Less than two weeks remain until the NFL Draft is no longer a topic of conversation but an actual reality. With mock drafts and mass speculation in full swing, all amateur pundits and professional analysts have an opinion on which team is going to pick what player. Less speculation occurs when discussing team needs. While teams at the top of the draft obviously have more glaring or expansive needs, every team has a position or unit that needs an upgrade.For the Cowboys, the needs seem to be fairly apparent. Offensive line is a popular choice for most fans. Defensive line is a less glaring but nonetheless important area to address, if only for depth. Safety is another position where Dallas seems to be forever searching for a franchise player. The running back and tight end corps are both needing depth.
So what to do when that 18th pick rolls around? To some extent, the choice will be already made for the Cowboys as a few of the guys they hope will be there will likely be gone. There will still be some options available, however, which will make for a tough decision to be made. Here is what choices face Dallas.
The Offensive Line
– Football Outsiders ranked the Dallas offensive line 22nd in adjusted line yards. This advanced metric stat primarily has to do with how well the line performs in regards to rushing attack. Somewhat surprisingly, the Cowboys finished as the 11th best line when it came to pass blocking. That stat, however, is heavily weighted towards sacks and intentional grounding penalties and does not rely on things like hurries, pressures or number of passes that QB’s throw from outside the pocket due to the pocket collapsing.- Dallas has not had a 1,000 yd rusher since 2006… when Julius Jones of all people led the Cowboys, barely eclipising that mark by gaining 1,084 yards. Prior to that, you have to go back to 2001 to find a running back that broke the 1,000 yard barrier. So for a franchise that has had such a distinguished and decorated history of running backs, only twice in twelve years have they had any legitimate production in the running game.
– In that same time frame, only one Cowboy has put up double digit rushing touchdowns. That Cowboy was Marion Barber, in 2006 (14) and 2007 (10). Worse than that, here are some of the totals of the team leaders in that category: 2012 – 4, 2011 – 2, 2010 – 4, 2005 – 5, 2003 – 5. Pathetic would be a nice way to describe that type of output.
– In three of the last four years, Tony Romo has been sacked 34, 36 and 36 times. The other time in that time span, Romo was only sacked 7 times, but of course that 7th time resulted in a broken collarbone which ended his 2010 season. The following season, Romo labored through much of the year with a punctured lung and fractured ribs. Given that Romo was just given a huge extension, it may be wise to protect your investment.
The Defensive Line
– Dallas was 22nd against the run, allowing 2003 total yards in 2012. The 4.5 yards per carry that the Cowboys allowed was 27th in the league. In fact, Dallas contacted rushers behind the line of scrimmage on only 12% of rushing plays which was the second worst of any team in the league. The only team that finished below them in both total rushing yards and yards per carry to make the playoffs was the Indianapolis Colts. The Colts also had the easiest schedule in the league and lost in the first round.
– The Cowboys had only one player in the top 50 in tackles for loss. As a team, they finished 30th overall in this category. Dallas also was in the bottom three for batted balls. This illustrates the difficulty the Cowboys experience in getting any push at the line of scrimmage.
– Even though last year represented the first time since 2008 that two Cowboys defenders posted double digit sacks, no other player beside DeMarcus Ware or Anthony Spencer has had six or more sacks on this team since Jay Ratliff had six in 2009. With the switch of scheme and at least one of these two moving from linebacker to the line, it’s difficult to know how that will affect their productivity.
– Speaking of Ratliff, in the past three years, he has never totaled more than 40 tackles or 4 sacks. With the huge question marks surrounding the availability of Josh Brent and the lack of proven talent on the roster in the middle of the line, the Cowboys may be forced to address this issue sooner rather than later.
- - From 2004-2008, the Dallas Cowboys had at least one Pro Bowl safety. Since that time, there have been none. There have also been zero All-Pro selections for the Cowboys at the safety spot since Darren Woodson made the team in 1996.
- Only once in the last five years, in 2010, did the entire roster of Dallas Cowboys safeties total more than three interceptions. Over that time span, Cowboys safeties were responsible for a total of 14 interceptions. To put that in perspective, the top two safeties in the league in each of the last three seasons in terms of interceptions combined for 14 or more each year.
– Aside from the recently acquired Will Allen, the other three safeties currently on the roster have started a grand total of three games… ever. When you include Allen, the four players have a combined four interceptions for their NFL careers, all from Allen and none since 2005.
So as you can see, there are definitely three pressing needs but only one choice to make. The good news is that as long as Dallas chooses to fill one of these three positions, the unit chosen should be significantly and immediately upgraded. Which position gets filled with the 18th pick may be largely determined by the best player available who also fits a need.