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Cowboys 5 Biggest Needs as NFL Draft Approaches

Jess Haynie

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5 Biggest Needs

Today brings us officially one month away from the first night of the 2017 NFL Draft on April 27th. While there are still things that can happen in free agency, focus is quickly shifting to this year's rookie class as the best way to fill roster needs.

Yesterday, I formed a 53-man roster for the Cowboys using only the players we currently have under contract. This project helped to crystallize where Dallas should be looking to add talent through the remainder of the offseason.

After going through that exercise, here are what I see as the Dallas Cowboys' five biggest roster needs before the 2017 season begins:

DeMarcus Lawrence

DE DeMarcus Lawrence has yet to become the dominant pass rusher that the Cowboys need.

1. Defensive End

The Cowboys have plenty of bodies at the DE position. DeMarcus Lawrence, Benson Mayowa, Charles Tapper, and Damontre Moore are the official group while Tyrone Crawford and David Irving both have the versatility to play outside if needed.

The issue isn't bodies but abilities; none of these guys is a consistently effective pass rusher. The Cowboys defensive line, and perhaps the entire defense, could be dramatically improved by one truly great pass rushing DE who opponents have to focus on. Whether he's forcing the quarterback out of the pocket or drawing double teams, that player can set up his teammates for success.

With no question as to their biggest need, the Cowboys haven't been hiding it in their offseason strategy.  They are meeting with several of the drafts top pass rushing prospects. Dallas has also used free agency to shore up other holes throughout the roster, leaving them free to focus on defense and especially their greatest weakness at defensive end.

Dallas could still look at some of the veteran options, such as Chris Long or Elvis Dumervil, to provide some help. Still, the 28th pick remains their best option to find a potential game-changing pass rusher and keep them around for several years on a cheap rookie contract.

Orlando Scandrick

How much can the Cowboys count on Orlando Scandrick?

2. Cornerback

If the season started today, Dallas would be hoping that Anthony Brown can emerge as a number-one cornerback in just his second year. They would be counting on free agent Nolan Carroll to replace the reliable Brandon Carr. They would also need for Orlando Scandrick to maintain a strong level of play, and stay healthy, after just turning 30-year-old.

There's a lot of hoping in that plan, which is why the Cowboys should be hedging their bets with at least one significant draft pick spent on the cornerback position. If there's a run on pass rushers in the first round, I would have no issue with Dallas using their pick on a cornerback who could contend for significant playing time right away.

Scandrick's days are numbered; 2018 is likely his last year if his play doesn't call for an earlier release. The Cowboys need help now but especially for the very near future as both Scandrick and Carroll are on the downward side of their careers. Anthony Brown looked great for a sixth-round rookie but may never be more than a solid starter and slot corner.

Bill Parcells once said that you can never have too many good cornerbacks. Four capable players is a minimum for the modern passing era and Dallas may only have three. There's no telling if Leon McFadden or any of other guys can really contribute. I would expect at least one of our top three picks to be a cornerback.

Jeff Heath

Is Jeff Heath ready for a starting role at safety?

3. Safety

The Cowboys saw both Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox depart in free agency. That leaves just Byron Jones, Jeff Heath, and Kavon Frazier under contract, unless you also want to count the recently converted Jameil Showers.

Many, including me, think Heath can be a solid starter and provide little drop-off from what Church or Wilcox have done in that role. The Cowboys seem to think so, too, since they did not address their safety departures at all in free agency.

If you're okay with Heath as a starter, the depth chart may be a little more concerning.  Kavon Frazier, a sixth-round pick last year, played minimally in 2016 and would now be the only player even guaranteed to make the roster. Dallas need at least one more guy just to fill out the position, in case Jameil Showers can't make the change from quarterback to safety.

If there's a great safety prospect there for you in the first round, Dallas could still go ahead and take him. That player could compete with Heath for the starting job and then the loser would provide quality depth.  If both guys can play, you might even consider moving Byron Jones back to cornerback.

Lucky Whitehead

The Cowboys could use an upgrade over Lucky Whitehead as their primary return man.

4. Receiver/Returner

While he has flashed his natural return ability at times, Lucky Whitehead has never been able to consistently make plays and help the Cowboys' field position. He also hasn't made enough impact on offense to keep his roster spot secure.

Dallas needs more speed on offense. Brice Butler was thought to be a potential field stretcher but didn't make an impact last year. If they could find both a speed receiver and return man in the same draft pick, that would be a very strong acquisition.

Both Butler and Whitehead are easily expendable. Butler only has $300k of dead money if released and Whitehead has almost none. If the draft yields a talent who can replace one of them and handle return duties, or simply be a more talented player with greater upside, then you don't have to worry about finding room.

