Just two of the last seven Dallas Cowboys first-round draft picks have been used on the defensive side of the ball, but based on Stephen Jones' recent comments ahead of next month's draft – in which the Cowboys have become one of the most successful teams – this trend could be changing soon.
It is no secret that the top of the Cowboys' organization in Stephen Jones along with Jerry and Will McClay realize that it is long overdue Dallas builds a championship defense. Having missed the Tony Romo window for a plethora of reasons, a glaring one being incompetence on defense, Romo remains on the Cowboys' roster as a reminder of how the era that Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott have brought upon America's Team can be wasted.
Foremost, it is the best player available approach that has led to the Dallas Cowboys dominance of late in the NFL Draft – particularly in patiently building their world-beating offensive line.
Stephen said best-player-available approach still applies in the draft, but "our focus in the draft is going to be on defense."
According to Stephen Jones, this approach will rightfully not change, but with the re-signings of WR Terrance Williams and RB Darren McFadden along with the addition of OT Byron Bell, the excitement of last season's offensive continuity carrying over into 2017 shifts Cowboys Nation's focus to the equally exciting amount of defensive talent available for Dallas in this draft.
If “best defensive player available” is the approach that you want the Cowboys to take into next month's draft, the two biggest areas of need on Rod Marinelli's defense appear to be pass rusher and cornerback or safety.
Stephen on defensive priorities the rest of the offseason: "No. 1 priority is get more pressure. 1A, make more plays on the ball, turnovers"
— Rob Phillips (@robphillips3) March 26, 2017
The need at defensive end has been an ongoing narrative for this team almost long enough to make it comical, but seeing Jones finally list getting after opposing quarterbacks as opposed to protecting their own as the Cowboys' top priority is more than a step in the right direction.
It's not like the Dallas Cowboys have not tried to build a defensive line through the draft. Recent second-round picks Randy Gregory and DeMarcus Lawrence have failed to live up to their draft status as revered pass rushers with red flags out of Nebraska and Boise State respectively. Using the 2016 Cowboys' draft class as the most recent example though, a third-round player like starting DT Maliek Collins proves that the Cowboys can scout and find talent along the line.
This 2017 NFL Draft will put them in a rare position to potentially sit at the back-end of the first round and have a dominant collegiate pass rusher fall to them with the depth in this class. Not needing (or willing) to reach for a DE though, the Cowboys will also see plenty of cornerbacks and safeties ready to retool a secondary that lost Morris Claiborne, Brandon Carr, J.J. Wilcox, and Barry Church in free agency.
Cornerback is not a position that the Dallas Cowboys have invested as much into when it comes to the draft, with now-Jet Morris Claiborne serving as their most recent first-round pick at the position. Again looking to 2016 for a change in this flow, sixth-round pick Anthony Brown projects as a starter moving forward, as do an absurd amount of this year's prospects.
The options are endless for the Cowboys to field a new-look defense to look forward to in the draft, and its clear they have the right guys committed to doing so in place.
Draft season is in full swing, and everything a Cowboys' front office member says from now until the end of April will be critical. If you find Dallas' need for impact players on defense critical itself, these quotes from Stephen Jones should be music to your ears.