Chia wrote up a piece about his mock draft, and while I agree with most of his analysis, I have a slightly different take. The defense has been much improved over last seasons despite not making any huge additions. Yet, it still needs some extra work. The pass rush has been lacking at times, sometimes it's because Rob only rushes three and sometimes it's because the players they have just aren't good enough to do the job. This team is obviously far from perfect, the NFL is that way by design. DL/OLB is probably the primary we'll address that first after the jump but there's plenty of other needs and things that I'd like to call secondary needs.
Outside Linebacker: Spencer's up this year and a lot of people are making reservations for his farewell party. I don't dislike him, I always thought he was a good player...not great, but definitely good enough to warrant a starting spot. Worth trading up for in the draft? Probably not, worthy of a late first? Ehh...probably. I mean he's been a good player for several years, what more can you ask for? However, the past is the past. Were talking about the future, if he's up for signing a sensible deal...I honestly don't see the problem. He's great against the run and an average-ish pass rusher. Maybe Rob Ryan wants something else for his defense, and if that's the case then by all means send him on his way and wish him good health, but baring requests from the coaching staff I have no problem with bringing him back on a sensible deal.
That being said, a sensible deal likely won't be what Spencer gets. The free agent class for OLBs isn't great, and not every team that needs/wants one will get one that they like in the draft. The Jets and Chargers have pretty weak OLBs that should make us happy that we have Spencer on the opposite side of Demarcus Ware. There's a chance that the new Chargers head coach installs a different defense, and the Cardinals also have a pretty weak set of OLBs. So, he could be in line to get overpaid, I mean good for him if so...but he's not a player I'd be willing to overpay.
So lets say that Anthony Spencer does leave, what are the team's options? Well, there's Victor Butler who by the eye test and the nerd stats is a pretty good passrusher. He's pretty weak against the run though, and with the DL situation being what it is (which I'll address later) it's probably a bad idea to have a guy that leaks like a sieve on the strong side. That being said, he's still a good player to have around. A lot of posters have been talking about using the first round and second round pick on OLB/DL in whichever order makes sense in the draft. Starting a rookie OLB, especially one drafted where the Cowboys will hopefully pick may not be the best idea. Butler will alleviate some of that concern, he can split time with whichever player they draft, if that's the route we go.
Speak of the devil...the OLB class isn't as good as it was last year, but there's a few good candidates:
Courtney Upshaw, is a big guy, I've seen measurements like 6'2 271 for him. He doesn't have the speed that most teams want from a rush backer and that's really all that's preventing him from being a top ten pick. He's drawn LaMarr Woodley comparisons, and had a pretty good career at Alabama. So there's plenty to like here. He might fall too, he's had some character concerns (Allegedly he hit his girlfriend) I know it's way too early to think about the offseason, let alone the draft, but he's already emerged as a great candidate for the Cowboys' first pick. His size should help him against the run and over power right tackles. He's obviously a great fit.
There's other choices in the draft like Lovante David, Zach Brown, Travis Lewis, and Jarvis Jones. I haven't taken too seriously of a look at these other guys, but I do like Courtney Upshaw quite a bit.
There's options in free agency too. Mario Williams is about the only name of note, and he's been injured lately might get a big contract and has all other sorts of red flags. I'm unsure if I'd want to spend what it takes to sign him. He had a great start to his career, and got unfairly booed when he was taken 1/1 in the draft but managed to live up to the billing...he's just too risky right now, though.
via www5.picturepush.com apparently the Madden curse works on Photoshop too.
Here's where things get kind of interesting. There aren't many great players on the defensive line outside of Ratliff, but role of a 34 defensive lineman is different than that of a 43 defensive lineman. Marcus Spears, while hated by many here, does his job. Kenyon Coleman doesn't really put up the traditional stats but his play's been pretty solid. Jason Hatcher has shown some flashes and Lissy might do something too. I think everyone here agrees that they'd like to see the defensive line perform better, however, I don't think there's much agreement on how that should happen. There isn't much in the way of free agents in the defensive line class so that leaves us at the draft. Here's the bad news, the DL class in the draft doesn't get much better. Jerel Worthy or Jared Crick are probably the best bets. Having watched a lot of Nebraska football, I can tell you that Crick would be a phenomenal second round pick...and for the optimists, he's not really fit for the 43. He's pretty much restricted to the five technique 34 end position. Alameda Ta'amu is pretty high on Dan Kadar's list, but not many others from what I've seen. Names like Billy Winn, Devon Still, and Brandon Thompson are other players to consider too. Depending on who's available DL might be a perfectly reasonable place to go in the first round if there's no OLBs to the team's liking.
via bloximages.chicago2.vip.townnews.com Will these guys be teammates some day? Part of me hopes the answer is yes.
