The NFL draft is oh so close. Just a few more days and the picks will be coming in. But those few days until it starts leaves us room to guess about what the Cowboys will do, so in that spirit, a look at Football Outsiders’ crystal ball as it pertains to Dallas.
They posted to ESPN their take on the Cowboys biggest need (and who might fill it), a quiet need (and who might fill it), and the “not a need” category which is sure timely with the discussions we’ve been having lately.
First up, biggest need.
Biggest need: Safety
The Cowboys have used free agency to fill the bulk of their glaring holes, signing Gerald McCoy and Dontari Poe at defensive tackle, Anthony Brown at cornerback and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix at safety. They should use the draft to fill the holes their roster will likely have in 2021, 2022 and 2023, when their bigger recent contracts for players such as Amari Cooper and (eventually) Dak Prescott will make it difficult to do so in free agency. Safety should be a big priority, with both Clinton-Dix (signed to a one-year deal) and fellow starter Xavier Woods hitting free agency in 2021.
Prospect who might fit: Xavier McKinney, Alabama
Well, that’s sure to be controversial right out of the gate. Safety is a need, but is it their biggest need? With Xavier Woods and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in the fold for this year, anybody they bring in may not be a starter out of the gate. Of course, FO does predicate that biggest need on looking at the roster after next year when both those players mentioned will need new contracts. Fair enough, but would the open slot receiver spot, or the unknown quantities at right defensive end, or a corner who can lock down one side a bigger need this year?
Sill, Xavier McKinney would be a solid add, although he night feel like a little bit of a reach at #17. But, if they did add him, and then re-signed Woods over the next offeason, then Dallas may achieve something possibly undone before in NFL history - have two starting safeties with the first name Xavier.
On to the quiet need.
Quiet need: Pass rush
DeMarcus Lawrence is one of just 13 players with 30 or more sacks the past three seasons, and his total of 50 pass pressures last season, according to Sports Info Solutions, shows that he is not slowing down, despite his diminished total of five sacks in 2019. But Lawrence’s individual success hasn’t elevated the Cowboys’ defense to pass-rushing excellence. They’ve finished 14th or worse in adjusted sack rate each of the past three years, and they lost both Robert Quinn (37 pass pressures) and Michael Bennett (24) in free agency. Aldon Smith could help if he rediscovers his early-decade form, but the team should still look to add pieces in the draft.
Prospect who might fit: Julian Okwara, Notre Dame
That’s probably not really a quiet need. If Randy Gregory and Aldon Smith both get re-instated, and both show the form they’ve had in the past, then the Cowboys would be set. But those are some awfully big ifs. Additionally, reports are that the Cowboys will not know either player’s status prior to the draft. To be on the safe side, they better add some talent and they better add talent they can count on to play in 2020.
Okwara is another of those players that could be a stand-up 3-4 end or a situational 4-3 pass rusher who needs to add some strength to anchor the run. Most predictions have him going in the second round.
Now, the newly-created “not a need” category.
Not a need: Linebacker
Linebackers Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch can be overlooked on a team full of stars, but they both have Pro Bowl résumés, despite being 24 years old. Smith allowed an excellent 14.1% broken tackle rate in 2019, and Vander Esch allowed a minuscule 6.6% broken tackle rate in his healthier 2018, the second-lowest rate among full-time players at the position (Bobby Wagner, 5.4%). Veteran Sean Lee backs them up and plays when the Cowboys need a third linebacker.
It’s almost like they’ve been following the debate recently here at BTB. Is drafting another off-the-ball linebacker a good decision for Dallas? FO weighs in with an emphatic no.