Dallas Cowboys: Final Predictions for 53-Man Roster Cuts

Marcus Mosher@@Marcus_MosherFeatured Columnist IAugust 30, 2017

Dallas Cowboys: Final Predictions for 53-Man Roster Cuts

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    For the first time in the league's history, the entire NFL will be forced to cut down their roster from 90 players to 53. All rosters must be trimmed down to 53 before 4 p.m. ET on Saturday, September 2. 

    For the Dallas Cowboys, that means there isn't much time left, as they will now host the Houston Texans on Thursday night in the team's fifth and final preseason game. For the most part, the roster is set, but there are a few spots and positions that still need to be filled. A good performance in the final game can, in fact, earn you a spot, as that has routinely happened in Dallas over the past few seasons. 

    After the Cowboys' contest against the Texans, they will need to trim more than 30 players off of their roster (a handful will be exempt from counting towards the 53-man roster because of suspensions) and there will be a handful of talented players who will likely latch on to other team's active rosters.

    Without further ado, here are the projected cuts, the final 53-man roster and a list of what the potential practice squad may look like for the Dallas Cowboys come Week 1. 

Cuts

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    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    Unlike previous years, the Cowboys actually have a decent amount of back-end depth on their roster, especially at positions like wide receiver and on the defensive line.

    Because of said depth, it means that Dallas will likely cut at least one or two draft picks because there just isn't enough room on their active roster. 

    The Cowboys will be cutting a handful of players that will eventually wind up on other rosters across the NFL, which is a good indicator of just how deep this team really is.

    However, these are the 30 plus players that you should anticipate being cut by the Cowboys next week: 

    1. DT Richard Ash

    2. DE Woody Barron

    3. FS Robert Blanton

    4. WR Brian Brown

    5. OC Ross Burbank

    6. CB Dejaun Butler

    7. DT Jordan Carrell

    8. OT Emmett Cleary 

    9. OT Clay DeBord 

    10. OG Kadeem Edwards

    11. LB Keenan Gilchrist

    12. CB John Green

    13. WR Karl Hamilton

    14. RB Ronnie Hillman

    15. P/PK Sam Irwin-Hill

    16. DT Joey Ivie

    17. TE Blake Jarwin

    18. WR Andy Jones

    19. LB Joseph Jones

    20. DE Lenny Jones 

    21. WR Lance Lenoir 

    22. DE Darnell Leslie

    23. LB Lamar Louis

    24. QB Luke McCown 

    25. CB Leon McFadden (Injured Reserve)

    26. TE M.J. McFarland

    27. WR Uzoma Nwachukwu 

    28. CB Sammy Seamster 

    29. FS Jameill Showers

    30. OT Dan Skipper

    31. OG Nate Theaker 

    32. CB Duke Thomas

    33. LS Zach Wood 

Quarterbacks

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    Michael Owen Baker/Associated Press

    Quarterbacks - 3

    1. Dak Prescott

    2. Kellen Moore

    3. Cooper Rush

    Despite my liking, it seems inevitable that the Cowboys will carry three quarterbacks, and that will include both Kellen Moore and Cooper Rush.

    Moore will likely be the team's primary backup to Dak Prescott. However, don't be shocked if Rush sees more backup snaps in practice throughout the season as the team preps him to become the full-time backup quarterback. 

    If for some reason the Cowboys do decide to go with just two quarterbacks, it is important to note that both Moore and Rush have practice squad eligibility. While it's unlikely that the Cowboys part ways with Rush after his incredible preseason run, Moore could be cut and stashed on the practice squad. It's something to keep an eye on if the team needs an extra roster spot. 

    As for Prescott, he's been on fire in the preseason, completing 18 of 22 passes for 219 yards and two touchdowns. He somehow looks even more confident and calm than he did last season, and that should be terrifying news for defensive coordinators across the NFL. 

Running Backs

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    Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

    Running Backs - 3 (*Roster Exemption)

    * Ezekiel Elliott

    1. Darren McFadden

    2. Rod Smith

    3. Alfred Morris 

    Fullback - 1

    1. Keith Smith

    If not for Ezekiel Elliott's six-game suspension, this would've been one of the more interesting positions to watch on cut-down day. However, because Elliott will be exempt from counting towards the 53-man roster, Dallas won't have to make a tough decision here on Saturday. 

    Instead, the Cowboys will likely keep Darren McFadden, Rod Smith and Alfred Morris on their 53-man roster. It's certainly possible that they will look to add another veteran to the group after cuts, but veterans McFadden and Morris have shown enough in the preseason to warrant a spot on the roster.

    Without Elliott, this is an average group at best. While it's clear that McFadden and Morris are past their primes, they can still be useful on this offense. With Elliott, it's one of the best overall units in the entire NFL. 

