Training camp has finally arrived and so begins the six week process of narrowing down the roster from 90 players to 53.
So before we all fall in love with that undrafted free agent that we’ll fight to unrealistically keep in our roster projections, here is my pre-euphoria prediction for the final roster.
First, before we get into who will be on the final 53, let’s project suspensions.
DE Randy Gregory – Forever, probably
DL David Irving – Four games
RB Ezekiel Elliott – Two games
LB Damien Wilson – Two games
CB Nolan Carroll – Two games
We already know Irving will miss the first four games, and Gregory has likely played his final snaps in the NFL, so we’re really only projecting Elliott, Wilson, and Carroll.
I think Elliott will get a two game suspension sometime in the next week relating to his domestic violence accusations. I expect him to accept the punishment.
Wilson is tricky. It’s very possible he’s not suspended by opening week since his legal case probably won’t be worked out by then. I feel like the NFL will throw something at him though, and it will likely be more lenient than the baseline punishment for his offense of six games.
The NFL has been pretty consistent lately about handing out two game suspensions for DUI, so I think Carroll is a safe bet.
The wild card here could be Jourdan Lewis. If his domestic violence case continues to be an issue, the NFL may feel pressure to impose some sort of punishment.
Alright, let’s dive into the roster now that we’ve projected who won’t be available.
1. Kellen Moore
2. Dak Prescott
The Cowboys could potentially carry Cooper Rush out of Central Michigan, but I think he’s more likely a practice squad candidate. Dallas has been pretty consistent with carrying two quarterbacks, and we know how highly Scott Linehan thinks of Moore.
3. Darren McFadden
4. Alfred Morris
5. Keith Smith
6. Jahad Thomas
I could see Dallas potentially grabbing another runner (they worked out Denard Robinson at the end of last week) but given what we know at this moment, I think these four are your backs with Elliott suspended.
McFadden will be the main guy while Dallas awaits Elliott’s return, but I think Morris will see his fair share of time; at least more than he did last season. I don’t know that the Cowboys are enamored with Thomas, but he’s a good pass-catcher and that’s what they look for in their third running back.
Cowboys both keep and cut Smith: Keith stays, Rod goes.
7. Cole Beasley
8. Dez Bryant
9. Brice Butler
10. Andy Jones
11. Ryan Switzer
12. Terrance Williams
People will complain about Noah Brown not being here, but he really needs a year on the practice squad. Jones has already invested that time and there are people inside the walls of The Star who think highly of him.
The rest are no-brainers: Bryant, Williams, and Beasley are locks. Switzer beats out Whitehead, and Butler is more talented and better prepared than those behind him.
13. Rico Gathers
14. James Hanna
15. Geoff Swaim
16. Jason Witten
Hanna is allegedly returning to health after an injury that left some wondering if he’d ever play again. Hanna is a superb blocker and will be a welcome boost to the run game.
Swaim and Witten obviously make the cut, and I think Dallas moves forward with promoting Gathers. This could be Witten’s final season, and I think it’s better to work out the kinks with Gathers now, rather than on-the-job next season.
17. Byron Bell
18. Emmett Cleary
19. La’el Collins
20. Jonathan Cooper
21. Travis Frederick
22. Chaz Green
23. Joe Looney
24. Zack Martin
25. Tyron Smith
I really wanted to include Nate Theaker, but I’m just not sure the Cowboys will do that. If you followed me during draft season, you know I thought highly of Theaker, and I was excited to find that the Cowboys had brought him in as an undrafted free agent.
But as of now I think these nine make the most season. We have Smith, Frederick, Martin, and Collins locked into starting positions. One of Green, Bell, or Cooper is likely your new left guard, with the other two serving as flexible reserve pieces. Looney is the only viable option as a backup to Frederick, and the Cowboys seem to be in the process of figuring out if Cleary has what it takes to be their swing tackle.
26. Taco Charlton
27. Maliek Collins
28. Tyrone Crawford
29. Benson Mayowa
30. Damontre Moore
31. Joey Ivie
32. DeMarcus Lawrence
33. Stephen Paea
34. Charles Tapper
35. Cedric Thornton
Might be a little heavy on defensive lineman here, but I think the Cowboys like all 10 of these players. They’ll have to let one of them go when Irving returns, and I don’t think it will be easy for them.
Lawrence, Crawford, Collins, and Charlton are slam dunks to make the team. It’s pretty inconceivable to think Paea, Mayowa, Tapper, and Thornton won’t be here (even if Thornton may be more about the financial sense of a release). The only questions would be Moore and Ivie, but reports from OTAs have been positive on Moore, and Rod Marinelli looked positively giddy when they selected Ivie in April’s draft.
36. Justin Durant
37. Kennan Gilchrist
38. Anthony Hitchens
39. Sean Lee
40. Mark Nzeocha
41. Kyle Wilber
Yes, I know there’s no Jaylon Smith. We’ll get there.
Without Smith and Wilson the Cowboys linebackers are quite thin. That’s not the worst thing in the world given Dallas’ propensity to play nickel, but you’re scraping the bottom of the barrel to fill out your corps of linebackers.
The only name up here that may surprise is Gilchrist, who is an impressive UDFA from Appalachian State. Jonah Tuls wrote about Gilchrist for Cowboys Blitz recently.
If it weren’t for the need for warm bodies, I’d potentially project Wilber and Hitchens off the roster.
42. Chidobe Awuzie
43. Anthony Brown
44. Kavon Frazier
45. Jeff Heath
46. Byron Jones
47. Jourdan Lewis
48. Orlando Scandrick
49. Marquez White
50. Xavier Woods
With Carroll suspended, the only tough decision for me was leaving Robert Blanton off the roster. They may go thinner at defensive line, or release White in order to find a spot for the flexible Blanton, who can play corner or safety.
I think Awuzie, Brown, and Scandrick are likely your starters in the nickel with Carroll out, but as long as the justice system doesn’t prevent him from doing so, Lewis could push Scandrick out in a hurry. He’s very, very talented.
51. Dan Bailey
52. Chris Jones
53. L.P. LaDouceur
54. Jaylon Smith
I know you’re mad, but I think this is the most realistic scenario at this point. The Cowboys are confident Smith will be 100% healed by spring, but I think that narrative is being pushed to the public because they’re starting to doubt his readiness for 2017.
You just have to wait one more year, Cowboys fans. I promised he’ll be worth it if he’s healthy.