The Dallas Cowboys’ surprisingly entertaining 31-16 preseason win over the Las Vegas Raiders was the last chance to gather data for the looming cutdown to 53 players on Tuesday. Obviously, the statistics from the game are important for that. In coming up with a projected roster for Dallas, we’re going to take a look at those, and analyze what this all means.
First, there are multiple players who were held out with injury. Some, like Sheldrick Redwine and David Durden, will be released. Camp standouts like DeMarvion Overshown and John Stephens are out for the year, and should wind up on IR to come back in 2024. Others are more complicated. Jourdan Lewis is the most significant name in this group, but it also includes Chuma Edoga and Ronald Jones. Jones is likely going to be given his release, while Lewis and Edoga will probably start the season on IR. Look for that treatment for Matt Waletzko as well as he left the game with his second injury of the preseason.
But there were 32 names that were on the sidelines because they are the core of the roster, plus the three specialists. Those are easy to plug in.
That leaves the players who did participate. Taking the numbers from the game, this is how the roster might shake out. There will be some manipulation of things, like Lewis being on the first roster to get him on IR. That will necessitate releasing someone to bring back, so this is a shot at who will be on the team for the season opener.
P Brian Anger
K Brandon Aubrey
LS Trent Sieg
Let’s get the easiest one out of the way. There is lingering concern about the unproven Aubrey, but going one for two on 59-yard field goals, with the miss being very close, is probably seen as confirmation the team can manage just fine with him handling field goals and extra points. He was also perfect on the point afters. But expect the Cowboys to be very aggressive on fourth downs.
OK, this one is just as easy, with the team informing Will Grier he will be released after they traded for Lance. The newest member of the team has to make the roster after they invested a fourth-round pick to get him, and Cooper Rush will be QB2 for at least a while as Lance acclimates to the team.
Wide receiver (6)
The first five were in street clothes for the game, telling us they are on the roster. With Mike McCarthy now running the offense, the prediction is he wants a sixth wideout available. That will come down to Simi Fehoko or Brooks. The seventh-round rookie is the pick and then try to get Fehoko on the practice squad. Just as an added point, they will try and get Dontario Drummond or perhaps Tyler Johnson on the PS as well. Both had very good stats in the game and may have used it to make their case to prolong the dream.
Running back (4)
Vaughn joined Pollard in getting to take this game off, which is hardly surprising. Dowdle was active, but he only took six snaps with the special teams, which indicates that was because of available numbers and wanting to make sure Aubrey had a chance to prove himself. He is the RB2 or RB3, depending on how you view Vaughn.
Luepke is the biggest surprise of this projection. He simply went off in the game, rushing for 58 yards, including some of those tough short-yardage situations, and displayed his value as a receiver, catching all five balls thrown his way for 60 yards and a touchdown. One of those catches went for no yards, but was an impressive ankle-high catch of a throw made under great duress by Grier to help avoid a sack.
He is an H-back, a player who can be a value both for his skills with the ball and as an inline blocker. His inclusion allows the team to go short at tight end. It is bad news for Malik Davis, who the team will try to get on the practice squad.
Tight end (3)
The top two were protected in the game, and Schoonmaker scored his first touchdown of the preseason. That is just a bit of support for the second-round pick who was never in danger of not making the team.
Offensive line (9)
The starting five have been known since the end of last season. But depth was a huge concern. The backups did a very good job on Saturday. Grier was only sacked once, and the team rushed for 158 yards behind them.
The other four came down to snap counts against the Raiders. Bass and Richards played every offensive down, and Farniok and Hoffman were the next two most heavily used OL, with 76% of the downs on offense. This was likely the staff taking a long, hard look at the players they felt most confident in.
Offense total: 25
The past two seasons, the roster has been heavy on defense, but Dan Quinn is no longer contending with Kellen Moore over roster slot allocation. He is up against head coach Mike McCarthy, and McCarthy is going to want his fair share of weapons. Expect him to get them.
Defensive end (5)
Looking for the exception that proves the rule? Dante Fowler did not suit up against Las Vegas, but fourth-round pick Fehoko squeezes him off the roster. The front office is probably working the phones to find a team that will toss them a late-round pick for a proven pass rusher before they have to release him.
Defensive tackle (4)
The first three are givens, but the last spot is hard to sort out. Golston gets the nod here over Neville Gallimore and Quinton Bohanna for his athleticism, likely being used as a passing down piece. Gallimore has not been bad, just nothing special this camp.
Leighton Vander Esch
This is obviously light, but Quinn uses his defensive backs to handle many of the assignments of linebackers in most other defenses. Often the team will only have a single LB on the field, and they just don’t use three at a time. Harper and Cox both had very good games against Las Vegas and also bring needed value on special teams. Had Overshown not fallen victim to the turf in Seattle, this would look very different, but that is just what the team has to deal with.
This is another area that is admittedly heavy. Joseph has shown enough in camp and preseason to stick, and they traded to get the pick for Scott. But if Lewis comes back at some point, one of those will have to go.
Kearse is one of the biggest reasons the team does not need to carry more linebackers, and Bell is his understudy. Thomas has been arguably the biggest surprise of the preseason. He led the team in tackles on Saturday and added two passes broken up. He is another UDFA player who has forced his way onto the roster.
Defense total: 25
The situation can change once the team begins officially making cuts, so it won’t be long before we find out the real roster.