FanPost

The Cowboys are ??? players away from being a championship contender


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For years it seemed Cowboys Owner/GM Jerry Jones seemed to subscribe to the "one player away" mentality when it came to drafting and free agency.

Going after shiny toys and big names meant the team declined to address an aging and deteriorating offensive line. There seems to have been a slight shift recently as the Cowboys have put more of an emphasis - though maybe not enough yet - on the big guys in the trenches.

No one can argue this team is "one player away" from being considered a Super Bowl favorite, so it begs the question, how many players are needed?

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I will take a look at all the position groups and address give you my opinion on how many players the group needs as well as give you a few names currently on the roster to keep an eye on. Then I let you know how confident I am as to whether or not I think the current Cowboys will be able to step up and become the players the Cowboys need them to be. Please note, I am only judging how many players are needed based on this year. Age and depth will not play a huge factor.

I will also highlight a few names to watch for the upcoming draft who could help out the ‘Boys in the future.

Offensive Line:

Tyron Smith became the first offensive lineman selected in the first round in the Jones era. Smith seems to be on track to become one of the best lineman in the game but he is getting very little help from the rest of his mates on the line. If this unit is to improve, the Cowboys must invest heavily in improving the talent. G Nate Livings is the only other offensive lineman who could be described as adequate.

Players needed: 3

In-House Candidates: There are a couple of in-house candidates who could step up and become the players needed to help the offensive line become - at the very least - average. Phil Costa returns from injury but has been in the fans doghouse for some time. Kevin Kowalski has shown some promise and will be eligible to return from the PUP list after the Baltimore game. David Arkin, the much-maligned fourth round pick, saw increased action in the preseason at both guard and center and did not completely embarrass himself. Ryan Cook has played admirably since joining the Cowboys.

Confidence Level: Extremely Low, this group has not shown me anything to prove they can play a full 60 minutes of average football.

Players to watch: If there was ever a draft where the Cowboys could upgrade the talent on the offensive line in hurry, 2013 could be it. At the top are guys like OG Chance Warmack (Alabama), OT Luke Joeckel (Texas A&M), OC,OG Barrett Jones (Alabama). All these guys are likely to go in the first round.

There are a number of guys to keep your eye on later in the draft too, this class is stacked: C Khaled Holmes (USC), OG Jonathan Cooper (UNC), OG Dallas Thomas (Tennessee), OT Taylor Lewan (Michigan), OT Jake Matthews (Texas A&M), OT D.J. Fluker (Alabama) and OG Gabe Jackson (Miss State). These players could go anywhere from late first to third round.

Couple of things to take away, this is by far the worst unit on the Cowboys. Secondly, if you want to see what a good Oline looks like (and see some - hopefully - future Cowboys) watch Alabama, Texas A&M and UNC games. Each one of those teams have multiple prospects who could be very good NFL players. Also, as much as the SEC is lauded for their defenses, they also believe in building strong offensive lines. Coincidence they are the best conference in the NCAA?

Quarterback

Tony Romo is a franchise QB capable of taking a talented team to the promise land. He cannot do it himself, but he is more than capable of winning it all. Age is a concern and the Cowboys need to start thinking about the future, but the Cowboys have their QB.

Players needed: 0

Running Back

DeMarco Murray has shown he can carry a team when he gets a little help from his offensive line. Felix Jones seems like a shell of himself, but with Dunbar and Tanner also in the fold the Cowboys have more than enough players to compete now at the running back position.

Players needed: 0

Tight End

Jason Witten started slowly due to injury, but seems to be rounding back into form. A healthy Witten, John Phillips and James Hanna are good enough to win with.

Players needed: 0

Wide Receivers

This is a hard group to judge. The top three guys (Miles Austin, Dez Bryant, Kevin Ogletree) have all flashed ability, but inconsistency and injury prevent the trio from being talked about as one of the best in the league - which is where their talent says they should be. This group, as it consists today, is good enough to win a Super Bowl, but are not good enough to carry a team.

Linebackers

While the Cowboys have invested heavily in outside linebackers with questionable success, spending high picks on Sean Lee and Bruce Carter have vastly improved the coverage, and sideline-to-sideline ability of the defense. However, the Cowboys still need a consistent pass rush opposite DWare. I gave both the linebackers and defensive line 0.5 players because I think the Cowboys need a pass rusher but it can come from either the dline or linebacker position.

Players needed: 0.5

In-House candidates: Anthony Spencer, when healthy, has been playing great. But he still remains a jack-of-all-trades but master-of-none type player. What the Cowboys really need is a player who can get consistent pass rush and take some of the pressure of Ware. Spencer has proven to be a valuable part of this defense, but until the Cowboys can generate pass rush his all-around game goes to waste. If Spencer can capitalize on his pass rush opportunities he has a shot of getting another contract with ‘Boys. Victor Butler, you had your chance and came up wanting as a starter. Kyle Wilbur is a rookie who has been slowed by injury, but showed some promise. Would like to see what he can do with some snaps.

Confidence Level: Good, Spencer has played well when he is on the field and I think he is good enough to fill the role needed this year. Next year though, big question mark.

