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.
- 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 Safety – Byron 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 Safety – Barry 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
- 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
- Left DE – No one currently signed. Randy Gregory could fill in, but not ready (9 x 4) = 36
- Right DE – DeMarcus 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:
- Corner = 36
- Starting DE = 36
- Starting Three DT = 36
- Middle Linebacker = 28
- Strong Side LB = 24
- Backup Three DT = 22.5
- 4th Corner = 20
- 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.
Earl Thomas: Age is Just a Number Part II
Yesterday, I wrote a piece attempting to assuage the fears that many in Cowboys Nation have about handing a contract extension out to Earl Thomas, who is 29 years old as we enter the 2018 NFL season.
In the comment section, a reader posed a very good question that is the basis for the rest of this article:
It's a great question that certainly required some research, but Cowboys fans all across the world should be encouraged by my findings.
Just to refresh, here are the players we looked at as favorable comparisons to Earl Thomas at this point in his career. I searched Pro Football Reference for safeties who had at least three All-Pro First Team selections and at least six Pro Bowl appearances.
The average age of the players listed at the time when they reached their third All-Pro was 31 years old. I'm removing Deion Sanders and Roger Wehrli from the equation as most of their work was done at cornerback.
Let's look at a chart that outlines what these guys careers looked like at age 29 and beyond to get a better picture. Remember, Earl Thomas already has three All-Pro selections and six Pro Bowls. Many of these guys didn't reach those kind of accolades until their 30s.
The first thing I noticed as I looked into this question is that only two players had three or more All-Pro First Team selections prior to age 29, like Earl Thomas has. Those players were Rod Woodson and Ronnie Lott. Every other player on this list didn't hit their third All-Pro selection until age 29 or later.
Only one player reached his sixth Pro Bowl prior to his age 29 season, that player is Ronnie Lott, who many NFL Analysts consider to be the greatest safety of all-time. Most of the players didn't achieve their third All-Pro selection until their age 29 season or later. Earl Thomas reached his third All-Pro selection at age 25.
Here's a hot take for you: Earl Thomas, when it's all said and done could be considered the greatest safety of all-time. I'll just leave that there to marinate and if a trade does happen, we'll come back to that.
Back to the chart.
Another thing I want to point out is that none of these players were 100% healthy. Such is the life in the NFL, especially as you get older, but they were available for at least 14 games a majority of their seasons aged 29 or later. Health is an unpredictable animal in the NFL, but the safety position allows for much more longevity than many other positions. And as the chart depicts, it's a position that ages well.
So, as you can see in the chart, players who were highly productive prior to their age 29 season were also highly productive for several seasons after. These players went onto average almost seven more years in the league from their age 29 seasons.
Most players continued to average a healthy amount of interceptions. The player that saw the biggest decline from the early part of his career to the post-29 part of his career was Brian Dawkins. The former Philadelphia Eagles and Denver Broncos safety went from three interceptions per season prior to 29 to 1.9 interceptions per season 29 and after.
When it comes to the safety position, the elite seem to be able to get the most of their bodies and their abilities and can prolong their prime. The position relies as much on intelligence and awareness as it does quickness and athleticism. Earl Thomas has the mental capacity to play the game for many more years and there's been zero evidence to suggest that he is experiencing any physical decline.
At the rate of his career that he's on, Earl Thomas is destined for the Hall of Fame. He's one of the faces of the Legion of Boom defense that propelled the Seattle Seahawks into the elite category of teams in the early part of this decade.
If and when an Earl Thomas trade does occur, don't sweat an extension for Thomas.
Thomas' credentials put him in an elite group of players who played the game for a very long time and there's no reason to believe he won't continue to do so.
The Dallas Cowboys aren't that far off from having a Super Bowl contending defense built in the image of the Seattle Seahawks. Going to get the All-Pro, future Hall of Fame safety is the final piece to the to the Dallas Cowboys completing construction on "Doomsday III."
Everything else is there for the Dallas Cowboys, now all they have to do is: Go. Get. Earl!
