The 2016 NFL draft is here. Tonight the festivities kick off with round one. How will the Cowboys approach the three-day event? Every year we hear the same refrain. "Just take the best player available." And it is the ideal of every draft. But without an accurate understanding of where the team can improve, improvement becomes random and happenstance. Every plan begins with an assessment of areas of need. The Dallas Cowboys have many areas for improvement after a 4-12 season, so the next step is prioritizing them. Below are the positions of need ranked by potential for improvement.
Suspensions to Randy Gregory and DeMarcus Lawrence have turned this to a position of seeming desperation for the Cowboys. Nonetheless, they have not re-signed Greg Hardy or Jeremy Mincey. Perhaps they are more pleased than the public with the progress of David Irving and the acquisition of Benson Mayowa. Stephen Jones has also spoken of Tyrone Crawford's ability to move back to defensive end. Nonetheless, given the potential for loss of either presumed future anchor at defensive end for an extended period in the future, this is a position that needs depth desperately. Potential for improvement: very high
Dallas has a terrific starter, but whether for two more years or four is a matter of some debate. They are in need of a successor to Tony Romo and desperate need of a back up. If they can find someone who fits the bill, this should be a high priority, but it seems unlikely that said player will be available to them in this draft. Potential for improvement: high
Much like quarterback, Dallas has one of the best starters in the game. Unfortunately, beyond Dez Bryant, the team has a bunch of complementary pieces. Without Dez they are simply dead in the water. Many, myself included, have pointed to the need for a back up quarterback, but I have also showed that statistically, most of our receivers had an average to above average year last year. The lack of a healthy Dez destroyed the offense nearly as much as the lack of Romo and a strong receiver class might provide a piece to keep the offense flowing in the absence of Dez. Potential for improvement: high
With Darren McFadden's resurrection and the addition of Alfred Morris, the Cowboys have a decent group here and are not desperate for a replacement, but running back is a young man's game and there are several strong candidates in this draft. While not a specific need, this is a position where the Cowboys can solidify an important aspect for a long time with a good pick, Potential for improvement: moderately high
Picking up "Swamp Thing" Cedric Thornton is a huge upgrade here. Nonetheless, the interior of the line is where most of the rotation occurs and its always good to have more and stronger bodies here. Couple that with the interior defensive line being considered the strength of this draft and the ability of many of the current DTs to kick outside to DE to help replace Lawrence and Gregory and this becomes an intriguing pick. Potential for improvement: moderately high.
Morris Claiborne, Brandon Carr, and Orlando Scandrick. Despite being much maligned, that's a capable group. But the best of them, Scandrick, is coming off a major injury and nearing 30. The other two are serviceable players who came with big price tags. This season has brought both of them back at lower cost, but neither is really looked upon with great comfort. This is a position where Dallas could raise the bar. Potential for improvement: moderately high
Many people love to complain about the safety situation in Dallas, but the confirmation of Byron Jones as a player probably does enough to keep this position solidified. The simple fact is that NFL safeties are as hard to find as any position outside of quarterback and their mistakes are generally the most visible. There is room for improvement but not as much as people think. Potential for improvement: medium
It is a running gag, but despite the addition of Geoff Swain last year, Dallas could still improve at tight end. Gavin Escobar has shown promise, but never produced and is coming off an injury. James Hanna has been re-signed and is a nice piece, but not a truly capable starter. Witten himself took a heavy downturn in production where in years past he would've been the beneficiary of Dez's decreased production. Potential for improvement: medium
Dallas is actually in decent shape at linebacker, with Sean Lee coming off a career year, Rolando McClain being very capable, and Anthony Hitchens remaining a solid player. Kyle Wilber and Andrew Gachkar are decent Swiss army knife depth. Damien Wilson showed potential early but seems to have fallen a bit out of favor as the year went on. Questions about McClain's work ethic remain, however, and the low-value contract he received does nothing to dispel the rumors. Unfortunately, most of the high-caliber picks at linebacker are badly injured and another fourth-rounder is unlikely to be a massive upgrade. Potential for improvement: moderately low
The starters are solid and the presumed heir is Chaz Green, but he remains an untested quantity. Dallas could bring in competition for the future at right tackle. Potential for improvement: low
Travis Frederick is generally considered among the best in the game, Joe Looney has been brought in to hold the fort in case Frederick misses his first game. Potential for improvement: very low
Three deep this may be the best set of guards in the game, Potential for improvement: near zero