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Ranking the Cowboys Roster Needs Ahead of 2021 NFL Draft

There’s been a lot of talk lately about what the Dallas Cowboys’ biggest needs are with the 2021 NFL Draft just a few weeks away. As it stands today, how do the various roster positions stack up against each other? Where should the team focus its resources in the upcoming draft?

“Need” is a subjective term that depends entirely on your own priorities and perceptions. If you’re only looking at the 2021 season then you may feel strongly way, while a longer-term view could give you different feelings.

Perfect example; wide receiver is a very low need if you’ve got 2021 tunnel vision. You feel great about Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, CeeDee Lamb, and Cedrick Wilson as a top four and even Noah Brown in the fifth spot. Why would Dallas even bother spending a pick here?

But all you have to do is broaden your perspective by one more season to see Gallup, Wilson, and Brown will all become unrestricted free agents in 2022. If you look past that fifth spot on the depth chart, there’s currently nobody behind them that’s a proven asset.

I tend to take the broader approach, and especially the higher up in the draft I am. I want players that give me the best potential for the next 4-8 years and not just to plug holes on the roster. The “band-aid” approach to drafting is how we’ve ended up with a lot of boo-boos through the years.

So, with that said, here’s how I’d rank the Cowboys’ offensive and defensive needs as of today.

1. Cornerback

Trevon Diggs seems like the real deal and I think a competition between Anthony Brown, Maurice Canady, and Jourdan Lewis will yield capable 3rd and 4th corners. But we need something more in that other starting role; a potential star who can form a great duo with Diggs for the next several years. It’s why a CB at the 10th pick makes a lot of sense as it hopefully satisfies and immediate and long-term needs.

2. Linebacker

It’s sad how quickly the bloom has come off Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith’s roses but that’s where we are. But even if Dan Quinn comes in and fixes our young LB duo, a capable backup and potential replacement for 2022 has to be a strong consideration. Even with Keanu Neal reportedly joining to play LB there’s still no trustworthy depth. The Cowboys have apparently broken off their pursuit of veteran K.J. Wright, so unless they have another free agent in mind they could be taking a LB early in this draft.

3. Offensive Tackle

While we hope Tyron Smith and La’el Collins’ 2020 surgeries will improve their long-term availability, hope is a dangerous word. Though Dallas signed 35-year-old Ty Nsekhe to play swing tackle in 2021, adding a young prospect could prove beneficial immediately and especially in the coming years. Dallas’ best season in recent years came due to Jason Garrett’s commitment to building the offensive line and the team should continue to follow that model.

4. Defensive End

DeMarcus Lawrence is a tremendous run stopper and better pass rusher than his sack numbers indicate, but he’s clearly not a catalytic player. With Randy Gregory the only other DE that you currently have any respect for, adding another pass rusher would make a lot of sense. Aldon Smith is gone and relying on Dorance Armstrong, Bradlee Anae, or Ron’Dell Carter would be putting a lot of faith in potential rather than proof.

5. Safety

The additions of Damontae Kazee and Jayron Kearse give the position a new look but still a major lack of confidence. While we project Kazee and Donovan Wilson to be the starters in 2021, who know how they may rotate around with Kearse and Keanu Neal in various schemes? More importantly, who knows if any of these players will finally give the Cowboys a true game-changer at safety? Adding more talent here can’t hurt as question marks still abound.

6. Guard/Center

Connor Williams has an expiring contract and Tyler Biadasz was only passable in his rookie season. Unless both make considerable leaps in 2021, Dallas could be in trouble and especially if either gets injured. While Connor McGovern provides one potential option, an opportunity to get deeper and improve your odds at a long-term starter would make sense.

7. Tight End

One of the big topics right now because of Florida’s Kyle Pitts, tight end is one of those positions that fits my “need” narrative from before. You hope that Blake Jarwin comes back from ACL surgery and delivers on perceived potential, but we just don’t know. You also have Dalton Schultz on an expiring contract and a blocking TE just added in Jeremy Sprinkle. No, the present need may not be very high. But there’s enough here that you don’t pass on a talent like Pitts if he’s available, nor do you ignore opportunities to improve your depth later on in the draft.

