The Dallas Cowboys invested heavily in their defensive line this offseason. They spent resources in free agency, through the draft, and even made a trade to bolster the line that was abused in the divisional playoff game against the Los Angeles Rams.
The Cowboys’ defensive line currently looks like this:
Demarcus Lawrence (returning player), Tyrone Crawford (returning player), Antwaun Woods (returning player), Maliek Collins (returning player), Taco Charlton (returning player), Daniel Ross (returning player), Dorance Armstrong (returning player), Robert Quinn (acquired via trade with Dolphins), Christian Covington (signed as a free agent), Kerry Hyder (signed as a free agent), Trysten Hill (draft pick), Joe Jackson (draft pick), Jalen Jelks (draft pick), Shakir Soto (undrafted free agent), Ricky Walker (undrafted free agent), Daniel Wise (undrafted free agent).
The Dallas Cowboys will likely carry ten defensive linemen on the 53-man roster and dress eight on gameday with two inactive because that’s what they’ve done in years past. With that in mind, let’s take a look at who’s a lock, who’s on the bubble and who’s not going to make the cut.
The Locks: Lawrence, Crawford, Woods, Collins, Quinn, Hill
Right off the bat, we have six locks to make the 53-man roster. Lawrence just got a long-term contract extension and is a cornerstone of the Dallas defense. He’s one of the league’s premier pass rushers and will be a fixture off the edge for the Cowboys in years to come. Crawford is a long-time Cowboy and has played much better as an interior defensive lineman.
Woods and Collins both had career years in 2018 and will look to replicate them. Quinn was brought to Dallas to give the Cowboys a true compliment to Lawrence on the other side of the line and to replace Randy Gregory. Hill is the Cowboys’ top draft pick this year, and defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli is excited about what he can bring on the interior.
On the bubble: Charlton, Ross, Armstrong, Covington, Hyder, Jackson, Jelks
Charlton is in danger of not making the Dallas roster. Despite being a former first-round pick, he has severely underperformed, and with the increase in competition this year, he will have to earn his spot in camp. Ross performed well in limited appearances with the Cowboys last year but will also have to earn his spot with the new additions to the line.
Armstrong was a late-round draft pick last year that didn’t get much playing time but showed promise when he did. He should make the team, but he lands on the bubble because of the amount of competition. Jackson and Jelks are late-round picks from this year that will likely end up on the practice squad.
On the outs: Soto, Walker, Wise
Soto, Walker, and Wise were brought on as undrafted free agents to the Cowboys. They likely won’t make the cut, but they could end up on the practice squad. However, Wise has shown ability in OTAs, and if anyone is to take a spot from an incumbent, he’s the guy to keep your eye on.
Final Predictions: Lawrence, Crawford, Woods, Collins, Quinn, Hill, Armstrong, Covington, Hyder, Charlton
I went back and forth on the final two spots between Charlton, Hyder, and Ross but I decided Ross was the odd man out based on interior versus exterior numbers. Ross is an interior lineman, but Crawford, Woods, Collins, Hill, and Covington will already be manning those spots with Crawford and Covington also able to go to the edge. Lawrence, Quinn, and Armstrong were the only edge rushers, which is why Taco and Hyder get the nod.
None of this is set in stone. Ross, Jackson, Jelks and even Wise could outperform incumbents in preseason games and take their spots. Also, Armstrong, Hyder or Charlton might have to make way for the suspended Gregory if/when he returns to the Cowboys this season.
Michael Mastropierro is a writer for PFN covering the Dallas Cowboys. You can follow him @MMastropierro on Twitter.