Dallas Cowboys 53-Man Roster Projection, Version 4.0: Will David Buehler kick field goals?


Jonathan Bales

With two preseason games in the books, we’ve actually already learned a fair amount about the Cowboys, in both the Bengals game and the Raiders game.

There have been some great stories, such as the emergence of cornerback Bryan McCann (who I predicted would make the team months ago) and linebacker Leon Williams (who I completely missed on). 

On the other hand, the ‘Boys now know they could be slightly thin at tight end after John Phillips went down with a season-ending ACL tear.  Other players may not be injured, but their poor starts are surprising (Kevin Ogletree and Robert Brewster, for example).

As I altered my last 53-man roster projection to create the one you see below, the key was to not overreact to the Cowboys’ first two games.  There are three to go, which may be a blessing in disguise for a Dallas team that has a lot to sort out on the back end of their roster.

Offense

QB
1. Tony Romo
2. Jon Kitna
3. Stephen McGee

This is a no-brainer.  Barring a devastating injury, Romo, Kitna, and McGee will be your Dallas Cowboys quarterbacks in 2010. 

Didn’t make the cut: Fourth-stringer Matt Nichols could be stashed on the practice squad.

Overall Position Grade: A-

RB
1. Felix Jones
2. Marion Barber
3. Tashard Choice

I have Jones listed on top due to projected touch distribution, not his starting status (or lack thereof).  He is too talented for the Cowboys to not feed him the ball early and often.  Perhaps a running back rotation like this is just what the ‘Boys need.

Altogether, this may be the top running back trip in the NFL.  Check out my grades for their 2009 play.

Didn’t make the cut: Herb Donaldson has shown little explosion in preseason, and undrafted free agent Lonyae Miller has been just average.

Overall Position Grade:  A-

FB
1. Deon Anderson

I’ve explained the importance of Anderson ad nauseam.  He even showed some pass-catching ability against the Raiders (don’t expect much more of that).

Didn’t make the cut: Chris Gronkowski has shown he can be a threat in the passing game, although his blocking is nowhere near the level of Anderson.  He could make the team as a H-Back-type player, even if Anderson is retained.

Overall Position Grade: B-

TE
1. Jason Witten
2. Martellus Bennett
3. Scott Sicko

I just couldn’t see Sicko making the team before Phillips was injured.  Even with a projected increase in three-receiver sets this season, the Cowboys run enough two and three-tight end formations that Sicko’s presence is now needed.

Didn’t make the cut: DajLeon Farr did a commendable job in making no obvious mental errors against the Raiders, despite being signed just two days prior.  Still, he’s a longshot.

Overall Position Grade: B+

WR
1. Miles Austin
2. Roy Williams
3. Dez Bryant
4. Patrick Crayton
5. Kevin Ogletree
6. Sam Hurd

Will the Cowboys keep five receivers or six?  Their decision has a rather large impact on a number of other positions.  I think the possible shift in offensive philosophy means six is the number. 

Didn’t make the cut: Jesse Holley has a really great shot at unseating Hurd, especially since Hurd is due $1.75 million–quite a bit of money for a special teams player.  In the end, I think Hurd gets one more shot.

Overall Position Grade: A-

OT
1. Doug Free
2. Marc Colombo
3. Alex Barron
4. Sam Young

The play of this group will be crucial to the Cowboys’ 2010 fortunes.  Free has looked pretty comfortable at left tackle, but Colombo struggled at right tackle before recently going down with a knee injury.  His 2-4 week absence could force the Cowboys to keep an extra tackle on the roster.  If so, it will probably be Robert Brewster.  Let’s play this one by ear.

Didn’t make the cut:  Like I said, Brewster could make the team by default.  His preseason play has certainly not justified it.

Overall Position Grade: C-

G
1. Kyle Kosier
2. Leonard Davis
3. Montrae Holland
4. Phil Costa

I substituted Costa for Travis Bright because Bright has really struggled in the preseason and Costa’s versatility (he can play center) is valuable.  Yeah, the Cowboys plan to work Kosier in behind Gurode, but the guy hasn’t taken a snap (or given one, actually) from the position in his entire career. 

A Gurode injury would also force the Cowboys to make two alterations to the offensive line–one at center and one at left guard–and I doubt they want to do that.

Didn’t make the cut: Bright has struggled too much in the first two preseason games for me to justify leaving him on the roster.  Don’t count out the possibility of the Cowboys moving Brewster to guard, but his lack of experience there would be quite a risky proposition.

Overall Position Grade: B-

C
1. Andre Gurode

The Cowboys don’t even have another true center on the roster.

Didn’t make the cut:  Kosier, Costa, and even Bright could all get a look at center in the preseason.

Overall Position Grade: B (due to lack of depth)

Defense

NT
1. Jay Ratliff
2. Junior Siavii
3. Josh Brent

Surprised at three nose tackles?  Don’t be.  Brent has shown enough potential that the Cowboys will not be able to put him on their practice squad.  In fact, I’ve gone as far as to guarantee he makes the 53-man roster.

However, the Cowboys probably don’t want a supplemental seventh-rounder being the primary backup to Ratliff, so Siavii will likely make the team.  He’s shown enough (in the run game, anyway) this preseason to justify his stay.

