Dallas Cowboys biggest need: Cornerback or Pass Rusher?

Nov 15, 2015; Tampa, FL, USA; Dallas Cowboys defensive end Demarcus Lawrence (90) during the first quarter against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 15, 2015; Tampa, FL, USA; Dallas Cowboys defensive end Demarcus Lawrence (90) during the first quarter against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

After losing two starters from last season, has the position of cornerback now leapfrogged pass rusher as the Dallas Cowboys most pressing need?

For years, fans and media members alike have been preaching about the dire need for an improved pass rush in Dallas. And despite the Dallas Cowboys numerous attempts to address the problem with high draft picks and controversial free agency adds, the goal of obtaining a premier pass rusher is once again paramount this offseason.

But the dynamic in Dallas changed on Thursday. That’s due to the announcement that the Cowboys lost two of their starting cornerbacks from last season to free agency. Those players being veterans Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne.

The 30-year old Carr agreed to a four-year, $24 million deal with the Baltimore Ravens. And according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Claiborne is expected to sign with the New York Jets.

The loss of both Carr and Claiborne has shifted the make up of the Cowboys defensive secondary significantly. And change is always scary. So is the unknown.

As of today, the Cowboys are set to start at cornerback with some sort of combination of veteran Orlando Scandrick, second-year pro Anthony Brown and newly signed free agent Nolan Carroll. Both Scandrick and Carroll are 30-years old. Suddenly this unit needs an injection of youth.

So, enter in the upcoming NFL Draft which reportedly boasts of the most talented and deepest cornerback classes in recent memory. That’s where Dallas is expected to find a replacement or two for their free agency losses.

But has finding a quality cornerback now leapfrogged the annual need for a premier pass rusher In Dallas? Honestly, they are both necessities on this current roster. And likely will be numbers one and two in order of importance when entering the draft.

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But the two positions are so intertwined, that determining which is more pressing is a matter of perspective…and a bit subjective. For example, having a consistent pass rush places more pressure on opposing quarterbacks, limiting the amount of time they can hold onto the ball. That helps cornerbacks as they have to stay in coverage for a much shorter amount of time.

On the other hand, having quality cornerback play makes opposing quarterbacks hold on to the football longer, thus giving pass rushers more time to get them. It’s basically the football-equivalent of the chicken or the egg conundrum.

So let’s look at the current depth chart at those positions. As previously mentioned Scandrick, Brown and Carroll make up the core of the cornerback unit.

Defensive back Leon McFadden was signed off the practice squad last November and played nine games in 2016. Both cornerbacks Jeremiah McKinnon and Sammy Seamster are on the Cowboys reserve/futures list and could potentially make a push for the active roster this offseason.

The term pass rusher usually describes the role of the right defensive end in the 4-3 scheme. But the Cowboys also have some interior defenders whom some also consider to be pass rushers.

For this discussion, let’s focus at defensive end. The Cowboys currently have Benson Mayowa, DeMarcus Lawrence and the newly signed Damontre Moore at the position. Although players like defensive tackles Tyrone Crawford and David Irving have positional flex, and can easily shift to defensive end.

Dallas should also get two rookies from their 2016 NFL Draft class back, both returning from injuries that prevented them from taking a single snap last year. Defensive end Charles Tapper and linebacker Jaylon Smith are expected to contribute to the pass rush in Dallas this upcoming season as well.

Based on the current roster of players available, I’d say cornerback is clearly now the Cowboys biggest need. At pass rusher, Dallas has several players already in-house. It’s simply a matter of production. At corner, the Cowboys need more bodies. That’s the difference.

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Both defensive end and cornerback must be addressed in the upcoming draft. Lucky for the Dallas Cowboys, both positions appear to be fairly deep in this class. Now, it’s just a matter of finding the right players for this defense.