The Dallas Cowboys have 89 players currently under contract. One of those, Ezekiel Elliott, will come off the books on June 1st, leaving 88. They will be adding a couple more between now and the start of training camp in July, but those contracted players are the pool of resources they have to work with for now. From that they will eventually construct their 53-man roster to start the season.
The evaluation process to choose the names will start with the rookie minicamp and OTAs, but the real work won’t begin until camp. There will likely be some veteran additions that will change the calculation, making it far too early to come up with a projected roster that has any chance of being accurate. But we can easily name 45 or so players who will make the team from veterans and the higher draft picks.
Besides, a projection now is great fodder for discussion about the strengths and weaknesses of the roster, how some players might be used, and where the camp battles are going to be. So here is my first attempt of the year at projecting a roster for the 2023 season. (Hey, if people can already be doing mock drafts for next year, I can take a stab at this.)
Cowboys 53 man roster projection
|Leighton Vander Esch
Here is the breakdown of why these players make the list and who doesn’t.
First, this has a 50/50 split between offense and defense for the non-specialist positions. That may well be shifted one way or another, but a good sign is that several good players wound up being left off this list. That is the kind of problem you want to have. Now onto the individual positions.
The first two names are givens. The team will want to carry three after the experience of last year. Will Grier is the default player here, since there are only three on the current roster. But he may be a placeholder. The Cowboys usually carry four for camp. They will probably invite a couple of unsigned QBs to the rookie minicamp for a tryout, but when training camp starts, this will probably be a veteran.
One thing that could be intriguing is whether they might be interested in talking to Ben DiNucci about rejoining the team. He had an outstanding season in the XFL. They went to that source last year when they signed Kavontae Turpin, who had a successful year as their return man. If there aren’t bad feelings over his departure, the Nooch would certainly be in contention as QB3, and might push Cooper Rush for QB2. His familiarity to some on the staff, particularly Mike McCarthy, as well as many of the players might be another reason to look at him.
This is fun, because of a couple of rookies. Deuce Vaughn is the new change of pace back with Tony Pollard taking over the featured back role. However, the team needs someone to carry some of the load so Pollard doesn’t get worn down over the season. Still, that might be the plan with Pollard playing on the tag and the team hopefully very cautious about paying too much at the position, as they have tended to do.
Enter Hunter Luepke, the only 2023 UDFA to make this projection. He was listed as a fullback coming out of college, but he is much more an H back, able to carry the ball, move the sticks in short-yardage situations, block both from the backfield and lined up inline, and go out as a pass receiver. That is why he is included in the running back room, because he absolutely has the ability to be the lone back rather than just a traditional fullback. Like Vaughn, his real value is going to depend on how McCarthy and Brian Schottenheimer use him.
The team needs a fourth back for depth, and FA signing Ronald Jones wins this porjection, but Malik David and Rico Dowdle will use every opportunity to take his place. This is going to be a fun group to watch in camp and preseason games.
The projection is four here, but this is one place the team could go short, because Luepke could well be used to fill the role at times. But the team likes the ability to mix and match with the different skill sets of these players, with McKeon being a player who will be inactive most games. Luke Schoonmaker looks like a better version of Dalton Schultz, who he was drafted to replace.
We know the three starters. Turpin makes the roster for his return role, but hopefully the coaches will try to incorporate him more in the passing game. The other positions are frankly up for grabs, but they are far from ready to give up on Tolbert after his disappointing rookie campaign. Simi Fehoko makes the team because of his experience, but he has a ton of people that will be coming after him, including seventh-rounder Jalen Brooks.
We discussed this overall projection on the latest episode of Ryled Up on the Blogging The Boys podcast network. Make sure to subscribe to our network so you don’t miss any of our shows! Apple devices can subscribe here and Spotify users can subscribe here.
This needs to be discussed as a group, because there are so many moving parts to consider.
Right now, the idea of putting your best five offensive linemen on the field together would give us Tyron Smith, Tyler Smith, Tyler Biadasz, Zack Martin, and Terrence Steele as the starters. However, that assumes Steele is ready for the start of the season after his injury. There have also been comments from management that they see Tyler Smith as a tackle this year, not a guard.
That latter element is compounded by the team only addressing the offensive line in the draft with fifth-round pick Asim Richards, who is projected to be moved to guard from his college position of tackle. The team seems to believe their depth on the OL is better than most of us do.
Who exactly is that depth? That is a wide open question. If the discussion of Tyler Smith at tackle is the plan, it would make Tyron Smith the swing tackle, which is not a bad thing given the latter’s age and injury history. But if not, they have to have a different swing tackle, which is why Matt Waletzko is penciled in. Chuma Edoga becomes depth in the interior, with either him or Richards also backing up Biadasz.
This leaves only eight offensive linemen on the roster. The team has done that before, but this might be too light, and the projection still has Tyler Smith at guard. If he does stay at tackle this year, they will probably have to add another name to the group, probably Matt Farniok. And it would be taken from somewhere else, which might be the wide receiver room or defense.
There is lots of depth on the roster. The five names here are a great group, and the only thing changing is if they short somewhere else to add Dante Fowler back in the mix.
We were all surprised when the Cowboys took a big DT in the first round, but it didn’t take long to see the value of Mazi Smith. He not only has all the traits you need to see for putting the clamps on the running game, his strength and burst could also make him an asset when the other team throws the ball. Johnathan Hankins is very valuable. Last year, when he missed time, the run defense really suffered, so having both him and Smith should keep that from happening again. Both of them can draw lots of double teams, which is going to help someone else.
The 3-tech players look good, especially Osa Odighizuwa, but the apparent move of Chauncey Golston to that role adds a nice wrinkle. He is great for a NASCAR package on passing downs, bringing some real ability to get after the passer from the inside, and he can be switched around to rush from the edge as well, letting someone like Parsons or Lawrence bedevil the middle of the opponent’s offensive line. Adding both him and Smith have turned this group from a weak spot to a real strength for the team.
DeMarvion Overshown gives the Cowboys three solid linebackers, and they often only have one on the field under Dan Quinn. Jayron Kearse is more a hybrid player who fills the function of a LB on many plays, and Overshown may fill a similar role. Jabril Cox and Devin Harper are on the roster primarily to contribute on special teams.
C.J. Goodwin is another player carried for special teams work, so this is really five corners. The expectation here is that Kelvin Joseph will be released, probably to be brought back for the practice squad. Many people think Jourdan Lewis will be cut to make room for someone else, but I don’t see it. This is another really strong group for the team.
The four here seem obvious, although Israel Mukuamu can also play some corner. If he should be moved to that room permanently, it would bump one of the other corners, most likely Eric Scott, even though the team traded to acquire him. That would likely also bring Markquese Bell back on the 53.
Punter and long snapper are set, but Tristan Vizcaino may just be a placeholder until the team can conduct a competition for the job. As mentioned above, there are two holes to be filled after June 1, and this is where they will use one of those spots. This projection only uses existing contracts, so for now, Vizcaino gets the nod.
Feel free to offer your suggestions for where this 53-man projection might be wrong in the comments. Just be kind.