At the end of April, the Cowboys will restock their roster with some fresh young legs from the 2018 NFL Draft. It’s going to be exciting to see what new toys they’ll have at their disposal. Typically, we have some general idea of what positions are more likely to be targeted with that all-important first-round pick. For example, most of us were convinced the team was going to select either a defensive end or a cornerback on day one of the 2017 draft.
This year, things are wide open. There are several different positions where the Cowboys could use an upgrade. And it’s not because they are riddled with holes, but more so because they have filled so many of them that more of their needs have similar importance. Even though there isn’t one position that is in high demand, there are still a few of them that I’m hearing about quite a bit.
The linebacker position is a giant mystery in Dallas. The pendulum can swing heavily in either direction based on what transpires over the next few months. The team took a chance on Jaylon Smith when they made him the 34th overall pick in the 2016 draft. After sitting out the entire season that year, he returned this season to play in all 16 games. It was a solid season and many are hoping there is more to come as he gets healthier. Will this once-explosive college star be able to play at a high level again or is the talent ceiling a lot lower than we all hoped? How the coaches evaluate him will loom large when it comes to making other decisions at the position.
And one of those decisions will be whether or not to retain Anthony Hitchens. The coaches love him and he loves being in Dallas, but this decision is going to be driven by his market price versus how much the Cowboys are willing to spend on him.
A best case scenario is where Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith, and Anthony Hitchens are all still with the team and Smith’s prognosis on his knee raises his ceiling. That would put the linebacker position in good shape. But the flip side of this is that Hitchens signs elsewhere and Smith’s expectations are pulled back. Combine that with the nervousness about an injury to Lee that can happen at any moment and that puts the Cowboys linebacker group in dire straights. Grabbing an athletic, tackling-machine would work out nicely in that scenario. Who wouldn’t want a Bobby Wagner-type player on their defense?
Here are the top inside linebackers according to CBSsports.com:
Would the Cowboys dare take a 1-tech defensive tackle with their first-round pick? Fans don’t seem to think so based on historical evidence that has seen the team shy away from such a thing. It certainly is a position that could help them as the team lost Terrell McClain to free agency last year and new acquisition Stephen Paea (145 snaps) retired after dealing with a knee injury early in the season. The Cowboys turned to Brian Price (150 snaps) to help beef up the interior line, but he suffered a knee injury against the Kansas City Chiefs that ended his season. From that point, it’s been a combination of Richard Ash (233 snaps) and then most recently Datone Jones (117 snaps) to handle the work inside.
Having a beast in the middle would sure help strengthen a defensive line that is starting to show a lot of promise. Here are the top defensive tackles according to CBSsports.com:
The Cowboys did wonders collecting a handful of coverage defensive backs in their last draft. Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, and Xavier Woods all had good rookie seasons. While the team did a great job replacing the veteran corners, the absence of a run-stopping safety like Barry Church was missed. Just think of how much a player like Landon Collins would help bolster the secondary.
Here are the top strong safeties according to CBSsports.com:
The Cowboys offense crashed hard after Tyron Smith missed time due to a multitude of injuries. Neither Chaz Green nor Byron Bell offered the team any reason to be optimist about what they can contribute going forward so the team must look elsewhere to shore up their offensive line.
Currently, the four returning offensive line starters (Smith, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, and La’el Collins) have all made the Cowboys top 10 for salary cap hits in 2018. Would the team choose to make another big investment on the offensive line? Another quality blocker certainly is in the mix come draft time, but it’s likely to come in later rounds.
Here are the top offensive tackles according to CBSsports.com:
All the Cowboys wide receivers had down years this season so naturally they all need replaced, right? And some fans are ready to wash their hands of All-Pro wideout, Dez Bryant. So just like that, wide receiver has made the list as one of the positions the team should target early in the draft.
It would be great to add another talented receiver to the group to provide Dak Prescott with more weapons, especially if they have the speed to concern opposing defenses. And if Bryant is on the decline, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to find his eventual replacement. The Pittsburgh Steelers have put on a clinic when it comes to repeatedly churning out play-making receivers. They went through a period where they just bounced from Santonio Holmes (1st round) to Mike Wallace (3rd round) to Antonio Brown (6th round). In each case, it seemed like a mistake to let their receiver go in free agency, but that feeling didn’t last long when the next guy emerged and produced at a high level. It looked like they had snagged a great complement to Brown when they drafted Martavis Bryant (4th round), but he can’t stay out of trouble. Fortunately, this year’s second-round pick, JuJu Smith-Schuster, broke out this season.
As Pittsburgh has shown, it doesn’t have to be the plan to replace their #1 WR, but if they keep drafting the right guys, it can just turn out that way.
Here are the top wide receivers according to CBSsports.com:
What position do you think the Cowboys should target with their first-round pick?
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