Dallas Cowboys fans entered this offseason with one overwhelming priority: improve the pass rush by almost any means necessary. Now that the free agency period is slowing down, other needs are popping up. The Cowboys were mostly sellers, not buyers, in free agency, and the losses can be essentially summarized by the following: the Cowboys lost 40% of their starting offensive line, a pair of defensive linemen who started/played much of last season, two starting cornerbacks and their starting and backup strong safety. As free agency ends and the NFL draft nears, let’s take a look at the biggest needs for the Dallas Cowboys.
Barry Church will be the most missed player on the team next year given his leadership, knack for making big plays and allowing the defensive line to pressure the quarterback more. Given his departure, Dallas is left with Byron Jones at free safety and a combination of Jeff Heath and Kavon Frazier as the other safeties. Neither Heath nor Frazier are known for their excellent skill set but clearly one of them will compete for the starting strong safety job assuming Dallas does not hit gold in this years draft. Does Dallas mortgage a bit of their future (a la Morris Claiborne style) and trade up to select Jamal Adams or Malik Hooker? Probably not. Look for them to make a run at Budda Baker or make a splashy pick with Jabrill Peppers.
Much has been made of the Dallas Cowboys offensive line over the last few years. It was expected that Ronald Leary would depart but Doug Free’s retirement caught many of us by surprise. Dallas will insert La’el Collins at left guard to replace Ronald Leary but their right tackle position remains unfilled. Given much of their success relies on time for Dak Prescott in the pocket and running lanes for Ezekiel Elliott, look for the Cowboys to shore up their offensive line in this years draft with a second- or third-round draft pick. The front office has shown great insight into their offensive line picks in the past and this draft should be no different.
God Bless Rod Marinelli. He continues to do more with less and his players ball out for him. Going into this season, Dallas will likely start DeMarcus Lawrence and Tyrone Crawford at defensive end but they hope to find new blood in this year’s draft which would make Tyrone Crawford a swing player across the whole defensive line. One starting defensive tackle is Maliek Collins but Dallas lost two players in Terrell McClain and Jack Crawford. They did sign Stephen Paea and have Cedric Thornton for another year. Shoring up the defensive line with a better pass rush (either DT or DE) is important to off-load the pressure on the linebackers and allow a young secondary to continue maturing.
While losing your starting cornerbacks in one offseason sounds bad, it is probably not as bad as it sounds. Dallas played without a productive Morris Claiborne for the better part of four years and while Brandon Carr never missed a game in a Dallas uniform, he was never the shutdown corner that they expected. Given the wide receiver additions in the NFC East, Dallas will rely on Orlando Scandrick as their clear starter but will also need Anthony Brown who far exceeded expectations last year. They brought in veteran Nolan Carroll to add depth at the position. Adding cornerback depth is critical to continue competing in the suddenly receiver-rich NFC East
As the Dallas Cowboys prepare for April’s NFL draft, look for them to focus on the secondary as well as the offensive and defensive lines. While some argument can be made to select the best player available regardless of position, it is hard to believe the Cowboys will not directly address their specific needs given how close they are to competing for a championship. A successful draft would bring these key pieces: a starting safety, a reliable tackle to compete for Doug Free’s job, a reliable cornerback to fill in for the voids left by Claiborne and Carr and a starter on the defensive line.
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Which position should be the Cowboys priority in the 2017 draft?
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