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Fixing The Dallas Cowboys Defense

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Draft Draft Blog - Fixing The Dallas Cowboys Defense

The Cowboys’ offense still has some weaknesses but overall, the Cowboys are pretty set on offense.

This past week they looked at a couple of veterans to play Guard and backup Wide Receiver - which are really their biggest needs on offense - But while they could use an upgrade at Guard and will need to look ahead to 2015 to find a replacement for Doug Free at Right Tackle, the offensive players are not the biggest problems the Cowboys have. With the addition of Scott Linehan and Garrett taking a hands-off approach to the offense in 2014, the Cowboys have the necessary talent on offense to be playoff contenders in 2014.

The defense is another story. Last season, the Cowboys had the worst defense in their 54-year history and they have some gaping holes that need to be filled. Can the Cowboys turn it around in 2014? Is it even a possibility, or are we Cowboys fans doomed to another season of 8-8, or worse?

The silver lining is that even with the worst defense in the storied history of America’s Team the ‘Boys were really, really close to being in the playoffs last year. I believe it’s possible to turn this team around if the Cowboys make good use of the upcoming draft, and if they can avoid the injuries that decimated them last year.

Here is what I'd like to see on opening day for the Cowboys’ defense:

LCB - Morris Claiborne

I still think there is a big reason for the entire NFL believing Claiborne was the top defensive player in the 2012 draft. I was upset that the Cowboys traded up to get him because I thought they needed more players, but that doesn't mean that his sophomore slump should stop the Cowboys from pushing him to be the starter in 2014.

He had a very solid rookie season, followed by a disappointing injury-plagued 2nd year. I think he is motivated to bounce back strong in 2014. If the Cowboys get decent play from the Free Safety position then Claiborne will look much better this season.

RCB - Brandon Carr

Unlike Courtland Finnegan - who was cut from the Rams only two seasons after signing his $50 million free agent contract - Carr still has a lot in the tank. Did the Cowboys overpay? Absolutely! But that is almost always the case in Free Agency.

So forget about the salary, and just look at Carr as a player. He’s a big strong corner who can manhandle receivers coming off the line. Maybe he's not an All-Star player, but he's more than solid.

NCB – Orlando Scandrick

Scandrick has challenged for a starting job. He fought Mike Jenkins for the job back in 2009 and Scandrick pushed Jenkins to his only Pro Bowl performance.

Last year, Scandrick took the job away from the injured Morris Claiborne by the end of the season, but ultimately Claiborne has more talent than Scandrick so he should reclaim his starting position. Regardless, Scandrick has proven to be the best 5th round pick the Cowboys have made in recent years.

The Cowboys restructured his contract last year to make it more CAP friendly and Scandrick ultimately took a pay-cut over the next three seasons, but he was rewarded with a 2-year contract extension that is CAP friendly for the Cowboys. Scandrick is one of the best 3rd cornerbacks in the NFL and the Cowboys should be thankful to have him.

FS - Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix (1st round) or Deion Bucannon (2nd round) or Matt Johnson

If the Cowboys end up with Clinton-Dix in the first round he immediately becomes the starter. Barring that, I think Johnson is the best option for the Cowboys (providing he can stay healthy). Both Clinton-Dix and Johnson have the talent to solidify the Free Safety position.

What about Calvin Pryor? I think he's more suited to play Strong Safety and Free Safety is really where the Cowboys need help. But Pryor at Free Safety would still be an upgrade - He just doesn't have the cover skills of Clinton-Dix. Johnson has instincts that are off the chart, but he hasn’t been healthy the last three seasons – including his final year in college. If Johnson can remain healthy, he might be a huge surprise for the Cowboys. Since he clearly cannot be counted upon so far, Dallas would be well-suited drafting a true Free Safety this May.

The Cowboys brought in Jimmie Ward for a visit, but I believe that Deion Bucannon would be a better choice in the 2nd round if they don’t get a shot at Clinton-Dix in the 1st round. A 3rd round option is Terrance Brooks out of Florida State.

SS - Barry Church or J.J. Wilcox

Wilcox has all the raw talent in the world, and he has the big-hitting instincts you love in a Strong Safety. The question is whether or not he develops that talent this season, or will the Cowboys have to wait another year for him to come into his own. I think it would be a HUGE, HUGE mistake to try to put Wilcox at Free Safety; he just doesn't have the instincts to play the position at a high level. But he could become a Pro Bowl level Strong Safety.

In the mean time, Barry Church is a good tackler. His coverage skills are atrocious and many of his tackles came after the first down was already made. But on a historically bad defense, at least he tried to clean up for the lack of production from the front-seven.

