Heading into the draft I made a list of the Cowboys positional needs. I did my best to think not just of next year but for the next near future as well. Rabble's "Follow The Money" series proved exceedingly helpful with that! And Rabs deserves a shout-out; here was the takeaway from his article written over a month ago:
With Carr's performance-pay inequity and Mo Claiborne's contract expiring after this year, don't be surprised if the Cowboys draft corners early come April. Like first round early.
Combining Rabble's analysis, and my own thoughts on where each position ranked strength wise, I came up with the following list of our top seven needs (one for each round!), ranked from biggest to lowest need.
1. Cornerback: Only one above average player, and the only other proven starting caliber player is a potential salary cut. Morris Claiborne might never be healthy enough to play. The Cowboys addressed the position with Byron Jones, but they may not be done here yet.
2. Linebacker: Some people see this as a position of strength, and on the surface it could appear that way with Sean Lee and Rolando McClain. But both of those players have major question marks, and may not be here in 2016. I think Anthony Hitchens is better suited as a primary backup at all three spots than as a full-time starter, and behind those three are JAGS and projects.
3. Defensive Line: I know a lot of people are pulling for a dominant one-tech, but I think we're set at that spot with Terrell McClain, Nick Hayden, and Ken Bishop. More worrying to me is the three-tech position. Last year Tyrone Crawford played 67% of all defensive snaps, and I can't see that number going much higher. The only other true pass rushing DT on the roster is the unproven Chris Whaley.
4. Defensive End: Even without Greg Hardy I'm fairly high on this group. I think DeMarcus Lawrence is going to have a major jump in year two, and that Jeremy Mincey will continue to be a steady presence. On the strong side we have an interesting collection of youngsters; Ben Gardner, Kenneth Boatright, Lavar Edwards, Jack Crawford and Davon Coleman should, between the lot of them, give us at least as much as George Selvie and Anthony Spencer did last year.
5. Running Back: This seems low I know, but in my mind there's really very little difference separating running backs, DT's and DE's in the needs department; it's just from a pure numbers standpoint you need less running backs than the others. There are question marks surrounding each of the players on the roster, but it's an intriguing group. I'm confident that Dallas will draft a running back, I just don't think they need to draft one high.
6. Swing Tackle: Jeremy Parnell is gone, and we need a player to develop and hopefully replace Doug Free in the next few years.
7. Backup QB: Noting that soon is a relative term, sooner rather than later the Cowboys will have to move on from Tony Romo. Regardless of if that is next year or half a decade from now, we can certainly improve our backup position from Brandon Weeden. Dallas is also at a spot in its roster development we can start looking at QB's as assets, to be groomed and then traded.
We know that Dallas does its best to have a "clean board" and not draft for need. They want to get the best value they can for each pick, and chasing need is a great way to lose value. But sometimes those two qualities, need and value, align, and when they do it's a beautiful thing ... the last time need and value aligned so perfectly for Dallas was back in 2011 when Dallas drafted Tyron Smith.
Last night need and value aligned again. Not only did Jones fill Dallas' biggest need, he represented great value at pick 27. He was supposedly in the top 15 of the Cowboys board, on my own personal board I had him ranked at 14. To get a player that highly ranked is wonderful; to get a player that highly ranked at your position of greatest need is sublime.