Bottom line is this, other than Ratliff there's really no sure thing on the DL nor is there anyone that's irreplaceable, on the other hand there's no glaring weakness either. You can certainly do quite a bit worse than Hatcher, Coleman, and Spears as the DE rotation. That being said, the Cowboys can do better, and they should look pick up some prospects on the DL in the draft next offseason.
I think everyone here's pretty upset with Phil Costa's play and not really digging the center situation. The free agent class is pretty terrible, if the Cowboys got rid of Gurode I doubt they'd want to bring in any other old guys like Matt Birk, Jeff Saturday, or Olin Kreuz. So what to do? Well there's guys like Michael Brewster or Peter Konz in the draft. Brewster's scouting reports are good, but far from glowing. The highest praise you'll see is "player with few weaknesses" but that's a whole lot better than Costa. So if he's available in the mid third I think Dallas should trade up for him.
Center's probably the weakest position on the OL and an upgrade will allow the Cowboys to better utilize the power run. I think it's right up there with any other position of need on the team. Obviously the hope is that either Costa or Killa Kowalski is able to be the starting center, but based on Costa's play that doesn't seem very likely and Kowalski was sort of a flier so that option doesn't inspire much confidence either.
Probably the biggest source of frustration throughout the season has been the weak secondary. It's definitely improved, and it's quite a bit better when Mike Jenkins is back there too...but it still needs work. Jenkins has experienced a resurgence as has Terrance Newman. Jenkins I might be able to buy as being legitimately improved, Newman's still on the wrong side of 30 and is going to need to be replaced soon anyways. Orlando Scandrick has played pretty well for the role he's expected to fulfill, but he's still right in that area of too good to be a nickelback but not good enough to be a full-time starter. Fortunately, there's lots of options. The free agent class has players like Carlos Rogers, and there's plenty of great late first CB fodder. Dre Kirkpatrick, Alonzo Denard, and Janoris Jenkins all seem like great candidates and there's a player to be had for just money. I know free agents in the NFL usually don't workout as well as they do in baseball or basketball, but Rogers seems like a candidate the Cowboys will have to legitimately consider signing.
via misterirrelevant.com He already fits in.
I know a lot of you would like to draft a young corner in the first round, but given the multitude and seriousness of the team's other needs, signing Carlos Rogers and looking for CB late in the draft may be the way to go. There's midround guys like Leonard Johnson and Sean Prater from my home state, and guys like Brandon Boykin, Mike Harris, and Omar Bolden later in the draft. He's a bit old and SF may want him, but he's been the second best CB in football this year. He doesn't have Asomugha's status around the league, and likely won't get an Asomugha type deal. And please don't say something stupid like "Asomugha sucks now why would we want Rogers!!!!!" Each player is different and I find it hard to believe that Asomugha simply can't play at a high level anymore, and even if he did fall off a cliff there's no reason to believe that just because he did that so will Rogers. You guys are smart enough to know this...if you want to say that he's a risk because he's on the wrong side of 30, that's fine, but don't use the Asomugha situation to wholesale dismiss signing Rogers.
I'd also take this opportunity to say that the safety situation is fine. Elam and Sensabaugh are perfectly capable NFL safeties, and I'm completely comfortable with going to war with them for the rest of this season, the postseason, and next season.
That concludes it for what I'd say are the primary needs of this team, after that positions I'd look at several different positions on the team. Running back may not seem like that big of a deal since DeMarco emerged, but very few running backs are able to maintain top status year to year. Running backs get hurt quite often, and unless you have Adrian Peterson starting for you it's a two back league anyways. Felix looks dead out here, and while I like Tanner I wouldn't say I'm completely comfortable going into next year with just Murray and Tanner. I think there's a very good chance Felix is gone next season. I wouldn't spend anything higher than a fourth on a running back, nor would I sign Ray Rice or Matt Forte, but if I were Jerry or Garrett I'd definitely add another running back or two before training camp starts next year. Wide Receiver is sort of the same vein, Austin and Bryant both experienced injuries this year and while bringing back Laurent Robinson is a must, so is making sure Kevin Ogletree never has to start. Dwayne Harris and Jesse Holley will hopefully inspire some confidence, that's another position I'd take a look at adding some depth too. Nothing higher than a sixth round pick, but definitely look at some other wide outs. ILB is the same thing, Carter and Lee should be fine, but both have had injuries in the past and linebackers take a lot of hits. Look at an ILB through free agency to back up Carter and Lee or even bring back Bradie for another year.
So that's about it. It's way too early for anything serious, but I think this is a good start. I know this was pretty long and if you read the whole thing I appreciate it. So, your thoughts? Comments are welcomed and appreciated.