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Cowboys Defense: Identifying Needs & Strategies, Part 2/3

Tommy Simon

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Cowboys Blog - Cowboys Defense: Identifying Needs & Strategies, Part 2/3

Before we get into who the Cowboys may pick in the first round, you have to first look at their needs. So in this series we are looking at the Cowboys needs position by position to put a grade on each to rank their overall needs.

Part one of this series went out last week and focused on the offence; you can read that at - Cowboys Offence: Identifying Needs & Strategies, Part 1/3

So how do I rank need? I weigh it based on two criteria. The first criteria is the overall importance of the position. Each position has a strategic importance score. The second criteria looks at the quality of the person who will play the position if the Cowboys do not address it. So for example, the Cowboys do not have a backup guard right now, so it is a critical (or urgent) need.  The Will linebacker has Sean Lee slated, so while important, it is not critical. The Sam linebacker only has Anthony Hitchens (so average critical), but if he moves to middle linebacker, then it only has Mark Nzeocha, so it become a moderately high to high critical need.

Once the two scores are assigned to each position, you then multiply them together to get the ranking of importance. With the explanation out of the way, let’s begin the process by assigning a score to each position by its strategic importance. It is based on a 10 point scale.

  • 10 points – QB
  • 9 points – right DE, 3 technique, left corner, LOT, Will LB
  • 8 points – left DE, right corner, ROT, 1st receiver, mike linebacker,
  • 7 points – LOG, ROG, running back, slot corner, TE, free safety
  • 6 points – 2nd receiver, one technique, strong safety, Sam LB, center, backup QB
  • 5 points – slot receiver, blocking TE, 3rd down back, backup Swing Tackle, 3rd DE
  • 4 points – 4th receiver, 3rd guard, backup running backup, 4th corner, backup Will and Mike, 3rd safety, 3rd DT, and fullback
  • 3 points – 4th DT, 3rd TE, 4th guard/center, backup Sam
  • 2 points – 5th receiver, 4th OT, 5th corner, 4th safety
  • 1 point – 7th LB, 4th TE, 5th DE/DT, 6th receiver

This is based on 50 likely positions the Cowboys will carry next year.

The next thing we now need to do is look at the urgency of each of the needs based on free agency and depth. This is based on a 1 to 5 scale, with 1 being the lowest critical (or urgent) need and 5 being the highest.

  • 1 point – Excellent or star player
  • 2 points – Good above average starter
  • 3 points – Average stable starting ability
  • 4 points - Back up quality
  • 5 points – Developmental level

The final score will be the product of the importance score and the critical score. So if the quarterback position only had a developmental player in place then the score would be 50 (10 x 5). With the formula in place, let’s look at each defensive position.

Defensive Backs

  • 1st Corner – The Cowboys do not have a shutdown corner, so high criticality (9 x 4) = 36
  • 2nd Corner – Cowboys get Orlando Scandrick back and he makes a good second (8 x 1.5) = 12
  • 3rd Corner – Brandon Carr will find a way to stay and he makes a good third corner (7 x 1.5) = 10.5
  • 4th Corner – Have rookie free agent there now, but need more upside (4 x 5) = 20
  • 5th Corner – One of the rookie free agents will fill this position (2 X 3) = 6
  • Free SafetyByron Jones looks like the real deal. One caveat is if the Boys bring in a safety/corner and move Jones to Corner. They would then fill a high priority need at corner and fill a play-making position with a rare talent. For now let’s assume Jones fills the safety (7 x 1.5) – 10.5
  • Strong SafetyBarry Church is a difference maker against the run and can cover adequately (6 x 2) = 12
  • Backup Strong Safety – J.J. Wilcox should fill so low criticality score (4 x 2) = 8
  • 4th Safety – Do not have a backup strong safety. Wilcox is adequate (3 x 5) = 15
  • 5th Safety - Jeff Heath is a restricted free agent, but should stay (1 x 2) = 2

