Defense: Dallas Cowboys Pre-NFL Draft Roster Overview
After having a defense that ranked 28th in the NFL in points per game and 23rd in yards per game. The Cowboys clearly need some help on that side of the ball. Dallas' defense lacks playmakers in the secondary as they only intercepted 10 passes in 2020. Selecting 10th overall and based on the teams drafting in front of them the Cowboys should be given the opportunity to select any of the top 2-3 defensive players in this class.
So without further ado, here is the Cowboys roster overview on defense. The players listed are the starters/most likely backups. Also, a "draft need" rating will be given from low to high. The projected round for each potential prospect is also listed.
Cowboys Defensive Tackles
Neville Gallimore, Trysten Hill, Antwaun Woods, Justin Hamilton, Brent Urban
This unit has upside but is very inexperienced at the NFL level. Signed as a free agent in 2018, Antwaun Woods is the longest-tenured member of this group playing in 39 games for Dallas. But, Neville Gallimore showed flashes of good play as a rookie recording 28 tackles in 14 games. Along with four tackles for loss and four QB hits. In the case of Trysten Hill, he had a quiet rookie year. But, like Gallimore, he was starting to show some promise in 2020. Before a torn ACL in week five cost him the remainder of the year.
Overall, the lack of depth and question marks at defensive tackle make this a spot the Cowboys need to address in next week's NFL draft. Some possible names they could be interested in include, Christian Barmore (if they trade back in the first round 15-25 range), Levi Onwuzurike (Washington, 2nd round), Alim McNeil (NC State, 3rd round), and Tommy Togiai (Ohio State, 3rd round).
Draft Need: High
Cowboys Defensive Ends
DeMarcus Lawrence, Randy Gregory, Dorance Armstrong, Bradlee Anae, Carlos Watkins, Tarell Basham
DeMarcus Lawrence is the main attraction amongst the defensive ends as he has two double-digit sack seasons in the last four years and has been a stout force in the run game. After Lawrence though there are a lot of question marks. Randy Gregory has yet to play a full season as a Cowboy while also battling off-field issues including being suspended four times for substance abuse issues.
Carlos Watkins and Tarell Basham were both signed by Dallas this offseason but both are depth signings more than impact players. Then there is 2020 5th round pick Bradlee Anae, who did not play any meaningful snaps last year and only appeared in seven games.
The Cowboys could use another pure pass rusher opposite of Lawrence and some options include, Gregory Rousseau (Miami, 2nd round), Carlos Basham Jr. (Wake Forest, 2nd round), Payton Turner (Houston, 3rd round), Rashad Weaver (Pittsburgh, 3rd round).
Draft Need: Medium
Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch, Luke Gifford, Francis Bernard, Tarell Basham
This unit has been riddled with injuries over the past few seasons. Vander Esch has not played a full season since his rookie year in 2018. His neck problems being a major cause for concern. Despite having 100+ tackles the last three seasons, Jaylon Smith has not played up to the standards of his lofty contract (six-year $68 million).
Ultimately the Cowboys lack depth at linebacker with Gifford, Bernard, and newly signed Basham never playing meaningful snaps with the team heading into 2021. Basham will be looked upon as both an edge rusher and outside linebacker in new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn's scheme.
The Cowboys should certainly use a later pick, possibly a second or third-round selection on a linebacker. Some names that could interest them include, Jabril Cox (LSU, 2nd round), Baron Browning (Ohio State, 3rd round), and Dylan Moses (Alabama, 5th round).
Draft Need: Medium
Anthony Brown, Trevon Diggs, Jourdan Lewis, Reggie Robinson, C.J. Goodwin
Cornerback should be the number one position of need for the Cowboys heading into next Thursday's draft. Dallas has struggled in recent years creating turnovers and they need to add some playmakers to their secondary. Trevon Diggs had a very good rookie season recording three interceptions in 12 games. His continued development along with adding another piece in the draft should give the Cowboys a formidable cornerback duo.
Anthony Brown has recorded only six interceptions in his first five NFL seasons and he has not played up to the capability of a true lockdown corner. Jourdan Lewis can do a good job matching up with smaller receivers in the slot but he does not create many plays and lacks the size of being a boundary corner.
Dallas should be looking to use their first-round pick on one of the top cornerbacks in the draft, including, Patrick Surtain II (Alabama), Jaycee Horn (South Carolina), or Caleb Farley (Virginia Tech). Farley may be a reach at 10th overall due to his recent back surgery but if the Cowboys decide to trade back he could be an option.
The Cowboys need a true lockdown corner opposite of Diggs and one of those three options fits the bill.
Draft Need: High
Damontae Kazee, Jayron Kearse, Keanu Neal, Donovan Wilson
The Cowboys spent plenty of free agent money on safeties as they added Kazee, Kearse, and Neal in the recent months. Dallas has not spent a first, second, or third-round pick on a safety since 2013 when they selected J.J. Wilcox in the third-round.
This may be the year the Cowboys address the need on the back end. Cowboys executive vice president, Stephen Jones said on 105.3 the fan, "And then, of course, in the draft we’ve been right there and had safeties right there in the mix only to make a decision to take another position. . . We certainly, if the right guy presents itself, we’re going to do the jump.”
Donovan Wilson looked liked a starting caliber strong safety last year. But, the Cowboys could still use a ball-hawking free safety to help create turnovers.
As for Keanu Neal, he is an interesting player that can play both safety and linebacker, giving the Cowboys some versatility. As for Kazee, he is coming off of a torn ACL last season and Jayron Kearse has one interception in his five-year career. He is more of a depth piece than a starter.
There are a few safeties Dallas could be eying up in the second round of the draft, including, Richie Grant (UCF), Trevon Moehrig (TCU), Jevon Holland (Oregon), or Divine Deablo (Virginia Tech, 3rd round). Addressing safety and continuing to find playmakers in the secondary should remain a top priority for the Cowboys.
Draft Need: High
Overall, addressing one of the league's worst defenses should be the first concern for the Cowboys. They already hired a new defensive coordinator (Dan Quinn) now it is time to find some new impact players to help make this team contenders again.