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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

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly for Cowboys Against Giants

Brian Martin

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The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly for Cowboys Against Giants

I don't know about you, but I feel a lot better this week about the Dallas Cowboys after they thoroughly controled the game against the New York Giants last Sunday night. It amazes me how much better they played in the second week of the 2018 season as opposed to what they put on the field Week 1 against the Carolina Panthers.

The Dallas Cowboys performed better in all three phases of the game. The defense was simply outstanding, the offense looked much improved, and the fact that there weren't any breakdowns on special teams is an added plus. Overall, it's hard to be too disappointed with the way the overall team performed Sunday.

With all of that in mind, I want to share with you what I believe is The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly for the Dallas Cowboys from the primetime matchup with the division rival New York Giants. I know you may disagree with what I decided to go with in each category, but that's part of the fun of it.

The Good

Taco Charlton

Dallas Cowboys DE Taco Charlton (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)

If you watched the Dallas Cowboys against the New York Giants Sunday night then you pretty much know what the good was. How could I not go with the Cowboys defense? They were simply phenomenal against the Giants and are starting to become the identity of this year's team.

The Cowboys pass rush continuously put pressure on Quarterback Eli Manning and ended the game with six QB sacks. Nearly every defensive lineman got in on the action, which is hopefully a sign of things to come. The secondary was also really impressive. They played man-to-man coverage nearly the entire game and shut down the Giants aerial attack, including Odell Beckham Jr.

I was also really pleased to see the Cowboys linebackers playing much better. You may not have noticed, but the coaching staff is going with a rotation of sorts with the LBs, and it really looked as if it's helping keep them fresh. This could pay huge dividends moving forward, especially with Sean Lee's injury concerns.

The Bad

Dak Prescott

Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott

I debated several different things to put in this section, but ultimately I decided the bad for the Dallas Cowboys Sunday night was Quarterback Dak Prescott and the passing game. Yes, it was better than what we saw from them in Week 1 against the Carolina Panthers, but there is still a lot of work that needs to be done from both Prescott and his receivers.

Unfortunately, Prescott only completed 16 of 25 passes for 160 yards and one touchdown against the Giants. Those are nearly identical numbers to what he put up against the Panthers, the only difference is he was much more successful on the ground, rushing for 45 yards on seven carries. If you take away his long TD completion to Wide Receiver Tavon Austin, those numbers are even more depressing.

The passing game and Dak Prescott needs to improve dramatically. The Cowboys simply aren't going to be able to continue to win games like this. The offense should've been able to put up a lot more points on the Giants Sunday night. Hopefully, things will continue to get better because if not, the Cowboys are in trouble.

The Ugly

There was a number of different directions I could've gone here, but for me the ugly for the Dallas Cowboys Sunday night against the Giants was the penalties. Penalties became a problem for the Cowboys in Week 1 against the Panthers and once again reared their ugly head against the Giants. Unfortunately, this has continuously been a problem under the tutelage of Head Coach Jason Garrett.

The Dallas Cowboys were lucky that the untimely penalties didn't have much impact on the outcome of the game. If they would have been playing a better team than the Giants, they probably wouldn't have overcome the long down and distances. I want to believe this can be cleaned up, but Jason Garrett's going to have to start holding his players accountable, which at this point seems a little unlikely.

The Cowboys players are going to take it upon themselves to cut down the penalties. Most of the time it's just mental mistakes, so there is reason to believe they can accomplish this task. But, they are really going to have to buckle down and focus on remaining consistent down after down.

What is your good, bad, and ugly for the Dallas Cowboys against the Giants?



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Game Notes

Monday Morning Hangover: Cowboys Bounce Back Against Giants

Brian Martin

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Monday Morning Hangover: Cowboys Bounce Back Against Giants

Unlike last week, today's Monday morning hangover isn't nearly as bad. Thankfully, the Dallas Cowboys had a bounce back game against the New York Giants Sunday night, meaning you were probably drinking in celebration instead of drowning your sorrows. Hopefully, this continues.