Also, don’t forget Brent could be used at defensive end.  In reality, that’s from where this “extra” roster spot has come.

Didn’t make the cut: Sean Lissemore, the Cowboys seventh-round pick in the April draft, has just been injured too long to make an impact.  His versatility surely intrigues the Cowboys (he can also play defensive end), but his path became a lot more difficult once the Cowboys acquired Brent.

Overall Position Grade: B

DE
1. Marcus Spears
2. Igor Olshansky
3. Stephen Bowen
4. Jason Hatcher

Will Spears still be a starter when he returns?  Bowen and Hatcher have played magnificently in his absence, so it isn’t a sure thing.  Hatcher is actually Spears’ backup, so he’d be the guy.

Could the Cowboys really only keep four players at a position that requires so many substitutions?  The addition of Josh Brent to the roster (at NT) makes me think it is possible.

Didn’t make the cut: As you can tell here, I love Marcus Dixon.  Unfortunately, he has yet to stand out in either preseason game.  He has the requisite skill set and I’m personally rooting for him, but he needs to step up in a hurry.

Overall Position Grade: B-

ILB
1. Bradie James
2. Keith Brooking
3. Sean Lee
4. Jason Williams

James and Brooking look like players in their mid-20s so far this preseason.  They are flying around to the ball and together they comprise the “heart” of the Dallas defense. 

Didn’t make the cut: It is so hard for me to leave Leon Williams off of this roster, but I am having trouble deciding whose spot he should take.  It would be tremendously difficult for the Cowboys to cut Jason Williams, and he would never clear waivers to make it to the practice squad. 

I just can’t see the Cowboys keeping five inside linebackers.  From which position do they “take” a roster spot?  Leon Williams’ future, like that of a lot of players, could strangely be linked to that of Sam Hurd.  Unfortunately, Williams isn’t practice squad eligible.

I’ve also seen a few projections with Stephen Hodge making the roster, but I just can’t see Dallas making room for him.

Overall Position Grade: B

OLB
1. DeMarcus Ware
2. Anthony Spencer
3. Victor Butler
4. Brandon Williams
5. Steve Octavien

I substituted Octavien for Curtis Johnson here.  It is possible the Cowboys keep neither player and just roll with four outside backers, but Coach Phillips loves depth at the position.  If the Cowboys do only keep four outside linebackers, they may very well retain five inside LBs.

Didn’t make the cut:  I don’t think Johnson’s special teams ability is any better than that of Octavien, but Octavien has shown more pass-rush ability.

Overall Position Grade: A (almost A+)

CB
1. Mike Jenkins
2. Terence Newman
3. Orlando Scandrick
4. Bryan McCann

No changes here.  I’ve loved McCann since the Cowboys signed him and he’s done nothing to change my opinion.  He’s shown tremendous athleticism and coverage ability.  If he can continue to prove he can hold up physically, I think he obtains the fourth (and last) cornerback spot.  The versatility of the safeties (Akwasi Owusu-Ansah and Alan Ball) allows the ‘Boys to keep just four CBs.

Didn’t make the cut: Dallas suddenly has a “problem” of depth at cornerback.  I don’t think rookie Jamar Wall is an NFL-caliber player yet, but veteran Cletis Gordon and even track star Teddy Williams could both make the team. 

Williams’ potential in particular is insane, but how do you use a roster spot on a player who hasn’t played football in five years?  Will he make it to the practice squad?

Overall Position Grade: B+

S
1. Gerald Sensabaugh
2. Alan Ball
3. Akwasi Owusu-Ansah
4. Michael Hamlin
5. Barry Church

The big question is whether Dallas will retain five safeties.  I think they will due to the lack of a true strong safety.  Owusu-Ansah is a lock to make the team and Hamlin is probable (although I haven’t been overly impressed with his play this preseason), but both players are strong safeties.  Church is probably the best of the Cowboys’ backup strong safeties.

Didn’t make the cut: No matter how things shake out, I think Patrick Watkins has already played his final season in Dallas. 

Danny McCray also has a chance to nab the final safety spot, but he’s probably better suited on the practice squad.

Overall Position Grade: C-

Specialists

LS
1. L.P. Ladouceur

Overall Position Grade: A

K
1. David Buehler

Buehler has looked pretty good on field goals in the preseason.  He is six-of-seven thus far and he struck the ball very well on Thursday against Oakland.  If the Cowboys do need to bring in another kicker, they will have to release a very good player at another position.

Overall Position Grade: B- (A+ for kickoffs and a giant question mark on field goals)

P
1. Mat McBriar

Overall Position Grade: A

KR
1. Akwasi Owusu-Ansah
2. Dez Bryant
3. Kevin Ogletree

PR
1. Dez Bryant
2. Akwasi Owusu-Ansah
3. Patrick Crayton

Overall Returner Grade:  B+ (Based on potential)

Additions
TE Scott Sicko
G Phil Costa
NT Josh Brent
OLB Steve Octavien

Departures
TE John Phillips
G Travis Bright
DE Marcus Dixon
OLB Curtis Johnson