Roster building is a big picture type of task. Decisions made at one position group inevitably have an impact at other position groups. The Dallas Cowboys know this all-too-well as they set up the strategy before heading to Oxnard for training camp.
Based on injuries and personnel, the Cowboys will have to go long in some areas and subsequently go short in others. The position that may feel the pinch the most on offense is the running back position.
Injuries may force the Dallas Cowboys to go long at WR and TE and go short at RB to compensate for it.
Looking at the WR position, we can see there’s one major hurdle to overcome: Michael Gallup. Recovering from a February ACL surgery, Gallup is not expected to be back for Week 1 against Tampa. As we discussed last week in “Update on Michael Gallup’s return date” the Cowboys want to avoid using the PUP list (physically unable to perform) at all costs.
Placing Gallup on the PUP would require him to miss a minimum of four games this season. The Cowboys are hoping to get him before then so they want to keep him on the 53-man roster and carry him until whenever that return day arrives.
A decision like that has consequences. It means Dallas needs to either carry an extra WR or two to cover for his absence or shift resources to a different personnel group (i.e. TE). It could mean both…
Based on trends from the last three seasons, we can reasonably expect the Cowboys to use more 12 personnel (2 TE sets). Kellen Moore has increased the usage in each of the last three seasons and given the fact he’ll start the season without three of his top-four WRs from last year, he’ll probably lean on it heavily early this season.
With more 12 personnel the Cowboys will need to go fairly deep at the position. That means carrying four, at a minimum. That’s going to have a ripple effect on the roster.
WR may have to go deep as well. Amari Cooper and Cedrick Wilson are both gone, leaving just CeeDee Lamb and Noah Brown as the only returning, somewhat proven, veterans. Sure, James Washington was brought in, but he’s hardly the proven entity you want in a top-3 WR. Same can be said for the rookie Jalen Tolbert. He’s as promising as a duel-lock zip-lock bag but until he’s put to the test, we really don’t know.
If Michael Gallup is unavailable but still occupying a roster spot, the Dallas Cowboys will have to keep an extra WR on the 53-man roster to compensate on game day.
This brings us to the opportunity cost. If the Cowboys go deep at TE and/or WR, what position suffers?
Given the absence of talent, QB may only be two spots, regardless of what goes on at TE or WR. And the offensive line has its own problems with two developmental guys (Matt Waletzko and Josh Ball) occupying the depth spots at OT. Not to mention the competition brought in to challenge Tyler Biadasz at center. The Cowboys can ill-afford to go shallow here and may need to go deep themselves at O-line.
It’s the RB position that makes the most sense.
Say what you want about Ezekiel Elliott, but the man is a warrior. He’s one of the most durable and reliable players in the NFL and as we saw last year, even season-ending injuries don’t stop him (his effectiveness playing injured is a different story).
Next to Zeke is Tony Pollard, a star RB1 in his own right. Pollard is such as good complement to Zeke, many believe he’s the best back in Dallas and he deserves the bigger role on offense. Whether you believe this or not isn’t important for this conversation, what matters is that the Dallas Cowboys are stacked at the top of the RB depth chart.
The chances of the Cowboys losing both of their top-two RBs in the first three weeks is slim-to-none, and most of the depth behind them in Dallas is at replacement-level anyway. If the two lead backs do get dinged up, Dallas should have no problem finding street free agents to fill the void.
As it stands now, Rico Dowdle looks like the last RB the Cowboys will have on their 53-man roster. He’s a special teams weapon who can pass protect. Dallas probably only needs three RBs to break camp with.
As we know, other injuries are going to arise in training camp and this complicated situation will only get more complicated, but the way it looks now, the Cowboys will probably need to go shallow at RB.