The Dallas Cowboys have finished the early portion of the offseason training program, with minicamps and OTA’s – mandatory and not – behind them and are now waiting until training camp commences in Oxnard, California on July 29. Rolando McClain drama aside, it’s the quiet point of the offseason. Right now, we don’t have much to go off of regarding who will make the team and who won’t, but a lack of information has never stopped journalists from saying stuff before (see: Chris Broussard) so without further ado, here’s my way-too-early 53 man roster prediction for the 2016 Dallas Cowboys.
There’s no question that Tony Romo is the starter if he’s healthy. Barring any disasters, Romo will be entering his tenth year as the starting quarterback for the Cowboys, which is amazing after all the instability at the position that had been going on since Troy Aikman retired. But behind Romo, there is a battle for the backup spot. Rookie Dak Prescott is certainly seen as the future at quarterback once Romo is done, but he has the difficult task of adapting to an entirely new system in the NFL, so Kellen Moore’s experience will probably secure him the number two spot on the depth chart.
Running Backs (4)
]Credit: Dallas NewsEzekiel Elliott
According to Dallas Cowboys insiders, Lance Dunbar, who was in the top five of receiving yards before getting injured last season, will start the season on the PUP (physically unable to perform) list while he continues to rehab his ACL, MCL, and patellar tendon. Ezekiel Elliott is the clear starter, of course, and I can see Alfred Morris being used as a ground and pound back similar to Marion Barber in 2007. Darren McFadden will likely be used sparingly to change the pace, and 6th round rookie Darius Jackson will round out the position, taking advantage of Dunbar’s injury.
After trying to use a linebacker in this position or just simply not carrying a fullback at all, the Cowboys are going back to the tradition of keeping a true fullback, even if he gets used for maybe three plays each game. Rod Smith’s only competition is Keith Smith, who is used primarily as a linebacker. But Rod Smith also has an edge: he’s related to Jaylon Smith, the Cowboys’ newest and most promising linebacker. He won’t get the chance to do much, but he’s a capable fullback in the few times one is needed.
Wide Receivers (5)
No surprises here, really. Dez Bryant is the top receiver, unquestionably so. Cole Beasley is one of the best slot receivers in the NFL right now. Lucky Whitehead showed last year that he’s got the speed and agility to contribute in the return game while providing depth at receiver. And while Terrance Williams has shown better hands so far this offseason, Brice Butler is reportedly building some serious chemistry with Romo, which means the number two receiver spot is up for grabs.
Tight Ends (4)
Jason Witten will never not be the starter in Dallas, and the Cowboys really like the combination of vertical pass catching and run blocking that the Gavin Escobar-James Hanna duo provides. Geoff Swaim is more of an effort guy than any real talent, but that kind of attitude makes for a good depth player.
Offensive Line (8)
The starters are already determined here. Tyron Smith might just be the best left tackle now, and the same can be said of Zack Martin for guards (though Marshal Yanda of the Ravens probably still has an edge). Travis Frederick is definitely one of the top centers and La’el Collins should be nicknamed Bisquick because of all the pancake blocks he doles out. Doug Free is the resident old guy on this line, but he still offers well above average production at right tackle. Ronald Leary may just be the best backup lineman in the NFL, and will certainly be paid good money to start elsewhere in 2017, while veteran Joe Looney can provide depth at both guard and center. Chaz Green will be the swing tackle, backing up both Smith and Free, though his upside suggests he could replace Free in the near future.
Defensive Ends (5)
This group will change drastically entering Week 5, as Demarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory, both of whom would likely start, both return from their suspensions. But for now, rookie Charles Tapper and free agent addition Benson Mayowa will likely start, though their lack of experience will mean they’ll rotate out a lot with Ryan Russell, David Irving, and Jack Crawford, the latter two also being able to slide over to defensive tackle. Depending on the performance of this crop of players, we may even see starting DT Tyrone Crawford play some DE as well.
Defensive Tackle (4)
Tyrone Crawford will start at the 3-technique tackle position and Cedric Thornton, a Philadelphia Eagles defector, will start at the 1-technique tackle spot. Terrell McClain can play both spots, and rookie Maliek Collins offers high amounts of athleticism, though his recent injury will make him miss most of training camp, which could cost him time in the rotation. As mentioned before, Jack Crawford and David Irving’s ability to play on the interior of the defensive line allows Dallas to go thin here.
I believe the Cowboys will cut Rolando McClain very soon, as reports indicate everyone besides Jerry Jones wants to do so. If that happens, I can see Dallas either signing or trading for a veteran linebacker, who would likely take Keith Smith’s roster spot. However, Sean Lee showed he was able to display his high productivity while also staying healthy after moving to weak side outside linebacker last season. Anthony Hitchens, who started at strong side outside linebacker opposite Lee last season, can play all three positions and will likely replace McClain at middle linebacker, with Andrew Gachkar taking Hitchens’ spot on the strong side. Two second-year players, Damien Wilson and Mark Nzeocha, provide solid depth while also contributing on special teams. With regards to Jaylon Smith, he’ll likely spend all of 2016 on the injured reserve list, though an accelerated return to health could see him make an appearance if put on the designated to return injured reserve.
Orlando Scandrick is returning from an injury that kept him out all last season and will look to resume his title as the best cornerback nobody is talking about. Brandon Carr may be vastly underperforming by the standards of his massive contract, but he offers solid contributions enough to keep him around. Morris Claiborne may just put it all together this season, though. Health has always been his worst enemy, but he is completely healthy now and has looked dominant in OTA’s thus far. Behind the main three, Deji Olatoye impressed his coaches during the latter portion of the season last year, and 6th round pick Anthony Brown promises some positive development as he adjusts to the NFL.
Barry Church and Byron Jones are the starters and that won’t change without an injury or suspension. Jeff Heath is the Cowboys’ special teams ace. JJ Wilcox has been the starter off and on for the last two seasons but lacks the coverage skills, making him a decent backup who can contribute in special teams. Kavon Frazier, a 6th round rookie, is a lot like Wilcox and will likely only work on special teams this year.
Special Teams (3)
If this changes, I’ll quit all three of my jobs. Fun Fact: statistically, Dan Bailey is the most accurate kicker in NFL history.
As expected, a majority of the roster will remain the same, but there are a few new faces and some surprises here and there. All of the draft picks apart from basketball convert Rico Gathers make the roster. As the time for roster cuts gets closer and closer, I’ll go back and update this with input based on more than just a few OTA practices. But for now, here it is. Do you agree? Disagree? Sound off in the comments!
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