The Dallas Cowboys need a pass rush. Most analyses of the team have that as the biggest need. And with the strength of the 2017 at defensive end (and a few 3-4 OLB types that could play with a hand down in Dallas’ 4-3), it seems the perfect confluence of need and best player. So the Cowboys should definitely be looking to draft someone they hope is going to be Jerry Jones’ “war daddy”.
Well, not so fast.
A while back, I did a piece on why the binary approach to need and best player is too simplistic. To briefly sum up the idea, the real goal is to find the player who helps the team the most. This factors in both the needs of the roster and the talent the player brings to the team. It is another way of seeking the biggest “bang for the buck”. And based on where the Cowboys stand right now, that looks to be at cornerback, not defensive end.
The pass rush is certainly not fixed yet. But the Cowboys have more potential there than they do at the depleted cornerback position. There are at least three players that could emerge this year, David Irving, Charles Tapper, and Damontre Moore. Additionally, DeMarcus Lawrence could finally overcome his series of injuries and start playing up to his potential. Maybe the league will even reduce the suspension of Randy Gregory in a revamping of the marijuana policy (although you shouldn’t hold your breath on that, of course). And Benson Mayowa led the team in sacks, and should provide solid work again this year. Nothing is certain, but there are a lot of places the Cowboys can look to find some production. And there is no lack of bodies. Taking the defensive line as a whole, the Cowboys already have more players than they are likely to be able to carry into the regular season.
Cornerback is a very different situation. Right now, there are only three players who seem certain to be on the 53-man roster to start the season, Anthony Brown, Orlando Scandrick, and Nolan Carroll - or just enough for a nickel defense, the real base in today’s pass-heavy NFL. Backups at the moment are Leon McFadden and Sammy Seamster, both of whom have a lot to prove to make the team. (Safety is not any better, but it is also not as talent heavy a position in this year’s draft.)
And talent distribution in the draft may favor cornerback for consideration at Dallas’ pick at 28 as well. Although draft big boards are not a precise way to judge that, there are indications of a nice, tight grouping of corners that should be available when the Cowboys go on the clock. Two names that are starting to generate some interest are Kevin King and Gareon Conley, and both have been written up here in the past couple of days. Tre’Davious White and Chidobe Awuzie are also in that cluster of corners that could be available for the Cowboys - and all four are reported to have been among the team’s 30 pre-draft invitees.
The Cowboys will also have a chance to take a good player in the second round with the 60th overall pick, and there is a good chance that they will wind up with a cornerback and defensive end out of the first two rounds. But which one will come first is the question. Based on how the roster stands going into the draft, there is a strong argument that a cornerback is more likely to be a major contributor early on than a defensive end, just due to those numbers cited earlier. There is also something of an argument to be made that rookie corners are more likely to be productive than defensive ends playing in their first year.
It is not so much about right and wrong answers, as trying to stack the deck to get the best one possible. At 28, the Cowboys will have multiple options to choose from. How they use that pick is going to depend on how they have built their draft board, and of course what players have been taken before them. It is a position where, barring a trade back, they are likely to be looking for the best of their second-round-graded players. But if a first-round talent is still there, then the decision may be a bit easier to make.
This is what makes the draft so much fun, since there are so many moving parts to the process. Dallas has been very good with first round picks in recent years, so we are certainly hoping for that trend to continue. Right now, the best value for the team looks to be at cornerback when all factors are considered.