Let’s take an absurdly early look at the Dallas Cowboys’ priorities in the 2021 draft.
So far this offseason, Dallas Cowboys fans have witnessed (most of) the talent acquisition stage of the 2020 offseason. First, there was the free agency scramble, then the draft analysis, and finally the draft itself. It’s been very exciting.
At the beginning of this process, I think it’s fair to say that many in Cowboys Nation were quite concerned about the overall state of the defense and a little bit about the wide receiver room. And for good reason.
The team’s two best defenders from last season, shutdown cornerback Byron Jones, and 11.5 sack defensive end Robert Quinn were both signed away to lucrative contracts during free agency, not to mention two other starters: defensive tackle Maliek Collins and safety Jeff Heath. So was wide receiver Randall Cobb.
It was a scary moment. But what could the Cowboys do? Those five athletes signed contracts totaling a combined $191 million. The head office couldn’t afford to sign them all.
Since then, Dallas has rebounded, signing defensive tackles Dontari Poe and Gerald McCoy, safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, cornerbacks Maurice Canady and Daryl Worley, and oft-suspended defensive end Aldon Smith, among others.
Next came the incredibly impressive draft haul that’s been so widely praised: Oklahoma wide receiver CeeDee Lamb, Alabama cornerback Trevon Diggs, defensive tackle Neville Gallimore from Oklahoma, Tulsa cornerback Reggie Robinson, Wisconsin center Tyler Biadasz, Utah defensive end Bradlee Anae, and James Madison quarterback Ben DiNucci.
I’d love to crow some more about these pickups, but you’ve undoubtedly heard plenty of that already. The question for today is: If all the players on the roster perform more or less how we expect, what positions should the Cowboys prioritize in the draft next year?
I know, it’s a little silly. Training camp hasn’t even begun. There have been no injuries yet, and there’s some of those every year, unfortunately. Plus, there are so many questions to answer.
How well will Poe and McCoy perform? Will defensive end Randy Gregory be reinstated, and how well will he play? How about Aldon Smith? Does he still have gas left in the tank?
And what will happen at the two biggest question-mark position groupings on the roster: interior offensive line and cornerback. We don’t even know who’ll start at those spots, or how well they’ll play.
All of that is true. So, for the purpose of this exercise, I’m going to make a few assumptions:
- Poe, McCoy, and Clinton Dix will all perform at least as well as expected. They’ll all be pretty good.
- With four possible starters at left guard and center to choose from (Biadasz, center Joe Looney, and guards Connor Williams and Connor McGovern), Dallas will find two at least adequate players among them.
- The Cowboys front office and starting quarterback Dak Prescott will finally come to terms and sign a long-term contract.
And here’s what we can’t know until the season is over (and maybe not even then):
- How good will the two new rookie cornerbacks be?
- How good will the two starting linemen will be at the positions of concern? I mean, we know they’ll be adequate, because the floor is Williams and Looney, and neither is terrible. But beyond that? Who knows.
- How healthy will the starting linebackers (Leighton Vander Esch, Jaylon Smith and Sean Lee) be, and how well will they play?
Oh, there’s one more thing to consider before we start, current Cowboys players who will be free agents at the end of the season: defensive ends Aldon Smith and Randy Gregory, defensive tackle Antwaun Woods, all-purpose defensive lineman Tyrone Crawford, starting linebacker Sean Lee, safeties Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Xavier Woods, and cornerbacks Jourdan Lewis and Chidobe Awuzie, among others.
Given all of this, what positions should be a priority at the 2021 draft? Below are my best guesses.
Definite Priorities for the Dallas Cowboys going into 2021
- Safety – Even if the Cowboys re-sign Woods, Clinton-Dix will likely be gone. And they might both be gone.
- Defensive tackle – Both Poe and McCoy are both in their thirties on short term contracts. Even if Gallimore plays well, they’ll still need another nose tackle, since Antwaun Woods will be gone.
- Defensive end – Smith will be gone at the end of the season, and no matter how well Gregory plays, the team will never be able to count on him. He’s just too unreliable.
- Linebacker – This is probably Sean Lee’s last season. Plus, both Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith have major injury concerns.
- Receiver – The team still needs a solid fourth receiver.
- Offensive line
- Tight end
In terms of the draft, probably the biggest unknown will be at cornerback. If both Diggs and Robinson play well and look like solid starters, Dallas might not draft a cornerback at all.
On the other hand, Dallas might need to use another premium pick at this spot again next year. As for offensive line and tight end, we’ll just have to see what happens.
But if these positions look pretty good, I’d prioritize Dallas’s needs like this in 2021:
1. Defensive end
4. Nose tackle
As I pointed out before, no matter what happens with Smith and Gregory this year, both may be gone at season’s end. Besides, neither is a long-term answer at edge-rusher.
Dallas almost used their first-round pick this year on LSU pass rusher K’Lavon Chaisson. So I’d expect that to be their first priority next year. None of their other needs will be nearly as pressing.
Other than the edge, it looks like Dallas is likely to spend most of the rest of their picks on defense too. A lot of things will surely change between now and next year, but I don’t think any of these needs will.
What do you think the Cowboys’ priorities will be in 2021? Leave your predictions in the comments section below.