Today, I want to do a little recap over what took place last night for the Dallas Cowboys and share with you some of the good and not so good I observed. Luckily, there was much more good for the Cowboys compared to what they put on the field Week 1 against the Carolina Panthers.

First off, how impressive was the Cowboys defensive play against the Giants? The pass rush consistently put pressure on Eli Manning and finished the night with six quarterback sacks. Nearly all of the defensive line got in on the action. I think we can credit Passing Game Coordinator and Defensive Backs Coach Kris Richard for the aggressive game plan.

The pass rush wasn't all that was dominant against the Giants for the Cowboys defense. Dallas' secondary pretty much shut down Odell Beckham Jr. and the rest of the Giants aerial attack. They played man-to-man coverage nearly the entire night and it paid off. Again, I think we can give credit to Kris Richard. He's changed how these defensive backs are being utilized.

Jeff Heath, Saquon Barkley

Dallas Cowboys S Jeff Heath (Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports)

The one negative I took away from the Cowboys defensive performance was the missed tackles once again. There were several Cowboys defenders who failed to take down Giants Running Back Saquon Barkley on first contact. Barkley unfortunately was able to pick up several yards after contact because of this. Tackling was a problem against the Panthers as well and it needs to be cleaned up in a hurry.

Offensively, the Dallas Cowboys looked like an entirely different unit than what took the field in Week 1 against the Carolina Panthers. Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan was much more aggressive with his playcalling, evidenced by the long touchdown pass to Tavon Austin on the first offensive series.

Unlike against the Panthers, Linehan put Dak Prescott in the best position to succeed. He didn't have No. 4 sit in the pocket, instead he put him on the move and allowed him to use his mobility to put pressure on the Giants defense. I believe this is where Prescott is at his best and should continued to be utilized in this manner.

Ezekiel Elliott didn't have the biggest rushing totals, but we all know the Giants defense was trying to take him out of the game. He finished the night with 78 rushing yards on 17 carries, but he did manage to pretty much put the game away with a rushing TD. Personally, I would love to see Zeke more involved in the passing game, especially down the field instead of around on a scrimmage.

All in all, the Dallas Cowboys did what they needed to do in order to secure the victory. They still have several things they need to clean up and improve upon, but what team doesn't at this point in the season. Now, they need to carry over this momentum into Week 3 on the road against the Seattle Seahawks.

What do you think about the Dallas Cowboys performance against the Giants?



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Game Notes

Sean’s Scout: Secondary Play, Improved OL Stand Out in Cowboys Win Vs. Giants

Sean Martin

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Sean's Scout: Secondary Play, Improved OL Play Stand Out in Cowboys Win Vs. Giants
(Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports)

Not many things about the Dallas Cowboys performance through two weeks has been pretty, but when they look up on Monday morning they'll be leading the NFC East at 1-1. Evening their record with a win on Sunday Night Football against the New York Giants, the Cowboys did enough in front of their home crowd to hold off a late Eli Manning comeback.

Tavon Austin's long opening touchdown would set the tone for the Cowboys on their first possession. Points would be at a premium for both teams the rest of the way, leaving the Cowboys with plenty to like about their defense and reason to be encouraged on offense.

Here are my full takeaways from the Cowboys first win of 2018.

  • There aren't enough good things to say about the play call from Scott Linehan to get the ball over the top to Tavon Austin for the Cowboys first touchdown. 

The Cowboys were able to take advantage of Giants Safety Landon Collins playing down in the box, something he's had success doing against Dallas before. I thought that trend could continue when Collins called out the Cowboys offense leading up to this game, but it was Dak Prescott getting the last laugh.

Prescott knew exactly where the ball needed to be placed once Austin beat Janoris Jenkins cleanly, giving Tavon room to run under it and find the end zone for the first time as a Cowboy.

  • It was another tough match up for rookie Left Guard Connor Williams, but this time he was up for the challenge of playing on the second level and getting out in space.

The Cowboys should be happy with Williams' steady progress at LG, as he took another step forward on Sunday night. A converted tackle from college, Williams looked much better playing on the move, which is when the entire Cowboys OL is at its best.

