The Dallas Cowboys were so close in 2019. Their season came down to a Week 16 contest against the Philadelphia Eagles - a game they lost in disappointing fashion, 17-9. Their 8-8 record was average but a look behind the wins and losses suggests that a tougher schedule just might have sunk the Cowboys further into a losing season. Six of their eight wins came against teams who finished the 2019 season with losing records. They could not defeat anyone that mattered and so they were nudged out of the playoffs by Philadelphia.
While Giants fans delight at the sight of Jerry Jones’ disappointed face from the press box, his frustration at the season’s end led to the firing of nine-year head coach Jason Garrett. The firing sent a signal that the Cowboys not only want to win, but they want to win now. They hired former Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy - a man who only recorded three losing seasons in his 13 years with the Packers - to replace Garrett.
Quarterback Dak Prescott’s contract has been a point of contention this offseason as both parties failed to reach an agreement, resulting in Dallas using its franchise tag to keep its star quarterback for one more season before re-negotiations begin. The Cowboys also managed to hold onto star wide receiver Amari Cooper, signing him to a massive five-year, $100 million contract. Add running back Ezekiel Elliot to the equation, and the Cowboys have as talented an offense as any in the NFL. That’s why they should shift their focus to defense heading into the 2020 NFL Draft.
The Cowboys had a productive offseason, but they gained some and lost some. Dallas added defensive linemen Gerald McCoy and Dontari Poe along with safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in free agency. But they also parted ways with pass rusher Robert Quinn, cornerback Byron Jones, wire receiver Randall Cobb, tight end Jason Witten, center Travis Frederick and defensive tackle Maliek Collins.
We picked the brain of RJ Ochoa, the editor-in-chief of Blogging the Boys, to get his perspective on the Cowboys’ draft needs.
“Without question cornerback, edge rusher, and safety. It feels like the first pick is going to come somewhere there, but linebacker is starting to pick up chatter.”
Cornerback and edge rusher are the top concerns for Dallas heading into the draft. The Cowboys ranked 19th in sack percentage last season and ranked 30th in interception percentage. They need to add explosiveness on defense to keep their dominant offense on the field and separate themselves from the 2019 team that came up just short.
The Cowboys have the No. 17 overall pick. Depending on availability, that pick could go a number of directions. Ochoa gave us his insider perspective.
“In terms of first-round players LSU’s K’Lavon Chaisson is a name that people are starting to come around on. If somehow Florida CB C.J. Henderson were there then it feels like people would backflip.”
K’Lavon Chaisson was a redshirt sophomore on the 2019 national champion LSU Tigers last season. He finished with 6.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss. Those numbers are not elite, but Chaisson shows potential and will bring versatility to wherever he lands. And he does not lack confidence.
“I’m actually the most valuable player in the draft, when it comes to it. When you hire someone, do you want to hire someone who speaks one language or do you want to hire someone that speaks three languages? I speak three languages. I do pass rush. I can drop in coverage and cover anybody you want me to cover. I can play the run. And no offensive lineman has ever just moved me off the ball or bullied me.”
Cornerback C.J. Henderson became more of a household name in college football when he recorded four interceptions in 2017. He finished the 2019 season with 11 passes defended and he ran his 40-yard dash in 4.39 seconds at the NFL Combine. He might be snatched up before the Cowboys are on the clock at 17, but if not, he looks poised to make an immediate impact at the professional level.
Though the Cowboys primarily have defensive needs to fill, they might shift focus back to the offense in the later rounds of the draft. Dallas has one pick in the second, third and fourth rounds, two picks in the fifth round and one more in the seventh.
With the loss of Witten at tight end, Ochoa can see the Cowboys shifting focus to that position group.
“For late round guys UCLA TE Devin Asiasi is a name that many are starting to really have eyes for.”
There is also no shortage of receivers in this draft, so the Cowboys might try to tack on another offensive weapon to make up for the absence of Cobb. Linebacker Logan Wilson out of Wyoming is a promising third-round target and former Auburn offensive tackle Jack Driscoll has the potential to give Dallas added protection up-front, especially as the team enters its first season in six years without Travis Frederick at center.
Again, we turn to Ochoa...
“Best case scenario for the Cowboys is that they find a way to fill their holes on defense. They lost Byron Jones and Robert Quinn in free agency and while they have Randy Gregory and Aldon Smith as hopeful options, they need talent at those spots. Worst case is that the Cowboys take a true linebacker, not addressing cornerback or edge rush, which would have a lot of people worried about the future health of Leighton Vander Esch.”
The Cowboys must focus on strengthening their defensive weaknesses to create a more talented all-around team that gives themselves a chance to right last season’s wrongs.
Cowboys’ draft picks
Round 1 (No. 17)
Round 2 (No. 51)
Round 3 (No. 82)
Round 4 (No. 123)
Round 5 (165)
Round 5 (No. 180)
Round 7 (No. 232)