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• Four tight ends: The versatility and complimentary skill sets the Cowboys have at tight end could enable them to keep fewer players at another position, such as running back.
• Tough decision on the defensive line: Arguably the toughest spot to cut down on the Cowboys roster is the defensive line, as Dallas arguably has up to 12 players with legitimate cases to make the 53-man roster, which speaks to the team’s overall depth up front on defense.
• Heavy on defensive backs: While 11 defensive backs on the 53-man roster may seem like overkill, the Cowboys have more than enough talent to justify keeping that many.
Estimated Reading Time: 12 minutes
The Dallas Cowboys enter the 2023 NFL season with Super Bowl aspirations, and one of the first steps of that journey will be establishing their 53-man roster. Every team’s “final” roster is fluid and will undergo many changes throughout the season due to injuries, opponent, level of play and many other factors; however, it largely sets the tone for the season to come.
While we the Cowboys have yet to take the field for a preseason game in 2023, they have had several training camp practices in Oxnard, California, which we will use to help build the way-too-early version of the Cowboys’ opening day 53-man roster.
Editor’s note: Heartfelt thank you to all the fans and media in attendance who have been reporting on the events transpiring at Cowboys training camp each day, as it helps provide the foundation from which this 53-man roster projection was built.
Quarterback is pretty straightforward for the Cowboys, as the only real decision they have is whether they want to keep No. 3 QB Will Grier on the 53-man roster or risk him getting poached by another team as they try to sneak him onto the practice squad. This decision will likely come down to how well Grier plays in his preseason appearances, but for now, I expect him to start the season on Dallas’ practice squad.
Running back (3)
The battle for the backup running back positions is one of the best competitions on the Cowboys’ roster. Unfortunately, training camp practice isn’t the best environment to evaluate running backs due to the lack of live tackling; therefore, each player’s preseason performance will be extremely important.
To me, Vaughn and Dowdle are not only the two best pure running backs on the roster behind Pollard, but each can contribute on special teams, if needed, as well. Vaughn is a small scat back who brings impressive receiving ability out of the backfield, while Dowdle is a more traditional back who possesses impressive vision and balance as a ball carrier. Dowdle’s scary injury history is his biggest detriment at this point, which is why Malik Davis and Ronald Jones shouldn’t be counted out of the competition, either. Davis, in particular, brings a violent running style that has earned him fans across Cowboys Nation.
Moreover, don’t forget about rookie UDFA Hunter Luepke, whose versatile skill set could earn him a spot on the roster when all is said and done.
Wide receiver (6)
The top three spots on Dallas’ receiver depth chart are essentially carved into stone and will only change due to injury; however, the spots behind Lamb, Cooks and Gallup are up for grabs.
Reports from camp indicate that Tolbert looks much improved in his sophomore training camp, as he has been much more consistent and assignment-sound from practice to practice than a year ago. Tolbert’s skill set gives Dallas a more traditional outside receiver to fill in if any of the top three receivers go down due to an injury.
Turpin, by most accounts, has been one of the camp’s top performers, as Dallas’ secondary has had an extremely difficult time covering the diminutive receiver during one-on-ones and team drills. Turpin’s return ability already gave him a leg up on the rest of the reserve receivers, but his improved receiving skill could earn him a meaningful role in the Cowboys’ offense during the regular season. The only problem with Turpin is that his unique skill set leaves Dallas a tad thin depth-wise at outside receiver.
Brooks has been another camp standout, as the rookie has seemingly set himself apart from other receivers fighting for a roster spot like Dennis Houston, Simi Fehoko and Dontario Drummond. Brooks’ ability to contribute on special teams was already playing in his favor, so showing legitimate receiver skills should only make his bid for a roster spot even stronger.
It should be noted that Dallas has been plagued by young receivers who show well early in camp before petering out and struggling toward the end (*cries in Jon’Vea Johnson*). So even though Turpin and Brooks have made the most of their opportunities so far, don’t be surprised if someone like Fehoko comes on strong toward the end to beat one of them out for a roster spot.
