The annual NFL draft is right around the corner with teams looking to add pieces to help solve their championship puzzle. One of those teams is America’s team, the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys are coming off of a 13-4 season led by two rookies, running back Ezekiel Elliot and quarterback Dak Prescott, and after losing to the Green Bay Packers in the second round of the playoffs are looking to take their game to the next level. To do that the Cowboys have some holes to fill and I will discuss those holes in order of importance. I’ll first start with what wins championships; defense.
Secondary- According to nfl.com the Cowboys pass defense ranked 26 out of 32 teams allowing 260.4 yards a game. This has been a sore spot for the Cowboys for some time and an already bad secondary took a hit in free agency losing two starters. Nickel back Morris Claiborne departed for the New York Jets, starting cornerback Brandon Carr departed for the Baltimore Ravens and starting safety Barry Church departed for the Jacksonville Jaguars. This leaves the options at cornerback down to Orlando Scandrick, Anthony Brown, Byron Jones, Leon McFadden and newly signed Nolan Carroll. Two of the above-mentioned names, Jones and Scandrick, also double up as safeties. Scandrick to me is better suited for safety at this point as his most recent knee injury has caused him to lose a step which is crucial at the corner position. Brown, a sixth-round pick out of Purdue last season, was a nice surprise and provided solid play notching 55 tackles, 8 pass breakups, and one interception. He will most likely take over Claiborne’s spot at nickel. Byron Jones, the man who blew the coverage against the Packers leading to the game-winning field goal, has bounced between corner and safety and I think that has hurt his growth at either position. Carroll is a solid corner who comes over from Philadelphia where he posted 55 tackles and one interception. The Cowboys could use help at both corner and safety spots and it wouldn’t hurt to pick up one or both in the draft.
Linebackers- The Cowboys have been playing what seems like a game of musical chairs at linebacker minus Sean Lee who has been the one constant when healthy. They seemed to have resurrected the career of Rolando McClain before he flamed out last year due to suspension. Damien Wilson, Kyle Wilber, Mark Nzeocha, Anthony Hitchens, and Justin Durant all saw plenty of action but none distancing himself from another. Durant was signed back after a year in Atlanta and did not pick up where he left off only posting 31 tackles. Hitchens is solid in his own right but also has trouble staying healthy. Hope is that second-year man Jaylon Smith, the team’s second-round pick out of Notre Dame last year has recovered from the knee injury that he suffered in the Fiesta Bowl and lives to the high first round grade he received before the injury. With McClain departing and Smith an unknown, it would not hurt to pick up a linebacker in the later rounds.
Defensive line- This is a tricky one. They led the league in rushing defense only allowing only 83.5 yards per game according to nfl.com and the line had a lot to do with that. The Cowboys have a good rotation that can get even better with the return of a healthy Demarcus Lawrence, Charles Tapper who like Smith missed his rookie season with an injury, and hopefully at some point Randy Gregory if he can get himself together off the field. Tackle Maliek Collins was a nice surprise as a third-round pick out of Nebraska last year posting 23 tackles and five sacks despite facing constant double teams. They could stand to add another tackle to go with him. They loose end Jack Crawford to the Atlanta Falcons but replace him with Stephen Pea who comes over from the Cleveland Browns. With the uncertainty surrounding Gregory, it wouldn’t hurt to add another end as well.
Wide receiver- Life without star Dez Bryant on the field does not treat the Cowboys well in crunch time. It’s apparent that they lack the physical play and play making the Bryant brings when he’s out. Terrance Williams, who was supposed to have a breakout season after a strong training camp and preseason, only hauled in four touchdowns. Slot Lucky Whitehead who also serves as the teams return man holds the distinction of being the first person to score against the new Los Angeles Rams as he returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown in the preseason opener but didn’t do much after. Cole Beasley, another slot, continued to put up solid numbers hauling in 75 catches for 833 yards and five scores as he is one of the go-to targets on third down and short yardage situations. Bryce Butler who was acquired from the Oakland Raiders last year was a disappointment after only catching 16 passes and dealing with drops although he did have three touchdowns. The tight end position is in good hands with 15-year veteran Jason Witten still going strong. Jame Hanna and Geoff Swaim provide depth but both are injury prone. The Cowboys could benefit greatly from adding another physical receiver to the fold.
Offensive line- I know what you are probably thinking here. Why would the best line in football be a need? Simple, depth. Key reserve and part-time starter Ronald Leary who took over for an injured La’el Collins departed for a payday in Denver. Another key backup tackle/guard Chaz Green out of Florida has injury issues as well missing his first season with a hip injury and sometime last season as well. Tackle Joe Looney has some starting experience and did well when called upon as an extra blocker in goal-line and short-yardage situations. The retirement of starting right tackle Doug Free hurts them as well as he was a strong run blocker. Franchise left tackle Tyron Smith’s injury history is also a concern as he’s missed time the past few seasons. They did sign six-year veteran tackle Byron Bell earlier this offseason as well but they can still stand to pick a linemen or two in the draft.
If the Cowboys can even find a few answers to these problems especially in the secondary and linebacker corps a Super Bowl might not be too far away.
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