The exhibitions are now complete, and the real gams are about to begin. The Dallas Cowboys went 2-1 in the preseason and although the record doesn’t much, the team did get the work done they needed.
These games don’t mean anything in the standings, but they did help the Cowboys filter out who can play, and who can’t. The Cowboys didn’t use many starters in the preseason, instead they opted to watch position battles happen against real competition.
Having been in training camp for over a month and in three exhibition games, the Dallas’ coaching staff got an evaluation on who should make the cut for the 53-man roster. With cuts looming on Tuesday, the team will have to make some tough decisions to have their initial version of the 2022 Cowboys.
There are always some surprises from the beginning of camp to when the final roster gets made, but if Cowboys fans have been paying attention, these shouldn’t be shocking revelations. Here are five of the unlikeliest players who will make the 53-man roster for the Cowboys.
DaRon Bland (CB)
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
The Cowboys entered training camp with solid depth at cornerback. The big three were CBs Trevon Diggs, Anthony Brown and Jourdan Lewis in the slot. Behind those starters were second-year options Kelvin Joseph and Nahshon Wright, and special teams maven C.J. Goodwin.
For rookie cornerback DaRon Bland, it was going to be difficult to crack the into the rotation and make the roster. Bland had other plans and began to turns heads in camp.
The fifth-round pick out of Fresno St. backed up his camp play with solid outings in the three preseason games. Bland’s been sticky in coverage, and saved his best performance in the last contest against the Seattle Seahawks. He was beaten for a score, but Bland stayed with the wide receiver and made it a tough catch for the touchdown. Bland also had three passes defensed against the Seahawks and came close to having an interception.
Not on Daron Bland's watch 🙅
— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) August 27, 2022
Bland has outplayed many of the CBs who were ahead of him on the roster when camp began, including Joseph, who was expected to compete for a starting CB job, and Wright. There is little doubt that DaRon Bland has earned his place on Dallas’ roster.
Markquese Bell (S)
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
The Cowboys were able to sign safety Markquese Bell as an undrafted free agent, winning out over the rival Philadelphia Eagles, and Dallas has to be thrilled Bell chose them. Bell’s had a great offseason, as team has continuously sung his praises, and that momentum has transferred over into the exhibition games.
Bell is a physical tackler who isn’t afraid to mix it up around the line of scrimmage, but he’s also played well in coverage, picking off a pass against the Seahawks. The Cowboys coveted Bell’s versatility to play the hybrid linebacker/safety roll they employ with fellow safety Jayron Kearse, and the rookie has shown the ability to do so.
— Brian Baldinger (@BaldyNFL) August 25, 2022
Dan Quinn’s defense brings a ton of scheme versatility with his its players and Bell fits in. It’s clear that Bell will be in the mix for a roster spot and the odds are is his favor for making the team.
Israel Mukuamu (S)
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Just as Bell has earned his spot on the Cowboys, second-year safety Israel Mukuamu has likely played his way onto the 53-man roster as well. That might not be a shock since Mukuamu played in four games as a rookie in 2021, but the former South Carolina Gamecock is warranting a larger role.
Mukuamu has been one of the more impressive defensive players this preseason with three passes defensed and an interception in back-to-back games. The safety saved his best game for last, earning the highest grade for any Cowboys defender, according to PFF, against the Seahawks.
Highest-graded #Cowboys on defense vs. Seattle:
— John Owning (@JohnOwning) August 27, 2022
Mukuamu looks like he’s made the second-year jump and he made a lasting impression in the preseason finale. Don’t be surprised when Mukuamu makes the roster and has plays a bigger role on the defense this season.
Peyton Hendershot (TE)
(AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)
The Cowboys had decent depth at tight end heading into training camp. It wasn’t an elite group, but each player had a job. The starter was Dalton Schultz, who has turned into quarterback Dak Prescott’s security blanket, Jeremy Sprinkle was the veteran designated blocker, and Sean McKeon offered a little of everything, upside as a receiver, a decent blocker and a special teams option.
Another option has emerged this summer, undrafted free agent tight end Peyton Hendershot. The rookie out of Indiana has proved to be a solid bet to make the 53-man roster with a good preseason showing. Hendershot’s shown to have reliable hands, has some good run after the catch ability, and is a good blocker.
Hendershot provided the Cowboys with a lasting impression, scoring a 14-yard touchdown in the win over the Seahawks in their final exhibition game. The pass was a quick out, which Hendershot caught, broke a tackle, and found his way into the end zone.
The @DallasCowboys take the lead 👀
— NFL (@NFL) August 27, 2022
The Cowboys have released Sprinkle, which means the team might feel comfortable in Hendershot’s ability. The case could also be be made that Hendershot is the third best TE on the team, and he could push McKeon out of a job. All signs are that Hendershot’s earned a job, even if Dallas keeps three TEs, and he’s a lock if they keep four.
Hendershot has been a great find for the Cowboys.
Malik Davis (RB)
(AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
The Cowboys have one of the best running back stables in the league, led by Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard. The team also has third-year RB Rico Dowdle, who is returning after missing last season with a hip injury.
However, another candidate has emerged this season in undrafted free agent running back Malik Davis. The Cowboys were singing Davis’ praises as camp began and the rookie out of Florida has backed up the hype, leading the team rushing yards in the preseason with 132.
There are two questions with Davis: has he done enough to unseat Dowdle as the third running back, and will the Cowboys keep four backs? If the answer to question two is yes, the first question is moot. If not, it will be a tough decision for the Cowboys.
Cowboys rookie RB Malik Davis belongs on someone's 53-man roster. Team cannot expect him to clear waivers if cuts him in 10 days. He looks the part.
— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) August 21, 2022
Keeping four RBs feels like a luxury, especially for the Cowboys who have a few positions of uncertainty. Yet the team cannot expect to release Davis or Dowdle and get them back after cutdowns.
One thing is clear, though, Davis has done enough to make the 53-man roster in Dallas.