Monday, September 05, 2016

Meet The 2016 Cowboys

Today is Labor Day.  Most people will be taking off work, but in honor of the idea that the NFL most certainly will not be doing that sort of thing, I wanted to give you something to read.  
This is a blog entry that will get bookmarked for historical reference as we rollout what we assume is the best example of the 2016 team picture.  Yes, technically, a guy like Jameill Showers made the team (as he was on the 53 at the moment the final 53 was turned into the league office), and Mark Sanchez did not, but I usually allow 24 hours to pass before I declare it finally final.
But, now the dust has settled and the Cowboys have not had any transactions since Saturday afternoon when they brought in Mark Sanchez, so this is what I am calling their final 53.  
As you will see below, they did the normal 25 offense, 25 defense, and 3 specialists to get to their 53 man roster, but I think we can observe that based on their current situation of dealing with some suspensions and, of course, the odd Tony Romo situation, they have had to go heavy in a few spots and light in a few others.  
For instance, this is the 10th year I have done this study, and we have never seen the Cowboys go with 6 Running Backs.  Yes, those 2 fullbacks are both pretty much exclusive special teams spots, but when you add in the Darren McFadden NFI list entry, you can see that this team has a logjam here and are merely putting off the eventuality of having to trim it down further.  I imagine Darius Jackson will be covering every kick as if his career depends upon it, too, because for now, it likely does.
Also, since the Cowboys moved to the 4-3, they have never gone so light at Defensive Line and so light at offensive line.  The chart from 2014 shows that they had 20 linemen on their final 53, but in 2016 they only have 16.  Eight on the OL is understandable because they have several who can play multiple positions:  Zack Martin could play tackle, La'el Collins could play tackle, and Ron Leary can play any of the inside three, and Joe Looney can, too.  But, eight on the DL seems a bit crazy, especially with reports that Charles Tapper hasn't returned to full health.  That means they plan on Sunday being at just seven DL which hurts plans of a rotation and freshness, and also leaves you so thin if someone gets hurt in the 1st half.  I realize they have two suspended DL to bring in later, but getting through September seems like a hold-your-breath scenario - unless they have plans to rectify that today or tomorrow.
10 defensive backs is awfully heavy, too.  Dax Swanson is probably the 53rd spot on the roster, but for now, the unlikely free agent rookie has made it.  Great story for him to enjoy for a few hours before he sweats every minute as he tries to hang on.  JJ Wilcox was a surprise to some, and he may be the 52nd man on the roster.  Also, the Tony Romo roster-spot decision is another way to free up a spot, but you can understand their reluctance to do so as they would lose him until November (which might be a great idea anyway, but it hurts). 

PositionStarterBackup3rd/4th String
QBDak PrescottMark SanchezTony Romo - INJ
RBEzekiel ElliottAlfred MorrisLance Dunbar, Darius Jackson
FBRod SmithKeith Smith
TEJason WittenGavin EscobarGeoff Swaim
WRDez BryantBrice ButlerLucky Whitehead
WRTerrance WilliamsCole Beasley
LTTyron SmithChaz Green
LGLa'el CollinsRon Leary
CTravis FrederickJoe Looney
RGZack Martin
RTDoug Free
PositionStarterBackup3rd/4th String
LDEBenson MayowaCharles Tapper
DT 3Tyrone CrawfordMaliek Collins
DT 1Cedric ThorntonTerrell McClain
RDEJack CrawfordDavid Irving
WLBSean LeeDamien WilsonAndrew Gachkar
MLBAnthony HitchensMark Nzeocha
SLBKyle WilberJustin Durant
CBBrandon CarrAnthony BrownDax Swanson
FSByron JonesJeff HeathKevon Frazier
SSBarry ChurchJJ Wilcox
CBOrlando ScandrickMorris Claiborne

Dan Bailey
Chris Jones
LP Ladouceur
And then here is the chart that demonstrates how many the team has put at each positional group on this day over the last decade:


It is a better roster than last year, in my opinion.  The Cowboys have appeared to have avoided the "lost for the year" injury this preseason.  In 2014, it was Sean Lee and in 2015 it was Orlando Scandrick.  The Romo thing isn't far off, but the belief that he can still make 10 starts seems alive in the front office.  I am not sure how that should make you feel, given their propensity to rush him back before he is right.

Last year, they had Joseph Randle, Nick Hayden, and JJ Wilcox all starting.   They have been replaced with substantial upgrades in Ezekiel Elliott, Cedric Thornton, and Byron Jones.  That is really impressive, if you look at it from that direction.  Now, with the exception of the DeMarcus Lawrence suspension, I would argue that LB is the only place where you don't have enough talent in the starting lineup to be called "league average".  And that gets fixed quite a bit when Jaylon Smith gets healthy.

The group doesn't look so great in the first few weeks, but if you can add Tony Romo and DeMarcus Lawrence, while keeping everyone else available (tough to do), then you can see how this team can win its division if it gets a bounce of the ball here or there.

While we are rolling here, let's examine one more chart.  This one shows the build from a year-by-year perspective.  In other words, how the Cowboys added to get to the spot they are now.

Ezekiel Elliott, Jaylon Smith, Maliek Collins, Charles Tapper, Dak Prescott, Darius Jackson, Anthony Brown, Kevon FrazierMark Sanchez, Alfred Morris, Benson Mayowa, Cedric Thornton, Joe LooneyDax Swanson
Byron Jones, Randy Gregory, Chaz Green, Damien Wilson, Geoff Swaim, Mark NzeochaAndrew Gachkar, Keith Smith, Brice Butler, David Irving, Rod Smith, Darren McFaddenLa'el Collins, Lucky Whitehead
2014 (5)Zack Martin, DeMarcus Lawrence, Anthony HitchensTerrell McClain, Jack Crawford
2013 (5)Travis Frederick, Gavin Escobar, Terrance Williams, JJ Wilcox
Jeff Heath
2012 (8)Morris Claiborne, Tyrone Crawford, Kyle Wilber, James Hanna (PUP)Brandon CarrCole Beasley, Ron Leary, Lance Dunbar
2011 (3)Tyron Smith
Chris Jones, Dan Bailey
2010 (3)Dez Bryant, Sean LeeBarry Church

2008 (1)Orlando Scandrick
2007 (1)Doug Free

2005 (1)
LP Ladocuer

2003 (2)Jason WittenTony Romo

I think "homegrown" is often easily linked to long-term success.  As I keep this number over the years, it has been encouraging to see it grow.  And here, with 31 draft picks and 10 college free agents who have never played anywhere in the NFL but Dallas, the Cowboys have 41 homegrown players which puts them into the top third of the league.  

Now, the trick is to continue to hit on picks at a higher rate, because right now, the 2011, 2012, and 2013 drafts look pretty slim, in terms of keepers.  Those players would hopefully be your core as their ages should range between 24 and 27 years old if they were in those drafts.  And 2014's draft class is already down to just 3 players, too.  

2015 and 2016 look better, but we must let time pass before we declare 2016 the best draft of the decade.  Time usually tells us all we need to know.  

So there is your look at the roster from a number of angles.  Now, go enjoy your day.  

We are in Week 1!!!!

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