8. Wide Receiver

See my introductory comments for WR thoughts. In summary, we’re good for 2021 but could have some big needs as soon as the next offseason. Adding someone to compete with Wilson and Brown for depth and a future role would be perfectly prudent.

9. Defensive Tackle

I’d only draft a DT high if you believe he walks in as the best player at the position. But with Day 2 picks invested in Trysten Hill and Neville Gallimore recently, I want to see how those guys develop before I spend more resources here.

10. Quarterback

Dak Prescott has his long-term deal but the backup spot is very uncertain. Garrett Gilbert’s one good day against Pittsburgh isn’t enough to feel secure and we’ve seen even less from Ben DiNucci and Cooper Rush. I’d still rather see Dallas pursue a veteran like Alex Smith or Robert Griffin to replace Andy Dalton, but you could use a mid-round pick here if you think a QB prospect can be an immediate upgrade as QB2 and perhaps become a tradeable asset down the line.

11. Running Back

Like with QB, this is a position where you only take a guy if you’re getting great value and think he’s a walk-in upgrade. Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard are set as your one-two punch and Rico Dowdle is looking like an ideal RB3 with his special teams work. It will be hard for anyone to crack this trio unless they have an exceptional trait of their own.

~ ~ ~

Depending on what happens in free agency the next three weeks we could see changes to this list, and perhaps we’ll revisit this topic closer to April 29th. But for now, this is where I see the team’s needs based on present and future concerns.

What’s your take? Let me know in the comments.

What do you think?

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Written by Jess Haynie

Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!

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  1. Defensive Tackle at #9? Do you realize Dallas was one of the worst teams in teh NFL vs the run? Do you realize the impact an excellent DT would have on DE and DB play? Toss in LB as well. Dallas carries 4 RBs, there are two which can be upgraded fairly easily with a Day 3 talent,”

    Personally I’d put QB last, then WR, then RB.

    DT would be 3 and OT 4 then DE 5.

  2. PS, neither of our day 2 picks at DT projects to be an NFL starter today. Either fine in a back up role. Dallas was wise to jettison Taco when they did no matter what round he ws taken in the draft.

  3. Player Selection process should be based on the team’s needs at this time. same for next year and so on. Signed Senior Suave

  4. Chuck, you absolutely nailed it. Not only does the FO discount the value of a true dt-1 tech run stuffing manfrigerator, but it seems the blogosphere and much of our fanbase does, as well. The Boys were the 2nd worst run defense in the league and gave up the most points in the history of the franchise – that’s 60 years! Give me Surtain – Grant – and the best run stuff DT available with the 3rd round pick, then go LB and DE with the 2 4th round picks!

  5. CB may to be the most pressing need. Then some mix of LB, DT, DE, S. If OTs Smith and Collins look to be healthy then no need to rush there, but with C Williams unable to hold up at times, we should pick up an OG at some point..

    Another Fanspeak, bias to defense.

    Surtain/Horn in 1st
    LB, Z Collin in 2nd
    DT, J Tufele and SAF, A Cisco in 3rd
    DT, A McNeill and DE, C Sample in 4th
    CB, S Wade in 5th
    OT, A Jackson and OG, J Anderson in 6th
    DE, P Johnson in 7th

    But if Pitts falls, at bets are off, as Jerry will bite.

  6. DT #9 ? You suffer from the same syndrome as the front office. Defensive tackle has been a huge issue for years! And neglected for years. That’s why we get blown off the ball so much. And do you really believe these guys you mentioned are gonna emerge as big time pocket pushers and run stuffers when even their collegiate backgrounds say otherwise. And don’t even bring up Woods. He’s ineffective against the run. Definition of insanity is what we have been doing at tackle. I think Diggs is gonna be good. Thought that when we drafted him. We need more corners and a top notch one would be ideal. But a bit of a luxury when we are so devoid of talent, especially against the run at DT.