Tight end (4)
With Schoonmaker dealing with a foot injury that kept him out of most offseason activities (though he made his camp debut Monday), Ferguson should be able to grab ahold of the starting tight end gig. McKeon has aligned all over Dallas’ offense through camp, seeing time inline, flexed out and in the backfield to be a sort of TE/FB combination.
McKeon’s ability to be a lead blocker is especially important for his versatility to have value, given the other talents on Dallas’ depth chart, and he appears to be passing all of those tests. Hendershot proved to be an intriguing, young talent when called upon last year. Though he did have his fair share of mental mistakes, Hendershot’s receiving ability and tenacity as a blocker provided him a strong foundation that the Cowboys can build on for the coming years.
Having said that, don’t forget about rookie UDFA John Stephens Jr., who has turned heads at almost every turn throughout the preseason process. While McKeon’s versatile skill set likely protects his roster spot in this case (as McKeon is likely more directly competing with Luepke for a roster spot), Hendershot could be a surprise cut if Stephens continues to show out.
Offensive line (9)
There was much consternation throughout the offseason about Dallas’ starting offensive line, as rumors swirled that Tyler Smith would replace Tyron Smith at left tackle, but that would beget a cascading series of other roster moves that made little sense. Nonetheless, once camp opened, the Cowboys went in the correct direction to leave Tyron Smith at left tackle and slide Tyler Smith back to left guard.
Martin is still holding out of camp, but he should be back before Week 1 to regain the starting right guard gig. Biadasz enters Year 4 and continues to have a stranglehold over the starting center role. Reports out of Oxnard indicate Biadasz may be a little bit stronger and “nastier” with his play temperament — both of which would be welcome and could lead to improved play from Dallas’ interior offensive line. Steele has looked phenomenal, by all accounts, in his return from an ACL tear that ended his 2022 season early, showing outstanding movement skills and an ability to mirror pass rushers up the edge.
The spots behind the starting five are a little bit more difficult, and how the preseason games play out will likely go a long way toward determining who actually makes the team.
Farniok is a tireless worker who has the ability to play guard and center, which is the kind of versatility that’s necessary for a reserve lineman in today’s NFL. He has been receiving a ton of Martin’s vacated snaps with the first team at right guard. Given Chuma Edoga‘s reported struggles thus far in camp, Waletzko is probably the best “backup” offensive tackle on the roster (Tyler Smith would likely slide out to tackle before Waletzko in a regular-season situation). Richards was a mid-round draft who has shown impressive movement skills to reach and cut off interior defenders on zone runs; however, strength issues call into question whether he’d be ready for action if needed in a regular-season game.
The biggest surprise on this list is probably that Hoffman made it over Edoga and Josh Ball. He’s seemingly performed exceedingly well during camp, as he recently received reps with the first-team offensive line at right guard in addition to the second-team at center. Rookie UDFA T.J. Bass also has an outside shot of making the roster if he picks up his play during the preseason.
Defensive line (10)
Arguably the toughest spot to cut down on the Cowboys’ roster is the defensive line, as Dallas arguably has up to 12 players with legitimate arguments to make the 53-man roster, which speaks to the team’s overall depth up front on defense.
Parsons, Lawrence, Odighizuwa, Smith, Hankins, Williams, Armstrong and Fowler’s roster spots are essentially secure, barring injury, but the competition for the last two (or even potentially three) spots on the defensive line depth chart is fierce and could ultimately go a variety of ways. The primary candidates for those last two spots are Golston, Fehoko, Neville Gallimore and Quinton Bohanna.
Golston has seemingly performed well at Cowboys camp, splitting his time between three-technique defensive tackle and defensive end throughout the process. Golston really started to come on strong toward the end of the 2022 season for the Cowboys’ defense, posting two 90.0-plus overall grades on limited snap counts over Dallas’ last four games. Golston’s steady improvement since being drafted is one of the most underrated storylines across this unit.
