2013 NFL Draft Team Needs: Dallas Cowboys
Another year, another regular season ending in heartbreak for the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys finished just one game away from an NFC East championship for the second consecutive season, and the championship window for their core group of Tony Romo, Jason Witten and DeMarcus Ware isn’t getting any bigger.
Even without a playoff berth, there were still enough positive signs about this season to give Cowboys fans reason for some optimism moving forward. Sure, the casual fan and general NFL know-nothings will continue to insist that “Romo can’t win the big one”, yada, yada, yada. To put it frankly, Romo was a big-time bright spot this season. Sure, he had his downs (that awful interception in the finale against the Redskins obviously sticks out quite prominently), but No. 9 nearly threw for 5,000 yards this season to go along with 28 touchdowns and 19 interceptions.
Time after time, it seemed, he’d bring the Cowboys back from nothing late in the fourth quarter and rescue them from what appeared to be certain defeat almost single-handedly. Obviously, the emergence of Dez Bryant as a true No. 1 receiver helped quite a bit, but Romo was tremendous in his own right.
That said, there are still countless holes for Jerry Jones and company to fill heading into the draft and free agency period.
Offense: OL, RB depth, WR depth
Dallas’ Achilles’ heel this season was clearly the play of their offensive line. You could even say it was so bad that it was offensive!…(waits for laughs, hears none)
Outside of promising young left tackle Tyron Smith, the Dallas front-five was downright porous this season. They scooped guards Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau off the scrap heap and threw them into the fire, and they picked up Ryan Cook to start at center. Yes, the same Ryan Cook that was released during the preseason as the Dolphins’ third-stringer.
Doug Free, to whom the Cowboys had recently given a big, fat contract extension, looked as though he was playing the entire season on rollerskates. I’ve never seen an NFL tackle pushed back and easily beaten around the edge with such consistency. It was truly a sight of futility to behold.
So, if Jerry Jones can swallow his pride and do the wise thing by taking the un-sexy offensive lineman in the first round, there are plenty of suitable candidates. Alabama guard Chance Warmack, Central Michigan tackle Eric Fisher and North Carolina guard/center Jonathan Cooper may all be available around pick No. 18 overall.
Dallas could also stand to upgrade their depth in the backfield. DeMarco Murray is extremely productive when he’s healthy. Only problem is he’s had big problems staying healthy so far throughout his brief pro career. Felix Jones was incredibly underwhelming during Murray’s absence this season, as well, and he’s a guy that has shown exactly nothing in terms of being a solid NFL running back.
The aforementioned Dez Bryant and Miles Austin give the Cowboys a solid tandem of receivers on the outside, but after that, they’re having to resort to the likes of Kevin Ogletree, Dwayne Harris and a bunch of nobodies.
Neither running back nor receiver should be the focus of the Cowboys throughout the first few rounds of the draft, however.
Defense: DL, S
The Cowboys will be transitioning from the 3-4 to the 4-3 in shifting from Rob Ryan to Monte Kiffin, so they’ll need to adjust their personnel accordingly. There’s big-time uncertainty on the interior of the Cowboys’ defensive line, with Josh Brent and Jay Ratliff (both defensive tackles) having foolishly jeopardized their careers (and much more) by driving drunk. It’s highly unlikely that Brent will return, but Ratliff’s status is still fairly up in the air. Even so, Ratliff is 31, and his production/health have been in decline a bit over the past couple of years.
What Kiffin does with OLBs Anthony Spencer (assuming he’s re-signed) and DeMarcus Ware remains to be seen, but one would imagine they’ll be used as stand-up outside linebackers. The Cowboys passed on drafting J.J. Watt two years ago, and they’re in dire need of some playmakers on that defensive line. Jason Hatcher enjoyed a quietly successful season last year, and Sean Lissemore showed signs, but they could probably stand to upgrade over veteran end Marcus Spears.
If Dallas is interested in a D-lineman with their first-round selection, LSU’s Sam Montgomery and Bennie Logan, Georgia’s Johnathan Jenkins and Purdue’s Kawaan Short may provide some intrigue.
The Cowboys can probably stand to keep Gerald Sensabaugh as a starting safety on one side, but they still don’t really know what they have in young Barry Church on the other, who missed the majority of this past season with injury. Safety isn’t such a pressing need to where the Cowboys need to be looking in the first round to nab one, but perhaps they would look at someone like Fresno State’s Phillip Thomas or Oklahoma’s Tony Jefferson in some of the later rounds.
Offensive line is the primary need here, no doubt. If the Cowboys aren’t looking hard at taking interior offensive linemen through the first three rounds or so, they’re crazy.
Rob Ryan got axed after the season, and it was probably unjustified. He made something out of a defense that was completely ravaged by injuries and, if healthy, has a ton of young, exciting playmakers moving forward. Obviously, there are the aforementioned weak spots, but getting inside linebackers Sean Lee and Bruce Carter back next season will be huge for this unit.