The Dallas Cowboys took the division by surprise last year, amassing 12 wins among a flurry of doubt surrounding their defensive capability. This year, the 'Boys are on everyone's radar so any potential stealth capabilities have long evaporated. They need to defend their crown from the front and tackle problems head on if they're going to repeat as NFC East champions. That begins with the draft so we take a look at some potential areas where the Cowboys may be hurting.
Tony Romo, Brandon Weeden.
In 2014, Tony Romo lead the league in several major statistical categories.
Completion Percentage: 69.9.
TDs Per Pass Attempt: 7.8
Yards Per Pass Attempt: 8.5
Quarterback Rating: 113.2
Total QBR: 82.75
Game Winning Drives: 5
The Cowboys will likely invest in a potential replacement for Tony Romo one of these years, but after he just put in the best season of his career, it likely won't be this season. As much as Giants fans hate to say it, Romo is one of the best quarterbacks in the league. He may have a larger burden to carry this season if they can't lean on the running game, but Romo is more than up to the job.
According to our sister site, Blogging The Boys, the Cowboys will have met with or worked out several quarterbacks before the draft, including Garret Grayson (Colorado State), Sean Mannion (Oregon State) and Brett Hundley (UCLA). They were close to picking Johnny Manziel last year. Let's see if they pull the trigger on a new signal caller in two weeks.
Darren McFadden, Lance Dunbar, Joseph Randle, Jed Collins.
McFadden has averaged 3.34 yards per rushing attempt over the last three years. The recently exiled DeMarco Murray averaged 4.71 yards per attempt during that same span.
They're getting another running back, right? Since Adrian Peterson's reinstatement by the league, there has been a flurry of articles talking about the troubled rusher's links to Dallas. This includes one article on the Cowboys website itself! While Jerry Jones may be accused of hubris from time to time, I doubt even he has it in him to go into the season with their current crop of running backs.
If it's all hot air and Peterson doesn't land in Dallas, it means the Cowboys have their mind set on addressing this position through the draft. Top prospects such as Melvin Gordon (Wisconsin) and Todd Gurley (Georgia) are in play here, but they may opt to wait for a second- or third-round guy like Ameer Abdullah (Nebraska) or Tevin Coleman (Indiana).
Tyron Smith, Ronald Leary, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, Doug Free, Darrion Weems, Ryan Miller, Mackenzy Bernadeau, Donald Hawkins.
In the Pro Football Focus grading system, the Cowboys had six linemen land in the top 25 for their respective positions, including three players in the top 10.
The Cowboys' recent success may be the number one reason for the Giants to take an offensive lineman in the first round of this year's draft. Last season, rookie guard Zack Martin stepped into the line-up and solidified their last remaining position. Offensive lines work on synergy. The better the guy next to you is, the better you are. In 2014, this line allowed the second-fewest QB pressures in the league and paved the way for 2,288 yards on the ground. This is as good a line as it gets.
Not an area of need.
Jason Witten, Gavin Escobar, James Hanna.
Since 2004, Jason Witten has had seven 900+ yard seasons. In that same time, no Giants tight-end has ever reached that number. In fact, from 2007-2012, Witten never had fewer than 900 yards in a season.
Witten has got to be done soon, right? If he catches 57 passes this season, he'll join Tony Gonzalez as only the second tight-end to be a member of the 1000 receptions club. It's unlikely that Escobar is the next great Cowboys tight-end, but in fairness, we genuinely don't know because he has barely seen the field thanks to Old Man Witten still playing better than all but a few guys in the league.
The Cowboys could draft a tight-end this year, but there aren't many guys really worth drafting. They have Escobar waiting in the wings for a chance to start so they don't need a developmental guy right away. If this draft class was a bit better for this position, I'd say they could use a high pick on one of the top prospects, but the talent pool simply isn't there.
Dez Bryant, Terrence Williams, Cole Beasley, Chris Boyd, Devin Street, Reggie Dunn.
Pro Football Focus' deep passing metric tracks whether a deep pass attempt was catchable or not for a receiver. In 2014, Bryant went 15-for-15 on catchable 20+ yard pass attempts.
