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.