Ranking The Roster: A Cowboys Projection

In years past, deciding who was at the top of a ranking of Cowboys players was pretty easy. Now, with youth serving notice and the defense losing it's leaders, things look mighty different. Inside, 'Ranking The Roster: A Cowboys Projection':

Who's the best?

It's a game I've played with my now two-year old son on almost a daily basis. From he was eight-months old, I taught him to respond to that question by patting himself proudly on his chest with both hands to signify "me, Me, ME!" That, of course, is accompanied by the biggest grin a kid could ever put forward.

I wish I could inspire such confidence in myself over the current state of the Cowboys.

Normally, this exercise would wait until we are getting close to cut down day to pen this list; but this season I'm doing things a little differently. Once a month, I will rank Cowboys players on the roster in an attempt to identify just how solid of a roster the Cowboys have assembled, and then track how they progress throughout the season.

It must be said, putting together this initial list has been a bit disheartening. I'm normally an extremely optimistic person when it comes to this team. I think it's imperative that when things are up in the air, you lean towards a positive outcome and I'll continue to do so. This team has so many question marks surrounding it though, it's difficult to project enough of them going right to achieve success. Success is now defined as simply reaching the playoffs for the Dallas Cowboys. Let that sink in for a minute.

Looking back on my projected Top 6 from last year lets one know immediately what has changed. The top defenders on my list from August 22nd, 2013? DeMarcus Ware (1st), Sean Lee (5), and Jason Hatcher (6). All gone. Anthony Spencer was seventh. Yikes.

This year's Cowboys team is filled with a great many question marks. It's not that I can't see a path to the playoffs for Dallas. It's just that it relies on so many situations that are legitimately toss-ups and can go in either direction. For this article, that's outlined by the fact you will see plenty of names towards the top of this list that have yet to prove much on the field.

I think Dallas has definitely done a good job improving the bottom of the roster; the churn as Bill Parcells used to call it. However looking over the 90 names I think Dallas is a middle-of-the-pack team. Under the right circumstances, that's good enough to make the playoffs some years. I think they still need one or two more draft cycles to reach the upper echelon of teams in the league.

So, keeping in mind that these are part accomplishment, part projection for 2014, here it is, the ranking of the 2014 Cowboys offseason roster.

The Top 5

Rank Player Position
1Tyron SmithLT
2Tony RomoQB
3Dez BryantWR
4Jason WittenTE
5Dan BaileyPK

A mixture of the team's young stars and it's aging veterans. Smith gets the nod as the top Cowboys player for a few reasons. After Week 7, Smith did not allow a single defender to get his hands on Tony Romo; not a single sack or hit assigned to him. Also, the Dallas running game was outstanding to Smith's side. I imagine he will end the year talked about as possibly the best left tackle in the game. The other name to raise eyebrows is surely No. 5 Dan Bailey. He's simply the best kicker in the game that comes through in the clutch (eight game-winners in three years). Not only is he accurate percentage wise, but almost all of his kicks are directly down the middle of the goal posts, which is why I nicknamed him "SPLIT'EM" three years ago. He hasn't disappointed me since.

The Rest of the "Starters"

Rank Player Position
6DeMarco MurrayRB
7Barry ChurchFS
8Henry Melton3T
9Orlando ScandrickCB
10Travis FrederickC
11Tyrone CrawfordLDE
12Brandon CarrCB
13Lance DunbarRB
14Terrance WilliamsWR
15Morris ClaiborneCB
16Zack MartinRG
17Demarcus LawrenceRDE
18Doug FreeRT
19Dwayne HarrisKR
20Bruce CarterWLB
21Gavin EsocbarTE
22George SelvieLDE
23Justin DurantMLB
24Cole BeasleyWR
25Mack BernadeauRG
26J.J. WilcoxSS

It says a lot we don't see a defensive player until No. 7. Last year, I was able to identify a clear delineation after the Top 16 players. This year, no more. Instead, I've separated the list by who I project to be Dallas' starters. This isn't just the standard 11 guys on offense and 11 on defense. I expect Dallas's offensive sets to utilize 3 wideouts, a Change of Pace back or 2 tight ends much more than when they use a fullback. I expect them to line up in a nickel defense with no true 1-technique, a third corner and only two linebackers. If you include their two special teams aces of Bailey and returner Dwayne Harris, you basically have 26 starters.

There's a lot of contingencies in this group. A lot of players we hope progress or live up to their draft pedigree. Many players have recent and/or questionable injury histories. Some will scoff at Lance Dunbar's rank in the Top 15, but looking at what Linehan did with Joique Bell, and I have no doubt if healthy Lance will live up to this billing.

The Key Backups

Rank Player Position
27Devin StreetWR
28Devonte HollomanSLB
29Ron LearyLG
30Terrell McClain1T
31Kyle WilberSLB
32Anthony HitchensMLB
33Jeremy MinceyRDE
34Brandon WeedenQB
35Ryan WilliamsRB
36Terrence MitchellCB
37Darrion WeemsLT
38LP LadouceurLS
39Sterling MooreCB
40Matt JohnsonFS
41James HannaTE

For everything the starters group are, this next tier is just as important. We know they will play, they need to ensure that they aren't the weak links for the team when they are put into the lineup, or else they will be the focus of the opposition.

The Depth

Rank Player Position
42Davon Coleman3T
43Ken Bishop1T
44Ben Bass3T
45Jakar HamiltonSS
46Jeff HeathSS
47J.C. CopelandFB
48Will SmithWLB
49Cody MandellP
50Ben GardnerLDE
51B.W. WebbCB
528th LinemanOL
53Joseph RandleRB

You typically want this final tier to be chok full of youth, and that is the case here. Dallas will need a handful of these players to prove capable, but generally these guys are going to have to bust their tails on special teams. I'm also including an eighth lineman that isn't currently on the team. Joseph Randle gets the nod over Cam Lawrence here because Cam had a crazy amount of ST coverage penalties in 2013.

The Practice Squad

Rank Player Position
54La'Damian WashingtonWR
55Chris BoydWR
56Ronald PatrickC
57Keith SmithLB
58Tyler PatmonCB
59Ahmad DixonS
60Ryan SmithS
614th Tight EndTE

The practice squad. More youth, and a handful of these players could have made the 53, but because they are eligible to be stashed on the eight-man squad while others weren't (I'm looking at you, BW Webb), here they are, including a fourth tight end I don't think is currently on the team.

Special Notes: Not included in this list is Anthony Spencer, who I have rated as 29th, and Chris Whaley, who I have as a practice squad candidate. I think Dallas will use PUP and IR respectively to give their injuries time to heal. Whaley is redshirting, Spencer should be available for the stretch run.

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