Not only was Williams comfortable handling more wrinkles in the play book, but he was able to play with improved power and leverage to get to the second level often. With Center Joe Looney holding his own against Damon Harrison, the Cowboys went back to their roots in grinding out this NFC East win.

  • That's a fantastic play by Jeff Heath to run across the field and tackle Evan Engram short of the line to gain on third down.

The Giants drive would continue with a fourth down conversion, but the Cowboys defense did eventually force a punt.

The Cowboys safeties were primarily called upon to play in run support in this game, a role Heath has struggled in previously. Showing off his strengths as an athletic and rangy defensive back on this play, Heath didn't get pushed up the field by Engram on his release, hunting him down after the catch in front of a fired up Dallas bench.

  • Speaking of the Cowboys safety usage in this game, it was a standout performance against Odell Beckham Jr. and the Giants receivers by Cornerbacks Byron Jones and Chidobe Awuzie. 

Both Awuzie and Jones were asked to play on an island for much of this game, and handled this as well as Kris Richard could ask for. Beckham's longest reception was for 17 yards. The Cowboys kept the Giants best play maker in front of them all night, giving them a fighting chance to slow down RB Saquon Barkley.

Barkley was able to punish the Cowboys front seven a number of times with broken tackles, but never escaped the Cowboys grasp enough for the Giants to sustain a drive until the fourth quarter.

I'm not sure if the Cowboys strong cornerback duo of Awuzie and Jones were expected to play this well as early into the season as we are, but their man coverage ability has really allowed Dallas to mix things up on defense.

  • Kris Richard's impact on the Cowboys defense went beyond the secondary play against the Giants, as the team remained aggressive in blitzing the Giants offensive line.

It sure felt good to see the Cowboys exploit the Giants weakness up front, not content with letting their front four create the only advantage on defense. Knowing what Eli Manning is capable of when sitting in the pocket, the Cowboys disrupted the Giants passer all night by relentlessly sending stunts and blitzes at him.

Damien Wilson had a bounce back game at linebacker by using his speed to pressure Manning. Getting home for a game-changing sack, Wilson knocked the ball out of Manning's hand and created a turnover for his defense.

Defensive End Taco Charlton, who had a sack from the RDE position, recovered the fumble for Dallas. It was the right side of the offensive line for the Giants that let them down, but with so much attention being given to DeMarcus Lawrence at left end, Charlton simply had a free run at Manning for his sack.

  • That's a bad miss by Dak Prescott of Rico Gathers in the end zone off the Cowboys only turnover.

Looking to put the game away after their fumble recovery, the Cowboys called the perfect play for Tight End Rico Gathers - who was active in a regular season game for the first time. The play became an example of just how far criticism of Scott Linehan should stretch, as Prescott simply didn't execute.

Gathers sold his route up the field perfectly, breaking for the back corner of the end zone and running to open space before finding the ball sail over his head. Had Prescott thrown a better ball, Gathers turns around and easily secures a touchdown.

Who knows what the internet would be like this morning if he did. Nonetheless, the Cowboys settled for a Brett Maher field goal and took a 13-0 advantage before the Giants began their climb back into the game.

The Cowboys shouldn't be discouraged from using Gathers more in the passing game, but whether or not they will depends on the numbers they need on the active roster each game day.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

The only NFC East team to earn a win in week two, the Cowboys have a long way to go to prove they're contenders in the division. With the Seahawks coming to town this week, the Cowboys will be reminded of how quickly things can go wrong, as Seattle's win in AT&T Stadium a year ago ended their hopes of making the playoffs.

On Sunday night, it was the Cowboys hindering the Giants chance to do just that by forcing an 0-2 start in New York. The Cowboys were impressive in their control of the game, executing a great game plan on defense while the offense started fast and finished with a physical drive in the fourth quarter.

Getting back to work after a win is always best, and such is the week ahead for the Dallas Cowboys.

Tell us what you think about "Sean’s Scout: Secondary Play, Improved OL Stand Out in Cowboys Win Vs. Giants" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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