Dallas Cowboys season opening 53-man roster prediction

Dak Prescott, Quarterback Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Dak Prescott, Quarterback Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports /
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Cornerbacks (6)

Trevon Diggs, Anthony Brown, Kelvin Joseph, Maurice Canady, Nahshon Wright, Jourdan Lewis

Earlier in training camp, HC Mike McCarthy was asked about the usual number for defensive backs on a roster. He said the number is usually ten, but with the amount of talent on the team, that number could be closer to twelve or thirteen. With injuries and Covid-19 currently a problem for the defensive back room, the magic number seems to be ten after all.

The Cowboys placed Reggie Robinson on injured reserve over a week ago in an attempt to keep him in camp for one more year. This move essentially solidified the cornerback room as the only position battle that would have existed was between him and Maurice Canady.

A starting group of Trevon Diggs, Anthony Brown, and Maurice Canady is serviceable, but hopefully, players like Kelvin Joseph and Nahshon Wright can take the next step and become important players for the team as the season progresses. Wright and Joseph have had their fair share of mistakes this preseason, but almost immediately turned around and made drive-stopping plays. Being able to forget about the past is an important trait for defensive backs and it’s good to see that from the rookies so early on in their careers.

As for Jourdan Lewis, it’s still unclear how often and where he will be used. The former Michigan cornerback is a very good tackler but consistently struggled covering receivers in the slot as he doesn’t have the speed to match.

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Safeties (4)

Damontae Kazee, Malik Hooker, Donovan Wilson, Jayron Kearse

Ten defensive backs mean six cornerbacks and four safeties. The obvious omission from this list is sixth-round pick Israel Mukuamu, who was the last one out of the 53 man roster. (If you caught on, my dilemma was between Bradlee Anae and Mukuamu)

The spots of Damontae Kazee, Donovan Wilson, and Malik Hooker are set in stone. Jayron Kearse seemed like someone who would make the team, but purely for special teams’ purposes. It seems that idea no longer exists as Kearse was used regularly in Nickel and Dime sub packages against the Houston Texans.

Kearse is built like a linebacker at 6-foot-4, 215 pounds. Teams have previously used him as a box safety and he has found some success at the position. In fact, earlier in training camp, he was taking first-team reps at strong safety in lieu of fan-favorite Donovan Wilson.

In the meantime, the team was using Israel Mukuamu as the versatile sub-package defender. He split his reps between free safety, box safety, slot cornerback, and outside cornerback. The South Carolina defender possesses elite height and length as a safety and the athletic ability to match as a cornerback.

I can’t help but think Dan Quinn saw some form of Jeremy Chinn in Mukuamu so he felt compelled to draft him and immediately turn him into a safety? After all, his final game as the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons was against the Carolina Panthers, the current team of Jeremy Chinn.

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However, in the dress rehearsal game, the Cowboys used Kearse in the same way as Mukuamu and he was incredibly successful. He would mirror running backs out of the backfield. He used his frame to cover separation windows in zone coverage and showed the ability to play man coverage against tight ends.

If you’re catching my drift here, it’s that while having swiss army knife-type players is a great thing for a defense to have, having multiple at the same listed position doesn’t hold much value especially if only one of them is playing consistent special teams reps. You likely aren’t going to play them on the field at the same time.

Mukuamu has had a nice preseason and is absolutely deserving of a spot on this roster. The issue is Jayron Kearse filled in, essentially, the same way and was just as effective. Fortunately, Mukuamu likely wouldn’t have much demand once he reaches waivers because he was not sought after in the NFL draft. That body type isn’t attractive to everyone.

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As for the specialists on the team, expect LS Jake McQuaide, PK Greg Zuerlein, and P Bryan Anger. The way the Cowboys have handled special teams this training camp has been weird, but things seem to be shaping up for week one. The Cowboys have harder decisions to make everywhere else on the roster, releasing Hunter Niswander is the least of my worries.