It would be a waste for Dallas to select another Strong Safety in the draft. They have two guys that must be allowed to fight for the position - The competition should make both of them better. Wilcox has the talent. Church has the strong work ethic and a better understanding of how to play the position. I'm looking forward to an epic battle for the starting position that lasts beyond training camp and into the season - that is, if the coaches are smart enough to put Wilcox at Strong Safety where he belongs and not impede his progress by trying to play him as Free Safety.

WLB – Bruce Carter

Carter flat-out got exposed at times last year when covering passes – especially on wheel routes - but his performance actually improved toward the end of the season. I think Bruce will bounce back strong in 2014, especially if the Cowboys solidify Free Safety. Carter was once considered a top 15 prospect, and too many Cowboys fans are giving up on him too soon.

He has the talent and I believe he keeps his job in 2014 with a much better year than he had in 2013. I’m not willing to say he’ll jump to the Pro Bowl level until I see him actually produce but I don’t think he’ll be as bad as last year.

MLB – Sean Lee

Lee just signed a huge contract last year. The fact that he’s been repeatedly injured has some fans and pundits wanting to move him out of the MLB position and draft someone like C.J. Mosley but, that’s a mistake.

Lee is the new face of the Cowboys defense and they paid him to play middle linebacker. He has the natural instincts of a middle linebacker, and his ability to drop back in coverage in the middle of the field is vital to the style of defense Rod Marinelli wants to play.

There is just no scenario in which the Cowboys move him to outside linebacker. Lee is the Cowboys “Brian Urlacher,” and even if the fans are disappointed with his injuries, there is no way Dallas moves him from his natural position this year or anytime in the foreseeable future.

SLB – Kyle Wilbur

This is the year for the 2012 draft class to step up and prove its worth. Wilbur was a man in search of a position a year ago. The Cowboys started him at backup defensive end at the beginning of the year but by the end he was moved to strong side linebacker because of injuries.

Wilbur played linebacker in college, and he surprised everyone by playing better than Durant or Holloman on the strong side. The extra weight he added to play defensive end ironically made him a much, much better linebacker. The Cowboys should be excited that they may have found the answer to their search for strong side linebacker by accident.

LDE – Anthony Barr (1st round) or Kareem Martin (2nd round)

Anthony Barr should be the #1 target of the Cowboys. If they have to package their 1st and 4th round picks to move up to get him then they should do it. Heck, throw in one of their six 7th round picks to go with it. More than Aaron Donald or Clinton-Dix, the Cowboys need a pass rusher to replace DeMarcus Ware. Barr is being compared to Ware coming out of college nine years ago, and he would go a long way toward helping the Cowboys’ defensive line recover from the debacle of 2013.

I don’t think Martin is on the Cowboys’ radar, but I would pick him over Scott Crichton or DeMarcus Lawrence, both of whom the Cowboys did bring in for visits. Both of those players are more suited to play RDE than LDE, in my opinion. If the Cowboys miss out on both Barr and Martin, then I think their next best option is starting journeyman Jeremy Mincey and drafting Will Clarke in the 4th round. But Barr is my top target in May if I’m sitting in the Cowboys’ front office.

3-Tech DT – Henry Melton

Prior to signing Melton I was high on Aaron Donald, just like so many others. I’m still high on him, but there are higher-priority needs now that Melton has signed. The NFL landscape is full of players who have come back strong from ACL injuries and had very, very productive careers. The ACL injury is not the career-ending injury it once was.

These days, players tend to come back from those types of injuries even stronger than before they got injured. If you put Barr next to Henry Melton, Melton will have a monster season in 2014 and return to Pro Bowl form. Does that mean I don’t draft Donald if both Barr and Clinton-Dix are gone? No. Donald would be a heck of a consolation prize. But Melton gives the Cowboys the luxury of looking first at a pass-rushing defensive end and free safety in the 1st round.

1-technique DT – Ra’Shede Hageman (1st round) Will Sutton (3rd round) or Ego Ferguson (3rd round)

I’m in agreement with the notion that you don’t spend 1st round picks on 1-technique defensive tackles.

However, if Barr, Clinton-Dix and Donald are all off the board when the Cowboys pick at #16, then I would be in favor of a trade back in the 1st round with someone like Green Bay, Carolina or San Francisco. If you combine Hageman with another 2nd round pick, then the value you could get would be very good for the Cowboys in the long run.

Imagine a draft where the Cowboys pick up Hageman in the bottom of the first round, then Bucannon and Martin in the 2nd round.

