Projecting the Dallas Cowboys Depth Chart After Peak of Free Agency
The 2014 NFL draft hasn't happened just yet and training camp is a long way off, but it's never too early for some early predictions. Considering some key departures this offseason, next season's Dallas Cowboys will look much different than last season's crew.
The Dallas depth chart this season will look vastly different than it has the past several years. This article won't attempt to predict who the Cowboys will bring in via the draft this month. What it will do, however, is predict who the team's starters would be if the season started tomorrow.
This season will see many new faces at several positions. The Cowboys' record will likely depend on how well those players do.
Starter: Tony Romo
Backups: Kyle Orton, Brandon Weeden
Compared to some teams around the NFL, the Cowboys have a pretty stable quarterback situation. Tony Romo is the franchise player, Kyle Orton is the experienced backup. The two are not new to the league or Dallas.
A new face in the fold is former Browns QB Brandon Weeden. The former first-round selection will likely be a project for head coach Jason Garrett. The fact that Weeden is scheduled to make less than $1 million each of his two years with the 'Boys indicates he might not even make the final 2014 roster.
If Weeden makes the cut, it will be interesting to see what former backup quarterback and quarterbacks coach Garrett can do with him.
Starter: DeMarco Murray
Change of Pace: Lance Dunbar
Reserve: Joseph Randle
The Cowboys let Phillip Tanner walk this offseason, leaving only Joseph Randle and Lance Dunbar to back up starter DeMarco Murray. Dunbar has been in the league a bit longer than Randle and averaged five yards per carry in his limited role last season. Randle averaged just three yards per carry on 24 more attempts.
Dunbar should be able to earn the No. 2 rusher job over Randle based on what each player did last year and the potential the former has shown. If Murray misses time this year due to yet another injury, don't expect Garrett to hesitate to name Dunbar the interim starter.
Starters: Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams
Slot Receiver: Cole Beasley
Reserves: Dwayne Harris, Lance Lewis, Jamar Newsome
With a premier No. 1 receiver like Dez Bryant in the fold, the Cowboys don't have a ton to worry about at this position. With Miles Austin gone, second-year player Terrance Williams will take over his role as starter opposite Bryant.
Based on his ability to come through for Romo last year, Cole Beasley should win the battle for the slot receiver role. Beasley tallied 55 targets last year from Romo compared to just 14 for Dwayne Harris.
Expect the Cowboys to go fishing for some depth at wideout in the draft, though. With only practice squad members Lance Lewis and Jamar Newsome behind Harris, Dallas could use a bit more insurance here. A middle-round pick on a wide receiver wouldn't be surprising.
Starter: Jason Witten
Backup: Gavin Escobar
Reserve: James Hanna
Much like the other offensive positions already listed, tight end has a clear starter. Future Hall of Famer Jason Witten will retain his role with young backups Gavin Escobar and James Hanna behind him.
With just 15 targets from Romo, Escobar didn't have a huge impact on this offense last season. Considering how high the Cowboys drafted him just a year ago, it's safe to say that the organization wants him to be the No. 2 guy. And hey, he did record two touchdowns on nine receptions last year.
Hanna is a fine reserve to have at tight end. He will likely miss out on being No. 2 on the depth chart because of Escobar's status as a second-round draft choice.
Left Tackle: Tyron Smith
Left Guard: Ronald Leary
Center: Travis Frederick
Right Guard: Mackenzy Bernadeau
Right Tackle: Doug Free
Reserves: Darrion Weems, Jermey Parnell, Chris DeGeare
After it showed some serious improvement, the Cowboys will look to keep their 2013 starting offensive line together. No longer did Dallas fans feel that their quarterback was running for his life every other offensive snap.
Romo was sacked 35 times last year, but there seemed to be more stability up front. Tyron Smith at left tackle and Travis Frederick at center held their own all season long. Doug Free was much less a liability than he was back in 2012.
There really isn't a ton of reason for the Cowboys to invest in anything but later-round depth for the offensive line in this year's draft. Don't expect this depth chart to change much between now and September.
