With the first preseason game of the 2022 NFL season looming, the Dallas Cowboys have released their first unofficial depth chart of the season. The Athletic's Jon Machota tweeted a screenshot of the roster on Wednesday. The more established Cowboys are unsurprisingly stationed at the top of their position groups, and the first preseason depth chart of the season stands to change quite a bit between now and Dallas' season opener against Tampa Bay on Sep. 11.
As Dallas prepares to test a new system with new personnel against the Denver Broncos on Saturday, these are some of the biggest surprises on Mike McCarthy's first roster of the season.
Cowboys’ first unofficial depth chart pic.twitter.com/WVq2q96OgP
— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) August 9, 2022
3 biggest surprises from Mike McCarthy's first Cowboys depth chart of 2022
Dorance Armstrong on the first team
A lot of names have ben thrown around as possible starters at defensive end for the Cowboys this offseason. From Dante Fowler to Tarell Basham, it seems like anyone and everyone in Cowboys training camp has a shot at the job. Sam Williams and Chauncey Golston are two more players perceived as potential threats to claim the starting job, but Armstrong might have gotten lost in the shuffle of young talent.
Armstrong took a strong step forward in 2021. Before last season, the most quarterback pressures Armstrong ever had in a season was eight in 2019. In 2021, that number swelled to 22. Armstrong got home more last season than he ever had before as well. The KU product finished last season nipping at Randy Gregory's heels with five total sacks, third-most on the team. The fact that Dallas made multiple attempts to bring in new pass rushers this offseason suggests that the front office wasn't happy with the talent they already had under contract.
Nevertheless, Armstrong takes the field with the starters in Dallas' first exhibition of 2022, not Fowler, Williams, or anyone else.
Tony Pollard set to return kicks and punts
One of the Cowboys' most important challenges this offseason was figuring out how to efficiently and effectively expand Tony Pollard's role in the offense. It would seem to follow that Pollard's expanded role would move him away from the special teams unit and open up the returner role for another player. The addition of standout kick returner in KaVontae Turpin was another hint that Dallas' return game could look different in 2022, but Pollard remains listed as the No. 1 returner on the team.
Pollard is certainly no slouch as a kick returner. He averaged 28.8 yards per return a season ago and ripped off a 100-yard touchdown return against the Las Vegas Raiders last Thanksgiving. Pollard has only returned two punts in his career. It was CeeDee Lamb who performed that job most often last season. Presumably because of his new role as the Cowboys' No. 1 wideout, the Cowboys relieved Lamb of that job for the time being. It is surprising that it went to Pollard because he too has expanded responsibilities in the offense this year.
Jake Ferguson as backup tight end
Maybe the most responsibility on Dallas' entire second unit falls to the backup tight end. It was from that position that current starter Dalton Schultz broke out in 2020 behind the often-injured Blake Jarwin. Dallas' offense favors tight ends, and not just the starters. For Mike McCarthy to trust this year's fourth-round pick with that signals a lot of trust in Jake Ferguson.
Tight end isn't exactly Dallas' deepest position. Sean McKeon and Jeremy Sprinkle may not have been the favorites to win the backup job over Ferguson. It's still interesting to see him thrust into that role right off the bat. Ferguson's role in the offense won't come completely into focus until the Cowboys' offense develops a clearer identity. The apparent willingness of the coaching staff to throw him into the deep end could lead to an uncommonly large role in the offense for a fourth-round tight end.