It is that strange false dawn of the NFL season, the OTAs and minicamps. The Dallas Cowboys are getting their first look at the new additions to the roster, both draftees and new veterans. There are also several players who will be watched to see how their recovery from injury is going, or if they practice at all, like Tony Pollard and Terence Steele. We really won’t learn anything of significance until the team convenes in Oxnard for training camp. Right now, we just know most of the names (churn happens) and are speculating how this team will come together.
Here’s a rundown of the team by position group, and how much confidence we should have in them.
Quarterback - High confidence
Dak Prescott will have more influence on the eventual success of the team than any other one player. That is just the nature of the NFL, where you either have a quarterback who can lead the team to victory on a regular basis, or you are trying to figure out how to win despite him. Prescott is a polarizing figure for reasons that frankly escape me. He had a down year with turnovers in 2022, but the Cowboys still had the third highest points total in the league, which makes the arguments that he is just not good mystifying. Add in his high character and demonstrated toughness, and the team is in good shape with him on the field.
The also have the advantage of have an experienced backup in Cooper Rush, who the team managed to go 4-1 with despite the obvious drop-off in performance, and this is one room that should be just fine.
Running back - Low confidence
The most significant thing the team did here was part ways with Ezekiel Elliott. Assuming he does not return on a much less expensive deal, this is a shot at adding by subtracting. While Elliott was still very capable in short-yardage situations, he ate up too many carries on early downs when the results were not always the best.
Pollard was much more effective, but is coming off an injury in the last game of the playoffs for Dallas. That is a bit concerning, but the team signaled their faith in his return by not taking a back until the late stages of the sixth round. Deuce Vaughn was the feel-good story of the entire NFL draft, but whether his skills will translate to the NFL is very much to be determined. The other depth is Malik Davis, oft-injured Rico Dowdle, and free agent signing Ronald Jones.
Tight end - Medium confidence
This is a funny situation, as people still talk about Jake Ferguson and Peyton Hendershot being so good they didn’t really have to worry about the position. But they used their second-round pick to take Luke Schoonmaker. Ferguson and Hendershot have promise, but are very untested going into their second season. and Schoonmaker may turn out to be a better version of Dalton Schultz, but it might not be evident in his rookie season. Still, this looks like one unit that should be at least serviceable.
Wide receiver - Medium confidence
The addition of Brandin Cooks via trade alone makes this unit look better than it did at this point last season, even discounting how overinflated expectations were for Jalen Tolbert. A full offseason to further recover for Gallup is also a reason for optimism.
Countering that is the depth at the position, which has no one that just jumps out as ready to claim the WR4 job, Or the other spots, depending on how many the Cowboys carry. The starting trio looks very good. But how long will they be able to all stay on the field?
Offensive line - Low confidence
I’ll wear the Negative Nancy label here. The team is counting on Steele to be ready to go for the season, and the current plan seems to be starting Tyron Smith at LT and Tyler Smith at LG. Tyron should be a future Hall of Fame inductee, but he has not been able to stay on the field for several years now, including missing most of 2022 after an injury in camp. Additionally, they should have worked harder to find a new starting LG this offseason. They did draft Asim Richards with a plan to move him to guard, but not until the fifth round.
Continuity is so important on the offensive line. It is good to have Zack Martin and Tyler Biadasz as two of their starters, but the contingency plans right now have far too many moving parts. The answer seems to be hope for the best.
Pass rush - High confidence
The highest of all, in fact. We’ll use functionality here to get around the “Where’s Micah Parsons” kerfuffle of whether he is a true EDGE rusher or still a chess piece for Grandmaster Dan Quinn to move around the board. But he and DeMarcus Lawrence are very good as your starting DEs, and the depth with Dorance Armstrong, Sam Williams, and others looks excellent as well. It is also interesting that they took Viliami Fehoko in the fourth round, which shows that the staff firmly believes you can’t have too many good pass rushers.
Run defense - Medium confidence
This is one that could quickly move to high if first-round pick Mazi Smith is at all what we think he is. With Johnathan Hankins also back in the fold, the team has real hope to be able to stand up in the middle on running plays, and Osi Odighizuwa is very good as the 3-tech to line up with them. Neville Gallimore and Chauncey Golston should provide the needed depth there as well.
Linebacker - Medium confidence
Leighton Vander Esch had what was probably his best year as a pro in 2022, and returns for another shot. Damone Clark looks to have real upside after his surprising comeback from surgery last year, and they added DeMarvion Overshown in the third round to shore up this group, with some indications he could be used more like Jayron Kearse in a hybrid role. Linebackers are just not as crucial as they once were, so that factors into the feeling that this will work out.
Cornerback - High confidence
The fact that Jourdan Lewis is seen to be on a bubble pretty much sums this up. With Trevon Diggs, trade acquisition Stephon Gilmore, and last year’s rookie surprise DaRon Bland, they just need to have one more depth player stake out his roster spot, and let’s go! The trade into the early sixth round to get Eric Scott is also intriguing, so that depth looks like it should work out.
Safety - Medium confidence
Kearse is very good. Donovan Wilson was re-signed, and he is the enforcer in the secondary. Malik Hooker seems reliable if not outstanding, and Israel Mukuamu seems to be coming along nicely to round out this group. It’s not tremendously deep, however, which drags down the evaluation a bit.
Specialists - Medium confidence
Never forget this trio. Dallas is looking to start the season with a very good Bryan Anger punting, a dependable long snapper in Trent Sieg, and literally anybody on Earth as their place kicker. That seems a bit disrespectful of Tristan Vizcaino, who has only missed one field goal in his three years in the league.
Oh, wait, he only has five attempts in that stretch? Oops.
Yeah, it could be anyone by the time the season starts. Expect to see lots of tryouts and a likely camp battle.
Coaching - High confidence
C’mon. While Kellen Moore is gone after being scapegoated for the latter part of the 2022 season, I do have faith in Mike McCarthy, who has led this team to back-to-back 12-5 campaigns. With Quinn handling the defense, and John Fassel doing his thing with special teams, there are no expectations that will change much. If this team stays reasonably healthy, they should make it back to the playoffs to see if they can finally get over a quarter century old hump.
That’s the snapshot for May. Something, perhaps several things, are likely to change once games start to count. Tell us how you feel about the roster. But always, play nice.