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Early Projections for the Dallas Cowboys' Final 53-Man Roster

Jonathan BalesAnalyst IJanuary 3, 2017

Early Projections for the Dallas Cowboys' Final 53-Man Roster

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    TIM SHARP/Associated Press

    With nine picks in the 2014 NFL draft, the Dallas Cowboys are in a position where we’re basically guaranteed to see multiple rookies fail to make the 53-man roster. That’s especially true since the ‘Boys signed so many talented undrafted free agents.

    As far as roster projections go, this is one of the most difficult years to predict the team’s path. There are simply a lot of unknowns surrounding the Cowboys right now. Will Kyle Orton retire? Will Anthony Spencer be healthy? Which direction does the team want to go at the wide receiver position? Will Tyrone Crawford play defensive end or defensive tackle?

    The answers to those questions can have a snowball effect on the team’s other roster choices. If Orton sticks around and Spencer is healthy, for example, that’s two fewer roster spots available—likely at other positions—for the young guys.

    Let’s take a look at one possible combination of players the ‘Boys could use as they enter the 2014 season.

Quarterback

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    Evan Vucci/Associated Press

    1. Tony Romo

    2. Brandon Weeden

     

    Analysis

    As of right now, the Cowboys need to plan as though quarterback Kyle Orton won’t be in Dallas in 2014. He was absent from voluntary workouts, according to Calvin Watkins of ESPN Dallas, which is a big red flag. This isn’t a veteran wide receiver we’re talking about, but a quarterback who is expected to attend all workouts, mandatory or not.

    The Cowboys might view Weeden as a developmental player, but they could have signed or drafted a youngster, too. The fact that they sided with Weeden makes it seem as though they’re preparing for him to be the backup.

Running Back

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    1. DeMarco Murray

    2. Lance Dunbar

    3. Joseph Randle

    4. J.C. Copeland (FB)

     

    Analysis

    The main question here is whether or not the team will carry a fullback. I think they will, given what new offensive coordinator Scott Linehan wants to do on offense. Undrafted free agent J.C. Copeland will compete with Tyler Clutts for the position. Copeland is the better blocker, and the Cowboys don’t need a thing out of their fullback other than effective blocking in short-yardage situations.

    The Cowboys also signed tailback Ryan Williams, according to Nick Eatman of DallasCowboys.com. Williams never ran well in the 40-yard dash (4.61 seconds, according to NFL.com), but his 40-inch vertical and 10’3” broad jump suggest he has explosiveness.

    In a perfect world, Williams would beat out Randle for a roster spot. In a more realistic world, the Cowboys will hold onto their sunk cost of a 2013 draft pick in Randle.

Wide Receiver

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    1. Dez Bryant

    2. Terrance Williams

    3. Devin Street

    4. Cole Beasley

    5. Dwayne Harris

    6. Chris Boyd

     

    Analysis

    The wide receiver position is one of the most difficult to project this year. You could make an argument that the roster spots for Bryant and Williams are the only ones that are secure. You’d think that fifth-rounder Devin Street would make the roster as well, and Cole Beasley seems likely to stick around since his skill set differs so much from the others.

    If I were running the team, Beasley would be gone and Harris would make the team solely for special teams reasons. However, if one of those two is out of town, my guess is that it would be Harris to make room for undrafted free agent L’Damian Washington.

    Either way, Boyd should make the roster given his red-zone ability. With all of the upside Dallas has here, it seems highly likely they’ll retain a minimum of six wide receivers.

Tight End

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    1. Jason Witten

    2. Gavin Escobar

    3. James Hanna

    4. Jordan Najvar

     

    Analysis

    The first three names are almost locks to make the roster, although it’s possible that the Cowboys haven’t seen enough development out of Hanna, so he could be in trouble. That’s more their fault than his.

    Najvar is a blocking tight end who, like Copeland, could find his way onto the roster for his ability to help in short-yardage situations. The two could actually be fighting against one another for a spot.

