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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.

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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.

Dallas Cowboys

Sanjay Lal Hired As Cowboys WR Coach

Sean Martin

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Sanjay Lal Hired As Cowboys WR Coach

After hiring Paul Alexander to fill their vacant OL coaching position, the Dallas Cowboys are continuing to retool their offensive staff below Scott Linehan. Sanjay Lal has been hired to coach the Cowboys’ wide receivers, replacing Derek Dooley.

Lal has experience as a WR coach with four different teams, dating back to 2009 with the Oakland Raiders. He was promoted up to this position after serving as the Raiders’ quality control coach from 2007-08.

David Moore on Twitter

Sources: Cowboys have reached an agreement with Sanjay Lal to become the team’s WR coach. Lal was with Indianapolis last season and replaces Derek Dooley on the staff.

Most recently, Sanjay Lal coached the receivers for the Indianapolis Colts in 2017. He has also been with the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets.

In this interview with the Colts, Lal mentions being very detail-oriented with a focus on the technical aspects of playing receiver.

Lal beats out former Cowboys WR Miles Austin for this position, earning the right to lead a room of receivers in desperate need of fresh talent. In an offseason that’s been about finding fresh ideas with the coaching staff so far though, the Cowboys have a new voice on offense.

Tell us what you think about “Sanjay Lal Hired As Cowboys WR Coach” in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!

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Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys Losing Linebackers Coach Matt Eberflus to Colts

Jess Haynie

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Matt Eberflus, Sean Lee

Multiple sources are reporting Matt Eberflus — who has been the linebackers coach and passing game coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys — will leave to join the Indianapolis Colts as the new defensive coordinator. Eberflus has been with Dallas since 2011, having joined Rob Ryan’s staff when Ryan become the coordinator for the Cowboys’ defense.

He has been the linebackers coach during his entire Dallas tenure and was also named passing game coordinator in 2016.

Tom Pelissero on Twitter

With Josh McDaniels ticketed for the #Colts, former #Cowboys assistant Matt Eberflus is expected to come along as defensive coordinator, I’m told. Lot of parts falling in place now.

If not the Colts, some thought Matt Eberflus might end up replacing Matt Patricia as the defensive coordinator in New England. Either way, it does not appear Dallas could have kept him around while Rod Marinelli remains in his current position.

Eberflus’ work in Dallas speaks for itself, and primarily through LB Sean Lee.

He has been Lee’s position coach for all but his rookie season, and in that time Lee has been one of the top defensive players in all of football.

Beyond Lee, Eberflus has also been able to get quality play out of mid-round picks like Anthony Hitchens and Damien Wilson. We also saw Jaylon Smith make significant progress this season.

Given Matt Eberflus has never worked with Josh McDaniels before, the fact he was on the Colts’ radar says a lot.

Make no mistake; the Cowboys lost a good one here.

Don’t panic, however. Coach Marinelli has cast a very wide net during his time in the NFL and there are a lot of potential guys, some with plenty of experience, that Dallas might look to.

It’s entirely possible that Eberflus’ replacement will be someone who Marinelli spends 2018 grooming to take over as the defensive coordinator.

Still, of all the coaching changes so far for Dallas, this one hurts most.

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Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys Hire Longtime Bengals OL Coach Paul Alexander

Kevin Brady

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Cowboys Hire Longtime Bengals OL Coach Paul Alexander

Thus far the 2018 offseason has brought a plethora of change to the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Now it is being reported the Cowboys have hired a brand new offensive line coach, former Cincinnati Bengals’ Offensive Line Coach Paul Alexander.

Alex Marvez on Twitter

Source tells @sportingnews that Paul Alexander hired as new @dallascowboys offensive line coach

Alexander coached with the Bengals for over 20 years, and replaces the same man in Dallas who replaces him in Cincinnati, Frank Pollack. Alexander has also been the Bengals assistant head coach since 2003.

The Cowboys recently lost an assistant head coach when Special Teams Coordinator Rich Bisaccia left for Jon Gruden’s Oakland Raiders.

Per usual, the hire has been met with mixed reactions from Cowboys Nation.

Joey Ickes on Twitter

Since 2003, CIN has had only one season where they finished top-10 in Yards per attempt on the ground… They’ve been bottom-5 in the league 5 times in that span… That’s the OL Coach DAL just hired.

The hiring of an offensive line coach who’s rushing attack finished bottom five in the league in rushing yards per attempt five times since 2003 doesn’t look too great on paper. He will also teach with different techniques and styles than previous Cowboys OL coaches, which could potentially set back the offensive line early in the season.

Plus, respected Bengals’ writer Joe Goodberry did not exactly love the hire for the Cowboys.

Goodberry on Twitter

Pretty bad https://t.co/fysjZqCQ6l

Regardless, this is still a very talented offensive line and one which should lead an effective ground attack based on their talent alone. 2017 proved further that coaching matters a lot in the NFL however, and the wrong hire could set back even the most talented of units.

We will just have to wait and see how this 2018 season ends up playing out.

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