Linebackers

  • Weak – Lee is still manning it. So for now it is a position of strength. (9 x 1) = 9
  • Middle – Losing our starter, but have a serviceable backup in Hitchens (8 x 3.5) = 28
  • Strong – Losing our starter, have Hitchens as a serviceable replacement (6 x 4) = 24
  • Weak Side Backup – have Damien Wilson and Hitchens, so not critical (4 x 2) = 8
  • Middle Backup – Have Hitchens and Andrew Gachkar so not critical (4 x 2) = 8
  • Strong Side Backup – Have Nzeocha so not critical (3 x 2) = 6

Defensive Line

  • Left DE – No one currently signed. Randy Gregory could fill in, but not ready (9 x 4) = 36
  • Right DEDeMarcus Lawrence finally was coming on. Expect a 10-sack season next year. (8 x 1.5) = 12
  • Three Technique – For this exercise I am putting Crawford at the one technique. That leaves the three with very little coverage. It is both a high priority and critical need (9 x 4) = 36
  • One Technique – If Crawford can play the one, this becomes a position of strength. (6 x 1) = 6
  • 3rd DE – Gregory fills this need and should have a better year. (5 x 2) = 10
  • Backup three – The Cowboys do not have anyone to fill this position currently, so it is critical. On caveat could be if they play David Irving there.  (5 x 4.5) = 22.5
  • Backup one – The Cowboys have Terrell McClain slated here if he can stay healthy, so there is risk. (4 x 3) = 12
  • 4th DE – This is where I think David Irving will fit. Then this does not have a high critical score. (3 x 2) = 6
  • 5th DE/DT – Ryan Russell should fill this role. If so, there is not a high urgency. (2 x 2) = 4

The highest needs on defense are:

  1. Corner = 36
  2. Starting DE = 36
  3. Starting Three DT = 36
  4. Middle Linebacker = 28
  5. Strong Side LB = 24
  6. Backup Three DT = 22.5
  7. 4th Corner = 20
  8. Backup Free Safety = 15

Really we should just list the top defensive need as "defensive back" as the Cowboys could chose to draft a play-making free safety and keep Jones at corner. Or they could bring in an impact corner and keep Jones at safety.  Either way, the Cowboys need to get a play maker who can produce the turnovers they were missing this year.

The Cowboys will also need to add a backup corner for depth. My guess is that the Cowboys are hoping that Terrance Mitchell will fill at fourth corner and they can just get a developmental player as the 5th corner. Personally I think they need a veteran corner, which will give them more insurance if injuries occur but with all their needs, it probably will be a 4th or 6th round pick.

It is no surprise the Cowboys will either need to replace Greg Hardy or re-sign him. A defensive pass rushing DE is maybe their most critical and urgent need. I do not think Gregory will be ready to be a starting DE yet. The Cowboys need to get a difference maker.

The Cowboys also need a pass rushing three technique that is disruptive. The Cowboys can keep Crawford at the three technique, but then they need a starting quality one. While reducing the score (6 x 5 = 30), it will also reduce the effectiveness of the Cowboys line. Crawford is a pretty good three, but an excellent one. If the Cowboys can sign the best three on the board in the first or second round, they should do so.

The Cowboys need a backup three as well. Jack Crawford is a free agent and so the Cowboys need to find a pass rushing three technique that can help contribute for 20 to 30 plays. I suspect the Cowboys will try to make a play to bring Crawford back.

It is no surprise the Cowboys will need a starting or a backup middle LB. My hope is that they get someone who is more physical than the undersized Hitchens. We need someone with a Ray Lewis type attitude. Mean and Nasty. I think the Cowboys will try to bring Rolando McClain back on a one or two year deal or they will try to draft. We could draft a middle LB in first, however, my gut says the Cowboys are more likely to address this position with their second or third round pick.

The strong side linebacker is also a need. The Cowboys will look at signing Kyle Wilber but my guess is he will go play outside LB for a 3/4 defense. I would expect the Cowboys to address the position in free agency or the draft. Personally I would love to see one of the Georgia linebackers fill the role.

