Heading into training camp, what is the situation with the Dallas Cowboys’ depth chart in 2021? Which players have their starting spots seemingly under wraps, and which positions could we see competition for? Let’s look at what appears to be one of the more settled depth charts in the NFL.
Dallas Cowboys Depth Chart
Who is currently set to start for the Cowboys, and what does their depth look like at key positions?
Quarterback: Dak Prescott, Garrett Gilbert, Cooper Rush, Ben DiNucci
Running Back: Ezekiel Elliott, Tony Pollard, Rico Dowdle, Sewo Olonilua
Wide Receiver: Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, CeeDee Lamb, Cedrick Wilson, Simi Fehoko, Noah Brown, Malik Turner, Johnnie Dixon, Aaron Parker, Brennan Eagles, Osirus Mitchell, Brandon Smith
Tight End: Blake Jarwin, Dalton Schultz, Jeremy Sprinkle, Sean McKeon
Offensive Tackle: Tyron Smith, La’el Collins, Ty Nsekhe, Josh Ball, Brandon Knight, Terence Steele
Offensive Guard: Zack Martin, Connor Williams, Connor McGovern, Matt Farniok
Center: Tyler Biadasz
Interior Defensive Line: Neville Gallimore, Trysten Hill, Osa Odighizuwa, Justin Hamilton, Carlos Watkins, Quinton Bohanna
Defensive End: DeMarcus Lawrence, Randy Gregory, Tarell Basham, Dorance Armstrong, Chauncey Golston, Bradlee Anae
Linebacker: Micah Parsons, Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch, Keanu Neal, Jabril Cox, Francis Bernard, Luke Gifford, Azur Kamara
Cornerback: Trevon Diggs, Kelvin Joseph, Anthony Brown, Jourdan Lewis, Nahshon Wright, Maurice Canady, Reggie Robinson II, C.J. Goodwin
Safety: Donovan Wilson, Damontae Kazee, Jayron Kearse, Darian Thompson, Israel Mukuamu
Kicker: Greg Zuerlein
Punter: Bryan Anger, Hunter Niswander
Long Snapper: Jake McQuaide
Cowboys Depth Chart Analysis | Offense
Let’s break down the Cowboys’ depth chart on the offensive side of the ball.
Even before Dak Prescott and the Cowboys agreed to a four-year contract worth $160 million, he was always expected to be their starter in 2021. Prescott completed just four games in 2020 but was on pace to throw for over 6,000 yards prior to his ankle injury. Assuming the ankle healed well, he should have another strong season for the Cowboys.
The competition behind Prescott has plenty of intrigue. Garrett Gilbert and Ben DiNucci both started one game for the Cowboys in 2020. Neither did anything to stand out as a clear backup, but they did not have disastrous performances, either.
Cooper Rush saw a total of 26 snaps for the Cowboys between 2017 and 2019. He spent the last two months of the 2020 season on the Cowboys’ practice squad. With limited experience in this group, the Cowboys could add a veteran backup if one became available during the preseason.
The 2020 season was the toughest of Ezekiel Elliott’s career. His rush yards per game and overall yards per game were down significantly compared to the first five years of his career. A big part of the reason was a significant reduction in attempts per game at 16.3, compared to more than 18.5 in each of the previous years. Elliott should realistically be the starter all season, but the emergence of Tony Pollard should mean he is not the bell cow he was early in his career.
Pollard has had two solid seasons for the Cowboys since being drafted. On 187 carries, he has 890 rushing yards and 6 touchdowns. He has also proven to be an asset out of the backfield, making him a good foil to Elliott.
Pollard has not done enough to replace Elliott as the starter, but he could be in line for 100-150 touches again this season. If Elliott were to get hurt, there is little on this roster to prevent Pollard from taking over the starting role. Neither Rico Dowdle nor Sewo Olonilua is likely to provide much competition for touches.
Wide receiver is another settled group on the Cowboys’ offense. Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup will primarily line up outside with CeeDee Lamb in the slot. Last season, we saw Cooper come inside around 25% of his snaps, but that was not a direct switch with Lamb. Lamb played less than 10% of his 2020 snaps lined up outside. With Gallup due to be a free agent next year, it will be intriguing to see whether Lamb or Gallup comes off the field in two-receiver sets.
The other interesting element will be which receiver can earn the primary backup role to these three. Noah Brown and Cedrick Wilson have familiarity with the offense, but the new addition, Simi Fehoko, should push them close. Brown played a career-high 228 snaps on offense last season but struggled to make a lasting impression.
Of the starting roles on this Cowboys’ offensive depth chart, tight end is where the real competition comes. Blake Jarwin was highly regarded coming into 2020 but managed just 25 snaps before a season-ending injury. Jarwin has just 59 career receptions, 684 receiving yards, and 6 touchdowns in a four-year career but is expected by many to earn back the starting role.
Following the injury to Jarwin, Dalton Schultz played 85% of the offensive snaps for the Cowboys. He pulled in 63 receptions on 89 targets for 615 yards and 4 touchdowns. He provided an extremely useful pair of hands for the Cowboys’ offense but perhaps lacked the explosiveness that Dallas hopes to get from Jarwin.
