Cowboys roster breakdown: Ranking every position group from strongest to weakest


Super Moderator
Staff member
Apr 7, 2013
By Jon Machota

The Cowboys trimmed their roster down from 80 to 53 over the weekend. They then shifted a few veterans to the injured list, clearing room to bring back some of the released players.

Somewhat surprisingly, cornerback and key special teams contributor C.J. Goodwin and linebackers Francis Bernad and Justin March were part of the initial roster cuts. Goodwin and March were signed back to the 53-man roster after right tackle La’el Collins, linebacker Sean Lee and wide receiver Ventell Bryant were each placed on IR. All three are eligible to return in three weeks. Bernard, meanwhile, was signed to Dallas’ practice squad.

The most notable practice squad addition is veteran defensive back Brandon Carr, who started every game for the Cowboys from 2012 to 2016. He played the last three seasons with the Baltimore Ravens. Carr, who has started every game over his 12-year career, is a candidate to get moved to the 53-man roster. He has the ability to help at corner or safety.

Defensive end Joe Jackson, a fifth-round pick last year, was the only Cowboys cut to be claimed by another team. He was picked up by the Cleveland Browns.

Now that the roster is set and the Cowboys are officially preparing for Week 1, let’s take a look at how the group breaks down by ranking each position group from strongest to weakest.

1.) WIDE RECEIVER. Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and CeeDee Lamb make up arguably the most dangerous wide receiver trio in the league. All three have the ability to play inside or outside. Look for Cooper and Gallup to get the majority of their work on the outside while Lamb sees most of his snaps from in the slot. This group has a legitimate chance at being only the sixth trio in NFL history to each go over 1,000 receiving yards. Next up on the depth chart is Cedrick Wilson. The 2018 sixth-round pick out of Boise State had an excellent training camp. Wilson and Dak Prescott appear to have built very good rapport. Wilson should be able to handle a bigger workload this season if needed. He has only five career catches for 46 yards. Noah Brown was the fifth-best receiver during camp. As Mike McCarthy recently pointed out, it seemed like Brown made at least one noticeable play in every camp practice.

2.) QUARTERBACK. Dak Prescott has made steady improvements each year he’s been in the league. Entering his fifth season, the expectations are that he’s in position to have a career year. Prescott had a good camp and appears to be fully healed from the shoulder injury that limited him at the end of last season. He will be playing this year under the franchise tag after the two sides failed to work out a long-term contract extension this offseason. The Cowboys are adamant that he remains their franchise QB now and well into the future.

“I think he just keeps getting better,” Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said Friday on SiriusXM NFL Radio. “I mean, this guy is driven to be great. He’s the hardest worker on the team. I think he’s got rare, rare leadership ability.

“There is no question it’s his team. I just think he’s got a chance to certainly be a great one. We’re just fortunate to have him. Why not do it right now? He’s ready to take the next step, in my opinion, which is quarterback a championship football team.”

Behind Prescott is Andy Dalton, giving Dallas one of the league’s best starter-backup quarterback combinations. Dalton started 133 games for the Cincinnati Bengals from 2011 to 2019. Prescott has never missed a start during the previous four years, but if he was out of the lineup for any period of time, Dallas has a very capable backup to guide what should be one of the NFL’s top offenses.

3.) DEFENSIVE LINE. This one is a little bit of a projection. On paper, many would probably have the offensive line here. Maybe even the running backs. But from what we saw during training camp, it appears that Dallas is in excellent shape on the edges. DeMarcus Lawrence, Aldon Smith and Everson Griffen should be an excellent pass-rushing trio. And now it’s official that Randy Gregory can return after sitting out the first six weeks of the season. All four of those players are capable of getting to the quarterback as 3-4 or 4-3 rushers, something that should be critical as new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan is making the unit much more multiple than in previous years. The tackle position will be filled by Dontari Poe, Trysten Hill, Antwaun Woods and Neville Gallimore. Tyrone Crawford should be a factor at several positions across the line. If the Cowboys can get solid production from Hill in his second season, this group should get over 40 sacks for the first time since 2011.

4.) OFFENSIVE LINE. La’el Collins is dealing with a hip injury that will sideline him for at least the first three games. He didn’t do very much during training camp because of the injury. If this issue lingers, the offensive line could be in some trouble. Veteran Cameron Erving was signed to be the team’s swing tackle. He is expected to step into the starting right tackle spot until Collins returns. Collins and left tackle Tyron Smith are critical to the offense’s success. Smith has missed three games each of the last four seasons because of injury. On the interior, right guard Zack Martin continues to be one of the NFL’s top offensive linemen. Joe Looney will be the starting center with Connor Williams starting at left guard. Those two need to be at least solid for this group to hold up their reputation as one of the league’s top O-lines. Behind them will be Connor McGovern and rookie center Tyler Biadasz. The next tackle in the mix should be Brandon Knight.