Noah Brown Takes to Twitter to Call Out ESPN
ESPN has long been considered "The Worldwide Leader in Sports," and for a long time that title was justified. If you wanted your national sports news, where did you turn to but the cable sports channel to watch that day's episode of SportsCenter. But over the last few years, it's become more and more clear that it's "The Worldwide Leader" in name only.
The ratings are dropping and the network has had to make a lot of business decisions as it relates to much of their on-air talent over the last several years. With their latest under 25 starting 22 -- ahem, troll job -- they seem to have finally come to terms that they are basically First Take.
Noah Brown put it best in his reaction to the ESPN "Insider" voting that led to Saquon Barkley being named to the starting 22 ahead of Ezekiel Elliott. Brown, Elliott's teammate when both were at Ohio State University, came to his defense upon seeing the list.
43 of our NFL Insiders voted. Here's their best starting roster under the age of 25.
I'm sure there could be debates about different positions on the squad. Personally, quarterback is one where an argument could be made for Carson Wentz or Dak Prescott over DeShaun Watson, but that's for another time.
But to have a rookie, who has never played a down in the NFL ahead of the NFL's league leader in rushing for 2016, Ezekiel Elliott, is laughable.
The fact that they had 43, again I use the quotations, "Insiders" vote on this and Ezekiel Elliott wasn't listed as one of the two running backs just shows you how far they've come as a network.
Let's remember that Ezekiel Elliott has averaged a touchdown a game -- receiving and rushing -- in his 25-game career. No running back has more rushing yards than Elliott does over the last two years, including 2017 league rushing leader, Kareem Hunt. No running back has more rushing touchdowns than Elliott's 22 rushing TDs.
Ezekiel Elliott's yards per carry is a healthy 4.63. Todd Gurley sits at 3.93. No player with more than 1,800 rushing yards over the last two years has a better yards per attempt than Ezekiel Elliott.
I get that you'd vote Todd Gurley in there, but to not have Ezekiel Elliott, arguably the game's best running back on your Under 25 starting 22 just makes you look like Skip Bayless or Stephen A. Smith. Not a sports journalism entity worthy of people throwing money at for "Insider" access.
I won't say that I never or will never watch ESPN, because where else am I gonna go for Monday Night Football, Todd Archer, or the NCAA Men's Lacrosse Championships? When I'm at my father-in-law's, I'll watch SportsCenter first thing in the morning, because it will be on and you don't change another man's television.
"The Worldwide Leader," however, loses credibility when they promote a list like this that has such a glaring omission.
Perhaps, maybe the goal wasn't to put out an accurate list. Maybe the goal was to get us talking about their list, just like when NFL Network releases their Top 100 players list. Like they say, there's no such thing as bad publicity.
This troll job from ESPN has certainly gotten them some publicity, or should I say, notoriety.
Cowboys DE Randy Gregory Reinstated, Will Join Team for Training Camp
The Dallas Cowboys patience with Defensive End Randy Gregory has paid off. Suspended for the better part of 2016 and all of 2017, Gregory has officially been reinstated to join the team for their 2018 training camp. The projected starter at RDE, Gregory will report to Oxnard with the rest of the team on July 25th.
From here, it will be all hard work for Gregory to reconnect with Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli and get his promising career back on track. The last time Gregory suited up for the Cowboys, he managed to sack Philadelphia Eagles Quarterback Carson Wentz in a week 17 win. The Cowboys will be expecting much more of this from a player they've supported through multiple violations of the league's heavily criticized substance abuse policy.
Cowboys pass-rusher Randy Gregory's petition for reinstatement was not opposed, according to lawyer Daniel Moskowitz. He's back. "I've never been more proud of any individual in my life. I'm very excited for Randy and his daughter and the rest of the his family.
Among this support staff for Gregory were a number of teammates that wrote formal letters to the NFL as part of his bid for reinstatement. These last few days of preparation before the Cowboys are together again as a team will surely be uplifted by Gregory's presence.
They say no news is typically good news at this point in the offseason, something the Cowboys have come to realize far too often. Today's news shouldn't be confused with a pleasant surprise however, rather something the Cowboys were committed to in getting another premier pass rusher on the field.
Here is the NFL's official press release on their reinstatement of Randy Gregory:
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