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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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.