Dallas Cowboys Depth-Chart Predictions Ahead of Training Camp
With training camp less than three weeks away, the Dallas Cowboys' roster is essentially set.
For better or worse, this is the group of players the team will use to try to win their sixth Super Bowl ring. The Cowboys currently have 90 men on their roster, but that number will be trimmed down to 53 by September.
As the team heads into camp, there is a rough depth chart that has formed, but that can change at a moment's notice.
However, these are my depth-chart predictions as we head into camp. The order in which players may appear is fluid, but for the most part, they likely won't change drastically.
Without further ado, let's take a look at each position and how the depth chart could shake out.
1. Dak Prescott
2. Kellen Moore
3. Zac Dysert
4. Cooper Rush
For the first time in his NFL career, Dak Prescott will open the season training as the team's starter. While everyone is expecting big things from him in his second year, it should be noted that he isn't the best practice player.
As someone who has seen him in practice, I know Prescott often struggles with accuracy in practice but knows how to turn it on when the lights come on.
I expect there will be concerns about Prescott's accuracy again this season, but there's no need to worry. He is this team's franchise quarterback and without him, this is just another 4-12 team. As training camp approaches, remember that the 23-year-old knows how to turn it up once the games start to matter.
Despite their confidence in Kellen Moore, I wouldn't be opposed to looking for a better backup quarterback at the end of camp for the Cowboys. However, Dallas seems pretty set on keeping just two quarterbacks on their 53-man roster—and they will be Prescott and Moore.
Moore will get a ton of reps in practice, but he just doesn't have the arm talent to be a No. 2 quarterback in the NFL. His lack of arm strength actually hinders practice, as he can't consistently drive the ball on the outside to the receivers. The backup quarterback spot is a real weakness for the Cowboys.
The real competition here will be between Zac Dysert and Cooper Rush for a job on the practice squad.
Dysert has been in the league since 2013, but he has failed to throw a pass in an NFL game and has been on seven different teams.
Rush is the favorite to win that spot because of his accuracy and his size. Look for him to get a ton of reps in the second half of the preseason games.
1. Ezekiel Elliott
2. Darren McFadden
3. Alfred Morris
4. Rod Smith
5. Jahad Thomas
1. Keith Smith
2. Rod Smith
The biggest question surrounding this group is whether Ezekiel Elliott will be suspended for the start of the season.
Any sort of ban could greatly hinder the Cowboys' ability to not only win the division but to make the playoffs entirely. If he were to be suspended, Darren McFadden would step in as the starter and Alfred Morris would likely spell him.
However, I don't believe it is a lock that Morris is the team's No. 3 running back. Rod Smith makes more sense as the team's third running back as he can contribute in the passing game, special teams and as a backup fullback.
Rookie Jahad Thomas will likely be competing for a spot on the practice squad as he can do a bit of everything at an adequate level.
This is one of the better running back groups in the league, but I would like to see Dallas add a younger back as they get closer to the season. As long as Elliott is on the field, I expect the Cowboys to have the best backfield in the NFL.
1. Dez Bryant
2. Terrance Williams
3. Cole Beasley
4. Brice Butler
5. Ryan Switzer
6. Lucky Whitehead
7. Noah Brown
8. Andy Jones
9. Brian Brown
10. Lance Lenoir
11. Uzoma Nwachukwu
Overall, this is a deep unit, but the group needs Dez Bryant to stay healthy in order to find success.
The rest of the receivers are complementary players who all play off of Bryant's game and his ability to draw double-coverage on every snap. If he can continue to play at the level he did in the team's final eight games, including the playoff game against Green Bay, this will be among the league's most rounded receiving corps.
With Bryant on the field, the pieces mesh so well together that it makes it one of the NFL's most dangerous groups.
While Terrance Williams is listed as the No. 2 receiver, Cole Beasley is the team's second-best receiver. He led the Cowboys in catches and yards in 2016, and I can see him being a bigger part of the offense in 2017. He's one of the most underrated receivers in the league and a huge reason why Prescott was as successful as he was last year.
The biggest question about this group will be how many receivers will be kept on the 53-man roster? My guess is five, as they may need to save a spot for an extra linebacker or defensive back.
However, if Noah Brown thrives in camp, I could see them creating a spot for one more receiver. Again, as long as Bryant is healthy, this unit will be among the league's best.
1. Jason Witten
2. Geoff Swaim
3. James Hanna
4. Rico Gathers
5. Connor Hamlett
6. Blake Jarwin
While Jason Witten is locked in as the team's starter, the rest of the group has a lot of question marks heading into camp; the biggest of these being the health of Geoff Swaim and James Hanna. Both are expected to be able to participate by at least some point in training camp.
However, Hanna is dealing with a knee injury that cost him all of last season, and Swaim is coping with multiple injuries, including a broken fifth metatarsal and a torn pectoral muscle. It's not safe to assume that either player returns for camp. It could be a while before either is 100 percent healthy again.
Rico Gathers may be the most hyped fourth tight end of all time, but all eyes will be on him in training camp as we look to see how much he has developed since we saw him last.
The expectation is that he will get a ton of reps in practice and in the preseason to earn a spot on the 53-man roster. If the team is forced to release him, I don't expect him to make it back to the practice squad.
If everyone is healthy, the Cowboys will have one of the deeper tight end groups in the NFL. Witten is no longer the dominant player he was five years ago, but he's still an effective starter.
Dallas will need one of the other tight ends to step up if they want to keep this unit performing at a high level.
