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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 Draft: Reviewing Kansas DT Daniel Wise

Kevin Brady

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Cowboys Draft: Kansas DT Daniel Wise

Throughout the post draft media process, the Cowboys' decision makers have been adamant that they found multiple draft-able players in undrafted free agency this year. Each of which, of course, will have an opportunity to compete for a roster or practice squad spot this summer.

One of those players who almost certainly had a draft-able grade despite fall through all seven rounds, is Kansas defensive tackle Daniel Wise.

At 6'3" and 290 pounds, Wise projects as a 3-technique in the NFL, and should compete for that very role on the Cowboys defense. Wise is not an overly bendy or athletic player, but he has a good initial quickness which allows him to penetrate gaps well. Wise plays with excellent effort, having the type of motor that I'm sure Rod Marinelli valued highly during the pre-draft evaluations.

A strong and powerful interior presence, Wise can offer some upside as a pass rusher as well. He has quick, active, and heavy hands. When combining his hands with his get-off, Wise is a real threat as a pass rusher. Maybe his most impressive pass rushing quality, however, is the effort which he plays with. Never giving up on a play, you'll have to block Wise until the final whistle or he will threaten for effort sacks.

In college, Wise was often asked to be a two-gap defender from the 5-technique, but that's just not where he'll be at his best. Rather, he should be used in the role the Cowboys likely envision for him, allowing him to play with power at the point of attack and disrupt the running game.

But what are Daniel Wise's chances of even making the team?

The Cowboys made a concerted effort to improve their defensive line this offseason, specifically on the interior. By adding free agents like Kerry Hyder and drafting Trysten Hill 58th overall, Dallas has improved what was considered a weakness during the postseason a year ago.

Not all of these talented defensive tackles will make the team, though, it's simply a numbers a game. And cutting an undrafted free agent will certainly be easier to do than cutting someone who will be owed real money, or was acquired through premium draft capital.

Regardless, Daniel Wise will have the chance to prove his worth during training camp and the preseason. And based on how he projects through his college tape and physical attributes, he'll likely make those final decisions very difficult on the Cowboys' staff.



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NFL Draft

Pre-Draft Visitors Highlight Dallas Cowboys 2019 Rookie Class

Brian Martin

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Pre-Draft Visitors Highlight Dallas Cowboys 2019 Rookie Class

The Dallas Cowboys are "officially" adding 21 rookies to their roster, eight of which they drafted and the remaining 13 are undrafted free agents. The number of rookies the Cowboys are bringing in isn't all that surprising, but what did surprise me was how many of them were pre-draft visitors.

You may or may not know, but the NFL allows 30 allotted pre-draft visits for each team around the league. Teams don't have to use all 30 visits of course, but the majority of them take advantage of the opportunity and generally use up all 30 visits. It's a chance to introduce these rookies into the atmosphere they could be playing in and work them out in more of a one-on-one basis.

The Dallas Cowboys of course are known as a team who take their 30 pre-draft visits very seriously. Over the past several years they've drafted several players who were brought in for pre-draft visits, and 2019 was no exception.

I've said it before and I'll say it again, paying attention to the Dallas Cowboys 30 pre-draft visits is a good idea because the odds of them drafting one or more of them is pretty high. That's why I decided to run a pre-draft tracker this year, and because of it I was able to confirm 27 of the possible 30 pre-draft visitors for the Cowboys.

Here are 2019 pre-draft visitors currently on the Cowboys roster:

  • DT, Trysten Hill
  • RB, Tony Pollard
  • RB, Mike Weber
  • WR, Jon'Vea Johnson
  • CB, Chris Westry

If you're doing the math, 5 out of 30 equates to 17% of the players the Dallas Cowboys brought in as pre-draft visitors. But, if Dallas only brought in 27 that percentage rises to 19%. To say that the Cowboys value these pre-draft visits would be an understatement, at least as far as 2019 is concerned.

