The cutdown to 53 players is looming closer for the Dallas Cowboys. Roster projections are landing all over the place. While the focus is on the names that will be on the backs of jerseys this fall, there is something else that has to be considered. That is how the 53 slots will break out by position. For players who are on the bubble, that could well be the deciding factor in whether they make the team.
One way to look at this is to figure out what is the minimum number for each position. That will tell us how many they have left over, and give us some idea of where they can go “heavy.” Based on past years, here are the most likely minimums for Dallas.
Cowboys roster allocation
We know that the Cowboys have some positions where they have an apparent surplus of good players and others where they are short. This leads to two possibilities that work somewhat in opposition to one another. A weak group can create a need to add a player to try and give them an extra to try and provide necessary depth. A strong unit gives a reason to add one just to retain a quality talent.
Another often overlooked consideration is special teams, which are filled primarily from certain groups. Those are linebackers, both secondary groups, wide receivers, running backs, and tight ends. The remaining ones, both lines and quarterback, might out of necessity be shorted to give John Fassel his resources. If the game against the Los Angeles Chargers is any indication, special teams could be especially important. They need those blockers to help KaVontae Turpin make his dazzling returns.
The minimums add up to 46, leaving seven to spread around. So let’s fold the two together and make a projection of how the full 53 spots will be allocated.
It looks like the team will be forced to roll with just two, and based on what we have seen so far, it should be Dak Prescott and Will Grier. Cooper Rush should be a practice squad target as a bit of insurance for the most dire emergency the team can face. However, the team might be able to snag a better PS player from the QBs that are going to hit the streets as other teams go through the same decisions. There is even a chance that an outsider could supplant Grier.
Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard are the locks. RB3 has become an interesting decision between Rico Dowdle and Malik Davis, who both have looked good so far, and you can’t fully rule out Aaron Shampklin. We have been hearing that the plan is to rely heavily on the run this year, and the preseason games just reinforced that. This argues for another RB for depth. The special teams consideration could come into play here, especially if they think one of them could be a backup for Turpin. This is an opportunity to keep both Dowdle and Davis, with Shampklin a no-brainer PS target.
This is the most complicated position to figure out. We know CeeDee Lamb is WR1. Based on who was not used in the preseason games, it looks like Noah Brown will be on the roster. Jalen Tolbert also is making the team. The team has elected not to leave Michael Gallup on It remains to be seen how they will eventually handle him, but this could be an indication that they think he is further along in his recovery and could play during the first four games.
Now add in that they will certainly need to use a WR spot on Turpin. He could well develop into a receiver they want to use as part of the offense, but it is not certain he is there quite yet. They can’t go short here. It is possible they wind up carrying seven if Gallup is on the 53 to start the season. To be honest, I was expecting he would stay on PUP. With both Simi Fehoko and Dennis Houston as players that look to have earned a spot, that should force the team to carry 7
This is where the spot that for the seventh WR is likely to come from, although it could mean they just go with three RBs as well. But I’m taking it from here. Dalton Schultz and Jake Ferguson are on the roster. With Jeremy Sprinkle now out of the picture, TE3 comes down to Sean McKeon or Peyton Hendershot. McKeon gets the not, and Hendershot goes to the PS.
It looks pretty solid that this will be Tyler Smith, Tyler Biadasz, and Zack Martin starting left to right, with Connor McGovern and Matt Farniok backing things up.
Tyron Smith and Terence Steele are the starters, but swing tackle is an issue. The struggles of Josh Ball and the injury to Matt Waletzko leave them with no clear answer there. As a result, they could well be forced to carry two backup tackles. Unfortunately all they have to add to Ball are Aviante Collins and Isaac Alarcón, neither very reassuring. The team will probably be forced to find a swing tackle from outside the current roster, although Stephen Jones might not see it that way. They would still keep Ball. Should they not go outside the roster, Collins is the least worst option.
DeMarcus Lawrence and Dorance Armstrong are the projected starters, with Sam Williams developing nicely and securing his spot. That leaves Tarell Basham and Dante Fowler, both of whom have looked good so far, to fill things out. But one of them could well be released to make room for Chauncey Golston, and that is the call here. Golston has worked both as a DE and a DT, so he is a way to add depth to both DL groups. I have already taken a stance that the team needs to be working the phones to find a trade partner for either Basham or Fowler to acquire that needed OT depth. As for which one remains, Fowler is the choice.
Golston lets them roll with four here. Neville Gallimore and Osa Odighizuwa are the base package on passing downs, and I think Quintin Bohanna has earned a spot as a legitimate run stuffing 1-tech. The final spot looks to have been claimed by Trysten Hill, who has had an outstanding camp and preseason. Hill will push Carlos Watkins off the roster, and the team should also be looking to see if anyone wants to offer something in a trade for him. John Ridgeway will either develop a sudden “injury” to be stashed on IR, or they will move him to the practice squad for a year of development.
Linebackers are premium resources here as they are big enough to be on the line for kicks but fast enough to get downfield and help with coverage or blocking. However, the numbers crunch probably will lead to sticking with five. We know Micah Parsons is going to be spending a lot of time up on the line pass rushing, and that also seems to be the plan for Anthony Barr. Leighton Vander Esch seems poised for a resurgence this season. Jabril Cox has been good so far as he is fully healthy. That brings the last spot down to either rookie Devin Harper or Luke Gifford. Harper has shown enough to bump Gifford.
Trevon Diggs, Anthony Brown, and Jourdan Lewis give Dallas a strong starting trio, and DaRon Bland has been very good in camp and preseason. Kelvin Joseph has been more uneven, but they aren’t ready to give up on him yet. C.J. Goodwin should fill out the room, although he is really on the team as a special teams ace. Expect Nahshon Wright to be released with an eye to getting him on the PS.
This is why the team has to only carry five linebackers. Jayron Kearse is one of the most important players on the defense as he also serves as a de facto linebacker some of the time. Malik Hooker will start, and Donovan Wilson is very solid. Israel Mukuamu played lights out in the Chargers game, and Markquese Bell is right there with him. Those last two will be especially valuable on teams.
We know Bryan Anger and Jake McQuaide will punt and long snap. You might as well flip a coin for the kicker job, but I’m going to pencil in our old favorite/pain in the side Brett Maher to be back on the roster.
So here is what we wind up with.
Projected slot allocation to start the season
There it is, a 53-man roster projection built on how the roster spots can best be used and assuming everyone stays healthy for the next three weeks. The final preseason game against the Seattle Seahawks is not likely to shift things much, but there are a few lurking out there who might make a final case for themselves. Mostly, though, it is going to be a 60 minute audition for practice squad jobs, in Dallas or elsewhere.