The Cowboys are now through two preseason games, and we’re starting to get a clear picture of where many of these positional battles are heading. A couple of unfortunate injuries have also impacted the calculus for final roster cuts, which are fast approaching. While plenty can still change, here is a 53-man roster projection following the most recent preseason game.
This was also a topic discussed on the latest episode of The Writer’s Block, along with Brandon Loree, Brandon Clements, and Chris Halling to put together one big final 53 man roster. You can stream that new episode right above here and also on the Blogging The Boys podcast network. Make sure to subscribe to our network so you do not miss any of our shows! Apple devices can subscribe here and Spotify users can subscribe here.
The Cowboys opt for just two quarterbacks. Dak Prescott is the unquestioned starter and it’s hard to question Cooper Rush after his solid run last year, even if those wins weren’t necessarily because of him.
Will Grier has been given lots of snaps through the first two preseason games and hasn’t done anything to change the depth chart here. Maybe he’ll make it through waivers and land on the practice squad.
If there was any question left, Deuce Vaughn cleared it all up on Saturday in Seattle. He is the RB2, the primary backup behind Tony Pollard, and it probably won’t be long before we start asking ourselves if Vaughn should be getting a more balanced share of Pollard’s carries.
Deuce Vaughn is going to Tony Pollard Tony Pollard— Arif Hasan, but NFL (@ArifHasanNFL) August 20, 2023
Rico Dowdle has put himself in a great spot to be the RB3. He followed up his mostly positive performance from the first game to lead the team in rushing while also catching a touchdown. Malik Davis had a bounce-back game, but Dowdle has been more consistent as a runner while also showing the kind of special teams versatility that first won him a roster spot a few years ago.
The top three have been written in sharpie for a while, and Jalen Tolbert has officially locked up the WR4 spot. KaVontae Turpin’s roster spot was always safe too, though it’s still promising to see him doing solid work as a receiver.
That pretty much leaves one spot up for grabs, with Simi Fehoko and Jalen Brooks the top two contenders. Neither player impressed in Seattle, and the two have been jockeying back and forth all training camp. Right now, it’s a coin toss between Fehoko and Brooks. I’ll go with Fehoko because his blend of size and speed is just so hard to find, but this will likely get decided in the final preseason game.
Jake Ferguson didn’t play in Seattle, which is a pretty good sign he’ll be the TE1 to at least start the regular season. Luke Schoonmaker got the most run of any tight end in the game and he responded by catching both targets for 22 yards. Peyton Hendershot and Sean McKeon also both caught a pass in the game.
The real story here is the devastating ACL injury for undrafted rookie John Stephens Jr. He had been making a very real push for a roster spot, but now he’s done for the year. That pretty much takes the punch out of this position race, unless the Cowboys decide to carry just three tight ends, something they’ve yet to do under Mike McCarthy.
The starting five are known, and none of them are playing preseason snaps. But the depth behind them is still being sorted out, and it’s a difficult one to project. Matt Waletzko and Matt Farniok appear to be safe despite some uneven performances in the preseason. Josh Ball has actually looked solid at guard, and he was easily the Cowboys’ best lineman in Seattle, allowing zero pressures over 27 pass blocking snaps.
After those three, it’s a numbers game. Do they keep five backups or just four? And who makes the cut? Brock Hoffman had been trending up but he allowed three pressures and a sack against the Seahawks. Rookie Asim Richards has flashed his versatility, and the staff seems to like his potential. Chuma Edoga’s uncertain health status further complicates things here. For now, we’ll go with Richards as the ninth and final lineman.
There shouldn’t be much question on these five. Micah Parsons and DeMarcus Lawrence are the obvious starters, and Dorance Armstrong is sitting on the bench next to them in preseason games. Sam Williams and Dante Fowler have been active in both preseason games. This one is easy.
That said, undrafted rookies Isaiah Land, Tyrus Wheat, and Durrell Johnson should all be receiving practice squad invites the moment they clear waivers, as all three have shown some promise this preseason.
Interior defensive line
It gets a little tricky here, but the cuts seem somewhat obvious. We know that Johnathan Hankins, Osa Odighizuwa, and Mazi Smith are locks. Chauncey Golston has been getting a similar trend of preseason reps to Odighizuwa, so he would seem to be safe too. Viliami Fehoko hasn’t made much noise, but the coaching staff seems to be high on his long-term potential.
That makes Neville Gallimore and Quinton Bohanna the two biggest cuts, while Isaac Alarcón is very likely headed back to the practice squad. Both Gallimore and Bohanna got plenty of run Saturday in Seattle, and neither necessarily turned heads. Things could always change, but it appears both players’ times in Dallas are coming to an end soon.
Leighton Vander Esch
The linebacker room got hit by the injury bug Saturday when rookie standout DeMarvion Overshown tore his ACL, ending his season before it ever really began. Overshown was having a great camp and preseason, and was likely in line for a good amount of snaps throughout the year.
That leaves the Cowboys with just five off-the-ball linebackers on the roster, which is likely how many they’re keeping here anyway. That’s good news for Malik Jefferson, who has had some good moments this preseason but nothing special. But the Cowboys may very well peruse the free agent market, which still features names like Anthony Barr and Rashaan Evans. Until such a move gets made, though, these five are the most likely.
Eric Scott Jr.
The top three are pretty much set in stone, and this roster projection is operating on the assumption that Jourdan Lewis begins the year on the PUP list. DaRon Bland is the starting slot corner but has also shown the ability to offer depth at outside corner, and Eric Scott Jr. has played well enough to cement a spot as outside depth while contributing on special teams.
Kelvin Joseph has now had two great preseason games. He’s allowed just one catch on a team-leading six targets, with three forced incompletions and two pass breakups. The Cowboys already know they can rely on him for special teams, but Joseph’s drastic jump in cornerback play is enough to earn him a roster spot, and potentially the final spot at his position. Meanwhile, Nahshon Wright didn’t play in Seattle with an ankle injury that has him in a boot, and he could end up being an injured reserve stash candidate.
If the Cowboys opt to keep just five safeties, as they’ve done each of the last two years, there will be a very difficult decision to make. The top four - starters Jayron Kearse, Malik Hooker, and Donovan Wilson along with backup Israel Mukuamu - are all locks. Mukuamu provides valuable depth not just at safety but also in the slot in case Bland gets hurt or needs to move to outside corner.
Both Markquese Bell and Juanyeh Thomas have been having stellar preseasons, and they both continued their momentum in Seattle. It would be a considerable risk to bet on either of them making it through waivers. Both have shown a real ability to provide safety depth, and both look to be special teams studs in the making. It’ll be hard to justify going six deep at safety, but Dallas may just have to do that.
K Brandon Aubrey
P Bryan Anger
LS Trent Sieg
Brandon Aubrey had a perfect day in Seattle, drilling both extra point attempts, though he didn’t attempt a field goal. The Cowboys seem to be satisfied with Aubrey, who has registered a touchback on all his kickoffs this preseason, and McCarthy offered an endorsement before Saturday’s game:
Mike McCarthy on the Dallas Cowboys pregame show on kicker Brandon Aubrey: There's nothing that he hasn't done. We're just new working together. This is a normal process. We recognize the talent. It's definitely there. Been very impressed, most importantly his work ethic. His…— RJ Ochoa (@rjochoa) August 20, 2023
Kicker is the only real question here, as Bryan Anger and Trent Sieg are considered safe locks. But this projection does include C.J. Goodwin being cut, with Joseph moving into his role as the special teams ace and the trio of youngsters in Scott, Bell, and Thomas also taking prominent roles on special teams.