Jaylon Smith

The mystery surrounding Jaylon Smith keep linebacker as a potential need.

5. Linebacker

The Cowboys are hoping that Jaylon Smith, last year's second-round pick, will come in and realize his elite potential.  Many felt Smith would have been a top-five pick in the 2016 draft if not for his major knee injury that occurred in Notre Dame's final game. At this time, reports are that his rehab has progressed well enough to expect him to play.

Until we see Smith playing, and really until he proves that he can stay on the field without re-injury, there is still a major question mark at linebacker. Sean Lee is still a top talent but will turn 31 this July. Guys like Anthony Hitchens and Damien Wilson are solid but nothing special. The depth is limited after the departures of Justin Durant and Andrew Gachkar in free agency (assuming neither returns).

The Cowboys can certainly use another talented linebacker. With Hitchens, Wilson, and Kyle WIlber all able to handle the strong side, it would be ideal to bring in someone with the coverage skills to back up Lee and Smith.  In a few years, perhaps that player would replace Lee in the starting lineup.



Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!

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9 Comments
  • Rich

    I think backup RB is more of a need than WR. Mcfadden is on a 1 year contract and Morris is on the trade block.

    • Jess Haynie

      Fair point, but Dallas could still go into 2017 with McFadden and Morris (or Rod Smith instead of Morris) and be okay. I think they need upgrades over Whitehead and/or Butler immediately.

  • Ethan Chazin

    So it sounds like:
    R1 DE/CB
    R2 DE/CB
    R3 SS
    R4 WR
    R6P1 RB
    R6P2 BPA
    R7 BPA

    • Jess Haynie

      If the talent lines up then that lineup would be ideal. I’m a big “BPA” advocate, though, so it will come down to what happens with those 27 other picks that set the table for us.

      • Ethan Chazin

        I never understood the boa versus draft for need argument can’t you draft bpa factoring in need? Every NFL team has roster weaknesses so you wouldn’t just draft top talent st a position you are deep in. End of the day getting a cb ss and de are top 3 needs hope we can get top talent at all 3 positions

        • Jess Haynie

          Oh, I’m with you. “BPA” should always be factored against need. I think of it like a basic formula; “Talent + Need = Value.” For example

          You think WR is a “9” talent but you only have a “5” need. Meanwhile, A defensive end is a “7” talent but you have a “10” need. I’m taking the DE.

  • John Williams

    Yeah, I agree with DE still being the top priority and it seems there are a few guys at the back end of the first that will be available and can help right away; Charles Harris, Takk McKinley, Carl Lawson all could be potential RDE for the team.

    They desperately need a guy who is that game changing pass rusher, like DeMarcus Ware was. Even if they got someone with Greg Ellis quality, that would significantly help the rest of the defense.

    Someone who can get there a split second faster than the other guys will really help the secondary and linebackers make plays on the ball in the passing game.

    Thankfully this is a very deep draft at positions of need; CB/DE/S. If they went with those three positions in the first three rounds, I think we will be alright.

    If DE is the first round selection, I could see someone like Kevin King as the second round selection.

    Heath is certainly a playmaker and can hold his own in the run game. Byron Jones deep middle ability allows them to go with a slightly lesser talent at SS.

    • Jess Haynie

      Agreed on everything. Last year I actually compared Joey Bosa to Greg Ellis, not thinking he’d be quite the stud that he turned out to be. Turns out I should’ve gone with Emmanuel Ogbah, who I also wanted.

      • John Williams

        Still remains to be seen on Bosa. Just like we have to see Dak continue to improve or at the very least play at the same level he showed in 2016. Bosa has to do the same as well.

Game Notes

Cowboys, Falcons Week 11 Injury Report

Jess Haynie

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Zack Martin

The Dallas Cowboys and Atlanta Falcons are both 4-5 and playing to keep their seasons alive. It's a mutual must-win game, and both will have to try to win it without some key players. Once again, we look at this week's injury reports.

Let's begin with your Cowboys, whose report is getting longer as the season wears on:

Dallas Cowboys

  • WR Tavon Austin (groin) - OUT
  • DE Taco Charlton (shoulder) - OUT
  • DT David Irving (ankle) - OUT
  • DT Daniel Ross (calf) - OUT
  • LB Sean Lee (hamstring) - OUT
  • DT Antwaun Woods (concussion) - Doubtful
  • G Zack Martin (knee) - Questionable
  • G Connor Williams (knee) - Questionable
  • DT Maliek Collins (knee) - Questionable
  • LB Joe Thomas (foot) - Questionable

The biggest news is the guy who won't miss tomorrow's game; All-Pro guard Zack Martin is expected to play despite his knee injury from last Sunday night. The Cowboys, already dealing with Travis Frederick's absence and now health issues at left guard, could ill afford to go without Martin in such a pivotal game.