But barring a trade back, the Cowboys still need an upgrade at this position. Let’s face it. Nick Hayden tried hard last year, but was one of the worst starting defensive tackles in the NFL. The addition of McClain gives the Cowboys another journeyman. The Cowboys need a serious upgrade here, and either Sutton (who after his junior season projected as a 1st round pick) or Ego Ferguson (who was being projected as a potential 1st round pick in 2015) would really help the Cowboys solidify the interior of their defensive line.

RDE – Anthony Spencer

I really wanted to see Dallas re-sign Spencer to a small contract and they did just that, a one-year deal worth less than $4 million after all possible incentives.

Realistically, we’re probably looking at a rotation of Crawford and Selvie at RDE to start the season, but the best-case scenario for the Cowboys would be for Spencer to get healthy by September, and retake his starting position in October. That would also buy the Cowboys some time for Crawford to get healthy.

Achilles injuries are much harder to come back from than the ACL that Melton is recovering from. So, I really don’t know what to expect from Crawford. But Selvie played well last year, and with a stronger DT like Hageman, Sutton or Ferguson playing next to him, he will have an even better year in 2013 – unless Spencer surprises all of us and comes back as the Pro Bowl level player he was just two years ago.

Here is the draft that would fix the Cowboys defense in 2014:

  • 1st, 4th & 7th round picks traded to move up and get – DE Anthony Barr
  • 2nd round pick – FS Deion Bucannon
  • 3rd round pick – DT Will Sutton or DT Ego Ferguson
  • After the 3rd round, the Cowboys could focus on other positions.
  • 5th round pick – OG Anthony Steen or OG Trai Turner
  • Five 7th round picks – DE Aaron Lynch, DT Kerry Hyder, WR Jeff Janis, RB George Atkinson III, and OLB/DE James Gayle
  • Rookie Free Agent – RB Ben Malena



Engineer, writer and private NFL analyst, he began developing his own statistical analysis program in 1998 to measure and predict the performance of NFL teams. Scott is also a self-taught expert on the NFL salary CAP, analyzing how Cowboys contracts affect the team this year and in future seasons. Mr. Harris' skill lies in digging inside the numbers to explain which statistical measurements matter, and which do not. Mr. Harris developed his skill at writing for his college newspaper, and had his own politically oriented blog for several years. A passionate fan of the Cowboys, Scott uses his skill with numbers and writing to provide a unique viewpoint of the Cowboys and the NFL as a whole. He is a native of the DFW metroplex and currently resides in Golden, Colorado designing environmental controls systems for data centers, high rise buildings, college campuses, and government bases.

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NFL Draft

Cowboys Receive 4th-Round Compensatory Pick in 2019 NFL Draft

Jess Haynie

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Why Finishing 8-8 Improves Cowboys' 2018 NFL Draft Position

The Dallas Cowboys will receive an extra fourth-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft after the league awarded compensatory picks today.

The pick will be 136th overall, which is one spot below were Dallas drafted Dak Prescott in 2016.

Adam Schefter on Twitter

And in other news... NFL awarded compensatory draft picks today - Patriots and Rams each received two third-round picks. The full list, per sources:

We have Anthony Hitchens to thank for this extra pick. The former Cowboys linebacker signed a five-year, $45 million deal with the Chiefs last offseason which far surpassed any of the deal that Dallas made with their own free agent acquisitions.

Only free agents whose contracts expired, not those released in the offseason by their previous team, count towards the compensatory pick formula.  Therefore, Allen Hurns' deal was not a mitigating factor.

As mentioned already, the fourth round of the NFL Draft recently gave Dallas its starting quarterback. Other notable fourth-round picks in the modern era have been Hitchens, Doug Free, Marion Barber, and Chris Canty.

Last year, Dallas drafted DE Dorance Armstrong and TE Dalton Schultz with fourth-round picks.

Already short their first and sixth-round picks this year from previous trades, the Cowboys are certainly happy to have this extra selection for April's draft.



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NFL Draft

7-Round Dallas Cowboys Mock Draft: Pre-Combine Edition

Brian Martin

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3 Potential Day 2 Tight End Prospects for the Dallas Cowboys 2

I thought it would be a good idea to get out another 7-round Dallas Cowboys mock draft before the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine kicks off next week. Not only will the Combine shakeup a lot of people's big boards and draft rankings, but it will also be the first opportunity a lot of us will get to see some of these players firsthand.

For this Cowboys mock draft I used Matt Miller's big board on Fanspeak.com. I don't necessarily agree with where he has some of these players ranked right now, but that's part of the fun of doing these kind of exercises. With that said, he is still one of my favorite draft analysts.

