We are a month away from when the Dallas Cowboys head to Oxnard, California for training camp. Once camp gets in full swing, we'll have a better idea of how the Cowboys 2021 roster will look, but before some of those answers reveal themselves, I thought I'd take a crack at predicting their 53-man roster. Things are bound to change between now and final cuts, but let's get a feel for where things are at the moment (projected starters in bold).
Offensive players (24)
Dak Prescott and Garrett Gilbert
On the bubble: Ben DiNucci
Obviously, there is no doubt who the starting quarterback is as there are 40 million rea$ons why that's a no-brainer. It's possible the team opts to sign a veteran to handle the backup duties, but none of the players they've brought in so far have stuck, so that job belongs to Gilbert for now. DiNucci has an outside shot to make the roster if he can display enough improvement to force the team to keep three quarterbacks, but in all likeliness, he's heading for the practice squad.
RUNNING BACKS (3)
Ezekiel Elliott, Tony Pollard, and Rico Dowdle
On the bubble: Nick Ralston and Brenden Knox
Zeke and TP will make up the Cowboys one-two running back punch with last year's UDFA roster-maker Rico Dowdle having a strong hold on the team's RB3 spot. The Cowboys have a couple new UDFA running backs in Brenden Knox and JaQuan Hardy who will try to give Rico a run for his money. Knox is the back who impresses me the most as he's tough to bring down and milks every inch out of each run. Keep your eye on another UDFA in fullback Nick Ralston. While the Cowboys didn't carry a fullback on the roster last year, his blocking/ball-carrying/pass-catching skill set might keep the coaches interested.
TIGHT END (3)
Dalton Schultz, Blake Jarwin, and Sean McKeon
On the bubble: Jeremy Sprinkle and Nick Eubanks
Dalton and Blake are roster locks with the only thing unknown is how the team chooses to distribute their playing time. Last year's UDFA McKeon is my pick to earn the TE3 job, leaving the veteran Sprinkle out of a job. This year's UDFA Eubanks could be a nice development project and could make a good practice squad candidate.
WIDE RECEIVER (6)
Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, Michael Gallup, Cedric Wilson, Simi Fehoko, and Noah Brown
On the bubble: Malik Turner, Brennan Eagles, and TJ Vasher
The Cowboys have a lot of talent at the wide receiver postion thanks to some premium draft investments over the last few years. With the influx of talent, it wouldn't be shocking to see the team go with six receivers as each of them offer something different to the offense. There are also a handful of young receivers that will likely create some buzz in camp. Injuries will dictate who gets what opportunties, and while all of these receivers are long shots to make the team, they sure will make things exciting come preseason.
OFFENSIVE TACKLE (5)
Tyron Smith, La'el Collins, Ty Nsekhe, Josh Ball, and Terence Steele
On the bubble: Mitch Hyatt
The Cowboys have an abundance of talent along the offensive line, which came in handy a year ago after suffering so many injuries. Having both their starting tackles back will be a nice feeling, and the team has a solid swing tackle in Nsekhe as well. Hopefully, Ball and Steele can get proper development time this year and not get thrown into action ahead of schedule. Last year's pet cat UDFA Mitch Hyatt is slowly losing traction as the growing depth of this unit will make it ever harder for him to earn a spot on the team.
INTERIOR OLINE (5)
Zack Martin, Connor Williams, Tyler Biadasz, Brandon Knight, and Connor McGovern
On the bubble: Matt Farniok
We first got a glimpse of this starting unit last year when the rookie Biadasz started at center due to injury. Joe Looney is now gone, but the Cowboys still have some nice depth in McGovern as well as Knight who can play inside or out. Nebraska guard Matt Farniok was the team's 11th and final draft pick this past April as he was selected in the seventh round at 238th overall. It will be tough for him to crack the roster as his best chance to make an NFL team should include a trip to the practice squad.
Defensive players (25)
DEFENSIVE END (5)
DeMarcus Lawrence, Randy Gregory, Tarell Basham, Chauncey Golston, and Dorance Armstrong
On the bubble: Bradlee Anae and Ron'Dell Carter
Tank and Gregory will be the team's starting defensive ends, but how the rest of the rotation shapes out is anyone's guess. It was tough to leave second-year player Bradlee Anae off the roster, but space was scarce. Choosing between experience and player control, I went with a little bit of both. Keeping Armstrong on the team gives them a viable option in a pinch and obviously Golston's sticking around due to his draft stock. That left Anae as the odd man out.
DEFENSIVE TACKLE (5)
Neville Gallimore, Brent Urban, Osa Odighizuwa, Trysten Hill, and Quinton Bohanna
On the bubble: Carlos Watkins and Justin Hamilton
There are a lot of uncertainties with this position group. The team has some good options at the 3-tech spot, but things get a little dicey at the 1-tech. Watkns and Hamilton are borderline JAGs (just another guy), so holding a spot for them doesn't seem necessary. 2019 second-round pick Trysten Hill could be a surprise cut; however, he flashed some good play last season and it seems logical that the team would want to give him a little more time to see if that turns into to anything.
Leighton Vander Esch, Micah Parsons, Keanu Neal, Jaylon Smith, Jabril Cox, and Francis Bernard
On the bubble: Luke Gifford and Anthony Hines III
The only thing really left to be decided at linebacker is who's playing where and just how ready is the rookie Micah Parsons? Once we know that, we'll have a good sense how the "big four" rotation will shape out. The other rookie Jabril Cox will be a nice player for the future, and the relentlessness of Bernard will have special teams coach John Fassel pounding the table to keep him. Other UDFA players Gifford and Hines will catch our eyes at times in preseason, but the linebacker group will be too crowded for them to squeeze their way in.
Trevon Diggs, Kelvin Joseph, Anthony Brown, Jourdan Lewis, and Nahshon Wright
On the bubble: Reggie Robinson II and Maurice Canady
The cornerback position is pretty set. Depending on how quickly the rookies come up to speed will determine how the team uses Brown and Lewis this year. Reggie Robinson not making the team will make some fans unhappy as they were hoping to see more of him. The thing working against him is that the secondary group is really crowded and most of his competition are players recently selected by the new coaching staff.
Donovan Wilson, Damontae Kazee, Jayron Kearse, and Israel Mukuamu
On the bubble: Darian Thompson and Tyler Coyle
If the Cowboys can somehow muster a viable group here, that would be nice win for them as there are a lot of potential liabilities. Wilson and Kazee should be the team's starters as each of them posses good traits for their respective positions. It was hard leaving Thompson off this list as I've always felt his contribution was underrated, but keeping him means passing up on some of these younger players. Keep an eye on Tyler Coyle. Every year undrafted free agents find their way on this team, so it has to happen, right? Coyle would be my top UDFA choice to make the team as his athleticism combined with the team's weakness at the safety position could punch his ticket.
Special Teams (4)
Greg Zuerlein (kicker), Bryan Anger (punter), Jake McQuaide (long-snaper), and C.J. Goodwin
On the bubble: Hunter Niswander
The only thing left to decide really is which punter will the Cowboys go with. Considering how much Fassel is enamoured with Anger, it's hard not giving the veteran the edge.
Here is my complete list for the Cowboys 53-man roster:
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