The Hall of Fame game on Thursday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers is the first opportunity the majority of us will get to see this year’s Dallas Cowboys team in action. Yes, it’s still just a preseason game and doesn’t count anything as far as wins/losses are concerned for the 2021 season, but it’s still important nonetheless.
Preseason games are vital to the evaluation process of determining who stays and goes when roster cuts have to be made. With several weeks still to go before the season opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the evaluation process for these players is still underway, but that doesn’t mean we can’t speculate on who makes the final 53-man roster.
Today, we will go position by position to try to determine which players make it through the final cuts.
Dak Prescott, Garrett Gilbert
As much as Mike McCarthy might want to carry three quarterbacks on the active roster this year, it’s probably not feasible considering the depth issues at other positions. Going a little deeper in the secondary or other positions is probably going to be more important than carrying a third developmental QB like Ben DiNucci on the roster. That leaves Dak Prescott and Garrett Gilbert as Dallas QBs unless they decide an upgrade is needed at QB2.
Running back (3)
Ezekiel Elliott, Tony Pollard, Rico Dowdle
These are the same three running backs the Cowboys kept on the active roster last year and it should remain the same in 2021 as well. Zeke and Pollard should once again be a dynamic duo and Dowdle is a solid RB3 and special teams player. The only thing that could change here is if a fullback is kept on the active roster, which right now seems unlikely.
Wide receiver (6)
Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, CeeDee Lamb, Cedrick Wilson, Noah Brown, Simi Fehoko
The Cowboys only carried five receivers on the active roster last year, but could go with six this season for both depth and future purposes. The top five are all but set right now and in order to protect Fehoko for the future they can’t risk losing him to waivers if cut. Malik Turner is another player to keep an eye on, but for now he just misses out.
Tight end (3)
Dalton Schultz, Blake Jarwin, Sean McKeon
With Dalton Schultz and Blake Jarwin the Cowboys have an interesting pair of starting caliber tight ends. It doesn’t really matter who the starter or backup is, both are going to play a vital role in 2021. Sean McKeon likely remains Dallas’ TE3 after playing 14 games for them last year, despite the free agent addition of Jeremy Sprinkle.
Offensive line (10)
Tyron Smith, Connor Williams, Tyler Biadasz, Zack Martin, La’el Collins, Connor McGovern, Ty Nsekhe, Josh Ball, Brandon Knight, Terence Steele
The starting five is set, but the depth behind them is still a bit of a mystery. Williams seems to be the backup center and McGovern the backup guard. Nsekhe and Ball could be competing to be the swing OT, but both should stick for now. Knight gives Dallas versatile OG/OT depth and Steele sticks as a developmental prospect over Matt Farniok for now.
Defensive end (6)
DeMarcus Lawrence, Randy Gregory, Tarell Basham, Dorance Armstrong, Chauncey Golston, Bradlee Anae
This is one of the positions the Cowboys may be forced to go deep at to start the season due to Lawrence’s offseason back surgery. He’ll likely be brought along slowly, which leaves the door open for Armstrong to stick around as well as both youngsters Gholston and Anae. Dallas could try to upgrade their depth at some point though.
Defensive tackle (5)
Brent Urban, Neville Gallimore, Osa Odighizuwa, Quenton Bohanna, Carlos Watkins
Good or bad, Neville Gallimore could be the only holdover from last season along the defensive line for the Cowboys. Right now it looks like both veteran additions and draft picks this year round out the unit. Trysten Hill looks like he may start the season on the PUP list, but once healthy could factor into the equation.
Micah Parsons, Leighton Vander Esch, Jaylon Smith, Keanu Neal, Jabril Cox
Francis Benard’s unfortunate training camp injury might have changed the Cowboys plans to carry six LBs because of his special teams value, but will likely just carry five now. It’s going to be really interesting to see how Dan Quinn deploys these players this year and how he divvies up the snap counts. One thing is for sure though, Parsons is going to play a vital role.
Trevon Diggs, Maurice Canady, Jourdan Lewis, Kelvin Joseph, Nahshon Wright, C.J. Goodwin
Diggs is the only sure-fire starter and Goodwin sticks due to his special teams value. Right now both draft picks stay because they could be the future of the position. Of the veterans, Canady is having the best camp putting Brown’s and Lewis’ jobs in jeopardy. Brown carries the higher price tag, making him a potential salary-cap casualty if he doesn’t step up his game.
Damontae Kazee, Malik Hooker, Donovan Wilson, Jayron Kearse
This could be the best and most talented group of safeties the Cowboys have had in quite some time. If Kazee and Hooker are 100% healthy and can stay that way for the entire 2021 season we should see quite a few turnovers coming from the back end of the Cowboys defense. Wilson should see time at strong safety and Kearse could play an important role as well.
Special teams (3)
Greg Zuerlein, Bryan Anger, Jake McQuaide
No surprises here. The Dallas Cowboys will likely go the veteran route on special teams at kicker, punter, and long snapper. Hunter Niswander will get a chance to prove himself in preseason, but John Fassel will more than likely stick with better experience this year.