Ranking Dallas Cowboys' Biggest Needs to Address in the 2014 Draft

Jonathan BalesAnalyst IApril 20, 2014

Ranking Dallas Cowboys' Biggest Needs to Address in the 2014 Draft

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    Tony Gutierrez

    The Dallas Cowboys have a number of “biggest needs” they must address in the 2014 NFL draft. A lot of teams say that they always draft the best player available, which must make all of the selections that fill gaping holes a massive coincidence. Most NFL teams either lie when they say they always draft the true best player available or else they take their needs into consideration when defining “best.”

    One of the things that the best teams continually do is fill immediate holes via free agency, then draft players at positions that could become weaknesses in the near future. The Cowboys have a massive need at defensive end, for example, but you could argue that it’s too late at the position. What kind of impact will a rookie—even a first-round rookie—really have?

    That’s why the team did an awesome job in signing defensive tackle Henry Melton. He’ll be an immediate upgrade for the team on the inside, something that they couldn’t anticipate even from a highly drafted rookie defensive tackle.

    Having said that, the Cowboys have a number of problems on both sides of the ball that, whether it’s ideal or not, they’ll need to address in this year’s draft.

5. Free Safety

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    Mark Tenally

    A lot of people might rank free safety as more of a problem position for Dallas. Here’s why it isn’t.

    To summarize, the Cowboys have three young, highly athletic free safeties already on their roster. If they draft a player like Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, they’re basically using a first-round pick on the sort of player—less explosive, actually—that they already have on the roster.

    In Matt Johnson, J.J. Wilcox and Jeff Heath, the Cowboys have power in numbers at the back end. Should we feel comfortable in any single one of them to break out? No, but we should have a decent level of confidence that just one of the three will be a suitable starter in 2014.

    It's kind of like a No. 12 seed upsetting a No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament. Should we predict any individual No. 12 seed to take down a No. 5 seed? Probably not, since the No. 5 seed is rated so much higher for a reason. But is it likely that at least one No. 12 seed will win each year? Yes, due to the number of games.

    Potential Rookie Starter: Calvin Pryor, Louisville

4. Right Tackle

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    This is the perfect example of addressing a position before it’s of massive importance. Could the Cowboys get through the season with current starter Doug Free at right tackle? Sure.

    However, Free’s 2013 play, which included allowing three pressures per game over the final 10 weeks, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), suggests he could be in for a steep decline. It’s a near certainty that Dallas will need a new starting right tackle by 2015 at the latest.

    Because of the lack of elite talent that could be available for Dallas at other positions in the first round, it’s looking more and more like the team could realistically address the position early with someone like Michigan’s Taylor Lewan or Notre Dame’s Zack Martin.

    Potential Rookie Starter: Zack Martin, Notre Dame

3. Wide Receiver

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    Wide receivers help quarterbacks nearly much as quarterbacks help receivers. Drafting a potential starter at wide receiver is as much about getting a player like Cole Beasley off of the field as it is about moving Terrance Williams to the No. 3 role; both moves will really help the Cowboys, especially in the red zone.

    Due to the depth of this wide receiver class, the Cowboys might be able to acquire a seriously talented player in the second round. One of Penn State’s Allen Robinson, Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews and Fresno State’s Davante Adams should still be on the board for Dallas; all have No. 1 wide receiver size and the potential to take pressure off of Dez Bryant.

    Potential Rookie Starter: Allen Robinson, Penn State

2. Defensive Tackle

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    We all know that defensive tackle is of serious importance to Dallas, but is it the biggest need right now? Due to the signing of Melton, probably not.

    Sure, the Cowboys still need another defensive tackle, and Melton’s long-term future isn’t 100 percent.

    However, the team at least acquired a 3-technique player who can get to the passer. Pairing him with another, like Pitt’s Aaron Donald, would be unorthodox yet highly effective, but it’s not like defensive tackle is as much of a need as it was before inking Melton.

    Potential Rookie Starter: Aaron Donald, Pitt

1. Defensive End

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    Tony Gutierrez

    As it stands right now, the Cowboys are in a position in which they almost cannot even win with who they have at defensive end. It’s unclear who would start if the season began today, although George Selvie and Tyrone Crawford seem likely. Both are high-upside players who could have great 2014 seasons, but do you really want to count on them?

    Despite the monumental need at defensive end, the Cowboys don’t need to address it in the first round for two reasons. The first is that they could very well still sign free-agent Anthony Spencer. Every NFL team wants to know more about Spencer’s health, but assuming everything checks out, he could be a one-year solution until the team develops a suitable replacement.

    The second reason the Cowboys can wait on a defensive end is that there isn’t much top-end talent available after Jadeveon Clowney. He’ll be long gone by the time Dallas picks at No. 16, with players like Auburn’s Dee Ford and Missouri’s Kony Ealy the type of players who will be available when the Cowboys are on the clock.

    There are a number of under-the-radar defensive ends who are projected to get selected in the second and third rounds, however, including Boise State’s Demarcus Lawrence and Arkansas’ Chris Smith. Both are long-armed pass-rushers who were very productive in college.

    Potential Rookie Starter: Demarcus Lawrence, Boise State