There haven’t been as many reports of Fehoko making positive contributions, but his status as a fourth-round pick gives him a leg up over the others in the competition for one of the last spots on Dallas’ roster. If Fehoko can carve out a meaningful role on special teams, it’ll solidify his case for a roster spot.
Many will be surprised to see that Gallimore isn’t listed on this roster projection, but it just comes down to a lack of development after multiple seasons of uninspiring play. Gallimore has flashed high-level ability since entering the NFL but has failed to put together any form of consistently positive play, which is why he could be a surprise cut before the regular season.
Coming into camp, I essentially wrote off Bohanna to make the 53-man roster, as he’s been a below-average nose tackle since being drafted. However, it looks like the increased competition at nose tackle from Smith and Hankins has lit a fire under the Kentucky product, as he made notable plays at seemingly every practice since the pads came on. If the Cowboys keep 11 defensive linemen, Bohanna could be the last one to make the team.
To me, the biggest question here lies in how many linebackers the Cowboys opt to keep on their 53-man roster, as the competition at this position seems to have already worked itself out in most ways. Given that Dallas spends most of its time with five or more defensive backs on the field, meaning there are two or fewer off-ball linebackers in play, it would make sense if the Cowboys opted to keep only four.
Nevertheless, Dallas’ history tells us that they will keep at least five of the initial 53-man roster. Vander Esch, Clark, Cox and Overshown’s spots are essentially secured for a variety of reasons, but Harper is able to sneak in over Malik Jefferson due to better special teams ability.
If the defensive line is the hardest spot to cut down, then the secondary is a close second, as the Cowboys are laced with depth at safety and cornerback.
At cornerback, Diggs, Gilmore and Bland have secured roster spots, while Lewis would be secure if not for an injury that has kept him out of camp. This has opened the possibility that if Dallas is satisfied with Bland’s play in the slot, the team could opt to cut Lewis to save money and open a roster spot for someone like Kelvin Joseph, though I don’t think that’s likely as of now. Wright has seemingly performed well thus far in camp, showing promising coverage ability against the likes of Cooks and Gallup on occasion.
Moreover, Scott has played to a level where the Cowboys should heavily consider keeping him over Joseph for the last CB spot on the roster. If he shows real special teams ability during the preseason, then Joseph’s roster spot will be in serious jeopardy.
At safety, Kearse, Wilson and Hooker make up Dallas’ impressive trio at the position. Each brings a unique skill set that defensive coordinator Dan Quinn leverages in the best way possible to optimize the Cowboys’ defense. Behind them, Mukuamu just returned to practice after dealing with an injury, and his development will be key for the future of the Cowboys’ defense, as he looks like the perfect replacement for Kearse, who will enter free agency next season. Bell thrives on special teams, a must for a reserve defensive back, and he has made the most of his increased practice reps with Wilson and Mukuamu missing most of camp thus far.
The Cowboys’ seemingly laissez-faire approach to the kicking situation has been maddening, and unfortunately for fans, there doesn’t appear to be an end in sight. Dallas just released Tristan Vizcaino, who struggled mightily throughout camp, leaving Brandon Aubrey, who has also struggled but just slightly less than Viscaino, as the team’s only kicker. Given Aubrey’s woes and lack of NFL experience, I refuse to believe he will be the team’s regular-season kicker. I believe the team will sign or trade for someone once teams have to cut down to their 53-man rosters.
Anger is a good, experienced punter who the Cowboys should be happy to have, and it seems like they are since they didn’t bring in any competition. Sieg is coming over from the Las Vegas Raiders and should bring some consistency to a long-snapping situation that was a bit hit-or-miss last season.
I have predicted that someone was going to take Goodwin’s roster spot for the last three years, and I’m going back to the well again despite prior failures. I believe someone such as Eric Scott Jr. will finally make him expendable.