We’ve passed the madness of free agency although signings will continue to trickle in around the NFL, and the Cowboys will probably be involved in a few of them. We are also getting into anticipation mode for the NFL draft, the next big avenue impacting the 2022 roster.
Before the draft, and before they sign anymore free agents, let’s tale a look at what would be the projected starting defensive lineup for Week 1 of the 2022 NFL season if the Cowboys didn’t make another rove on their roster. This should help us see the needs of the roster that they can attack in the draft or free agency. We previously did this exercise on offense which you can check out here.
DE DeMarcus Lawrence, Dorance Armstrong
Dorance Armstrong gets the nod at starting to replace the departed Randy Gregory because the Cowboys are familiar with him and he knows their defense, and because he represents a blend of pass rush and run defense. Obviously DeMarcus Lawrence gets the start opposite him. Armstrong’s presence, along with rotational pieces like Dante Fowler and Tarell Basham, provide a security blanket at the position. It doesn’t keep the Cowboys from pouncing on a prime EDGE player if they fall in the first round, but they won’t be forced to use a premium resource on the position. Plus they have a certain linebacker that can function as a designated pass rusher when needed.
DT Osa Odighizuwa, Neville Gallimore
This is a position that has a lot of bodies but no real star. Osa Odighizuwa showed a lot of promise last year, and Neville Gallimore showed a lot of promise in 2020 before he missed much of 2021 with injury. Neither player is projected to be a stud, but they are functional. Behind them are players like Carlos Watkins, Trysten Hill and Quinton Bohana. Defensive tackle is not a position the Cowboys spend premium resources on anyway although it is interesting they are bringing in players like Jordan Davis and DeMarvin Leal for pre-draft visits. But the betting money is they ignore the position until later in the draft.
LB Micah Parsons, Leighton Vander Esch
If you want a position on defense where a starter could be useful in the first round, it is probably linebacker. We’re using a nickel base package for our defensive starters, but obviously if they want to go three across at the spot we’d need another linebacker. Maybe that’s Jabril Cox, but we really don’t know how he would play across an entire season. They also have the unusual factor of moving Micah Parsons around based on need, leaving the position very thin. Leighton Vander Esch is back and adds a veteran presence, but linebacker is an extremely thin position group at the moment.
CB Trevon Diggs, Anthony Brown, Jourdan Lewis
We’re going with the same three starters from last year in our base nickel defense. After discussing Anthony Brown and Jourdan Lewis as possible cap casualties this offseason, the team has decided to keep both. Dallas also has Kelvin Joseph waiting in the wings and Nahshon Wright is also available. Unless something crazy happens like a Derek Stingley falling to them, there isn’t a lot of pressure to upgrade the position group this offseason.
S Jayron Kearse, Malik Hooker
The Cowboys revamped their safety position last season with three free agent signings. Two of them are back, Malik Hooker and Jayron Kearse. Hooker is expected to be the back end guy who takes over for Damontae Kazee. Kearse is the chess piece who could even see time as a dime linebacker. The team also has the hard-hitting Donovan Wilson as a backup. For once, safety doesn’t seem to be a high priority for the defense.
The takeaway from this exercise is the Cowboys don’t have a lot of huge holes on defense. Linebacker is the position that really stands out because past Parsons and Vander Esch, there are just question marks. Rolling out a three-linebacker defense at the moment relies on untested Jabril Cox. This is the position on defense most likely to receive a premium draft pick. Everything else is probably just for depth unless they get a prime EDGE player who falls in the first round that could beat out the combo of Armstrong and Fowler.