Even if he was healthy, rookie Connor Williams might have a hard time getting in the game. Backup Xavier Su'a-Filo looked like an experienced former second-round pick last week, and he may be the better player for now.

The defensive line has been hit hard, particularly in the middle. With Irving and Ross out, Woods doubtful, and Collins uncertain, Dallas called up DT Christian Ringo from the practice squad. They will also be without Taco Charlton, who could play inside some. Veteran Caraun Reid will be seeing a lot of playing time.

Sean Lee's ongoing absence has become almost an afterthought now with the stellar play of Leighton Vander Esch. We've seen in the past when missing Lee meant disaster on defense, but Dallas' first-round rookie has helped mitigate the damage.

Atlanta Falcons

  • LB Deion Jones (foot) - OUT

It's a short list for Atlanta, but the one name on it is a big one. Arguably the team's best defensive player, Deion Jones will miss the game with a foot injury.

The Falcons' injury issues have been more in players suffering season-ending injuries. Both starting guards, Andy Levitre and Brandon Fusco, are on injured reserve. Star running back Devonta Freeman is also there, and those losses help explain Atlanta's 30th-ranked rushing offense.

Both starting safeties are also on IR; Ricardo Allen and Keanu Neal. Atlanta has one of the league's worst passing defense this year without them, ranking 30th in yards allowed and 28th in opponent passer rating.

So yes, the Falcons injury report compared to the Cowboys' may raise some eyebrows. But in terms of who has most of their key guys, Dallas is arguably still better off.



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Dallas Cowboys

4 Best Candidates for Cowboys’ Next Offensive Coordinator

Shane Carter

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Jason Garrett, Scott Linehan

The big word around the Dallas Cowboys lately is about Jason Garrett and the future of the head coaching job. Some have speculated that either Quarterback Dak Prescott or Jason Garrett will get axed, and the other will stay.

Owner Jerry Jones was quoted on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas about his young quarterback, putting to bed at least half of the conflict.

"Dak is the quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys. He’s young and he’s going to get extended."

This shut the door on the idea of Prescott being replaced.

As far as Jason Garrett? Jerry Jones has been less than committed.

"I’m not in the business of backing anybody; the head coach, or offensive coordinator, I just don’t back them publicly." Jerry Jones said.

So it seems that Jason Garrett’s future is up in the air.

But what about offensive coordinator Scott Linehan? What’s held the Cowboys back this year has been the offense, and a lot of it can be contributed to their predictable play calling and inability to adapt to today’s game and its current players.

Whether or not Jason Garrett retains his job, Scott Linehan’s job doesn’t seem near as secure. His scheme doesn’t really mesh with Dak Prescott and how the offense could look. There’s only so many times you can run a three tight end set and not get furious.

Cowboys fans may want Garrett gone but they might have to settle for a new offensive coordinator instead.

The good news is that there are many options out there. Options that not only could work well with Dak Prescott, but could bring the Cowboys offense into the 2010s.

Shane Waldron

Jerry Jones once said how the Cowboys offense was like the LA Rams. If they are able to sign their Co-Offensive Coordinator, then they could be.

When Matt LaFleur left to become the Tennessee Titans OC, the job became a shared job between Waldron and Aaron Kromer. I wonder if Waldron would rather have the job all to himself?

What makes Waldron so appealing is he is also the Rams tight ends coach and passing game coordinator. Those are two areas where the Rams excel and where the Cowboys need help.

Teams are going to start copying the offensive juggernauts of the NFL and the Rams are definitely one of them. The Cowboys should do themselves a favor and get out in front before other teams beat them to it.

Scott Turner

Cam Newton is having one of his best seasons. Not only is he an MVP candidate but he’s set to have career highs in completion percentage and QBR, as well as a career low in interceptions. Cam Newton is a very talented quarterback but some of this has to be attributed to his new Quarterback Coach, Scott Turner.

The son of Norv Turner, Scott has seemingly helped mold Cam into a more accurate passer without compromising who Cam Newton is as an athletic quarterback. That has Dak Prescott written all over it.

He's got NFL lineage and a new, scary Cam Newton to add to his resume. He may not have as impressive a track record as others on here but he looks like he could be a chip off the old block and get the Cowboys where they need to be going.

Lincoln Riley

A popular head coach candidate, Lincoln Riley has shown his creativity and offensive innovation during his short time as Oklahoma’s head coach. It’s uncertain if he’ll get any real offers to be a head coach, but as an OC, he would be a serious grab.

