Cowboys roster projection 3.0: Tough decisions at WR, defensive line

By David Helman
FOX Sports Dallas Cowboys Writer

FRISCO, Texas – One last time before we call it a summer, let’s try to figure out this Cowboys 53-man roster.

We’d honestly better make this quick. Word started leaking out as early as Sunday afternoon thatRequired the team has begun making its cuts, as the league deadline to drop from 80 men to 53 is Tuesday afternoon. No one particularly notable is on the cutting block yet, but that could change in a hurry.

Just a reminder: For the purpose of this exercise, the goal is to give a good idea of what the Cowboys might do with their roster cuts. So often around this time of year, we get wrapped up in the players we like and the choices we’d make if it were up to us.

But it’s not up to us, as the Cowboys love to regularly remind us. So here, right before the final cut deadline, is our best guess at what decisions they’ll make to get to their initial 53-man roster of 2022.

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Quarterbacks: 3

Dak Prescott
Cooper Rush
Will Grier

If this was any other position, I’d say you take your risks cutting Grier and try to move him to the practice squad. But quarterback is a different beast, and I think Grier has shown too much potential this preseason to be exposed to waivers. I’m not convinced Rush’s status as the backup is in jeopardy, but Grier has been good enough to warrant a third roster spot at the game’s most important position.

Running backs: 3

Ezekiel Elliott
Tony Pollard
Rico Dowdle

It pains me not to include Malik Davis, who has developed into one of my favorite players at this camp. But the truth of the matter is that there’s little need for extra bodies at running back when you have a duo as good as Elliott and Pollard. Dowdle provides more special teams value, so he gets the nod. If Davis clears waivers, you can bank on him being on the practice squad.

Wide receivers: 7

CeeDee Lamb
Michael Gallup
Jalen Tolbert
Noah Brown
Simi Fehoko
KaVontae Turpin
James Washington

It looks like the Cowboys are going to carry Michael Gallup on the active roster until he’s healthy, which is a huge blow to a few of the young guys trying to make this team. Dennis Houston and Brandon Smith both had great preseasons, but I’m not convinced they did enough to merit spots on the 53. Fortunately for them, space will open up when Washington is moved to injured reserve. There should be room to add someone after the initial cuts, if the Cowboys want to.

Tight ends: 3

Dalton Schultz
Jake Ferguson
Peyton Hendershot

The stars have aligned for Peyton Hendershot, the undrafted rookie out of Indiana. Not only did he have a great night against Seattle on Friday, but Jeremy Sprinkle was released last week and Sean McKeon is currently dealing with a knee injury. I think the Cowboys go light here, with Hendershot grabbing the last spot at the buzzer. They can always address depth later on if need be.

Offensive line: 9

Tyron Smith
Connor McGovern
Tyler Biadasz
Zack Martin
Terence Steele
Tyler Smith
Matt Farniok
Matt Waletzko
Josh Ball

This is probably going to look like a mess for a few days. Tyron Smith has to make the initial roster, but he’ll quickly be headed to injured reserve. Josh Ball makes the team for now, but it shouldn’t be surprising if the Cowboys look to improve the tackle spot — whether by making a waiver claim, a small trade or even by signing a veteran. I expect this unit to look a good bit different on Friday than it does on Tuesday.

Defensive line: 10

DeMarcus Lawrence
Dorance Armstrong
Dante Fowler Jr.
Sam Williams
Tarell Basham
Osa Odighizuwa
Neville Gallimore
Quinton Bohanna
Chauncey Golston
Trysten Hill

I’ve trained my brain to lean toward draft picks, because the Cowboys are a draft-and-develop team. But when trying to decide on the final D-line spot, I just couldn’t convince myself that rookie John Ridgeway should get the nod over Tarell Basham. The veteran end had a strong month, and he’s also more of an insurance policy, given DeMarcus Lawrence’s history with injury. This defensive tackle group is deep, and Ridgeway likely can be signed to the practice squad.

Linebackers: 5

Micah Parsons
Leighton Vander Esch
Anthony Barr
Jabril Cox
Luke Gifford

It’s a similar situation to the defensive tackle dilemma. I’ve had Devin Harper penciled onto this depth chart all month because he’s a rookie draft pick, and the front office likes to give those guys a chance to catch on. But if I’m being honest with myself, the veteran Gifford had the better preseason and is a dependable special teamer. Neither decision would surprise me, but I wonder if they lean toward experience.

Defensive backs: 11

Trevon Diggs
Anthony Brown
Jourdan Lewis
DaRon Bland
Kelvin Joseph
Nahshon Wright
Jayron Kearse
Malik Hooker
Donovan Wilson
Israel Mukuamu
Markquese Bell

This one feels shockingly straightforward — at least to me. The Cowboys have three rock-solid starters at corner, and an impressive rookie in Bland. Joseph and Wright had a bumpy month, but they were top-100 draft picks just last year, so they feel like safe bets. The trio of veteran safeties have been a sure thing all summer, whereas Mukuamu and Bell have both played far too well to cut. Eleven is a big number, but it’s warranted in this case.

Special teams: 2

Brett Maher
Bryan Anger

With this much young talent on the roster, it helps to get creative. Jake McQuaide will be the Cowboys’ long snapper, but my guess is he’ll spend a day being unemployed this week. McQuaide is a vested veteran, which means he’s free to do as he pleases if he is released. Younger players are exposed to the league’s waiver wire, which means they can be poached by rival clubs. By being released on Tuesday, McQuaide can serve as a placeholder, allowing the team to free up a roster spot without the risk of losing a young player they like. When the cut-down process is over, and injured guys like Tyron Smith and James Washington are moved to IR, McQuaide can re-sign and report to practice like nothing ever happened. 

David Helman covers the Dallas Cowboys for FOX Sports, providing insight and analysis on the NFL’s most visible franchise. Prior to joining FOX, David spent nine seasons covering the Cowboys for the team’s official website, DallasCowboys.com. In 2018, he won a regional Emmy for his role in producing “Dak Prescott: A Family Reunion” about the quarterback’s time at Mississippi State.

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