On Tuesday, the Dallas Cowboys released their first unofficial depth chart. There were not a lot of surprises in the starting rotation. With the Cowboys retaining a decent portion of their 2021 roster, the players taking first reps are similar to last year.
But there are still question marks about which 22 men will be starters in the season opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Will Tyler Smith be the starting left guard? Who is the WR3 on the team? What about the jumble of players at the DT position? Out of that uncertainty, three unexpected names could be taking the first team reps by September 11th.
A quick note, first-round pick Tyler Smith will not be listed here. While Connor McGovern is currently the starting LG per the depth chart, that seems more like a placeholder than anything. Maybe Smith isn’t the starter yet, but it would be too simple to list him below.
No one would blame you if you were unaware of Dennis Houston before training camp. The undrafted rookie out of Western Illinois was flying under the radar until two weeks ago. But over the last thirteen practices, Houston has made a case that he could actually start for this team in week one.
Granted, Houston starting would be a result of circumstance. Injuries to James Washington and Michael Gallup have temporarily left the WR2 and WR3 positions open. As listed in the depth chart, rookie Jalen Tolbert is expected to fill in the former of those two roles. But the third wide receiver position is currently vacant.
If there were betting lines for who would be the WR3 to start the season, Noah Brown would likely be the odds-on favorite. But don't count out Houston just yet. Because on the first depth chart, Houston is actually listed as the backup wide receiver behind Tolbert, with Brown being listed behind CeeDee Lamb. The reason this is significant is because names like T.J. Vasher, Simi Fehoko, and KaVontae Turpin are behind Houston on the depth chart.
The three names listed above were expected to be the names competing with Brown for the WR3 position. But Houston is firmly in that mix now. Dak Prescott seems to be a fan of the new receiver, as the quarterback has reportedly formed a quick connection with Houston.
While it is still unlikely, don't be surprised if the three starting receivers in week one are Lamb, Tolbert, and Houston.
Of the three names listed, Wright has the smallest chance of starting in the opener. But his prospects of lining up against the Buccaneers are significantly higher than it was three weeks ago.
One of the winners of camp so far has been the second-year cornerback out of Oregon State. Keep in mind that Wright was a third-round pick in 2021, so he was drafted to eventually become a starting cornerback. But with only 91 snaps on defense last season, he was primarily contributing on special teams. Well, based on camp so far, Wright apparently has bigger plans than working with John Fassel his whole career.
Wright has not only been impressing, but he is arguably having the best camp of any player on defense. Even tight end Sean McKeon, when asked about who fans should be watching, listed Wright as a player to keep an eye on. And this is coming from a source who has to line up opposite Wright every practice.
The reason this is a longshot is due to the trio of Trevon Diggs, Anthony Brown, and Jourdan Lewis not only having experience playing together, but Lewis is the only player that could be reasonably benched. And Lewis has been impressing in camp so far. The pathway for Wright to become a starter would have to be: he continues to impress in camp and in the preseason to the point where he simply cannot be left out of the starting roster, Lewis would have to disappoint over this same span, and Brown would have to move into the slot. It is not probable, but it is definitely a possible scenario for the season opener.
Trysten Hill has the most experience on the team of these three names. But despite being a backup rotational piece on the defensive line for three years now, the former second-round pick could finally receive the starting job. This is based on his camp performance so far and the DT position being open for the taking.
Let’s start with a quick review of last season. At a defensive grade of 65.3, Hill had the best PFF grade among all defensive tackles on the team in 2021. On the entire defensive line, only Demarcus Lawrence, Randy Gregory, and Dorance Armstrong graded higher than him. And how has he followed up a solid 2021 campaign? Well, he has arguably had the best training camp among all defensive linemen. To put it nicely, Hill has been bullying the offensive line.
Trysten Hill with a sack. pic.twitter.com/1r5E0ViW6f— Calvin Watkins (@calvinwatkins) August 9, 2022
Trysten Hill vs Braylon Jones. pic.twitter.com/GphYykUYth— Calvin Watkins (@calvinwatkins) August 8, 2022
And it is not like Hill has to beat out Pro Bowl defensive tackles to win the starting job. Osa Odighizuwa might be a lock for a starting role, but the second defensive tackle position is relatively open. Neville Gallimore is the favorite to win the job, but Carlos Watkins, Quinton Bohanna, and Hill are all in contention for that role. If he continues to impress, he could jump ahead of that group. But it is worth noting that in the first unofficial depth chart, he is actually listed behind all three of those players. So, he still has a lot of work to do, but his arrow is pointing up.
There is still a month to go until the Cowboys face off against the Buccaneers. It is a near guarantee that players will go down to injury, stars from the first two weeks of camp will regress, unexpected names begin to climb the depth chart, and the current starters will change.
This is the exciting part of camp. Players that you have been rooting for since they were first drafted are still in the running for a starting job. Names like Dennis Houston are getting the chance to shine. A lot of uncertainties remain, but if we are going to be sure about one thing, it is that the starting roster is far from cemented.