1. Tyron Smith
2. La'el Collins
3. Byron Bell
4. Emmett Cleary
5. Dan Skipper
6. Clay DeBord
1. Zack Martin
2. Chaz Green
3. Jonathan Cooper
4. Joe Looney
5. Nate Theaker
1. Travis Frederick
Now that it seems official that La'el Collins will be the team's right tackle, the biggest question mark will be finding out who is the starter at left guard. The two players competing for that spot will be Chaz Green and Jonathan Cooper.
I expect Green to get the first crack at the job because the team has more invested in him than Cooper. The Cowboys spent a third-round pick on Green in 2015, versus signing Cooper to a minimum contract this spring.
If Green does win the job, Cooper would compete with Joe Looney for a spot on the active roster on game days as the team's swing guard.
Cooper does have some experience playing center, but he needs to prove he can stay healthy if he wants to continue his career in the NFL. However, I expect Cooper to play well enough to stay on the game-day roster.
As long as Dallas has Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin, they will always have one of the best offensive lines in the entire league. I expect this unit to have a slight drop-off from their play in 2016 as they usher in two new starters, but they should be able to get back to that level of dominance by the end of the season.
The biggest issues surrounding this team will be how Collins develops as a right tackle and if the group can stay healthy. They don't have the depth this year that they've had in previous seasons, so it becomes vital their three stars stay healthy throughout the season.
1. Taco Charlton
2. Demarcus Lawrence
3. Tyrone Crawford
4. David Irving
5. Benson Mayowa
6. Damontre Moore
7. Charles Tapper
1. Maliek Collins
2. Cedric Thornton
3. Stephen Paea
4. Joey Ivie
5. Jordan Carrell
6. Richard Ash
The biggest question mark on the entire roster is whether the defensive line will be able to generate enough pass rush in 2017.
In 2014 and in 2016, the team lost in the divisional round to the Packers because they couldn't get enough pressure on Aaron Rodgers to slow him down. Did they make enough progress at this position to correct that wrong this year? I have my doubts.
Selecting Taco Charlton in the first round gives the team another long edge-rusher, but I don't envision him making a big impact in his first season. Instead, it will be up to guys like Demarcus Lawrence and David Irving to make a leap in their play if they want to compete for a Super Bowl in 2017.
The player with possibly the highest ceiling among the group may be second-year defensive tackle Maliek Collins. He was so impressive last season after missing all of training camp with a broken foot. He stepped right in and became a force inside. Collins has just turned 22 years old, and I expect him to make a major leap in his second year in the NFL.
Ultimately, the Cowboys will need a few of their defensive linemen to drastically improve in 2017 if the team has any hope of making the Super Bowl. It's clearly the biggest weakness on the team and could be the one unit that holds the rest of the team back.
1. Sean Lee
2. Anthony Hitchens
3. Jaylon Smith
4. Damien Wilson
5. Kyle Wilber
6. Mark Nzeocha
7. John Lotulelei
8. Lucas Wacha
9. Kennan Gilchrist
With the recent arrest of linebacker Damien Wilson, the linebacker depth chart has become even murkier than it was a few weeks ago.
Wilson was projected to be the team's starting strongside linebacker, but it seems unlikely that will be the case as of now. I highly doubt that he will be on the roster heading into camp.
That leaves two starting spots open as we head into camp. It's assumed that Jaylon Smith will win the middle linebacker role, but he will have to do so wearing an AFO brace to help lift his foot.
I think it's unlikely that Smith will be the team's starting linebacker in Week 1, but training camp should give us a much clearer picture as to how healthy and effective he will be this season.
Instead, I suspect Anthony Hitchens will start for the team at that spot as Smith works to recover from his injury.
Hitchens was surprisingly good in 2016 and deserves a chance to win that job in camp. He's a durable player who knows how to stay on the field on all three downs. I am more than comfortable with him being the team's starter next to Sean Lee.
Two young players to watch in camp are John Lotulelei and Lucas Wacha. I expect one of the two to be able to earn a role on the 53-man roster. Both are weakside linebackers but will need to make their money on special teams if they want to earn a roster spot.
1. Nolan Carroll
2. Anthony Brown
3. Orlando Scandrick
4. Chidobe Awuzie
5. Jourdan Lewis
6. Marquez White
7. Leon McFadden
1. Byron Jones
2. Jeff Heath
3. Kavon Frazier
4. Xavier Woods
5. Robert Blanton
6. Jameill Showers
Of all the positional groups, this is the one that is the most fluid in terms of who is starting and who is not.
There is no one cornerback that you can say for sure is a lock to start in Week 1. The Cowboys will rotate their corners but expect this to be an open competition in camp. I expect the team to sub in and out depending on the matchups, but this a deep unit with a good mixture of young players and veterans.
At safety, the only thing we know for certain is that Byron Jones will be one of the team's starters. In his third year, he is primed for a big season, as he becomes more of a vocal leader for the defense.
Jeff Heath will likely open the season as the team's other starting safety, but don't be surprised if Kavon Frazier and Chidobe Awuzie find some snaps at the position.
The Cowboys have a young secondary and that means they could struggle to start the season. There is a lot of inexperience among the group, but the team is expecting the kids to play a big role right away in 2017. Outside of defensive line, this unit has the most question marks surrounding it.
1. Dan Bailey
1. Chris Jones
2. Sam Irwin-Hill
1. L.P. LaDouceur
There won't be much competition for the specialists in camp. The only player brought in to compete for a job is Sam Irwin-Hill, but he's likely just on the roster to ensure Chris Jones isn't overworked in camp. I won't be surprised if the Cowboys bring in a kicker later on in camp to give Dan Bailey a break as well.
Overall, this is one of the best units in the NFL, so there is no need to bring in too many players. Instead, they can use the roster spots on other positions that need more depth and/or help.