look to see all five of these guys play big roles for the team at some point on the year.
Unlike the linebacker group, the cornerback group is likely the second-most concerning unit on the team behind the defensive tackles. Outside of Trevon Diggs, it’s hard to point to a corner that has had a good offseason. Maurice Canady has shown some impressive reps, and could battle for the starting nickel job based on what we’ve seen so far this offseason. Jourdan Lewis and Anthony Brown took the majority of the snaps in the dress rehearsal in the first half, so their spots seem secure. Rookie cornerbacks Kelvin Joseph and Nahshon Wright are going through their rookie struggles in camp and in preseason, but have shown some signs of growth as the offseason winds down. As excited as we all are about Micah Parsons, this group could really use a Patrick Surtain Jr. or Jaycee Horn right now.
While this safety group isn’t going to excite anyone, it may be the most talented safety room the Cowboys has had in decades, which should tell you plenty. Damontae Kazee and Malik Hooker are both coming off of torn Achilles, but seem to be performing well in the action we’ve seen in training camp and preseason. Malik Hooker has seen limited action, but showed some positive signs in his only game action in the offseason against the Texans last week. Donovan Wilson is currently nursing a sore groin, but is slotted into the starting strong safety job, with zero competition behind him. While fans may not love Jayron Kearse and Darian Thompson, the team loves the versatility and special teams ability both of them bring to the roster at the bottom of the depth chart. If this group is healthy and ready to go in week one, they have a chance to have a solid season as a unit.
Special Teams (4)
Other than no Louis-Philippe Ladouceur, there should be no surprises on special teams entering the season. With Greg Zuerlein coming off of PUP this week, the kicker, punter, and long-snapping jobs have been safe all offseason. While often listed as a cornerback, C.J. Goodwin makes the roster year after year because of what he offers on special teams, and that brings a ton of value to playoff contending teams.