The Dallas Cowboys have made the first cuts of the preseason. That leaves them with 85 players to evaluate before the next round of cuts, and of course, they will have to get down to the initial 53-man roster after training camp wraps up. Our own DannyPhantom did a little exercise, ranking the remaining 85 from top to bottom.
That caught my eye. There were a few things that stood out, so I decided to sit down with my colleague and discuss them.
Tom: A lot of this makes good sense, especially at the top and bottom. But there were some anomalies. I wanted to pick your brain about how you came up with some of your positionings. The first one that struck me was KaVontae Turpin. I think he is a sort of quasi-starter already as the primary kick/punt returner. And he seems to be developing into a viable depth piece as a receiver.
Danny: He seems to have a firm hold on the kick return spot simply because the Cowboys don’t have anyone else in town competing with him. We know CeeDee Lamb’s not doing it. If we were going solely based on the WR position, it’s hard seeing him make the team. His role will include return duties with a WEB-back play here or there.
Tom: OK. So just to clarify, how much of your list is your individual eval, and how much reflects the way you think the team sees them?
Danny: Think of it as a draft board. I try to stack these guys as pure as possible without going off of need or even the numbers they need at certain spots. These are my personal evaluations, but I rely heavily on what we hear about how the team views them. I’m glad you brought up Turpin first because although I have him ranked 56th, he would still make my 53-man roster because ultimately need does come into play.
Tom: Good, just wanted to get that straight. So Turpin’s positional value will likely have him higher for the team. I can see the logic. But let’s discuss a trio of players, corners DaRon Bland, Kelvin Joseph, and Nahshon Wright. I think you have Bland right, but I think Joseph is not nearly as far ahead of Wright as your rankings have it. While Joseph seemed to help himself in the second Los Angeles Chargers joint practice, there has been a good bit of reporting that Wright has had a noticeably better camp. Even with Joseph’s draft status, I think those two should be close to touching on a board like this. And both don’t look good compared to Bland.
Danny: I love talking about these guys because I finally feel like we can put some space between them. They are sorta like the three pigs, with one slightly better than the next. I agree that Bland made his house out of stone and seems to be the more secure backup corner right now, but I have serious trust issues with Wright. His lankiness just makes it so hard for him to turn on a dime and his recovery is too slow. While I put no stock in his draft price, Joseph (who isn’t all that great either) at least has the athleticism to almost make a play. He’s been really close in some of his coverage opportunities. For me, he still has the edge for the CB5 spot with Wright being sent packing.
Tom: OK. I don’t agree necessarily, but you are not being illogical. Now for a couple of other guys who may be in an either/or situation. You have Carlos Watkins ahead of Tarell Basham. While there hasn’t been much about Watkins, he hasn’t been bad, just overshadowed by Neville Gallimore, Osa Odighizuwa, and to an extent Quinton Bohanna. A couple of weeks ago I had real doubts about Basham even making the roster, but he has had some big plays, including a tip interception against the Denver Broncos and another in Thursday’s practice. That combined with his experience would argue for me that he should be several places ahead of Watkins.
Danny: If we were discussing this a few months ago I’d be ready to challenge you to a duel (check out the BTB Roundtable every Tuesday night) because I wouldn’t stand for any Watkins slander! You’re right, he’s been quiet and the team doesn’t have much invested in him. He is very close to Basham in my rankings as they are both roster-worthy, but they both could be cut loose in favor of a youngling. Dante Fowler is better than Basham and he’ll be kept over him if they only keep one of these veterans. The emergence of Quinton Bohanna (who I love) means they have a safer floor at the nose tackle spot, so for Watkins, it really comes down to how much the rookie Ridgeway can show between now and final roster cuts. I can see them going either way. In the end, Basham and/or Watkins could end up being released.
Tom: The defensive line decisions will be, shall we say, interesting. There are a few other quibbles I have. I don’t see that Jalen Tolbert has justified being so high, while Simi Fehoko and Dennis Houston deserve better marks. Tolbert just hasn’t risen to the occasion yet (emphasis on yet) but Fehoko has, and Houston has been far more than we expected.
Danny: Tolbert was killing it the first few weeks in camp and suddenly after an underwhelming preseason game with shaky quarterback play, people are tapping the breaks. I’ll admit, I’m a Tolbert admirer so he gets a little extra love on my board. I agree with you about Fehoko and Houston. I wouldn’t argue if you bumped them up a bit. It would be nice to see Houston dazzle in preseason action as we’ve seen a lot of UDFA pet cat WRs buzz in camp, but disappear under the lights. That’s not to say Houston will fall into that trap, but I just want to see it before I get too giddy about him.
Tom: Hey, it’s my recency bias and I’ll proudly claim it. I don’t know if you have convinced me on anything, but I appreciate seeing your reasoning. Let’s wrap up with one last thing. You have Josh Ball at 47, but I’m certain that the team only keeps him on the roster at all because they painted themselves into a corner at swing tackle. He, to me, is about 65 on the roster because he would just be a desperation inclusion. I’m really hoping the swing tackle is not yet on the roster.
Danny: It’s gut-wrenching to see the team’s tackle situation look as it does. While it’s fair to be critical of Ball after Saturday’s performance, he wasn’t completely dreadful. He gets wide and holds his block when he’s able to engage. Fast edge rushers will chew him up, but he’s still learning. I’d feel a lot better if he was the team’s OT4 instead of OT3, and agree wholeheartedly that they need to sign an outside free agent to hold down the swing spot.
Tom: Well, thanks to you for not only putting the ranking together but for calmly discussing it with me.