The roughly five weeks of down time between OTAs/minicamp and training camp is the last hurdle fans have to get over before the Cowboys are back in full swing. While it is hard to make a sure fire prediction of the 53 man roster before the team even puts pads on, the veterans and rookies have spent enough time on the field this offseason to make an educated guess as to what the opening day roster may look like. I will update this prediction about half way through training camp, but until then here it goes.
Quarterback (2) – Dak Prescott, Kellen Moore
Not much needs to be said about Dak Prescott. He was outstanding last season, and is expected to be the franchise quarterback for years to come. Outside of the Dallas coaching staff, I am not sure many people are brimming with confidence should Kellen Moore have to see any extended action. In fact, the Cowboys themselves may not be all then enamored with Moore as they continue to workout other quarterbacks. Patrik Walker over at CBS Cowboys 24/7 highlights their latest workout right here.
Running Back (4) – Ezekiel Elliott, Darren McFadden, Jahad Thomas, Keith Smith
After ranking as the top running back on the NFL Network’s Top 100 players, Ezekiel Elliott is firmly entrenched as the team’s work horse. A fully healthy Darren McFadden could be the perfect backup, making Alfred Morris expendable. I went with undrafted rookie Jahad Thomas out of Temple to fill the Lance Dunbar role. Keith Smith makes the squad again as a fullback and special teams contributor.
Wide Receiver (6) – Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Ryan Switzer, Brice Butler, Noah Brown
I went a little heavy here, but feel it was justified. Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams are locked in as the outside receivers while Cole Beasley will man the slot, provided his hamstrings stay healthy. Ryan Switzer will be a
swiss switz army knife for the Cowboys. Not only will he man the opposite slot in four wide sets, but also provide insurance for Beasley’s hamstring tendonitis, as well as contributing as a return man.
With Beasley and Switzer being somewhat limited as to where they can lineup at wideout, Brice Butler and rookie Noah Brown will make the team as backups on the outside. Lucky Whitehead is a noticeable omission from the team as I believe his inconsistency and at times immaturity have worn thin with Coach Jason Garrett.
Tight End (4) – Jason Witten, Geoff Swaim, James Hanna, Rico Gathers
This season will be the first time Jason Witten isn’t hitting the field with his good friend Tony Romo. Many wonder what Witten still has left in the tank. And while he may have lost a step or two on the field, his value to this team is immeasurable. His leadership on what has become a pretty young team is more important in 2017 than maybe at any other time in his career.
Geoff Swaim and James Hanna both look set to return from injuries that cost them 2016, with the latter’s run blocking skills a big bonus. Rico Gathers has been progressing nicely since strapping a helmet on for the first time since eighth grade last season. While he is still very raw as an overall player, his natural size, strength and catch radius should prove to be a valuable red zone weapon.
Offensive Line (9) – Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, Travis Fredrick, La’el Collins, Jon Cooper, Chaz Green, Joe Looney, Byron Bell, Emmett Cleary
Tyron Smith, Zack Martin and Travis Fredrick are perennial All-Pros and arguably the best in the entire league at their respective positions. Ron Leary’s departure and Doug Free’s retirement have left holes at the left guard and right tackle positions however. La’el Collins appears set to win the right tackle job, returning to a position he played at LSU. For the time being I am going to give the nod at left guard to Jon Cooper, the former first round pick out of UNC.
Joe Looney will back up Fredrick at center and Byron Bell will be the swing tackle. After receiving work at tackle last season and now guard during the early part of this season, Chaz Green could be a back up at multiple spots.
Defensive Line (10) – Taco Charlton, Damontre Moore, Benson Mayowa, Tyrone Crawford, Demarcus Lawrence, Charles Tapper, Maliek Collins, Cedric Thornton, Stephen Paea, David Irving* (Joey Ivie)
Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli loves to throw waves of ‘rushmen’ at opposing quarterbacks. Keeping 10 players along the defensive line will allow him to do just that. David Irving recently had his four game suspension upheld, thus I have Joey Ivie taking his spot for the first month of the season.
Benson Mayowa, Tyrone Crawford, Demarcus Lawrence, Maliek Collins and Cedric Thornton join Irving as returning contributors from last season. While Charles Tapper, Damontre Moore and Stephen Paea look set to add a much needed boost. Moore recently attended Von Millers Pass Rush Summit, where he was sure to pick up some valuable tips.
What’s Trending: HOF coach, John Madden, discusses physicality of football in 2017
cover32 Rotisserie: On this week’s Periscope, Patrick Hatten breaks down the NFC North
cover32 Debates: Debating who is a better QB, Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers
NFL Reaction: Who is the most underrated player in the NFL
Linebacker (5) – Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith, Anthony Hitchens, Damien Wilson, Kyle Wilber
Admittedly keeping just five linebackers is probably too light. However there was no one on the roster after these five that I felt that great about. I half expect the team to bring in Daryl Washington once training camp gets going. His addition would be at the expense of someone like Noah Brown or Kavon Frazier.
As for the guys that are actually on the team, Sean Lee put forth a healthy 2016 and the results were All-Pro worthy. The big question mark here is Jaylon Smith. If he can come anywhere close to the player he was at Notre Dame, the entire Cowboys defense changes. Anthony Hitchens is very good at what he does, and often times I feel doesn’t get the credit he deserves. Damien Wilson has had a productive OTAs by all accounts and Kyle Wilber sticks around based off his experience and special teams ability.
Cornerback (5) – Orlando Scandrick, Nolan Carroll, Anthony Brown, Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis
Lots of new faces in this group as Orlando Scandrick and Anthony Brown are the only holdovers from last season. Brown looks to be a draft steal after the Cowboys selected him in the sixth round, but he must build on the success he had as a rookie. Scandrick struggled to get 100% healthy all season and should have a bounce back year in 2017, now two years removed from ACL surgery. Nolan Carroll comes over from the Eagles and is off to a rocky start in Dallas. His recent DUI arrest could land him a two game suspension from the league. Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis were the team’s second and third round draft picks and will be looked upon to contribute early.
Safety (5) – Byron Jones, Jeff Heath, Xavier Woods, Robert Blanton, Kavon Frazier
Another position group with a lot to prove this offseason. Byron Jones is now the leader of the back end in just his third season. It still remains to be seen who will be starting alongside of him, but Jeff Heath appears to be the front runner heading into training camp. Robert Blanton provides a veteran presence as he was a former starter for the Bills and Vikings. I expect Xavier Woods to ultimately be the Cowboys safety of the future, however the rookie may not be ready right out of the gate.
LS – L.P. LaDouceur
K – Dan Bailey
P – Chris Jones
Pretty straight forward here.