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Cowboys 53-man roster: Projecting how many spots available at each position

As the Cowboys continue training camp, we look ahead to the allocation of spots on the 53-man roster.

Dallas Cowboys Training Camp Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

Roster projections are always a lot of fun, especially in August as we start to gather some data from training camp and preseason games. This year, the Dallas Cowboys seem to be deep at more places than not. But they only have 53 places on the game day roster. Every year, I take a look at how they might use those spots, because it really brings some things about the eventual decisions into focus.

The following chart is based more on team needs with an eye on having the tools and weapons they need for their scheme and plays. Talent considerations are secondary in this exercise.

Roster spot allocation

Number 3 6 4 3 4 5
Position DE DT LB CB S ST
Number 5 5 5 5 5 3

Quarterback - 3

This is a given. With the new emergency QB rules, three is going to become even more of a standard across the league. The only question here is who will be QB2, with the unexpected competition that has emerged between Cooper Rush and Will Grier.

Wide receiver - 6

The team goes a bit heavy here, although six is not uncommon. What is standing out in camp is that there are plenty of candidates to make the roster behind the three starters. Jalen Tolbert is establishing a firm grip on his spot, while KaVontae Turpin is both excelling in the receiver role while having the advantage of likely remaining with the team as the return specialist. The sixth spot looks to be coming down to Simi Fehoko and rookie Jalen Brooks. While Fehoko got off to a rocky start in the first practice, the rest of camp has been very solid for him. Brooks has been a real head-turner, however. This could go either way and the preseason games are likely crucial. Expect the team to try and get one of these two to the practice squad, while crossing their fingers they don’t wind up with another John Ridgeway situation and see him signed elsewhere.

Running backs - 4

The Cowboys have gone with just three in many cases, but last season that felt more like a lack of healthy players. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer has stated they want to run the ball well, and that indicates to me that they will want more depth, even if the fourth back is often inactive on game day.

The only two who seem like locks are Tony Pollard as lead back and Deuce Vaughn for change of pace work. They need a solid backup for Pollard, and might also be looking for a short yardage specialist. It’s wide open there for Malik Davis, Rico Dowdle, and Hunter Luepke, with Ronald Jones’ suspension complicating things. And a recent article at the Athletic by Jeff Howe says there is still a chance for a reunion with Ezekiel Elliott.

Jeff Howe, The Athletic

If they bring Elliott back, that would mean four running backs on the roster for sure.

Tight ends - 3

Here is one place for a tradeoff. If the carry four backs, they will go a bit short at TE to find the spot. We now have the debut in practice of second-round pick Luke Schoonmaker, and he would seem a certainty along with Jake Ferguson and Peyton Hendershot. However, converted WR UDFA John Stephens could complicate things, and Sean McKeon has to be considered as well. This one is very interesting.

Offensive tackle - 4

Reports from camp indicate that the Cowboys are moving away from the concept of a swing tackle, instead having a backup for each side that focuses on that position. That would necessitate four here, with the competition for the backups wide open. Part of that is how hard it is to evaluate the position without full contact, and the preseason games are very important in clarifying who is in the lead for the depth spots.

Interior offensive line - 5

This seems the bare minimum. Zack Martin’s holdout is another confounding issue that the team needs to resolve. They will have to get this done. They still have to figure out who will fill out the group, and like at backup tackle, this one looks to be an open competition.

Defensive end - 5

This is an embarrassment of riches for Dallas. With Micah Parsons counted here, DeMarcus Lawrence and Sam Williams appear to be other locks. That has the last two spots being vied for by Dorance Armstrong, Dante Fowler, and Viliami Fehoko. The latter’s fourth-round pick status carries a lot of weight in the organization, which could make Fowler the odd man out as Armstrong should probably be considered a lock as well.

Defensive tackle - 5

Dan Quinn prefers to go heavy here, which impacts the rest of the defense. For the first time in recent memory, there are a lot of strong candidates. We know Mazi Smith claims one spot, and Osa Odighizuwa is having a very strong camp. Johnathan Hankins gives them two big NT types and should also be on the roster. That leaves Neville Gallimore, Chauncey Golston, and Quinton Bohanna contending to fill out the room. Many were counting Gallimore out in this competition, but he has responded with some strong practices. Bohanna looks like the one who is not likely to stick, but that is hardly assured.

Linebacker - 5

This is a prime resource for special teams, but the staff may short this to keep an extra defensive back, which is also a place STs draws from. It is the only position on defense that isn’t loaded in camp. Leighton Vander Esch, Damone Clark, and rookie DeMarvion Overshown will carry the load on most downs, with Jabril Cox and Devin Harper likely the ones making the team as ST aces. But don’t count out Malik Jefferson.

Cornerback - 5

It is a legitimate argument that Travon Diggs and Stephon Gilmore are the best pair of corners in the league, with Daron Bland a very capable man for nickel situations. The team still hopes Jourdan Lewis will get back into the mix when if returns from the PUP list, but that is uncertain. Nahshon Wright and rookie Eric Scott are having great practices and would look like the rest of this bunch, which is bad news for Kelvin Joseph. It also could signal the end of C.J. Goodwin’s tenure as the ST ace. One way or another, some familiar names are not going to make the 53.

Safety - 5

After mulling over the numbers in the front seven, I wound up with a perfectly balanced allocation of five players for each of my position groups. That is probably wrong, but if so, it just means tradeoffs, which will put other good players off the roster. Donovan Wilson was hurt in the first practice, but is expected to return in time for the regular season. Israel Mukuamu also went out, but he has returned to practice. The team just extended Malik Hooker, so he makes the roster without question. Jayron Kearse also is a given.

Markquese Bell has made the most of the absences of Wilson and Mukuamu and looks like he is headed for the 53-man roster. But former UDFA Juanyeh Thomas also has had a good showing. This is another case of the team having to make some hard calls.

Special teams - 3

It’s a fixed number. And it looks like another camp where the kicker is very much still to be determined.

This shows that there are some position groups that will have to do without some good players to make the necessary cuts. Some of this might be resolved the bad way, with injuries. We also might see some surprise trades of players they would like to keep, but can’t manage. Still, if the cutdowns came right now, there is just too much talent at some positions to not have it hurt.

That is a good thing.

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