Former Washington tight end Jeremy Sprinkle and the returning Sean McKeon are unlikely to provide any real competition for a starting role.
The offensive line also looks to be a fairly settled group heading into training camp. Tyron Smith, La’el Collins, and Zack Martin should all be back and fully healthy. Together they make up a trio that forms a superb basis for one of the best offensive lines in the entire league. Martin is so talented and valuable to this group that the Cowboys even moved him around last year to try and utilize him most effectively prior to his injury.
Behind Smith and Collins at tackle, there will be some interest in the swing tackle battle. Josh Ball is undeniably talented but has a history of issues off the field, which hurt his stock. Ty Nsekhe has been in the league since 2012 but has started just 17 games in that time. There should be no reason Ball cannot beat out Nsekhe, but we may see the veteran open the season as the primary backup if Ball requires more seasoning early on.
Connor Williams may see some competition from Connor McGovern for the starting job at left guard. Matt Farniok could also put his name into the hat, but much like Ball, it may be a case that he is behind on the Cowboys’ depth chart to open the season.
After a solid first few starts at center, Tyler Biadasz is set to open the season with the starting role. There is little serious competition for the young center on this roster.
Cowboys Depth Chart Analysis | Defense
Let’s break down the Cowboys’ depth chart on the defensive side of the ball.
Interior Defensive Line
The interior of this defensive line should be an interesting competition in camp. Neville Gallimore should have the inside track to a starting role, but who will partner with him could be interesting.
The departure of Antwaun Woods has left an opportunity for a starting role to be claimed. Trysten Hill is the name that many expect to claim that starting role, but he saw a reasonably even split with Justin Hamilton in 2020. Last season, Hill had 3 QB hits on 5 pressures. Meanwhile, Hamilton had just 1 QB hit on 4 pressures.
Thrown into the mix is the third-round selection from the 2021 NFL Draft, Osa Odighizuwa. With neither Hill nor Hamilton having a firm grip on the starting spot, Odighizuwa could force himself into the conversation.
The other two looking to earn a starting role are Carlos Watkins (who spent four years in Houston) and rookie Quinton Bohanna. Much was expected of Bohanna entering his final year in college, but he did not deliver, and now the Cowboys will be looking to help him realize that raw talent.
The term “EDGE” is used loosely with some of these players. The Cowboys have said they will use a combination of 3-4 and 4-3 formations this season. Therefore, this group encompasses several players who could line up as either a conventional defensive end or an outside linebacker-style pass rusher.
The snap leaders among this group should be DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory. Lawrence is the star of the line but has just 11.5 sacks in the past two seasons combined. The Cowboys need him to get back to his very best. Gregory can play the hybrid role in this offense and should be on the field plenty. While he has just 9.5 sacks in his past two seasons played, he does have a total of 41 pressures and 27 QB hits.
A competition between Tarell Basham, Dorance Armstrong, Chauncey Golston, and Bradlee Anae could certainly be an interesting one. None of them are likely to push Gregory or Lawrence for serious playing time, but all four could contribute.
The addition of Micah Parsons in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft means that the top three on the Cowboys’ depth chart at linebacker is set. Parsons will combine with Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch. The intriguing element is how all three will be used if the Cowboys transition between a 4-3 and 3-4. Parsons’ versatility should allow him to drop out into an outside linebacker role. He should also be a more proficient option in coverage than Smith or Vander Esch.
Behind those three is a fascinating pairing of Keanu Neal and Jabril Cox. Neal played with defensive coordinator Dan Quinn in Atlanta and is set to move to linebacker from his previous position at safety. Cox is also a talented linebacker who was selected in the fourth round. Neal will likely see time on passing downs, with Cox providing a more all-around backup option at the position.
The Cowboys could have a young starting combination of Trevon Diggs and Kelvin Joseph. While both are undeniably talented, their inexperience could mean they make costly mistakes during the season.
Nevertheless, Diggs had a wonderful start to his career, allowing completions on just 54.8% of targets. He did allow 5 touchdowns, but overall it was an impressive rookie season. If Joseph can match that, the Cowboys will be extremely happy.
Anthony Brown and Jourdan Lewis will compete for the interior roles and possibly the primary backup on the outside. Both have been solid in the last three years, without ever being spectacular. Their competition will come from Nahshon Wright, a third-round selection by Dallas this year.
It will be intriguing to see how Reggie Robinson is used after moving from corner to safety and then back to corner since being drafted.
Dallas will bring back Donovan Wilson at safety after playing 60.8% of the defensive snaps in 2020. Wilson impressed, especially in terms of turnovers last season. He had 2 interceptions, 3 forced fumbles, and 2 fumble recoveries. He did a solid job in coverage and had a missed tackle rate of just 5.3%.
Wilson could be joined by another former Falcon in Damontae Kazee, who had 7 interceptions in 2018. Kazee played just 4 games in 2020 but had produced good results in coverage in 2018 and 2019. There is no clear favorite to take the role from him, but Israel Mukuamu could be an intriguing player to watch in camp.
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