Players to Watch: The top players are OLB Jarvis Jones (Georgia) and DE/OLB Sam Montgomery (LSU). Guys like DE Barkevious Mingo (LSU) and DE Damontre Moore (Texas A&M) are also top prospects but I am not sure how well they fit in a 3-4 (even though Moore has played 3-4 at A&M).

Defensive Line

The defensive line, like the linebackers, are in need of a pass rusher who can take pressure off of DWare. They have played well this year, but are not dominant. There is a good mix of young players and veterans. The addition of a pass rusher at OLB lessens the need here and vice versa.

Players needed: 0.5

In-House Candidates: Jason Hatcher and Sean Lissemore came into the season with high hopes. So far we have seen flashes but no consistency. Neither player inspires fear into opposing offenses. Jay Ratliff is finally coming back after suffering a high ankle sprain. His return could take some pass rush pressure off of Lissemore and Hatcher.

Confidence Level: Moderate, Hatcher, Lissemore and Ratliff may not be world beaters - but can be playmakers.

Players to Watch: There are plenty of interesting defensive lineman prospects in next year's draft. For those wanting a big NT who demands double teams, pay attention. DT Star Lotulelei (Utah) is 6-4 325, DT Johnathan Hankins (Ohio State) is 6-3 335 and DT John Jenkins (Georgia) is 6-3 358. All these guys are huge, athletic and active along the line. Another guy to keep an eye on who may go later in the draft (if he declares) is JUCO transfer Daniel McCullers. This NT for Tennessee is 6-6 377 and seems to make a play every game. Other guys to keep an eye on are more tweeners in a 3-4. DE/OLB Bjoern Werner (FSU), DL Kawann Short (Purdue), DL Sylvester Williams (UNC) and DL Sharrif Floyd (Florida).

Secondary

The secondary has probably been the best unit for the Cowboys so far this year. Brandon Carr has lived up to his contract and Morris Claiborne is living up to his draft status. Mike Jenkins has come in and played well and proven to be, along with Carr, a versatile piece of the secondary puzzle. Scandrick has not made many plays, but also has not given up many. The problem has been at safety where injury has caused the ‘Boys to use Carr and Jenkins at safety at times. Barry Church should return from his Achilles injury but who knows if he will be the player he was prior to the injury. Even before his injury, Church was a player with some question marks. Sensabaugh has been his usual solid self at the other safety spot.

Players needed: 1

In-House Candidates: Danny McCray and Matt Johnson have, thus far, not shown the ability to either stay on the field (Johnson) or make plays (McCray). McCray is serviceable, but replacable at safety. The Cowboys have had to rely on Carr and Jenkins at safety in order to make sure their best players are on the field.

Confidence Level: High, losing Church was unfortunate but the combination of Jenkins, Carr and McCray should be enough to get the ‘Boys through this season.

Players to Watch: T.J. McDonald (USC), Shawn Williams (Georgia), Bacarri Rambo (Georgia) Kenny Vaccaro (Texas) are all seniors and seemed to be bunched together in terms of where they could go in the draft (late first to second). The juniors may be a little more talented with guys like Eric Reid (LSU) and Matt Elam (Florida).

I have a total of five players needed in order for the Cowboys to compete for a Super Bowl this year. Defensively I think this team is already a championship caliber unit, they are not however a dominant unit. This defense cannot carry the team to a championship ala the Ravens and Bucs of years past. Offensively the players are in place everywhere except the offensive line. Unfortunately the Oline is a mess. Tyron Smith is going to be good, but is not a finished product. Doug Free has had three bad games and one average one. Nate Livings is playing well, but gets lost because of the ineptitude coming from the other guard spot. Center has been average at best. What worse is it seems these guys just cannot get on the same page. If on one play Free gets his man blocked, Mack lets his guy get through, if Smith drives his man into the second level the interior breaks down and Murray gets smacked in the backfield.

An offense goes only as far as the offensive line can push it - and right now the line is getting pushed backwards.

There is hope however, as I think the defense will continue to keep this team in games and the offensive skill players will play to their talent. However, I think the offensive line will continue to hurt this team and will ultimately be the reason why the Cowboys will have an early off season this year.

I love the draft, and 2013 could be a great one for the ‘Boys as there are plenty of talented players at areas of need. Some of my favorites are; all everything offensive lineman Barrett Jones because he can play every position on the interior and even has experience at tackle. His teammate Warmack may be the better player, but Jones' versatility should be highly coveted by the ‘Boys. Jake Matthews has the family pedigree and experience at RT to replace Doug Free if he continues to be unimpressive this year. I am also a fan of Dallas Thomas from Tennessee. It would not hurt my feelings if the Cowboys drafted Jones in the first, Matthews in the second and Thomas in the third. I am tired of talking about the Cowboy poor offensive line play.

Defensively my favorite players for the Cowboys are Sam Montgomery and Damontre Moore. They are not the best defensive players in next years' draft, but are guys the Cowboys could pick up in the mid to late first round who could come in and contribute right away. I do not see the ‘Boys picking defense first when there is a ton of talent on the offensive line and a crippling need there, but you never know with this team. I am also enamored with the HUGE Tennessee NT McCullers. I doubt he comes out this year since he is still very raw and needs a ton coaching up, but he is a player to watch if he declares and is sitting there in the fourth round.

Well BTB, what do you think. How close are the Cowboys?

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Another user-created commentary provided by a BTB reader.

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