The Dallas Cowboys have to be feeling pretty good about their offense heading into this draft. They re-signed their franchise quarterback Dak Prescott, and they will be getting back huge contributors along the offensive line in Tyron Smith, La’el Collins, and Zack Martin. But could they feel so good about their offense that they focus their entire 2021 NFL Draft targeting defensive players? They certainly need help to come in and fix a defense that ranked 28th in points allowed last season giving up an average of 29.6 points per game.
We know the Cowboys do have needs on the offensive side of the football. The depth along the offensive line was exposed last season, and now they need depth at quarterback and possibly at wide receiver. They might need need to protect themselves in case they lose Michael Gallup in free agency next offseason. But, are those needs bigger in the Cowboys front offices eyes than the needs on defense?
Maybe they take a page out of the Carolina Panthers playbook and focus their draft on rebuilding a unit that teams weren’t afraid to face. The Panthers did that last season. In 2019, the Panthers ranked 31st in points allowed giving up an average of 29.4 points per game. Pretty similar situation to the Cowboys; both weren’t able to really stop anyone from scoring, and they were unable to stop the run. The Panthers average per attempt was 5.2 yards per carry for their opponents while the Cowboys average was 5.0 yards per carry.
Another area where these teams are similar is in their sack and turnover totals. The Panthers in 2019 were able to sack the quarterback 29 times, recover 14 fumbles, and intercept seven passes the entire season. Again, not to far off from where the Cowboys were last season. The Cowboys sacked the quarterback 31 times, recovered 17 fumbles, and intercepted just 10 passes last season. This shows that the lack of push up front combined with their inability to create turnovers combined to implode the defense
So what did the Panthers do to fix their defensive issues, or at least lessen the burden, that their defensive short-comings put on their offense? They spent all seven of their picks on defensive talent at every level of the defense.
Round 1, pick 7: Derrick Brown, DT, Auburn
Round 2, pick 38: Yetur Gross-Matos, DE, Penn State
Round 2, pick 64: Jeremy Chinn, S, Southern Illinois
Round 5, pick 152: Kenny Robinson, CB, West Virginia
Round 6, pick 184: Bravvion Roy, DL, Baylor
Round 7, pick 221: Stantley Thomas-Oliver III, CB, Florida International
And what happened to the Panthers defense after this injection of young talent, they jumped from 31st ranked defense in 2019 to the 18th ranked defense in 2020. Their points per game dropped to 25.1 points from 29.4, their opponent rushing touchdowns and average yards per carry fell from 30 touchdowns to 17 touchdowns and 5.2 yards per carry to 4.7 yards per carry, and their sack and turnover numbers increased. Those are pretty big positives in a short amount of time, and something that the Cowboys could lean towards after seeing those results and knowing that they have a better offense that they can put on the field.
It’s a big what if, but there is some data that shows that the approach can work. So if they think that the healthy offense with the potential to drop 40 burgers on opposing teams coupled with the injection of young talent all over the defense could put them over the top, they may just replicate that plan, or something close to it.