From a win probability point of view, all Giants fans should hate that Dez Bryant is in the division. From an entertainment angle, you should all be overjoyed. Think of it like a superhero movie. You don't really want to spend two hours watching Superman beat up petty thugs and criminals. No, you want him to go out and take on the impossible enemy who is built purely to destroy the hero. That's sorta what Bryant is like for Giants fans, but in real life, the good guy doesn't always win, and that's what makes sports so damn good to watch.
I have zero doubt in my mind that Jerry Jones is itching to make an overly-flashy pick after playing it safe last year and taking the Notre Dame guard instead of the agile SEC quarterback. Let him live a little this year. Maybe not in the first round, but I could see a few possible running mates for Bryant in this draft class. Devin Funchess (Michigan) would be a great possession choice and give the Cowboys something akin to the Brandon Marshall - Alshon Jeffery combination that worked so well for the Bears. Or, if they wanted to go the other direction and get someone for underneath routes with a lot of after-the-catch potential, maybe a mid-round pick on someone like Vince Mayle (Washington State) would be an option. There's too much talent to pass up for the Cowboys at this position. Terrence Williams and Cole Beasley are solid but neither are so great that someone in this draft couldn't provide an upgrade at a starting position.
Tyrone Crawford, Terrell McClain, Josh Brent, Jeremy Mincey, Demarcus Lawrence, Nick Hayden, Ken Bishop, Ben Gardner, Greg Hardy.
The Cowboys lost George Selvie, Henry Melton and Anthony Spencer in free-agency. They need to regain 1,300 snaps of production next season and while they may recoup some of that number through the promotion of Demarcus Lawrence to a larger role, they will still need to add players through the draft. Their main off-season acquisition, Greg Hardy, faces a 10-game suspension for a domestic abuse case. Perhaps the Cowboys hoped the punishment would be lighter considering that all charges were dropped and that Hardy missed 15 games last season to settle the dispute in the courts.
The Cowboys don't have serious holes at any one position but could use upgrades right across the defensive line. Eddie Goldman (FSU) or Malcolm Brown (Texas) could be first round options or maybe Michael Bennett (Ohio State) if he slips late into the second round. At end, Trey Flowers (Arkansas) would be a good fit and could be picked up on Day 2 of the draft.
Sean Lee, Rolando McClain, Anthony Hitchens, Cameron Lawrence, Jasper Brinkley, Dekoda Watson.
The Cowboys' 2015 season opener is 643 days from the last time Sean Lee played in an NFL game.
Sean Lee is an immensely talented player who missed more games due to injury than Sam Bradford. At this point, he cannot be relied upon to even be available when the season starts. Talented injury-prone players are the worst aspect of this sport. If Lee could put together even one complete season in his career, we would all be witness to top-level linebacker play. Unfortunately, it's likely that at some point this season the Cowboys will have to rely on Lee's back-up, Cameron Lawrence, an undrafted free agent who appeared in four games last season.
They need to address the Sean Lee issue at some point. Rolando McClain outplayed everyone's expectations and Anthony Hitchens should improve after his rookie year so it's really just the one spot they have to worry about and as such, they will probably wait until the middle rounds to address it. Someone like Terrence Plummer (UCF) could fit but I could definitely see Jerry Jones pushing for Martrell Spaight (Arkansas).
Brandon Carr, Orlando Scandrick, Morris Claiborne, J.J. Wilcox, Barry Church, Robert Steeples, Jeff Heath, Keelan Johnson.
Brandon Carr was one of the best cornerbacks on a snaps-to-receptions-allowed ratio, but when he did allow a catch, it was usually a big play. PFF credits him with six touchdowns (ninth-highest) and 849 yards (seventh-highest) allowed in 2014.
A large part of Brandon Carr's poor performance last year stems from his 15 missed tackles. The secondary is possibly the Cowboys biggest weak spot, which seems crazy considering the investments made in Morris Claiborne (1st round pick) and Carr ($12 million cap hit for 2014). Orlando Scandrick was the lone bright spot but he isn't attending voluntary workouts amid speculation that he wants a new contract.
Considering the cornerback area is such an expensive mess, maybe it would be better to allocate resources towards the safety position. Landon Collins (Alabama) would be an easy pick if he was there in the first round. I know I'm higher on him than most, but he is the clear cut top safety in this draft no matter what way you look at it. There are other needs to address so they could go in another direction, but Collins would be a strong addition to an under-performing secondary.
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