The first three of Trysten Hill, Tony Pollard, and Mike Weber were of course all draft picks and have the best chance to stick around on the final 53-man roster, but I wouldn't rule out Jon'Vea Johnson and Chris Westry. Both were draftable players, but somehow fell through the cracks right into the lap of the Cowboys as UFAs.

I don't really know if it's a good idea the Dallas Cowboys are so transparent with how valuable the treat these 30 pre-draft visits. We've seen teams time and time again trade up right in front of them to draft a player the Cowboys could've possibly been eyeing, and this year was no exception.

After drafting Running Back/Wide Receiver Tony Pollard with the first of their fourth-round draft picks, it looked like the Dallas Cowboys had their sights set on small school Defensive End/Defensive Tackle John Cominsky out of Charleston with their second pick in the fourth. Unfortunately, the Atlanta Falcons traded up a spot ahead of them to draft Cominsky.

This of course isn't the first time the Falcons have done this, which begs the question as to how they knew the Cowboys could have possibly been targeting Cominsky. We can throw a conspiracy theory out there that Atlanta might have been inside source, but that's highly unlikely. More plausible theory is they were paying attention to Dallas' 30 pre-draft visitors as well.

It may be time for the Dallas Cowboys to deploy a little more smoke and mirrors when it comes to who they bring in for pre-draft visits in the future. But regardless, there's no denying the Cowboys pre-draft visitors highlight their 2019 rookie class.

Are you surprised the Dallas Cowboys added so many pre-draft visitors to the roster?



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NFL Draft

Dallas Cowboys 2019 Draft Grades

Shane Carter

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Dallas Cowboys 2019 Draft Grades 1

Another year, another draft come and gone. The difference was that this year the Dallas Cowboys were without a first-round pick thanks to their trade for Amari Cooper with Oakland. Their de facto first-round pick would obviously earn an A+ from how well he meshed with Dak Prescott and gave this Cowboys offense another dimension.

Given how well the Cowboys have done in the first round in recent history -- all but two of their first round picks since 2011 have been in the Pro Bowl, a trend that continued with last year’s pick, Leighton Vander Esch. This season, the Cowboys only had picks from round two and on. So this year was all about finding value and hoping it would fall into their laps.

Obviously time will tell if any of these players work out or not. For the time being, we can grade the picks based on what we do know. Some picks were worth it, while others raised questions, as well as eyebrows.

58 Overall: DT, Trysten Hill

Dallas Cowboys Draft Grades 1

In what has been considered the best defensive line draft in decades, the Cowboys took a bit of a risk with their first “official” pick. Trysten Hill is a first round talent out of UCF, but reports questioning his love for the game had some give him a third round grade.

Dallas has already had an off-season dealing with talented defensive linemen with questions around their passion for the game (i.e. David Irving) and so obviously people didn’t love this pick.

It’s a high risk, high reward move that we’ll have to wait and see how it turns out.

Grade: B

90 Overall: G, Connor McGovern

Dallas Cowboys Draft Grades 6

As far as value goes, McGovern was probably the team’s best pick. In my pre-draft rankings, Connor McGovern was my fourth overall interior lineman; a player who you can play anywhere in the interior and start immediately.

However, guard didn’t really seem like a need. This was obviously a “best player available” pick. What this pick has done instead is raise a bunch of questions.

Who’s job could be on the line?

Does this imply the team won’t re-sign La’el Collins?

Is Connor Williams going to play tackle like he did in college?

Is one of them going to get traded?

Is Travis Frederick really ready to go?

So many questions surround this pick, but there’s no questioning the player. Connor McGovern is likely a future starter on the line and Cowboys fans should be excited about that.

Grade: A

128 Overall: RB, Tony Pollard

If you follow me on Twitter, you know my feelings about Tony Pollard already.

Shane Carter on Twitter

Tony Pollard might be my favorite #Cowboys pick. Has experience at both the RB and WR position, plus had 7 career kick return TDs in college. He addresses all 3 needs in 1. #NFLDraft

Returner has been a need for a year now. I never liked the team trading away Ryan Switzer because it created a huge hole on special teams, as well as the receiving core.