Wide Receivers

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    Wide Receivers - 6

    1. Dez Bryant

    2. Terrance Williams

    3. Cole Beasley

    4. Brice Butler

    5. Ryan Switzer

    6. Noah Brown

    Much like running back, this position has less intrigue in terms of who is staying on the roster and who isn't. On Saturday night against the Oakland Raiders, rookie Noah Brown played with the starting offense. His role was similar to how the team used Vince Mayle and Dwayne Harris in the past, which was more as an inline blocker. His first-team usage on Saturday night likely hinted to a spot on the 53-man roster. 

    Outside of Brown, there shouldn't be any surprises with this group on the cut-down day. The biggest storyline is just how much depth the team has at the position.

    The Cowboys will likely keep six receivers, which they haven't done in years. But the team will also release talented players such as Andy Jones, Brian Brown, Lance Lenoir and Uzoma Nwachukwu. I fully expect one or two of those to be claimed on Sunday.

Tight Ends

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    Ron Jenkins/Associated Press

    Tight Ends - 4

    1. Jason Witten

    2. James Hanna

    3. Geoff Swaim

    4. Rico Gathers

    At one point in the preseason, it looked as if Rico Gathers was going to rapidly ascend on this depth chart. But after suffering a concussion in practice, Gathers will have missed the team's last three preseason games, including this week's contest against the Texans. Now, the biggest question isn't when he returns to the lineup, it's whether he will be returning at all this season. 

    Outside of Gathers, this unit should be much improved compared to last season. James Hanna missed all of the 2016 season with a knee injury, and Geoff Swaim was lost halfway through the season with a torn pectoral muscle. Together, the two provide the Cowboys with versatility and athleticism behind Jason Witten.

    If the Cowboys can keep all of these players healthy in 2017, their offense should continue to function at a high level, as they are able to use many different personnel packages to dictate favorable matchups. This should be one of the better tight end units in the NFL this season. 

Offensive Line

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    Offensive Line - 8

    1. Tyron Smith

    2. Jonathan Cooper 

    3. Travis Frederick

    4. Zack Martin

    5. La'el Collins

    6. Chaz Green

    7. Byron Bell

    8. Joe Looney

    With just one preseason game left, the Cowboys still have yet to solve their left guard position.

    In each of the team's first four preseason games, a different player has started at that position. But with Chaz Green out this week nursing a sprained ankle, it's fair to assume the team will likely roll into the season with veteran Jonathan Cooper on the left side. 

    If that were to happen, that would leave Green as the swing tackle, with veterans Byron Bell and Joe Looney behind him. Looney has experience playing center, while Bell could play both left and right tackle. If the Cowboys do decide to keep an extra player here, look for them to keep someone with a little bit more upside, such as Kadeem Edwards instead of someone like Emmett Cleary. 

    Overall, this is still one of the top offensive lines in the league, despite losing both Ronald Leary and Doug Free in the offseason. Moving La'el Collins out to right tackle from left guard is paying dividends already and should only improve as the season goes on.

    As long as the team has the three All-Pro players on the roster (Smith, Frederick, and Martin), this will continue to be one of the strongest positional units in the entire NFL.

Defensive Line

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    Defensive Line (*Roster Exemption) - 9

    1. DeMarcus Lawrence

    2. Tyrone Crawford

    3. Taco Charlton

    4. Benson Mayowa

    5. Charles Tapper 

    6. Maliek Collins

    7. Stephen Paea

    8. Cedric Thornton

    9. Lewis Neal

    * David Irving

    * Damontre Moore 

    Because of the suspensions to David Irving and Damontre Moore, the Cowboys will be forced to operate without two of their best pass-rushers. In the first few weeks of the season, that could mean we see some odd mixing-and-matching across the defensive line as defensive coordinator tries to find his best rushing combination. 

    There aren't many surprises as to who will and won't make the final roster, but the two rookie defensive tackles in Jordan Carrell and Joey Ivie don't make the cut as Lewis Neal has out-performed both throughout the preseason. 

    Overall, this unit has a chance to be solid once Irving and Moore return from injury. However, the success of not only the defensive line but the defense will likely rely on DeMarcus Lawrence and Maliek Collins, as those are their two primary pass-rushers. Each will need to have big seasons if the team wants to replicate it's 2016 success on defense.  

Linebackers

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    Linebackers - 6

    1. Sean Lee

    2. Damien Wilson

    3. Justin Durant

    4. Jaylon Smith 

    5. Kyle Wilber 

    6. Mark Nzeocha 

    * Anthony Hitchens - IR (Likely to return midseason) 

    All of a sudden, the linebacker unit doesn't look as deep as it once did. On Saturday night, starting middle linebacker Anthony Hitchens went down with a fracture in his knee that could keep him out eight-to-10 weeks. It's a big blow to the defense, as Hitchen had his best year of his career in 2016, according to Pro Football Focus. 

    Now, veteran Justin Durant will likely assume his role in the middle, and second-year linebacker Jaylon Smith will see snaps. Damien Wilson will likely start as the team's strong-side linebacker, but he could be suspended by the league for an incident that occurred this summer. Veterans Kyle Wilber and Mark Nzeocha round out the bottom of the roster and will contribute on special teams. 

