Well, here we are, with two games left to play but we're already cranking up the draft talk after the Cowboys were eliminated from contention (finally) this past Saturday. They have a lot of things that went wrong in 2015, which opens up a lot of questions and potential roster spots for 2016. At 4-10, the Cowboys are looking at a premium pick of fifth overall if the standings hold true these final two games.
The best thing about picking so highly in the draft is the fact that they will almost certainly be able to pick a player that is the best at his position. Recent history would suggest that the Cowboys love taking players at the height of their positioning. Tyron Smith (best tackle in 2011), Morris Claiborne (best corner in 2012), Travis Frederick (best center in 2013), and Zack Martin (best guard in 2014). Where should they look first and what would have the biggest impact in getting them back in the discussion next season?
Candidates: Jalen Ramsey (Florida State) or Vernon Heargraves III (Florida)
The Cowboys took Byron Jones with the 27th pick last season and he's been a solid addition in the secondary. Jones has got work all over the Cowboys secondary and they haven't exactly pinpointed what his position will eventually be in 2016. With the contract for Brandon Carr being in question (as always) and the impending free agency for Morris Claiborne, the Cowboys will need to address the position again this offseason. Of course, we have seen names rise to the top after Senior Bowls and combines so this is all preliminary but the top two candidates are above.
The Cowboys liken themselves to what the Seattle Seahawks have created, but they lack the true shutdown corner even with Orlando Scandrick slated to come back. This is a copy-cat league and the Cowboys would love to solidify their cornerbacks for years to come. As Jerry Jones has stated on multiple occasions, you can never have enough good cornerbacks. Ramsey is the name that everyone knows and many draft pundits already have him pegged as the cream of the crop. Picking at fifth could certainly give the Cowboys a head start at building their secondary that has lacked a playmaker for some time.
Candidates: Ezekiel Elliott (Ohio State) or Derrick Henry (Alabama)
The Cowboys running game has been pretty solid since Darren McFadden took over, but you cannot dismiss the fact that he's not the right runner in this scheme. They most certainly mishandled the running back situation from the start of the last offseason. I've stood behind their decision to let DeMarco Murray walk due to the financial ramifications it would place on them in the future, but they dropped the ball in getting him replaced. Last year's draft offered up plenty of options for them to bring in a young runner and eventually give him the reins. In ways, it's safe to say they let last year's draft get away from them in the middle rounds. The experiment with the running-by-committee has been a failure. They must go back to their ground-and-pound ways to maximize the time they have left with Tony Romo and the opportunities to win big in the near future.
This year's draft doesn't have near the amount of options as last season, but there are a few names to consider and possibly as high as their first pick. Elliott has become a favorite and he's shown that he can do anything that is asked of him. He is perhaps the most well-rounded runner in this year's crop and would be excellent behind a line that has sent three linemen to the Pro Bowl for the second consecutive season. If the Cowboys realize the importance of re-establishing their run game dominance, don't be afraid to get the best back available.
Candidates: Paxton Lynch (Memphis), Jared Goff (California), Connor Cook (Michigan State)
The Cowboys most assuredly have a need at quarterback after the backup debacle that has enjoyed a residency in the headlines of this season. Tony Romo certainly can still play at a high level but at 36 years old, the need to develop someone behind him is at an all-time high. Teams often like to win as much as they can until their franchise quarterback is done before they force the hand at the position. That's not terrible logic, but neither is having someone waiting in the wings like the Green Bay Packers did with Aaron Rodgers. Brandon Weeden, Matt Cassel and now Kellen Moore have all started games since Romo's injury. None of them are the answer of the future and one is already off the roster.
Though it's admirable to have a veteran backup on the roster, the Cowboys have to start thinking post-Romo. That doesn't necessarily mean they have to take one in the first round, but it seems like these top three are the most worthy of the group. Maybe Kellen Moore does enough to warrant keeping him around behind Tony Romo but that hardly is the answer. This year's quarterback class is top-heavy, so if the Cowboys see their man come April, they shouldn't hesitate to turn in his card.
Candidates: Jaylon Smith (Notre Dame), Myles Jack (UCLA), Leonard Floyd (Georgia)
Dallas fans got their wish this season as eventually the pair of Sean Lee and Rolando McClain became a reality and they have played well together. With that said, the Cowboys need a little more depth at the position and injury concerns for their two biggest contributors allow for this pick to make sense. Both Lee and McClain are great players, but the consistency isn't quite always there. They spent a fourth-round pick on Damien Wilson last season and have Anthony Hitchens in the mix, but both of them still have plenty of developing to do.
Smith has been mocked to the Cowboys in Todd McShay's first mock. He would certainly be the run and hit linebacker that Matt Eberflus likes to employ. The key for the Cowboys is building depth on their roster at linebacker. In this scheme, the linebackers are the playmakers. The Cowboys inability to create turnovers trumped all of their improvements in many ways. If they could get a first-round talent at linebacker to pair with the guys they have, it would certainly help this defense become more formidable and protect them in the case of injury.
These are just a few positions to think about out of plenty more on the roster. It all depends on what the Cowboys decide to do in free agency with Greg Hardy and others. With a 4-10 team, no position is off the discussion board. As always, we love to start the discussion here at BTB, what say you? Where do they start?