Everyone has seen the work he’s done with Baker Mayfield and now Kyler Murray. How he’s able to incorporate different formations to open up the pass game and have the run game seem unstoppable. Just imagine what he could do with the weapons he would have at his disposal in Dallas.

It's likely that Lincoln Riley is a hot commodity for a head coach position, especially in Cleveland where he could reunite with Baker Mayfield. That shouldn’t stop the Cowboys from trying to lure him to Dallas, though. Lincoln Riley could be the real missing piece that Dallas has been looking for.

Eric Bieniemy

Another product of Andy Reid, Eric Bieniemy is the offensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs. The former running backs coach has the experience under Andy Reid on not only how to run an offense but to use your weapons at your disposal to the fullest.

Maybe I’m over-hyping this man but when you see the work he helped put in with Pat Mahomes and how he uses those weapons around him, it makes me imagine what he can do for the Cowboy offense.

The team has no shortage of weapons and could benefit greatly from a guy like this.

If the Chiefs make it past their first playoff game, Bieniemy could become a more attractive name when it comes time for new head coaches. However, if Jerry Jones comes calling and the right offer is met, who’s to say?

If Kris Richard can be lured from Seattle to fix the Cowboys defense, Eric Bieniemy can be lured from Kansas City to fix the Cowboys offense.



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Game Notes

Cowboys Have Already Corrected Biggest Mistake From 2017 Loss in Atlanta

Sean Martin

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Cowboys Have Already Corrected Biggest Mistake From 2017 Loss in Atlanta

The Dallas Cowboys play their next three games in 13 days, all critical to their hopes of winning the NFC East despite alternating wins and losses since week one. For the Cowboys to earn consecutive road wins, their first coming on Sunday night at the Eagles, they'll have to come out of Atlanta in much better shape than they did just a year ago.

As expected in the NFL, a lot has changed in this year. The Cowboys 27-7 loss at the Falcons in their first game without Running Back Ezekiel Elliott was the beginning of the end on a season that forced a multitude of coaching changes in Dallas.

The Cowboys stubbornness in allowing Falcons DE Adrian Clayborn to sack Dak Prescott six times by beating Chaz Green and Byron Bell is something they hoped to move past when new positional coaches were brought in at OL, TE, QB, and WR.

It took the team admitting that these moves below Offensive Coordinator Scot Linehan were not all correct two weeks ago for the Cowboys to see any real progress, but with their win last week there's hope that the Cowboys are the improved team expected weeks ago - arrived just in time for Thanksgiving.

Firing Offensive Line Coach Paul Alexander was the first move, as the Cowboys named Marc Colombo OL Coach and Hudson Houck his assistant. Colombo told 105.3 The Fan in Dallas this week that he has injured Center Travis Frederick on a headset during games as well.

Colombo, Houck, and Frederick have the Cowboys offensive line confident in their ability to play to their strengths, rewarded with a renewed faith in the zone blocking scheme that was forgotten under Alexander.

If the Cowboys offensive line was their first problem in last year's Falcons loss (it was), it's becoming their biggest strength at the right time in the season.

The Cowboys necessary changes didn't stop here though.

In desperate need of a play maker on the outside, the Cowboys are seeing their investment into Wide Receiver Amari Cooper pay off so far. Cooper is averaging 3.2 yards of separation on his routes this season, ahead of Cole Beasley's 2.6 yards as the next closest pass catcher.

Cooper's presence was a big part of Ezekiel Elliott's 151 yard rushing performance at the Eagles. A player that can win on the outside with ease and dictate coverage has benefited Prescott and the Cowboys game plan on offense enough to send away a first round pick.

It will be up to this "rebuilt" Cowboys offense to match the Falcons on Sunday. Atlanta is averaging 27.1 points per game this season, but a much more dangerous 32.2 at home. After a 1-4 start, the 4-5 Falcons are playing in front of their home fans for the first time in two weeks, losing at the Browns in week ten.

The Cowboys felt they'd be prepared for games like this after their offseason moves, instead needing to show the type of in-season urgency that's been rare for Jason Garrett's team. The same can be said about a Falcons team that's experienced playing with their backs to the wall much sooner than the Cowboys have this season, setting up a big NFC match up in the early slot Sunday.

Dak Prescott will be thankful that Chaz Green nor Byron Bell are protecting him, wanting nothing more than to deliver another win for the Cowboys to take into Thanksgiving against the division-leading Washington Redskins. Not all of the coaches responsible for the lack of adjustment in last year's game are gone. What the Cowboys do have are tangible new ideas from coaches that understand they need more than a win at the defending Super Bowl champions to call this Cowboys season a success.

Tell us what you think about "Cowboys Have Already Corrected Biggest Mistake From 2017 Loss in Atlanta" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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