5.) RUNNING BACK. The combination of Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard could certainly put this position group as high as No. 3 on this list. At his best, Elliott is the NFL’s top running back. Pollard’s role is expected to increase in his second season. Both have good all-around games that play well off each other. Look for both to be heavily involved in the passing game. Elliott has averaged just under 21 carries per game during his previous four seasons. That number might come down a bit in a more pass-heavy offense, but Elliott will still be called on enough to be among the league’s rushing leaders. Look for second-year offensive coordinator Kellen Moore to find more ways to get Elliott and Pollard on the field at the same time. The No. 3 back is currently undrafted rookie free agent Rico Dowdle. His impact will be made mostly on special teams.

6.) LINEBACKER. If not for injury concerns, this unit could be higher on the list. When Leighton Vander Esch, Jayon Smith and Sean Lee are all healthy, this is one of the NFL’s best linebacker trios. The problem is that hasn’t happened very often. Lee is beginning the season on injured reserve. Vander Esch is coming off a neck injury that caused him to miss seven games last season. The Cowboys will be in nickel and dime packages most of the time, so the success of the unit relies heavily on Smith and Vander Esch. If both stay healthy, Dallas should see the combo that was among the league’s best in 2018. Behind them are Joe Thomas, Justin March and Luke Gifford, who didn’t participate in practice last week because of injury. Keep an eye on Francis Bernard if he’s called upon. The Cowboys weren’t tackling to the ground in training camp, but Bernard seemed to have a knack for being in the right place at the right time.

7.) CORNERBACK. This unit probably would’ve been a spot or two lower entering training camp, however, the emergence of rookie Trevon Diggs and solid play from veteran Daryl Worley have elevated the group. Chidobe Awuzie, Anthony Brown and Jourdan Lewis are the expected Week 1 starters, if all are healthy. Awuzie (knee) and Lewis (ankle) have been dealing with injuries. But both avoided IR to start the year, so the issues don’t appear to be serious. Lewis had been wearing a walking boot, but he was seen at practice last Thursday without it. The biggest knock on the Dallas defensive backs for years has been their lack of takeaways. The hope is that a less predictable scheme will lead to more interceptions. If it doesn’t, look for this position to again be addressed very early in next year’s draft.

8.) TIGHT END. Jason Witten is now in Las Vegas and Blake Jarwin steps into the No. 1 role. He is an excellent pass-catcher who is expected to be on the field often, lining up on the line of scrimmage and outside as another receiver. The biggest question mark here is his blocking. Is it good enough to get the job done for an entire season? We’re about to find out. Where we’ve seen him at his best in camp practices is catching passes down the seam and in the red zone.

“He’s grown into a No. 1 tight end,” Dak Prescott said of Jarwin on SiriusXM NFL Radio on Friday. “Blake can be an amazing player in this league. He’s going to help this offense in so many ways. He’s just as explosive as those other three receivers (Cooper, Gallup, Lamb). When you put him out there and you add that to the passing game, it’s exciting.”

Dalton Schultz and Blake Bell are the next two tight ends on the depth chart. Both will be counted on for their blocking, likely even seeing some reps at fullback. Undrafted rookie free agent Sean McKeon was one of the more surprising players to make the 53-man roster. He figures to help on special teams and as a blocker.

9.) SPECIAL TEAMS. The addition of special teams coordinator John Fassel would make you believe the coverage units will be much improved. It was just so poor last season that we’re taking a little bit of a wait-and-see approach. There are reasons to be optimistic. The return game should be in good hands with CeeDee Lamb projected to handle punt returns and Tony Pollard expected to handle kickoffs. New kicker Greg Zuerlein was excellent in camp, making 30 of 31 field-goal attempts with his only miss coming from 60 yards. He then made a 60-yarder on his next kick. Distance shouldn’t be an issue for him. Punter Chris Jones dealt with an injury last season, and the Cowboys believe that was the reason for him having a down year. No other punter was brought in to compete for the job.

10.) SAFETY. No surprises here. The least amount of resources have been spent on this position for more than a decade. Xavier Woods and Darian Thompson are the expected Week 1 starters. Donovan Wilson was the only other true safety to make the 53-man roster. Cornerback Chidobe Awuzie is another option. He played some safety in college and Mike McCarthy said Friday on SiriusXM NFL radio that Awuzie was getting some work with the safeties in practice. The addition of Brandon Carr could also be used here. He played some safety last season in Baltimore. Whatever way you look at it, it’s easily the weakest position on the roster. Earl Thomas’ name continues to be mentioned from the outside, but inside the organization, there continues to be no serious interest.


One-armed Knife Sharpener
Staff member
Apr 7, 2013
I can't argue much with that ranking. But, can you believe after last year that DL could even remotely be viewed in the top 3 position groups?


Well-known member
Mar 10, 2020
its a nice try, but until they hit the field who knows. Im liking our off season. I think MM has done almost everything hes needed to do and than some, really not 1 complaint against him and his staff so far. Being realistic. This is where the coaches show their worth, adjust, streamline the team and make your game plan on the fly because nothing in sports is predictable for long.

All the talking is done, all the accolades have been handed out, nothing left but the field to decide what is what.
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