Dallas Cowboys: Who Is at Risk of Losing Starting Role to 2014 Draft Prospect?

Alex HallCorrespondent IIIApril 11, 2014

Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle Nick Hayden (96) runs on to the field for the first quarter of an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions in Detroit, Sunday, Oct. 27, 2013. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)
Duane Burleson

The Dallas Cowboys defense has already seen more than a few changes this offseason with more likely to come after the NFL draft.

As ESPN Dallas' Jean-Jacques Taylor put it recently, "This team's roster is in bad shape." The defense needs more than just depth, it needs to find starters in this coming draft.

Help at defensive tackle, defensive end and safety is much-needed for Big D. With these three positions likely to be addressed early in the draft, let's take a look at which starters are at risk of losing their jobs to the incoming rookies.


DT Nick Hayden

Nick Hayden saw playing time in all 16 games last season thanks in part to injuries suffered by Jay Ratliff and Jason Hatcher. He recorded 25 tackles, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and a touchdown during that time.

Despite that touchdown and some impressive tackles, Hayden is unlikely to start opposite new teammate Henry Melton in 2014. It's no secret the Cowboys have talked with Pittsburgh product Aaron Donald, for example. If he's available at No. 16 overall, Hayden's hopes of starting at defensive tackle are all but dashed.

Even if Donald doesn't go to the Cowboys in the first round, this is a position the team will more than likely have drafted by Round 2. Melton was a much-needed signing for Dallas, but he's going to need help in the middle of the defensive line.


DE Jeremy Mincey

DENVER, CO - JANUARY 12:   Jeremy Mincey #57 of the Denver Broncos walks off the field after warming up prior to their AFC Divisional Playoff Game against the San Diego Chargers at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on January 12, 2014 in Denver, Colorad
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Last season, Jeremy Mincey spent time with the Denver Broncos after being let go by Jacksonville. He now finds himself with his third team in two seasons after signing with Dallas in free agency.

For now, he will most likely replace DeMarcus Ware at defensive end. After the draft, however, Mincey will more than likely have to battle it out to earn his starting job.

Defensive end is another position the Cowboys will be looking to draft early on. In his latest NFL.com mock draft, Bucky Brooks projected Jerry Jones and Co., to select Kony Ealy at No. 16 overall.

During the 2011 season, Mincey totaled eight sacks with the Jaguars. If he gets back to what brought him success that season, he could beat out Ealy or whichever rookie Dallas brings in.

Mincey's demotion due to a draft selection isn't as clear-cut as Hayden's. Still, he'd have to turn a few heads in training camp to remain a starter.


S J.J. Wilcox

ARLINGTON, TX - OCTOBER 13:   Jordan Reed #86 of the Washington Redskins carries the ball against  J.J. Wilcox #27 of the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium on October 13, 2013 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

J.J. Wilcox was selected as a third-round pick by the Cowboys just an offseason ago. He was drafted to help plug some holes at the safety position that have been noticeable since the decline of Roy Williams.

Wilcox was not up to the task last season, however, starting just five games for Dallas. He was eventually benched in favor of undrafted free agent Jeff Heath.

It wasn't the start Dallas wanted to see out of Wilcox, and safety is again a high priority for the Cowboys. In one of his mock drafts, ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr., (via The Dallas Morning News) projected Big D to select Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.

It's likely the team will take a safety within the first three rounds, which would put Wilcox in a similar position to Mincey. Wilcox would definitely still have a chance of starting at safety again next season, he would just have to beat out an early-round selection to do so.

Wilcox was selected early in the draft last year for a reason. Dallas thinks he has the talent to become a solid starter in the secondary. While that future is still in the cards for Wilcox, he will have to really turn things around come training camp.


All statistics were retrieved from Pro Football Reference. Alex Hall is a Dallas Cowboys Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @AlexKHall.