Projecting Cowboys’ 53-man roster after first preseason game

By David Helman
FOX Sports Dallas Cowboys Writer

OXNARD, Calif. — This thing is going to move quickly now that the first game is out of the way.

The Cowboys drudged through more than two weeks of training camp before they opened their preseason in Denver. However ugly it might have been, they’re now a third of the way through the preseason slate, with the second game already just five days away.

Remember, this is the Cowboys’ first time playing three preseason games, too. Last year they participated in the Hall of Fame Game, which meant they got saddled with four preseason games. This year, when they return to Dallas in less than a week, they’ll have just one more exhibition game to play.

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Long story short, it’ll be time to cut this roster down before we even realize it. The first round of cuts, to get from 90 players to 85, is scheduled to happen on Tuesday.

With all that in mind, let’s take an early look at what a Cowboys’ cut to 53 might look like.

Quarterbacks: 3

Dak Prescott
Cooper Rush
Will Grier

Look, I know Rush didn’t play well in Denver, and so do you. He still went to Minneapolis last Halloween and won the Cowboys a road game against a solid team. That type of stuff matters to a coaching staff. 

Grier injured his groin at the exact wrong time, but hopefully he’ll still get to make a push for the backup job. In the meantime, I’m keeping all three because Grier is too intriguing to cut. Same group as last year.

Running Backs: 3

Ezekiel Elliott
Tony Pollard
Rico Dowdle

Having one of the best duos in the league makes this pretty easy. I’m tempted to put undrafted rookie Malik Davis on the roster, but Dowdle has also had a nice camp and can double as a kick returner. I lean toward experience. 

If you’re asking where the fullback is, his name is Connor McGovern.

Wide Receivers: 6

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

Gallup and Washington both need to make the initial roster if they’re going to be brought back from injured reserve or the Physically Unable to Perform list. But I’m going to go out on a limb and say the team decides to keep Gallup, returning from a torn ACL, off PUP in the hope that he can return to action more quickly.

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Once Washington, out with a broken right foot, is moved to injured reserve, the front office can bring back a youngster like KaVontae Turpin or Dennis Houston.

Tight Ends: 3

Dalton Schultz
Sean McKeon
Jake Ferguson

McKeon has looked like the leader in the clubhouse for the TE2 job, but Ferguson had an impressive night against the Broncos. If he keeps it up, maybe it negates the need for a blocking-specific tight end like Jeremy Sprinkle. I’m not fully convinced they’ll go this light at tight end, but they may have to with the decisions that must be made elsewhere.

Offensive Line: 9

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

The guess is that Waletzko’s time on the roster will be short-lived, as he can be moved to injured reserve after final cuts. Most of this is pretty straightforward, with McGovern and Farniok each being able to wear multiple hats on the interior. 

Keep an eye on the tackle spot. Between Waletzko’s shoulder injury and Ball’s struggles, I think this is a spot where the front office might try to either put together a trade, make a waiver claim or sign a veteran.

Defensive Line: 10

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

When you remember that Micah Parsons and Anthony Barr can both rush the passer, keeping just four defensive ends sounds super doable. 

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Defensive tackle is tough to sort out, as a lot of these guys have had good camps. It was hard not to include Carlos Watkins, but Hill and Bohanna have both had good camps. This is a team that tends to lean toward its draft picks.

Linebackers: 6

Micah Parsons
Leighton Vander Esch
Anthony Barr
Jabril Cox
Luke Gifford
Devin Harper

About as simple as it gets. Four quality options for defensive snaps, with Gifford and Harper both making the cut as core special teamers and depth defenders.

Defensive Backs: 11

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

This is where I’m going to cheat, and you can’t stop me. Corner feels simple enough – three starters and three draft picks for depth. I truly believe you can write Markquese Bell’s name on this roster in Sharpie, and I’m not sure I’ve ever felt that strongly about an undrafted rookie. 

The back end of the depth chart is where it gets fun. I firmly believe that C.J. Goodwin winds up on the roster as a special teams ace. But he’s a vested veteran, which means he can be cut without being subjected to waivers and eventually re-signed. We’ve seen the Cowboys use this loophole before, and they’ll likely do it again this year to sneak a youngster like Mukuamu onto the roster.

Specialists: 2

Brett Maher
Bryan Anger

Cheating again. Of course, Jake McQuaide will be this team’s long snapper. But the front office can release him for 24 hours, open up some roster spots with a few clicks of a button, and bring him back once the Cowboys sort out situations with injured players like Washington and Waletzko. 

And yes, for the record, I’m picking Brett Maher to win the ongoing kicker competition. Again, I lean toward experience.

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, 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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