The Dallas Cowboys have some tough decisions to make as they cut down their roster to 53 players. Ideally, it would be great if they could just keep the players who are the most talented, however, positional need and the development of young players can throw a wrench into that theory. As a result, the team will have to figure out which players will be worth the protection, which players they can live without, and which ones they would like to sneak on the practice squad.
Every year there are new players who come out of nowhere to surprise us by making the team and it’s fun to try to figure out which guys might fit that bill this season. Last week, we mentioned that undrafted free agent tight end John Stephens Jr. had a great chance to steal one of the last spots on the roster, but unfortunately, a knee injury has prematurely ended his rookie campaign. Stephens was off to a great start, but as we learned, things can change in a hurry.
Stephens Jr. was one of two season-ending injuries that occurred in last week’s game as rookie linebacker DeMarvion Overshown also suffered a knee injury that will cause him to miss the 2023 season. The loss of one of the team’s linebackers has shaken up the position group and it now makes them lean at the position.
Last season, the Cowboys kept five off-ball linebackers on the roster with Leighton Vander Esch, Anthony Barr, Jabril Cox, Luke Gifford, and Devin Harper all making the team. Rookie Damone Clark was added later once he was ready to go after recovering from a herniated disc that was discovered during the NFL combine. Right now, the linebackers are expected to be Vander Esch, Clark, Harper, and Cox. That leaves them with only four unless they also keep veteran Malik Jefferson or sign an outside free agent.
The team also has some challenges at the bottom of their cornerback depth chart. Rookie Eric Scott Jr. has flashed some potential but doesn’t appear to be ready at the NFL level. He would be better served to stash and develop. Veteran Jourdan Lewis serves as some nice insurance, but he could start the season on the PUP list.
So, if you are keeping score at home, that could leave the Cowboys with just four serviceable players at both the linebacker and cornerback position groups.
What the Cowboys lack at linebacker and corner, they can supplement with their safeties. They already employ Jayron Kearse and Donovan Wilson in hybrid linebacker/box safety roles. We’ve also seen them utilize Israel Mukuamu as a slot corner and Markquese Bell has been used a lot down at the line of scrimmage filling a similar role as Kearse and Wilson.
The fun doesn’t stop there. Second-year safety Juanyeh Thomas is also making some noise this summer. Signed as an undrafted free agent last year, he spent the entire season on the practice squad. During his last year at Georgia Tech, he started all 12 games at safety where he finished with 81 tackles, four tackles for a loss, six pass breakups, and two forced fumbles, earning All-ACC honorable mention honors.
Thomas has shown nice growth and could be ready to help this football team. He’s had a good camp and continues to show up on tape. He has dynamic ability in his game as he’s made plays in coverage as well as down at the line of scrimmage. He looks like the most balanced player of all the team’s young safeties. From making an interception on the second play from scrimmage in the team’s first preseason game against Jacksonville to regularly sniffing out ball carriers in the running game, Thomas has been all over the place.
I have been very impressed with the year two progress of Juanyeh Thomas. He reads the plays well, reacts fast, and the cat is always looking to hit somebody.— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) August 24, 2023
Don't finalize your 53s without JT on it! pic.twitter.com/NRQpmvSNDO
And when these roster decisions come down to the wire, sometimes, it’s the little things that can make all the difference. Like say, the ability to contribute on special teams.
There's been little opportunity in kickoff coverage this preseason for the Cowboys, as kicker Brandon Aubrey is 8-for-8 on touchbacks. Only chance came Saturday on a Bryan Anger free kick after a safety. No surprise: S Juanyeh Thomas made tackle. pic.twitter.com/s5TBnFxmi3— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) August 20, 2023
It’s going to be hard to squeeze him in, but not impossible. Good players are good players and it’s always great if the team can collect as many of them as possible. While it’s important to have enough bodies at all their positions, the flexibility of this team’s safety group opens the door for some creative roster moves, and that could help punch Thomas’ ticket onto the Cowboys roster.