  7. This team has holes everywhere. If they are straight up not good enough, then depth is a huge concern because we saw that scenario play out last year at multiple positions. So, I don’t have a problem with Jess’ wish list but I’m seriously going best player available regardless of position. And, for heaven’s sake, may we have seen the last reworked contract of T. Smith. A great, great player but he has been declining for the last few years. I fully expect this to be his last year but that dead money stretches long after he is gone. In my world, you don’t rework contracts on older, oft injured players. So, offensive linemen, all across the line should not be ruled out. Best player available at each pick. Nothing cute. Nothing splashy. Just pick best players regardless of position. It can only strengthen a very underwhelming team.

  8. “Need” does not exactly equate to the best available in the current draft at each round. Thus free agency is critical. Agree that need should be both short and long-term consideration by goal should be what will win a SuperBowl the soonest. The front office is challenged to identify the solid long-term talent and commit to them while less expensive and they either walk or we pay top dollar (Byron Jones, Prescott).

    Cowboys did not approach free agency to fill needs that would get them to the SuperBowl. If the signees make the roster they are only rotational depth.

    The Need based upon on 2020 performance:
    1. DT: must stop the run or all else is moot
    2. FS: Intuitive, playmaking, eraser.
    3. CB: Need a bookend for Diggs
    4. OL: Health is only limitation; Steele or Knight might continue to develop or must draft in 1-3rd if want immediate impact.
    5. QB: Backup QB. See 2020.
    6. LB: coaching, poor DT play, health. Starting two are talented enough. Depth still needed though.
    7. RB: Another for a 3RB committee and ease Zeke load/maximize his value.
    8. TE: If Jarwin returns to form, then OK here.
    9. WR: Sign Gallup now to an extension and solve this for years. 4th and 5th receivers easy to come by.

  9. TE Kyle Pitts is a luxury. If there were not so many other pressing needs on this team then yes take Pitts if he is there, but don’t pass on a good CB or S to take a luxury

  10. DT is much higher on my list. Right after CB I go get a Safety, then the DT. Then Offensive line. After those four, best available Between linebacker, And defensive line. Last pick: Sam Ehlinger, QB from Texas

  11. Also depth at line is needed, but not priority, and DT should way higher, we hope, just pay the one that performs. Safety that low, you must not have been watching the games, was it due to covid being the reason, it inhibited you from grabbing the remote??? Maybe so, cuz a lot people are being dumb nowadays, it’s ok, I undastannnd!(Mr. SMILEY FACE voice:)

  12. DT at 9??? No! It’s a 3-way tie between CB, FS, DT. I don’t know how to say it any more clearly. Last season’s defense was historically bad. The team gave up more points than nay other team in the Boys’ 60 year history. The team was 2nd to LAST in run defense. How can you not say dt-1 tech run stuff is not a primary need. And no trysten hill, antwan woods and gallimore are not sufficient.

  13. ETHAN- I agree with you CB/FS/DT biggest priority. Can also make a strong case for OL/LB. I feel fairly confident we will go CB with one of our first two picks, and FS with one of first three picks. Beyond that I like DT Shelvin with one of our two 3rd round picks. Would be very happy if we started off the draft with Surtain or Horn then FS Moehrig.then a stud DT like Shelvin. Would probably need to give up a pick or two to move up and get Moehrig though.

    Now having said all that, we can’t be locked into picking in order of greatest need necessarily. The draft is wildly unpredictable. Players get picked higher then anticipated and some fall further then you anticipated. Flexibility and having contingency plans are the order of the day. Ur constantly reshuffling ur board as u go. I think we go CB/FS DT/OL/LB in the draft but not necessarily in that order. Again it just depends on how the draft board falls and where the value is when each pick comes up.

  14. I agree with everyone defense is the most pressing need there is just not enough talent on that side but Smith and Collins scare me to death backs and hip injuries for OL both of them go down early again is catastrophic a burner receiver in a later round would be nice but not a big need

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