Left Defensive End: George Selvie
Left Defensive Tackle: Nick Hayden
Right Defensive Tackle: Henry Melton
Right Defensive End: Jeremy Mincey
Reserves: Kyle Wilber, Tyrone Crawford, Terrell McClain, Franke Kearse, Martez Wilson
Dallas' defensive line is going through lots of changes. DeMarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer and Jason Hatcher all left this offseason. Jay Ratliff is also no longer in Big D. Essentially, the line has lost all of its 2013 projected starters.
Former Bears Pro Bowler Henry Melton will have to anchor this new-look defensive front next to 2013 standout George Selvie. It's more than likely the Cowboys will use an early-round pick to help Melton, Selvie and Co. as well.
Veterans Jeremy Mincey and Terrell McClain should also see some significant playing time due to all this transitioning.
Weakside Linebacker: Bruce Carter
Middle Linebacker: Sean Lee
Strongside Linebacker: Justin Durant
Reserves: Caesar Rayford, DeVonte Holloman, Cameron Lawrence, Orie Lemon
The Cowboys have two of the NFL's most promising young linebackers in Bruce Carter and Sean Lee. The problem is that both have been more than a little injury prone in their careers. The two have missed a combined 11 games over the past two seasons. This means Dallas needs some insurance on the depth chart.
There shouldn't be any major changes. The big position battle this summer will be between youngster DeVonte Holloman and veteran Justin Durant for the starting job on the strong side. Holloman is entering just his second NFL season, but the team drafted him expecting he would eventually be a starter.
Starters: Brandon Carr and Orlando Scandrick
Nickel Corner: Morris Claiborne
Reserve: Sterling Moore, B.W. Webb
The Cowboys have spent quite a bit of money and draft picks to shore up the cornerback position. Despite these efforts, there isn't a ton to be excited about there. Orlando Scandrick posted one heck of a 2013, with 59 tackles, two interceptions and some key defensive stops.
The bad news is that Morris Claiborne played so poorly last year he was actually demoted from starter to nickel corner. He started just seven games for Dallas last season. The coaches need to work with Claiborne as much as possible this coming training camp to make sure the former first-rounder bounces back.
As any fan can see, the 'Boys could also use some depth for this position. Sterling Moore is a veteran the team seems to like, but there needs to be a bit more insurance. Due to Claiborne's disappointing 2013, the Cowboys might decide to draft a corner in the middle rounds of this draft.
Strong Safety: Jeff Heath
Free Safety: Barry Church
Reserves: J.J. Wilcox, Matt Johnson, Jakar Hamilton
Since Darren Woodson left the team, it seems the Cowboys have had woes in the safety department. Starters Jeff Heath and Barry Church aren't exactly Ed Reed in his prime, but both are serviceable.
Heath and J.J. Wilcox will surely battle it out for the strong safety job in training camp, but this is not news to either. Heath actually dethroned Wilcox as the starter during the 2013 regular season.
Matt Johnson is the certifiable wild card. He has been injured the entirety of the last two seasons, but the 'Boys coaches have always wanted to see what the former fourth-rounder could do when healthy.
Unless the Cowboys want to spend a first- or second-round draft pick on getting a big-name safety, Heath and Church will be the Dallas starters. There is some promising depth in Wilcox, Johnson and Hamilton. None have more than two seasons of NFL experience.
Kicker: Dan Bailey
Punter: Chris Jones
Long Snapper: L.P. LaDouceur
Punt/Kick Returner: Dwayne Harris
Arguably one of the most consistent parts of the Cowboys last season was their special teams unit. Dwayne Harris didn't do much in the receiving game but he lit up the return game to make up for that.
The wide receiver posted more than 850 yards on kickoff returns and brought back a punt for a touchdown last year. There is no reason for Harris not to be back as the return specialist next year.
L.P. LaDouceur has been the team's long snapper for some time. There's no indication that the team wants to replace him.
Dan Bailey proved once again last season that the Cowboys don't have anything to worry about in the field goal aspect of their offense. He made 28 of his 30 field goal attempts last year. Chris Jones averaged 45 yards per punt last season, which isn't too shabby for a first-year punter. Dallas is fine all around when it comes to special teams.