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6 defensive prospects the Cowboys will be watching at the NFL Combine

How can the Cowboys continue to improve on defense?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: FEB 02 Reese’s Senior Bowl Practice Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The 2022 NFL Combine kicks off next Tuesday, and teams across the league will have a chance to get a closer look at many of the players they could select come draft time. For the Cowboys, they’ll likely be looking for a couple of promising defenders to build on the strong improvements the defense made this past year under Dan Quinn’s watch.

Here are six names to keep an eye on next week.

Devonte Wyatt, iDL - Georgia

The Cowboys saw a lot of promise in Osa Odighizuwa’s rookie year and Neville Gallimore looked good once he returned from injury, but this defense still needs rotational players in the trenches who can make an impact, especially against the run.

Devonte Wyatt hasn’t been getting enough attention because his teammate, Jordan Davis, is dominating the spotlight. Dallas will undoubtedly be watching Davis too, but Wyatt may be more in their draft range. Wyatt plays a lot like Odighuzuwa, only with about 40 more pounds on his frame. That helps him be more physical at the point of attack, whether he’s rushing the passer or clogging running lanes. Wyatt would make an excellent addition to this defensive line rotation.

Perrion Winfrey, iDL - Oklahoma

If the Cowboys are more concerned about boosting their interior pass rush than fortifying their run defense, then Perrion Winfrey could become a huge draft crush for Dan Quinn. Just from a physical standpoint, Winfrey is everything Quinn craves: length and explosiveness.

Winfrey also turned heads at the Senior Bowl with his quick first step and ability to beat several highly-regarded offensive linemen. He played a variety of roles at Oklahoma, too, so Quinn will have fun moving him around with the rest of his defensive linemen. The Cowboys may have to use their first-round pick to get him, however, as Winfrey may not last long on Day 2 assuming he does well next week.

Devin Lloyd, LB - Utah

The Cowboys only have two linebackers under contract for next season: Micah Parsons, who splits his time at EDGE already, and Jabril Cox, who tore his ACL this past year as a rookie. Dallas will need more players here, and an impact player to line up next to Parsons as well as filling his spot on pass rushing downs would be big.

A lot of fans want Georgia’s Nakobe Dean, but Devin Lloyd offers a similar skill set. Some teams may even have Lloyd over Dean in the end. Lloyd is a physical downhill defender who made strides as a coverage player this past season. He’s also had success as a blitzer throughout his time at Utah, making him a nice complementary piece for someone of Parsons’ skills. But are the Cowboys going to select another linebacker in the first round? They’ll have to if they want Lloyd.

Quay Walker, LB - Georgia

If the Cowboys don’t end up going for Dean or Lloyd on Day 1 of the draft, there are plenty of quality linebackers to be had later on. Dean’s teammate, Quay Walker, is one of the better such options.

Walker is rangy for his size and plays with a mean streak. Georgia used him as a designated pass rusher occasionally and he saw success there, but made his money as a run stuffer in the box with some versatility in coverage. If Dallas is really trying to find a running mate for Parsons, they’ll be keeping both eyes on Walker every time he’s up at the combine.

Jalen Pitre, S - Baylor

One of the better traditions of draft season as a Cowboys fan is spending months falling in love with a safety prospect only to watch the team ignore the position until it’s far too late. Out of respect for that tradition, I’m here to sell you on Jalen Pitre.

In all seriousness, Pitre seems like a prospect Quinn should fall in love with. Baylor deployed him at a plethora of positions, including both safety spots, as a cornerback, and even in the box as a safety/linebacker hybrid. And Pitre thrived in every single one of those roles. He’s a physical presence whose versatility would shine on a defense already featuring Parsons, and Quinn should salivate at the thought of scheming around those two.

The biggest question for Pitre, though, is his athleticism with regards to being able to play as more of a traditional coverage safety. The combine will answer that to an extent.

Kerby Joseph, S - Illinois

A big part of the defensive turnaround under Quinn this year stemmed from takeaways. Quinn and defensive pass game coordinator Joe Whitt Jr. harp on ball skills with their players, so Kerby Joseph - who had five picks this past year - should be on their radar.

Joseph’s 2021 season at Illinois was the epitome of a ballhawk, and he seemingly made a play every time the ball was thrown his way. The concern, though, is that Joseph played sparingly prior to 2021. How much of what we saw is indicative of Joseph’s actual skills and how much was just an anomaly? The combine will reveal some of Joseph’s traits and help answer that question. If it’s good, Quinn may end up pounding the table for him.