The Cowboys have eight roles on defense that need to be addressed.

I suspect they will try to re-sign Morris Claiborne, Jack Crawford, and possibly Wilber to fill some of the roles. I believe they will take a wait and see approach before re-signing McClain. I think the Cowboys will try to sign one "splash" free agent on defense; either defensive back, defensive end, or defensive tackle. And it is likely the Cowboys will re-sign players or sign free agents for at least two of those three positions early in the free agent signing.

In my next article I will look at the combined needs and make some early observations of what could happen in the draft. Look for that this Thursday on Inside The Star.

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Tommy Simon is an entrepreneur, writer, speaker and sports enthusiast. He is currently CEO of TechBAA, an investor and board member of TPC Technical and CommunitesFIrst, and acting CFO for ALS Communities. In addition to investing and advising companies, Tommy is also a Sales Management coach and is working with companies as a Fractional CMO/CSO. Tommy is a life long football player, coach and Cowboy fan. He currently coaches and sponsors several 7 on 7 teams. He manages/coaches an adult flag football team that is the top team in Florida one of the highest ranked teams in the country. Tommy's hobbies include international travel, fantasy football, reading, and engaging in intelligent political discourse. He is married to a wonderful women for 18 years; which is the best thing he has ever accomplished. He has a dog that is the best dog ever. He also has 9 siblings and roughly 30 nieces and nephews. For more information about tommy, or to request him to speak, please contact him at info@techbaa.com

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Watch: Cowboys LB Jaylon Smith Goes Bowling for First Time Since College Injury

Sean Martin

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Should Cowboys Start Negotiating a Contract Extension With Rod Smith?

Dallas Cowboys Linebacker Jaylon Smith did not just defy all odds and return to normalcy in 2017, starting as the Cowboys' middle linebacker for a full 16 games. He became one of the team's and NFL's brightest success stories, earning the right to celebrate everyday activities returning to his life - as football did this season.

Jaylon Smith on Twitter

It's been two years since I've been able to bowl! Man it feels good to have my hobby back. #ClearEyeView #Swipe #StillGotIt! 210 average🤷🏾‍♂️🙏🏾 https://t.co/euVsXDKS2a

This is exactly what Jaylon Smith did on Twitter Friday afternoon, posting a Snapchat video of himself bowling. The caption on Twitter adds that Smith was enjoying his time at the lanes for the first time in two years.

It was January 1st, 2016 when Jaylon Smith's injury in the Fiesta Bowl against Notre Dame changed his outlook forever. In that moment, Smith went from a projected top ten pick in the 2016 NFL Draft to a LB that would need a team to take a chance on him - and be patient.

The Dallas Cowboys proved to be that team, using the 34th overall pick on the Notre Dame star and supporting his efforts to return to the field from day one. The entire Cowboys' organization was rewarded by Smith remarkably playing every game this season, inspired by his constant determination to do just that.

Are Dallas Cowboys Building A Championship Defense? 3

Dallas Cowboys LB Jaylon Smith

So, a normal offseason for Jaylon Smith is anything but right now. Still battling the drop foot condition (one that is reportedly healing well and "fading") which limits his movement ability in the lower body, Smith is a normal Dallas Cowboys football player from this point forward.

He can say he's already defined all odds, can expect to take an even bigger stride forward in 2018, and Jaylon Smith can go bowling again. You can't help but be happy for #54.

Tell us what you think about "Watch: Cowboys LB Jaylon Smith Goes Bowling for First Time Since College Injury" 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

Will Cowboys WR Noah Brown Get Bigger Role in 2018?

Jess Haynie

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Noah Brown

While only a seventh-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, receiver Noah Brown was on the Cowboys' roster for all of his rookie season. He returns in 2018 hoping for a bigger role in Dallas' offense, and with some good possibility to get one.

