The Cowboys have made it to their final game of the preseason, taking on the Las Vegas Raiders at home. Soon afterwards, coaches and executives will have to trim the roster from 90 players to just 53. It’s no easy task, and many of the cuts the Cowboys will soon make will be very, very hard to stomach.
Saturday’s game represents the last real shot for many players to make their final case, whether it be guys on the roster bubble or those looking to solidify their place on the depth chart. These 10 players have the most to prove heading into the final preseason contest.
QB Will Grier
Will Grier is not going to be making the Cowboys roster. That was already suspected, but is now confirmed in the wake of the trade for Trey Lance. The Cowboys communicated with Grier prior to the trade and are now planning to play him for the entire game against the Raiders.
Club officials spoke to QB Will Grier before the deal for Trey Lance was made public, two people with knowledge of how the trade went down said.— David Moore (@DavidMooreDMN) August 26, 2023
He’s been told he won’t be on this team going forward but is slated to play from start to finish against the Raiders in his farewell.
That puts Grier in a unique spot. He had been legitimately competing with Cooper Rush for the QB2 role a year ago, but a groin injury that caused him to miss preseason action helped decide that battle. Then, Rush’s impressive record as the starter last year put Grier behind the eight ball for 2023. But he’s shown he has the raw talent to belong in this league, and Saturday is effectively one big tryout.
Grier may not be fighting for a roster spot in Dallas anymore, but he’s arguably got the most to prove tonight out of anyone on this roster.
RB Hunter Luepke
Undrafted rookie Hunter Luepke quickly became a popular pet cat for Cowboys fans, thanks in large part to his versatility. Luepke played fullback in college but got plenty of work as a lead ball-carrier and tight end. While Luepke hasn’t seen any work at fullback or tight end through training camp and the preseason, he generated some buzz early on in practices.
Unfortunately, though, Luepke didn’t translate that to the first two preseason games. Six carries for six yards isn’t going to help you make the roster, especially with the Cowboys likely to keep just three running backs. But Luepke’s versatility makes him a wild card, and a big day against the Raiders could change his status.
WRs Simi Fehoko and Jalen Brooks
These two are being discussed together because it seems like the final receiver spot is coming down to the two of them. The three starters - CeeDee Lamb, Brandin Cooks, and Michael Gallup - are locked in, and Jalen Tolbert ran away with the WR4 spot long ago. KaVontae Turpin was always safe regardless of how much he actually saw the field on offense.
The WR6 spot, though, is up in the air. Simi Fehoko has had a solid camp, with a few highlights and some less-than-stellar moments, while seventh-round rookie Jalen Brooks was seemingly dominating on a daily basis in practice. However, Brooks has struggled to translate that to the game, with just two catches for 11 yards on seven targets. Fehoko has been better - five receptions for 25 yards on eight targets - but not dramatically so.
This one feels like a toss up right now, and this final preseason game could very well determine which of these receivers gets a roster spot and which one gets put on waivers.
G T.J. Bass
While much of the discussion around the Cowboys’ offensive line depth has been largely negative, undrafted rookie T.J. Bass has seen his stock soar. To date, Bass is the only Cowboys lineman (that’s played, of course) to register zero pressures allowed. He’s doing that with the seventh-most pass block reps on the team, just ahead of Matt Waletzko, who has given up a team high five pressures.
“Ones are up”— Skywalker Steele (@SkywalkerSteele) August 23, 2023
LT- Asim Richards
RG- TJ Bass
*Tyron and Zack are out of team period
“Twos are up”
RG- Josh Ball pic.twitter.com/E7T9p7336g
The coaches have noticed, too, as Bass was getting mixed in at first-team guard during the Cowboys’ scrimmage earlier this week. He seems to be in a good spot to make the roster, but Bass can reach higher. If he keeps up that level of play on Saturday, Bass could propel himself up the depth chart and really cement his status on this roster.
EDGE Isaiah Land
Isaiah Land always faced long odds of making the roster. Undrafted out of Florida A&M, Land joined one of the most crowded position rooms on the team. The trio of Micah Parsons, DeMarcus Lawrence, and Dorance Armstrong have been locks for so long that none of them have played in the preseason. Veteran Dante Fowler and second-year man Sam Williams have both seemed safe, as well.
If the Cowboys go six deep at EDGE, Land is in the best position to be the final man in. He leads the team in pressures through the preseason - and is fifth among all defenders in the NFL - despite only having the fourth-most pass rush reps. But it’s not a sure thing that Dallas goes that deep on the edge, especially with a fierce competition at corner and safety. Land could force the team’s hand with his play against the Raiders, though.
DT Neville Gallimore
Neville Gallimore entered camp as one of the most likely players to be cut, with some even speculating he could become a trade piece for the Cowboys. Gallimore has had some big plays here and there throughout his career, but he’s struggled to turn that into consistent play. Bringing back Johnathan Hankins and drafting Mazi Smith seemingly spelled the end for Gallimore.
That door hasn’t completely slammed shut, though. Smith has had some uneven play, and while his roster spot isn’t even close to being in danger, maybe that makes the Cowboys second-guess cutting a veteran like Gallimore. To his credit, Gallimore has been solid in the preseason thus far. A big game on Saturday could help make his case to stay on, at least until the first-round rookie gets acclimated to the NFL.
LB Tyrus Wheat
Tyrus Wheat is labeled as a defensive end on the team site but he offers lots of positional versatility, something Dan Quinn very much covets. In college, he played linebacker in Mississippi State’s 3-3-5 defense, which saw him rushing the passer and playing a more traditional off-ball linebacker role. He’s mostly played at EDGE in the preseason, but was mentioned as someone who could benefit from the unfortunate injury to fellow rookie linebacker DeMarvion Overshown:
Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy on depth at linebacker: "Malik Jefferson is going to be hard-pressed to make it back" this week from foot sprain. "This is a great opportunity for Jabril Cox, Devin Harper and Tyrus Wheat."— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) August 21, 2023
The Cowboys were already thin at linebacker, but the injury to Overshown (as well as Malik Jefferson) puts the position into even more question. Wheat has flashed in the preseason, with his 23.5% pass rush win rate ranking just behind Land on the team. If he can finish out strong, especially when given reps at linebacker, Wheat may just well be able to make this roster.
S Markquese Bell
Wheat isn’t the only one with a chance to boost their stock following Overshown’s injury. Second-year safety Markquese Bell - who made the roster last year but was inactive for all but five games - is getting mixed in with the linebackers now.
Cowboys S Markquese Bell said DC Dan Quinn called him yesterday and said he's adding LB to his duties. "Just trying to show my versatility. I don't really know what they want me to do with it." Bell is taking more of DeMarvion Overshown's role.— Calvin Watkins (@calvinwatkins) August 23, 2023
Bell had been seeing work in Jayron Kearse’s role, which is already a bit of a hybrid between safety and linebacker. It makes sense that Bell would be the one from this loaded safety group to get an opportunity at linebacker, and Saturday’s game will be his first chance at solidifying his role as a valuable Swiss-army knife.
K Brandon Aubrey
Brandon Aubrey seems to be safe for now, though there aren’t many outside the Cowboys building that are overly confident in him. Much of that has to do with a lack of opportunities. Aubrey has been solid, though not impressive, in practice but has just one field goal attempt over two preseason games.
Aubrey has evidently impressed the coaching staff with his ability to consistently produce touchbacks on kickoffs, but that’s not the only thing he’ll be asked to do on Sundays. Right now, Aubrey is a good bet to be the Cowboys kicker come Week 1, but a strong night against the Raiders might boost his odds (or perhaps just fan confidence) of remaining the kicker for the whole season.