Without further ado, here is my Pre-Combine 7-round Dallas Cowboys mock draft.

TE, Jace Sternberger, Texas A&M (2nd-round)

*189th on Matt Miller's Big Board

Jace Sternberger

Texas A&M TE Jace Sternberger (John Glaser-USA TODAY Sports)

First off, I think Matt Miller has Jace Sternberger ranked way too low on his Big Board. I don't think he will make it out of the second round and may not even be available for the Dallas Cowboys when they are on the clock with the 58th overall pick. But if he is, I'm writing his name down on the draft card and not looking back.

The Cowboys have made it pretty clear they want to upgrade their TE position, but in order to do that they're going to have to draft one pretty early in my opinion. Sternberger may be a one-year wonder at Texas A&M, but he is exactly what Quarterback Dak Prescott needs in the passing game. He would change the dynamic of this whole offense.

At 6'4", 250 pounds, Sternberger has the size the Cowboys look for in their starting tight ends. His biggest asset right now is his natural receiving ability and how dangerous he is after the catch. He runs and moves like a big receiver. He's decent as an in-line blocker as well, but it's an area of his game that is still improving.

OT, Bobby Evans, Oklahoma (3rd-round)

*89th on Matt Miller's Big Board

Bobby Evans

Oklahoma OT Bobby Evans

It's a little surprising it hasn't been brought up more this offseason, but with Tyron Smith's continued back problems and La'el Collins entering a contract year, the Dallas Cowboys could be looking into drafting another offensive tackle. I know it may be an unpopular pick in the third-round, but I couldn't pass up on Bobby Evans.

At 6'5", 300 pounds, Bobby Evans has the prototypical size teams look for in their starting offensive tackles. He is a smooth athletically gifted lineman who does his best work in the running game. He projects best in a zone blocking scheme where he can use his athleticism to his advantage. He will struggle a little bit in pass protection until he cleans up his hand technique.

With the Cowboys he could compete with La'el Collins for the starting RT position as a rookie, but at the worst be the teams swing tackle in 2019. Since he has the ability to play either tackle position, he would make a good insurance policy if Tyron Smith has to miss time again because of his back issues. Again it may be an unpopular pick, but a necessary one.

OLB, Christian Miller, Alabama (4th-round)

*161st on Matt Miller's Big Board

Christian Miller

Alabama OLB Christian Miller

With the Dallas Cowboys needing more depth at linebacker and defensive end, I decided to select Christian Miller with their first fourth-round draft pick. He unfortunately hasn't been able to showcase his skill set on a regular basis due to being buried on the depth chart at Alabama and some unfortunate injuries, but he has immense potential.

I think a lot of teams will look to draft him as a outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense, but I really like the variety of roles he could play in the Cowboys 4-3 defensive scheme. I think he could replace Demian Wilson as their strong side linebacker, provide depth at defensive end, and be a special-teams demon as a rookie.

The Cowboys of course will have to be comfortable with his injury history, but in the fourth-round I don't think that would be a problem. If he can stay healthy he has Pro Bowl potential as a pass rusher because of his size (6'4", 247), athleticism and fluidity to bend and torque his body. This might be my favorite pick in this Cowboys mock draft.

DT, Daylon Mack, Texas A&M (4th-round comp pick)

*178th on Matt Miller's Big Board

Daylon Mack

Texas A&M DT Daylon Mack

The Dallas Cowboys could definitely use some more defensive tackle help, especially after all but washing their hands of David Irving. They currently just have Antwaun Woods and Maliek Collins on the DT depth chart, unless you want to count Tyrone Crawford. That's why I returned to Texas A&M for the second time in this Cowboys mock draft and selected Daylon Mack.

Daylon Mack is a former five-star recruit who never really lived up to his billing at Texas A&M. Don't let that fool you though, he has the talent to earn a starting job with the Cowboys as a rookie at either the one or three-technique. He is the kind of prospect Rod Marinelli would love to work with.

At 6'1", 327 pounds, Mack would provide some much-needed beef to the Cowboys defensive front. He has surprising athletic ability for his size and has a devastating first step to be the kind of disruptive DT Marinelli prefers along his DL. I really love his violent hands and raw athletic ability, and I believe he could be an absolute steal in the fourth-round even though Matt Miller has him ranked much lower.