Brown was not a big part of the 2017 offense. He was at the bottom of the WR depth chart, inactive for three games and not seen much even when in uniform.

Noah was only targeted nine times last year. He caught four passes for 33 yards.

Assumably, this had less to do with Brown and more with the other mouths to feed in the Cowboys passing game. Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Brice Butler, even fellow rookie Ryan Switzer; you get the idea.

Noah Brown

Dallas Cowboys WR Noah Brown

2018 should remove at least one of those obstacles to Noah Brown's opportunities. Brice Butler is a free agent and there is no indication he is coming back.

Everyone else is still under contract, but that could change if the Cowboys start making any cuts to improve the salary cap. Bryant, Beasley, and even Witten, with varying degrees of probability, are all considerations as cap casualties in the next few months.

In the 2017 preseason, the 6'2", 220-pound Noah Brown reminded us of a young Dez Bryant. He has the same thick body and even showed some of the same punishing running style after the catch.

Of course, Noah hasn't shown nearly enough in college or as a rookie to say he could replace Dez. Nobody's suggesting that. But he has flashed the potential to be given more looks in the passing game.

Another way Brown could get on the field more next year is for run blocking. He has the size and power, and the Cowboys will certainly be leaning on the run with Ezekiel Elliott back and Dak Prescott needing to find his groove again.

Even if he moves up a notch from Brice Butler's exit, Noah Brown's primary way of staying active in 2018 will be through special teams. That was the key for him last year; Brown was active for 13 games because of his special teams work.

Hopefully, Noah can work his way into more targets next season. The Cowboys' receivers need to get younger and a seventh-round pick emerging would be tremendous value.

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Dallas Cowboys Continue Search for Coaching on Defense

Sean Martin

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Dallas Cowboys Search for Defensive Coaches Continues

With the hiring of Doug Nussmeier as their tight ends coach, the Dallas Cowboys' new look coaching staff is technically filled out for the 2018 season. Head Coach Jason Garrett, with coordinators Scott Linehan and Rod Marinelli underneath him once again, will lead this team into battle with new coaches at LB, OL, QB, WR, TE, ST, and in the secondary.

Despite most of their changes coming on the offensive side of the ball - where the Cowboys certainly under performed in 2017 - the Cowboys did lose one of their most highest regarded defensive coaches in Matt Eberflus this offseason.

Given their personnel on Rod Marinelli's side of the ball, the Cowboys may have actually upgraded in replacing Eberflus with Kris Richard. The Cowboys' young secondary is sure to remain a hot topic all the way until training camp, now being led by the architect of the Seahawks' vaunted "Legion of Boom".

Clarence Hill Jr on Twitter

Cowboys are not done with coaching hires. Still trying to add defensive quality coach, per source

With Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli potentially entering his final season in the NFL though, the Cowboys' search for talented coaches on the defensive side of the ball is reportedly not yet over.

Already promoting a former quality control coach in Ben Bloom to fill Eberflus' role as linebackers coach, the Cowboys' commitment to finally building a top defense is exciting for Cowboys Nation. Another solid draft haul on this side of the ball could turn any spot on the defensive coaching staff here into a highly coveted one.

Not only having the talent in place to return to the playoffs in 2018, the Cowboys are looking to take full advantage of their current staff to secure a bright future for this young team in years to come.

Exactly who the Cowboys are targeting to hire remains unknown, but they did interview former DB Ray Horton prior to hiring Kris Richard. Horton carries six years of experience as a defensive coordinator, most recently holding the position in 2016 with the Cleveland Browns.

Jon Machota on Twitter

Cowboys coaching staff changes:

It is also important to note that Marinelli, known as a defensive line specialist, still holds this positional coaching job - a unit the Cowboys should also look to add an experienced coach to. The next Cowboys DC may still be added to the staff this offseason, if not done so already with Richard the heir apparent at the moment for Marinelli.

Tell us what you think about "Dallas Cowboys Continue Search for Coaching on Defense" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!

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