    If there is one spot where the Cowboys might consider adding a player via free agency or by trade, linebacker seems to be it. The Hitchens injury has dramatically decreased their depth, and they could use another reliable body in case Smith or Durant can't fill that void. 

Cornerbacks

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    Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

    Cornerbacks - 6 

    1. Orlando Scandrick

    2. Nolan Carroll 

    3. Anthony Brown

    4. Chidobe Awuzie 

    5. Jourdan Lewis

    6. Marquez White 

    This position is tricky because of a few different reasons, with the first being the health at the end of the roster. Rookie Chidobe Awuzie finally returned to practice this week after missing the past three preseason games due to an injured hamstring.

    Fellow rookie Jourdan Lewis has missed nearly all of camp due to a hamstring injury, and 105.3 The Fan's Mike Fisher said Lewis is still "a ways away." It's unlikely that the team will place Lewis on injured reserve, but if they decided to go that route, they would need to keep him on the initial 53-man roster anyway. 

    The Cowboys will likely start Orlando Scandrick and Nolan Carroll on the outside, but Carroll has a scheduled hearing for October 12 as the result of a DWI that took place in May. Because of the overall uncertainty at the position, expect the Cowboys to keep six cornerbacks for the time being. They may trim this down once guys get healthier, but six seems like the right amount heading into the season.

Safeties

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    Safeties - 4

    1. Byron Jones

    2. Jeff Heath

    3. Kavon Frazier 

    4. Xavier Woods 

    There's a chance the Cowboys keep five safeties, but because I decided to go long at cornerback, this is one of the spots the team may have to cut back on.

    However, rookie Awuzie will likely play some safety, providing some additional depth at the position. Awuzie wouldn't be an every week starter at safety, but he can play enough that only being able to keep four shouldn't be a problem. 

    Byron Jones and Jeff Heath struggled against the Raiders on Saturday night, but those two are entrenched as the team's starters. Kavon Frazier will likely be the team's third safety and could see a lot of playing time as the team's best in-the-box defender. Rookie Xavier Woods continues to rehab from a sore hamstring but will enter the season as the fourth safety. 

    Overall, this is a young group (Heath is the oldest at the age of 26) that lacks experience. The unit could struggle early in the season, but expect them to be better by leaps and bounds by December.

Specialist

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    Ron Jenkins/Associated Press

    Specialists - 3

    PK - Dan Bailey

    P - Chris Jones

    LS - L.P. LaDouceur 

    Despite an impressive camp from Sam Irwin-Hill, the Cowboys have one of the most reliable and consistent specialist groups in the entire NFL. Dan Bailey looks healthy again, and Chris Jones and L.P. LaDouceur never get enough credit for how solid they have been throughout their NFL careers.

    It's odd to call the specialists a strength of your team, but it absolutely is for the Cowboys. It's comforting going into games not worrying about kicking. But with Bailey, Jones, and LaDouceur, it's never been a concern in Dallas and shouldn't be for some time. 

Practice Squad

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    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    Now that we have looked at every position and all the players who will likely be released, it is time to build the team's practice squad. Practice squad players are eligible to participate in practice, attend meetings and do everything that a typical player would do, the only thing they can't do is dress on game days. 

    There are typically three different ways teams build their practice squad roster. The first is by stashing high-upside guys who need more seasoning, just like the Cowboys did last year with tight end Gathers. The second is by filling the roster with reliable players who could be promoted at any point to play in the game. 

    The third way team's build their practice squad roster is by collecting a few players that will be able to fill many roles in practice. As the team gets ready for their weekly opponent, these 10 players will fill spots on the scout team. That's why a player like Jameill Showers is ideal for the practice squad as he can play many positions, including scout team quarterback. 

    Keeping in mind those three different ways to build a practice squad roster, here is a look at what the Cowboys' practice squad may look like on Sunday afternoon after all of these players have cleared waivers: 

    1. WR Andy Jones

    2. FS Jameill Showers

    3. OL Kadeem Edwards

    4. DT Jordan Carrell

    5. DT Joey Ivie

    6. DE Lenny Jones

    7. CB Duke Thomas

    8. LB Keenan Gilchrist

    9.  TE Blake Jarwin

    10. P/PK Sam Irwin-Hill

    Andy Jones has had a nice preseason, but there just isn't a spot on the roster for another wide receiver. Jordan Carrell and Joey Ivie were both draft picks in 2017, but the Cowboys don't have a spot for either. Look for either of these two to be one of the first ones the team brings up if an injury on the defensive line occurs. 

    Defensive back Duke Thomas has been one of the more surprising players in camp, but he's dealing with a high-ankle sprain that could keep him out a few weeks. Instead of holding him on the 53-man roster, Dallas could choose to release him and stash him here until he gets healthy. 

    Specialist Sam Irwin-Hill did it all for the Cowboys this preseason, but with Dan Bailey and Chris Jones on the roster, there just wasn't a spot available. Dallas could stash him here and use him on the scout team to save the legs of Bailey and Jones during practice. It's never a bad idea to have a kicker or punter on the practice squad to call up if an injury happens. 

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