For the 2022 Dallas Cowboys, they face a question of need versus impact. Positions such as defensive end and wide receiver could bring an impact in year one, and they would be players that fans could easily get excited for.
However, these positions might not fill the biggest need the Cowboys have. The Cowboys are arguably more desperate for positions such as offensive line and defensive interior. But these players might not bring as big of an impact in year one, and it is more difficult to get excited about such a pick.
But, if we put aside impact and only look at need, how do the Cowboys' positions groups rank? These needs also fall into four distinct tiers:
Tier Four: No Need Whatsoever
Projected starter(s): Bryan Anger
Yes, we are even going to dive into special teams here. After re-signing the 2021 NFC Pro Bowl punter, the position does not need to be touched. There is no reason to carry a backup punter, so this may actually be the only position the Dallas Cowboys can completely forget about.
Projected starter(s): Dak Prescott
Dak Prescott will be the starter in 2022. With Dak under contract until 2025 there is also no need to look elsewhere.
The only reason this isn’t on the same level as a punter is because they could address a backup quarterback with a late-round selection. Cooper Rush played admirably in his victory over the Vikings but if the front office is infatuated with a late-round quarterback, they could burn one of their four fifth-round picks to take him.
Other than that, they can forget about quarterback.
Projected starter(s): Trevon Diggs, Anthony Brown, Jourdan Lewis
If you want further explanation about why cornerback is ranked so low you can read about that here. Even if you exclude the turnovers, Dallas’ secondary was one of the best in the league last season.
Here are some stats that are not influenced by takeaways and where Dallas ranked:
- Opponent completion percentage: third-lowest
- Opponent passing success rate (on non-turnover plays): second
- Opponent third-down conversion percentage: second
- Opponent passer rating (somewhat influenced by turnovers): third
And they didn't lose any depth at cornerback this offseason. If anything, the development of Kelvin Joseph should only add a reliable depth piece or even a starter over Jourdan Lewis (this was written before the recent incident that could impact Joseph’s future.). Cornerback should not be addressed in the draft, at least not with a high-capital pick.
Projected starter(s): Jayron Kearse, Malik Hooker
You could copy and paste the section for cornerback into the safety argument. The Cowboys had an elite coverage group last season, which included their safety play, and they didn't lose much in the offseason.
The likely departure of Damonte Kazee paired with the fact that the safety opposite Jayron Kearse did struggle at times last year means they could choose to upgrade. However, Malik Hooker and Donovan Wilson are in no way liabilities to the defense.
The safety position is just fine. But the fact that they could add depth to the second safety role makes this priority slightly higher than cornerback.
Tier Three: Minor need or future need
Projected starter(s): Chris Naggar
When discussing needs before the draft, we are essentially discussing what position the Cowboys have to address during the draft.
Based on personnel needs alone, kicker would be close to number one unless Dallas is comfortable with Chris Naggar. But they could sign a few veteran free agents after the draft and have them compete during camp, even if they don’t address kicker in the draft.
If the Cowboys decide to draft a placekicker, it likely won’t be until at least round five. But the kicker is truly a need. The longer they wait to fill the position with players that can at least compete in camp, their options get thinner.
They might go with the option of signing a couple of undrafted free agents after the draft and bring in a few veterans to compete. Kicker is easier than most positions to fill, but Dallas is in need of a reliable kicker. And that needs to be addressed soon.
9.) Tight End
Projected starter(s): Dalton Schultz
Unlike kicker, tight end falls into the “future need” category. Future need essentially means that in 2023, the position is going to have a large enough hole that it should be addressed now.
And next season, Dalton Schultz’s franchise tag will expire and even Jeremy Sprinkle will be a free agent. They will have an empty tight end room. Meaning that unless the Cowboys want to try and find two to three tight ends who can receive meaningful minutes in one offseason, they should start looking now.
But the reason that tight end is a slightly lower need than number eight is twofold: Dalton Schultz can sign a long-term contract making this need significantly lower and Blake Jarwin could possibly return to the team after recovering from injury even though he was cut.
8.) Running back
Projected starter(s): Ezekiel Elliott, Tony Pollard
Running back is a bigger need than one might believe. Because in 2023 Ezekiel Elliott’s contract gains flexibility and since Dallas didn't restructure his contract, it appears that they are willing to cut him next offseason.
Tony Pollard is also a free agent, and unless the Cowboys want to go through another overpaying-your-running back dilemma, Pollard is likely out the door. It is a nearly identical situation as tight end, but with a lower likelihood of retaining the 2022 starters.
Meaning that in one year, Dallas could have no starting-caliber running back on the roster.
It is not an immediate need, but finding a late-round running back that takes little off the cap while you evaluate talent level would be a solid option. They have next offseason to address the position as well, but it is about to become a massive need. So, filling it sooner rather than later might be advisable.
7.) Wide Receiver
Projected starter(s): Michael Gallup, CeeDee Lamb, and James Washington
At this point, wide receiver need has become one of the largest topics of conversation in the Cowboys' offseason. If you want to hear about the reasoning why receiver might not be an incredibly high priority, you can read it here.
Yes, it is nice to have three solid receivers. But two formidable WRs are a luxury that most teams do not have, yet the Cowboys do. Even if Michael Gallup is injured to start the season, it is not worth burning a high-capital pick on a position that is set. Fill in the back of the roster with cheap veteran players and tie a bow on the position.
