Entering the 2012 NFL Draft, Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett should have a better idea of what the Dallas Cowboys need to make a long playoff run in 2012. Between now and the time of the draft some players will be released from their contracts and some players will have re-signed with the Cowboys or signed new deals to become a Cowboy.
After a disappointing end to the 2011 season, the Cowboys have a lot of holes to fill in their personnel. Hopefully the Cowboys plan on addressing some of these needs in free agency. The NFL Draft however, is where teams are built for the future.
The Cowboys have drafted pretty well in recent years with the exception of the 2009 debacle following the Roy E. Williams trade. Last year, during Garrett's first draft as head coach, the Cowboys selected their left tackle for the next 10 to 15 years, and their featured running back for the 2012 season.
Garrett needs to continue that success in 2012 for the Cowboys to make a long playoff run. Filling needs during the draft is essential for the Cowboys and their are plenty of needs for the Cowboys to fill.
The draft prospects rankings are from the Bleacher Reports' Matt Miller's New Era Scouting website. New Era Scouting is a great tool for anyone looking for the best NFL draft information.
Need Level - Late Rounds to Undrafted Free Agents
Jon Kitna's retirement has left the backup quarterback position to Stephen McGee. McGee has not performed, in his limited action, to the point where he does not deserve competition for the job.
Tony Romo is not going anywhere for a long time. There is no reason to believe Romo will not be the Cowboys starting quarterback for the next five years. With that being said, Romo finds his way to the locker room a couple times per season.
The Cowboys need to find a reliable backup quarterback who can sustain a lead while Romo is being looked at by trainers. The Cowboys could benefit from using a late-round selection on a quarterback to battle with McGee to be Romo's backup.
Potential Targets - Case Keenum (205 Overall), Aaron Corp (214), Kellen Moore (299)
Need Level - Late Rounds
Martellus Bennett is a free agent and the Cowboys would be wise not to re-sign him. Bennett has created more headlines for his bizarre behavior than for his work on the field during his time in Dallas. There is no reason the Cowboys should spend money to bring him back.
John Phillips is cheaper than Bennett and is just as good right now. Assuming the Cowboys re-sign Tony Fiammetta, there will be no reason for Phillips to have to play fullback in 2012. Phillips can be an adequate second tight end for the Cowboys.
Even with Phillips, the Cowboys should be looking for another athletic tight end in the later rounds who could develop into a mismatch-creating tight end. The NFL is evolving into a game where tight ends are crucial for success in the passing game and having two or three tight ends can only help.
Potential Targets - Michael Egnew (141 Overall), Brian Linthicum (167), Rhett Ellison (225)
Need Level - Middle to Late Rounds
The Cowboys need a center who can consistently snap the ball out of the shotgun. Romo should not have to work to catch the snap just like catchers should not make pitchers work when throwing the ball back to them. Snapping the football should be the easiest part of the play.
Romo has too many other things to think about before the play to question if the ball is going to be snapped over his head. Phil Costa is not the answer and should not be starting for any team in 2012.
The Cowboys should target a player in the middle rounds to take over at center. There are few centers that are drafted in the early rounds so the Cowboys could steal a starting caliber center during the middle rounds. The Cowboys can find an upgrade at center without using a day one or two selection.
Potential Targets - Michael Brewster (106 Overall), Philip Blake (138), David Molk (154)
Need Level - Middle Rounds
The Cowboys re-signed Gerald Sensabaugh for the 2012 season and Abram Elam is a Rob Ryan favorite so he will most likely re-sign as well. The Cowboys need a playmaker at safety but with both starters likely returning, the Cowboys will have larger needs to focus on.
Elam and Sensabaugh are average NFL safeties. The Cowboys can win games with them but the Cowboys' defense would be more intimidating and more unpredictable if they found a playmaker at safety.
With Elam and Sensabaugh as the safety net, the Cowboys can take a chance on finding that playmaker in the middle rounds. Whoever the Cowboys select would not be looked at to start from day one and could develop at their own rate. Hopefully, the Cowboys could strike gold with a mid-round selection. Even if they do not, the Cowboys can survive with Elam and Sensabaugh for the time being.
Potential Targets - Markelle Martin (72 Overall), Harrison Smith (102), Brandon Taylor (192)
Need Level - Early Rounds
The Dallas Cowboys have question marks at both guard positions for the 2012 season. Kyle Kosier is questionable to return from injury in time for the start of the season. At left guard, the Cowboys should be looking for an answer to the revolving door during 2011.
If the Cowboys have not addressed the guard position before the NFL Draft, they can not afford not to during the early rounds. Tony Romo is the Cowboys' only chance at a Super Bowl and he needs to be protected.
Offensive guards are not deemed as valuable as tackles in the NFL. If the Cowboys choose to wait until day two or three of the draft they should still have the option of drafting a guard ready to start game one of the 2012 season. Adding a talented guard would make the Cowboys offense even more potent than before.
Potential Targets - David DeCastro (5 Overall), Brandon Washington (53), Kevin Zeitler (63)
Need level - Early Rounds
The Cowboys need pressure opposite of DeMarcus Ware. They need to find a player who will make the opposing team game plan to stop him. Anthony Spencer failed at that since being drafted in the first round. Spencer is a free agent and should not be franchised or re-signed.
The Cowboys can find an upgrade for Spencer in the early rounds of the NFL Draft. There is no reason to believe the Cowboys can not find a player who can attain more than six sacks next season as a rookie. Even though Ware had a terrific season in 2011, the Cowboys pass rush disappeared too often and during too many crucial moments.
There are a number of athletic 3-4 outside linebackers that can make a bigger impact on the Cowboys than Spencer did. The Cowboys should look to spend an early pick on an outside linebacker to replace Spencer.
Potential Targets - Courtney Upshaw (19 Overall), Vinny Curry (39), Ronnell Lewis (60)
Need Level - Early Rounds
There is little chance that Terence Newman returns for the 2012 season with the Dallas Cowboys. Orlando Scandrick is not a starting caliber cornerback to take over for Newman. This makes cornerback the biggest team need entering the NFL Draft.
The Cowboys have their choice of many talented corners in the early rounds. If the Cowboys decide to spend their first-round selection on a cornerback, they could gain a shutdown corner to start opposite Michael Jenkins for the next decade.
If the Cowboys want Rob Ryan to succeed as their defensive coordinator they need to give him enough cornerbacks to play the type of defense he wants to. He needs corners who can play man to man all over the field. Right now the Cowboys have two in Jenkins and Scandrick. The Cowboys need to add at least two more during the offseason to contend with the Packers, Giants and Falcons.
Potential Targets - Janoris Jenkins (16 Overall), Stephon Gilmore (17), Dre Kirkpatrick (36)