Offensive Line

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    TIM SHARP/Associated Press

    LT Tyron Smith

    LG Ronald Leary

    C Travis Frederick

    RG Zack Martin

    RT Doug Free

    OG Mackenzy Bernadeau

    OT Darrion Weems

     

    Analysis

    Smith, Leary, Frederick, Martin and Free are all locks to make the roster. Weems and Bernadeau both offer versatility as backups; Weems is a swing tackle and Bernadeau can start anywhere along the interior line.

    There’s a decent chance that the Cowboys will carry an extra lineman, which could be undrafted free-agent guard Brian Clarke. I’m projecting him to the practice squad, though.

Defensive End

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    1. Demarcus Lawrence

    1. George Selvie

    2. Anthony Spencer

    2. Ben Gardner

    3. Jeremy Mincey

     

    Analysis

    The defensive end position starts with Spencer. He could begin the season on PUP, which would open up another end spot. Either way, I’m projecting Lawrence and Selvie as the opening day starters.

    Caesar Rayford is still in town and figures to be the main beneficiary of Spencer to PUP. Also, the primary backup at defensive end might be someone I’ve listed at defensive tackle: Tyrone Crawford. He gives the Cowboys so much flexibility along the line, but he fits best inside as a pass-rushing threat to complement Henry Melton.

Defensive Tackle

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    1. Henry Melton

    1. Tyrone Crawford

    2. Amobi Okoye

    2. Terrell McClain

    3. Ben Bass

    3. Ken Bishop

     

    Analysis

    As mentioned, I have Crawford listed at defensive tackle. Most think he’s going to play outside for Dallas, and that would be the case if the team wants a true one-technique tackle. However, with the way the they have built their defense around speed, you’d think they want to continue that trend with two legitimate pass-rushing big men inside. Crawford gives them that.

    The ‘Boys recently signed free agent Amobi Okoye, which was smart. The former first-round pick is still 26 years old despite being drafted in 2007. He’s a highly athletic defensive tackle who has disappointed thus far in his career, very much like Selvie before Dallas signed him last year.

Linebacker

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    1. Sean Lee

    1. Bruce Carter

    1. DeVonte Holloman

    2. Kyle Wilber

    2. Anthony Hitchens

     

    Analysis

    If you start to break down the linebacker position, you realize that veteran Justin Durant doesn’t have a great shot to stick around in 2014. Which of the players listed above isn’t a near-lock to make the roster?

    With five players basically guaranteed a roster spot, the Cowboys will need to keep six linebackers for Durant to stick, and even then he might get cut. The linebacker position isn’t one where the Cowboys are likely to retain much depth.

Safety

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    1. Barry Church

    1. J.J. Wilcox

    2. Matt Johnson

    2. Ahmad Dixon

    3. Jeff Heath

     

    Analysis

    It looks like Wilcox will get the starting nod at free safety, but I still think Johnson and Heath are going to make the team. It’s possible that the Cowboys will keep only four safeties, in which case Heath will compete with Dixon (and Jakar Hamilton) for that final roster spot, assuming Johnson stays healthy. That’s a big assumption, of course, so yet another injury to Johnson would open things up elsewhere.

Cornerback

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    1. Brandon Carr

    1. Orlando Scandrick

    2. Morris Claiborne

    2. Sterling Moore

    3. Terrance Mitchell

    3. B.W. Webb

     

    Analysis

    The cornerback position is one of many that could benefit from Orton’s departure. The Cowboys have retained as few as four cornerbacks in the past, and it’s possible that they’ll dip down to five in 2014. If that happens, expect Webb to be the odd man out.

    Moore earned a roster spot last year, so Webb is probably competing with the rookie Mitchell to be on the team. In effect, Webb is currently my “53rd man,” so any addition elsewhere would result in his release in this scenario.

Specialists

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    Tim Sharp/Associated Press

    K Dan Bailey

    LS L.P. Ladouceur

    P Cody Mandell

     

    Analysis

    Bailey and Ladouceur are locks, so it’s just a matter of who the Cowboys will be trotting out there to punt this year. Chris Jones averaged 45.0 yards per punt last season, but there just isn’t much downside to going younger with undrafted free agent Cody Mandell.

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