The team also needed a backup running back to take the load off Ezekiel Elliott a bit. With Tony Pollard, they get all three positions filled in the form of a player who's 6'0" 210 pounds, ran a 4.52 40 and compiled 25 total touchdowns. Terrific value in the fourth round.

Grade: A-

158 Overall: CB, Michael Jackson

Dallas Cowboys Draft Grades 9

This is the type of corner Kris Richard loves; big and tall. At 6'1" 200 pounds, Michael Jackson fits the profile.

His 2017 tape was actually better than his 2018 tape, and all four of his career interceptions came in '17. However, the team is obviously betting on his potential, especially with corner being a serious need.

With the Cowboys' four primary corners coming into contract years the next three seasons, odds are that at least one will be gone. MJ doesn’t fill in day one as a difference maker but, given some time under Kris Richard, he could be a nice player.

Grade: C+

165 Overall: DE, Joe Jackson

Dallas Cowboys Draft Grades 11

Take Joe Jackson, new Cowboy, as well as Michael and Darius Jackson, and the team is just two short of a Jackson 5 reunion.

The team has been very busy trying to rebuild the depth at edge and Joe Jackson is icing on an already stacked cake. In an off-season that saw the retirement of David Irving and another suspension for Randy Gregory, the team was able to extend DeMarcus Lawrence and trade for Robert Quinn.

The edge room was already full but you can never have too many.

Joe Jackson is a fun, productive player from The U, who was teammates with the previous pick, Michael Jackson. In his career, he totaled 24 sacks and 37.5 tackles for loss all in three seasons. He’s not the fastest edge rusher in the world but has plenty of power to make up for it. With the team only for sure having DeMarcus Lawrence guaranteed beyond 2019, it’s good to have as much talent as possible.

Grade: B+

213 Overall: S, Donovan Wilson 

Dallas Cowboys Draft Grades 12

The team really needed a safety and it enraged most people that they didn’t pick one earlier. Especially with Taylor Rapp, Juan Thornhill and Amani Hooker all available at different times.

Donovan Wilson is an interesting pick. His career has been a rollercoaster while at Texas A&M, with a highly productive 2015 season, a dip in 2016, a fractured foot in the 2017 opener, and a rebound 2018 season.

Had his career not been derailed by his injury, he’s likely gone way before the sixth round and the Cowboys are obviously betting on his potential. Meets a need, but not a plug-in right away type of pick.

Grade: B

218 Overall: RB, Mike Weber

Dallas Cowboys Draft Grades 13

Tony Pollard is going to get first crack at the backup running back spot. However, given that he’s also the team’s likely return man as well, it makes sense that they’d want to deepen the running back room to give the team a true RB2.

Mike Weber was Ezekiel Elliott’s teammate at Ohio State, but didn’t come close to the impact Elliott had. Only topping 1,000 yards once in college, Weber is likely in competition with Darius Jackson for the backup spot.

He’s not as flashy as Zeke but can pick up the slack when asked to and is a solid receiver out of the backfield. If Weber can’t beat Jackson for the backup spot, then Weber is a likely candidate for the practice squad.

Grade: B

241 Overall: DE, Jalen Jelks

Dallas Cowboys Draft Grades 14

Jalen Jelks falls into a similar boat that both Hurricanes players are in. Like Joe Jackson, he’s a good solid edge piece (fifth round draft grade), but like Michael Jackson, his prior season's tape was better than his final season.

It's interesting that the Cowboys would pick a player who seems to be better suited to play in a 3-4 as a OLB, but has plenty of starter potential. Otherwise he’s a player that’s likely headed to the practice squad that the Cowboys wanted to make sure they get first crack at. Still, a good value in terms of where he was picked.

Grade: B-

Dallas Cowboys Overall 2019 Draft Grade: B



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