3 draft needs for the Dallas Cowboys

As the NFL draft draws near, PFF Analyst Matt Claassen looks at the top needs of the reigning NFC top seed.

| 3 months ago
(AP Photo/Tim Sharp)

(AP Photo/Tim Sharp)

3 draft needs for the Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys had a remarkable regular season in 2016 to secure the No. 1 seed in the NFC, but their season came to a quick close as they lost in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. The team made huge strides though, and had significant contributions from rookie players. As Dallas prepares to defend its NFC East title, let’s take a look at their biggest remaining needs, and who they could target as next year’s impactful rookies.

Need: Defensive end

The production from the Cowboys’ edge defenders over the past few years has been one of the team’s biggest weaknesses. Since Demarcus Ware left a few seasons ago, they have not been able to replication his production, nor find a solid defensive end for the other side of the defense. DeMarcus Lawrence has dealt with suspension and injuries and underwent offseason back surgery, while the only certainty around former second-round pick Randy Gregory is that he will be unavailable for the entire 2017 season due to another suspension.

Early-round target: Taco Charlton, Edge, Michigan

Although Charlton didn’t become a starter until his final season, he has been an extremely productive player over the past two seasons when on the field. Over the past two seasons, he has played about one full season’s worth of snaps, and amassed 91 total pressures, including 14 sacks. In just 2016, he had the third-highest pass-rush productivity among draft-eligible defenders with at least 100 pass-rush snaps. He doesn’t have elite athleticism, but isn’t far off, and would be a solid defensive end as both a pass-rusher and run defender.

Mid- or late-round target: Hunter Dimick, Edge, Utah

With the class depth at their other needed positions, the Cowboys should look to address their defensive end spot early. But if they choose not to, or want to double up at the position, Dimick is an intriguing later option. He’s far stronger than he is athletic, but that didn’t stop him from leading the nation with 83 total pressures last season. He may not be a starting-caliber prospect, but he can play both the run and pass-rush well, and can certainly jump in and be effective in a defensive end rotation.

Need: Cornerback

Dallas chose to let free agents Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne sign elsewhere in free agency, leaving Anthony Brown and Orlando Scandrick as the top corners on the roster, and a hole as outside corner opposite Brown. That led Dallas to bring in former Eagle Nolan Carroll in free agency. While Carroll has significant experience, he’s coming off his worst season as a starter, has only graded above-average in coverage in one of the past six seasons, and turned age 30 earlier this offseason. At the very least, the Cowboys could use more depth at the position, and a rookie could potentially push Carroll for playing time.

Early-round target: Sidney Jones, CB, Washington

Jones excels in man coverage and is still very effective when playing off in zone coverage. He did not allow a single touchdown in coverage last season, and allowed a reception once every 18.7 snaps in coverage — 10th-best among draft-eligible cornerbacks. Jones is coming off an Achilles injury at his pro day and may not play at all this season. However, with the Carroll signing Dallas may in a position to get by without Jones for most, if not all of his rookie season.

Mid- or late-round target: Kevin King, CB, Washington

The cornerback class is one of the deepest in recent years, so there are many options for the Cowboys to pursue. One may be Jones’ teammate at Washington in King. At 6-foot-3, he is a big cornerback and also had a great combine workout that confirmed his athleticism that shows up on tape. He’s a physical defender who can play press coverage. Like Jones, King also did not allow a touchdown in 2016, and allowed just one in his last 28 games.

Need: Safety

The Cowboys lost safety Barry Church to Jacksonville in free agency after he was given a huge contract, and saw the Bills sign away veteran backup J.J. Wilcox. Those moves leave backup Jeff Heath penciled in as the starting strong safety right now, He saw as much playing time as an undrafted rookie in 2013 as he has in the past three seasons combined.

Early-round target: Obi Melifonwu, S, Connecticut

Melifonwu is a prototypical strong safety with good size and great athleticism. He offers versatility in both alignments and assignments. His physicality can be seen as both a run defender and when in man coverage, and can hold his own while covering tight ends. He finished in the top-10 among all FBS safeties in run-stop percentage, and in the top-20 in tackling efficiency. Melifonwu could not only step in immediately to replace Barry Church, but he may even be an upgrade right away.

Mid- or late-round target: Nathan Gerry, S, Nebraska

Gerry doesn’t have the caliber of athleticism needed to be a well-rounded safety. He’s not someone you want playing as a deep safety. However, he plays well working downhill to the line of scrimmage, particularly against the run. He had the third-best run-stop percentage of all draft-eligible safeties last year. If utilized in the right role as an underneath zone defender and a box-run defender, a team like the Cowboys could get some production from Gerry.

| Analyst

Matt has been an analyst for PFF since 2013. He is also a contributor to 120 Sports and a former NCAA Division-III football player.

  • Teddy Salad

    Switch “Early-round target” on Sidney Jones with “Mid- or late-round target” on Kevin King and this sounds about right. With Jones’s injury I don’t see him going earlier than the 3rd round, while King’s draft stock has rightly skyrocketed, and he should be gone by early 2nd round. King has all the tools and traits to eventually be a lock-down corner, and enough teams recognize this–Oakland at 24, Seahawks at 26–he’ll be drafted somewhere in there.

    • Dennis Finan Jr

      Either way ots goimg to be a roufh year defensive wise, especially if we lose sean lee

  • Dennis Finan Jr

    Terrible. You need a safety and corner more than linemen.

  • dbonedig

    Funny how drugs make the ignorant float above all. Even, with a potential of making 500K for 16 games, drugs still float to the top. Why? Because, you cannot educate the ignorant. The ignorant are ignorant due to their genes. Colleges, have proven, grown boys, who cannot spell, read, write, or even eat with a fork and knife, can play football. The Male character, many still having the ability to walk on all fours, dominate the playing fields across America. But, are quickly loosing this ability to others, who are educated enough to understand that training, is the key to a long and prosperous paycheck. Only in America is this Possible. All other Countries kill that type of young early. Before, they can reproduce more ignorance.