Tier Two: Address now but not in the first round
6.) Defensive End
Projected starter(s): Demarcus Lawrence, Dorance Armstrong
This position easily could have fallen in tier three, but it sneaks into the second tier for one reason: impact on the other positions. Because if Armstrong and Lawrence are the two starters next year, there is no doubt that they will get the job done.
However, last year proved that when Dallas has two players who can wreak havoc in the backfield, it makes the job easier for players like Osa Odighizuwa, Leighton Vander Esch, and the entire secondary.
But the DE2 pairing of Armstrong and Dante Fowler might be closer to Randy Gregory’s production in 2021 than you might think. Armstrong himself was a comparable player to Gregory outside of Gregory’s ability to force fumbles.
Yes, it would be nice to have two elite edge defenders who can make life easy for the rest of the team. But with Micah Parsons filling in at DE on some plays, and Armstrong/Fowler being adequate replacements for Gregory, the position doesn’t fall into the top five biggest needs.
Projected starter(s): Tyler Biadasz
Center need is up to personal opinion. If you believe that Tyler Biadasz can develop into a consistent, reliable piece of this offensive line, center falls into tier three. But if you land in the group that isn’t quite sold on Biadasz as the long-term answer, he falls into tier two.
Because Biadasz can be treated similarly to how the Eagles are treating Jalen Hurts. Philadelphia likely won’t draft a QB in the first round, but they will prepare for the possibility that he isn’t the guy while they analyze Hurts’ upside this year.
Similarly, if Dallas can add a second- or third-round center to account for the possibility that Biadasz doesn't take the next step, that might be the smart move. By PFF grading, Biadasz fell around league average in 2021 after finishing 26th out of 38 qualifying centers in 2020. The improvement is there, but there is a chance that mediocre is his ceiling. And Dallas needs to address that possibility.
At the very least, they should add a backup center since the current backup is Braylon Jones.
Tier One: Biggest needs that can be addressed in the first round
Projected starter(s): Micah Parsons, Leighton Vander Esch
Micah Parsons is a stud. But outside of Parsons, there are questions marks if the solid end to LVE’s 2021 campaign can continue moving forward. There are questions marks about what player Jabril Cox truly is. And then there is Luke Gifford filling in on special teams.
So, Dallas’ linebacker room is Micah Parsons, who rotates positions nearly every snap, and a whole lot of question marks.
This is a scary proposition going into 2022. Sure, it worked in 2021, but finding a run-stopping speedy linebacker to play opposite of Parsons would work wonders for the run defense that struggled in 2021.
Of the needs that they could address in the first round, linebacker falls to the bottom since they do have three players that can fill in at the position. But it clearly is not a strong suit for the team.
3.) Defensive Interior
Projected starter(s): Osa Odighizuwa, Neville Gallimore
No, it's not the shiniest position they could take in the first round. But plug in a first-round defensive tackle and watch the immediate boost the run defense sees.
Odighizuwa and Gallimore are fine defensive tackles. But they finished 155th and 178th out of all 226 defensive interior players in 2021, per PFF grading. They weren't a detriment to the team, but you would be hard-pressed to make the argument that they actually provided a noticeable benefit.
Odighizuwa is still young and could take the next step. But Dallas is in need of a reliable defensive interior player that can bring the run-stopping talent that the Cowboys need on defense. If a DT is on the board at 24 that the front office likes, it is definitely worth the pick.
2.) Offensive Tackle
Projected starter(s): Tyron Smith, Terence Steele
This is an extreme case of a “future need.” Because while Tyron Smith was a 2021 Pro Bowler, he was once again battling injuries throughout the season. And Steele can play right tackle, but he hasn't proved he can be the long-term answer.
For those reasons, Dallas is searching for its next era of offensive tackles. Adding a first-round talent at tackle would not only allow Steele to shift back to swing tackle, but you then have more flexibility if Smith gets injured again. Because in the likely scenario that Smith has to miss a game in 2022, the backup is currently Josh Ball.
So, if there is no flexibility in the likely event of a Tyron Smith injury, paired with the fact that Steele is serviceable at best, offensive tackle becomes a huge need. There is a new era coming for the Cowboys regarding their two outside lineman, and they should address this situation very soon.
1.) Offensive Guard
Projected starter(s): Zack Martin, Connor McGovern
Going offensive guard at number one is a chalk pick, but it is the truth. Because Connor McGovern was better served as a utility lineman, playing fullback in some cases, than he was playing offensive guard.
McGovern finished as the 35th ranked guard by PFF out of 88 qualifying guards, but his pass-blocking efficiency was well below league average. What McGovern brings is versatility, playing left guard, right guard, center, and fullback throughout his career. He even lined up out wide last season.
But at offensive guard alone, he isn’t another Zack Martin. It would be best to draft an offensive guard in the first round, who can dominate opposite Martin, and then let Kellen Moore have fun using McGovern.
And Martin is 31 years old now. While he has been one of the best OG in the league for a while now, there is a chance he starts to decline soon. No one is wishing for it, and if Cowboys fans could choose, he would play until he’s 60. But his age needs to be addressed.
If this overview of the Cowboys' needs has proven anything, it is that there is not one incredibly pressing need. For every position, there are players that can start the season if need be. Obviously, fans would be less comfortable with some players starting than others, but that is true for any team.
However, in just a couple of weeks, Dallas will make their first-round selection. They have taken inventory of what they need, hopefully, and are ready to address those holes with a new generation of talent.
What is the biggest need the Cowboys have right now?
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