WR, Jalen Hurd, Baylor (5th-round)

*159th on Matt Miller's Big Board

Jalen Hurd

Baylor WR Jalen Hurd

Outside of Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup, the wide receiver position in Dallas is pretty dreadful. There are some young WRs who show some promise, but they still need more depth regardless. That's why I decided to take Jalen Hurd in the fifth-round in this Cowboys mock draft. He is one of the more intriguing prospects in the entire 2019 draft class.

The most intriguing aspect of Hurd's game is his background as a running back. He was a five-star recruit coming out of high school and was once considered a top RB prospect during his time in Tennessee before deciding to transfer to Baylor in order to switch to wide receiver.

At 6'4", 227 pounds, he has the prototypical size teams look for in a WR prospect. He reminds me a little bit of Cordarrelle Patterson, but is much more natural catching the ball. His route running is a little raw, but he has the ability to play in the slot or on the outside, something he did at Baylor. I think he could help replace some of Cole Beasley's lost production.

RB, Bruce Anderson, North Dakota State (7th-round)

* 206th on Matt Miller's Big Board

Bruce Anderson

North Dakota State RB Bruce Anderson

I reached a little bit with this pick, but if Bruce Anderson is available this late in the draft I would do everything within my power to bring him aboard if I was the Dallas Cowboys. I really think he could be the lightning to Ezekiel Elliott's thunder in the Cowboys backfield. I personally have him in the 3rd-5th round range, but can understand why he's ranked so low on Miller's Big Board right now.

Unfortunately, the draft process hasn't been very kind to Bruce Anderson so far. He was originally expected to open a lot of eyes in Mobile at this year's Senior Bowl, but unfortunately sustained an injury that kept him from competing. To make matters worse, he was a surprise snub at the Scouting Combine, meaning he only has private workouts and his Pro Day to impress scouts.

I for one am a big fan of Anderson's though. I believe he is exactly the kind of RB the Cowboys need behind Zeke. I personally see a poor man's Alvin Kamara when I watched his game film because of the different ways he can be utilized as both a runner and receiver. But, he can also contribute on special teams as a return specialist.

How do you feel about this 7-round Dallas Cowboys mock draft?



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NFL Draft

Cowboys Draft Target: Washington Safety Taylor Rapp

Kevin Brady

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Cowboys Draft Target: Washington Safety Taylor Rapp
AP Photo/David Zalubowski

While most fans are hoping the Cowboys snag a different safety who played his football in the state of Washington, Huskies safety Taylor Rapp should be towards the top of their draft targets on day two.

The Cowboys have some decisions to make when it comes to their back-end, particularly at safety. Do they want to pursue a full time strong safety type who can play in the box, allowing Xavier Woods to play solely as the centerfield free safety? Or would they rather add a hybrid safety who can play in that deep third role, giving their defense more flexibility in how they utilize Woods moving forward?

If their answer to this question is to go with a more traditional strong safety, and slot Woods into one permanent role, then Washington's Taylor Rapp could be the right man in this draft class.

The Player

Taylor Rapp is not the single-high safety that I would typically value high in an NFL draft. He lacks the range to really play that centerfield role, and doesn't have the speed or agility to project to this role in the NFL. No one ever gets behind him, but that's more due to ridiculously deep alignment than excellent coverage skills.

Where Rapp does excel, though, is playing forward and downhill. Rapp is aggressive both in his pursuit of plays and in his tackling. He tackles with good technique as well, and can absolutely lay the wood when coming up to hit receivers over the middle. Rapp plays how you'd expect your old-school strong safety to play, and projects as a split-zone and box safety at the next level.

Rapp isn't anything special in man coverage, but he executes well at times. He's at his best when asked to cover tight ends in man coverage, something which would certainly be valued both in today's NFL and on this version of the Cowboys' defense. I wouldn't be as comfortable lining him up against shifty slot receivers over the middle, but he can match up well physically with tight ends in man.

Overall, Rapp is one of the best tacklers I've seen in this draft class so far, and with his instincts, size and physicality he will serve as a solid strong safety at the next level.

The Fit

I don't see Taylor Rapp as the typical versatile chess-piece the Cowboys have valued when drafting defensive backs in recent years. He does what he does well, but they would be ill-advised to mess with his alignment too often or try to make him fit into a different role. He's not going to move all over the field like Xavier Woods can, but he can certainly fit the Cowboys' current need for a strong safety.

Many fans want the Cowboys to pursue Landon Collins in free agency, but if they strike out there, Rapp could be their consolation prize in the NFL draft.

No, he's not as good as Landon Collins. Let me make that perfectly clear. But for a day two pick Rapp could fit a similar role to what Collins would here in Dallas: a strong safety who will play primarily in the box and cover tight ends in man.



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