The team had high expectations going into the 2010 season, but they badly underperformed. Some of that can be attributed to the injuries, but a lack of passion plagued the Cowboys early in the season. The team didn’t play well in the beginning of the season, which led to Wade Phillips being fired. Jason Garrett seemed to get them to play with more intensity, and I think he’ll be a solid head coach moving forward.
Tony Romo missed the last 10 games of the season due to injury, but he will be back as the face of the franchise next season. The Cowboys don’t have much of a chance if he isn’t the starter, so they need to find him some better protection for next season.
The running back position is by far the deepest on the team, with three legitimate contributors. Felix Jones, Marion Barber, and Tashard Choice are one of the best groups of running backs in the NFL.
Miles Austin had a down year last year, but he is still one of the better receivers in the league. Dez Bryant is a future star, and he will most likely be the full time starter this coming season, especially if Roy Williams isn’t brought back. Jason Witten is arguably the best tight end in the game, and backup Martellus Bennett looks like he is finally starting to fulfill his potential.
The offensive line struggled as a unit, and you could see some changes heading into next season. Doug Free is solid at left tackle, but Marc Colombo will probably be replaced as the starter in 2011. Leonard Davis and Kyle Kosier also seemed to regress last year, although they both are adequate starters who could be back next year. Andre Gurode made the pro bowl last season, but I don’t think he is still a pro bowl caliber player.
The defensive line has some question marks as we approach the 2011 draft. Igor Olshansky is currently the only quality defensive end on the roster, but I would think that the Cowboys would bring back at least one of their current free agents. Stephen Bowen is the most likely to be back, as he had a solid year last year. Jay Ratliff is one of the best nose tackles in the game, despite his less than ideal size.
The outside linebacker combination of Anthony Spencer and DeMarcus Ware is one of the best in the league. They will continue to wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks next season. Keith Brooking and Bradie James are both adequate starters, but look for Sean Lee to get some more playing time. He is a future starter in the middle of the Cowboy’s defense.
The secondary is a weak spot, especially at the safety position. Neither Alan Ball nor Gerald Sensabaugh looked very impressive last season, and both of them could be replaced in the starting lineup. The trio of Mike Jenkins, Terrance Newman, and Orlando Scandrick give the Cowboys a lot of talent at the cornerback position. However, Scandrick and Jenkins struggled last year, and they must bounce back in 2011.
1. (24) WR Dez Bryant, Oklahoma State: Bryant looks like he can be a star at wide receiver in Dallas, but an injury cut short his season in 2010. 12 GP/ 2 GS
2. (55) ILB Sean Lee, Penn State: He looks like a future starter at the inside linebacker position, and he improved as the season went on. 14 GP/ 0 GS
4. (126) S Akwasi Owusu-Ansah, Indiana (Pa.): He didn’t get a lot of playing time on defense, but he was a decent kick returner before going on injured reserve. 7 GP/ 0 GS
6. (179) OT Sam Young, Notre Dame: Young didn’t get a whole lot of playing time, but he could get a chance to start next year. 2 GP/ 0 GS
7. (234) DT Sean Lissemore, William & Mary: He suffered an injury last season, but he will most likely earn a backup spot on the roster in 2011. 2 GP/ 0 GS
Summary: There weren’t a ton of impact plays by this group, but this could turn out to be a solid group. Bryant looks like a future star at wide receiver, and both Sean Lee and Sam Young look like future starters. Owusu-Ansah needs to make an impact next season, as he also could get an opportunity to start due to a lack of talent at that position.
Team Need: Offensive Tackle
Marc Colombo really struggled at the right tackle position, and finding a replacement for him will most likely be a top priority for the Cowboys. He just doesn’t have good ability anymore, and he is best suited as a backup at this point in his career. Sam Young could be his replacement, but I’m not sure if he’s ready or able to be the full time starter.
The Cowboys will most likely target a player in the early rounds of the draft to take over for Colombo at the right tackle spot, maybe even as high as ninth overall.
Round One: Tyron Smith
Round Two: James Brewer, Ben Ijalana
Round Three: Marcus Gilbert, Orlando Franklin, James Carpenter, Lee Ziemba
Round Four: Chris Hairston, Joe Barksdale, DeMarcus Love, Jason Pinkston
The Cowboys will strongly consider the very talented Smith in round one, and he could become a starter right away in his rookie season. Brewer or Franklin would also be very good options in round two or three, who also will provide an instant upgrade at the right tackle position.
Both starters, Alan Ball and Gerald Sensabaugh, struggled mightily last season and the Cowboys will look to upgrade both positions. Ball was tendered by the Cowboys, but I still think they could do better at the starting spot. Sensabaugh is currently a free agent, and I find it highly unlikely that the Cowboys bring him back. I expect an early round pick to be used on this position, considering that the Cowboys will most likely take two safeties in this draft.
The depth will most likely be solid, with Ball and one of my favorites from the 2010 draft, Barry Church, as the backups at safety.
Round Two: Rahim Moore, Jaiquawn Jarret
Round Three: DeAndre McDaniel, Ahmad Black, Tyler Sash
Round Four: Quinton Carter, Jeron Johnson, Robert Sands, Deunta Williams
Round Five: Will Hill, Joe Lefeged, Da’Norris Searcy
I think that Moore or Jarret would be excellent fits for the Cowboys in round two. If the Cowboys grab one of them, they could also target someone like Sands or Lefeged in round four or five to form a talented young duo at the safety position.
This position isn’t necessarily a big need, but with three of the top four defensive ends being free agents, this still has to be a concern for Jerry Jones and the Cowboys. Igor Olshanksy is adequate at one spot, and if the Cowboys bring back Stephen Bowen at the other starting spot, the line will be very solid. However, I don’t expect Marcus Spears to be back, and Jason Hatcher may not be back either, making the depth a big concern.
With the way Bowen played down the stretch last season, I find it hard to believe that Dallas will let him get away, which means that the depth will be the position that needs to be upgraded.
Round One: J.J. Watt, Cameron Jordan, Marcell Dareus, Nick Fairley
Round Two: Cameron Heyward, Allen Bailey, Christian Ballard, Marvin Austin
Round Three: Jarvis Jenkins, Terrell McClain
Round Four: Lawrence Guy
This isn’t a big need if the Cowboys plan on bringing back Bowen, but they could target a defensive end with their first pick if they don’t think Bowen will be re-signed. Jordan and Watt would be excellent picks who would provide the line with significant upgrades in their rookie seasons.
Leonard Davis and Kyle Kosier are starting to slow down a bit, and long term replacements for them need to be found. Davis will almost certainly start again next season, but Kosier is a free agent and he may not be back next season. If he isn’t retained, the Cowboys will need to find a new starting offensive guard, and they could even target one in the mid rounds of this draft.
If Kosier is expected back, then this isn’t an immediate need. Yet the Cowboys will need to find future starters for both Kosier and Davis in the upcoming offseason or two.
Round Two: Danny Watkins, Clint Boling, Marcus Cannon
Round Thee: Will Rackley, John Moffitt
Round Five: David Arkin, Zach Hurd
The Cowboys could potentially consider Watkins or Boling in round two, but I think they have a few needs that are bigger. This means that they will probably not take a guard until the later rounds, where they can get a solid developmental prospect in Hurd or Arkin.
The Cornerback position looked very solid heading into the 2010 season, but things are a little less clear now. Mike Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick both regressed last season, and it’ll be interesting to see how they rebound in 2011. Terrance Newman is still a very solid starter as well, but he will be 33 years old this coming season.
I think that Jenkins, Newman, and Scandrick still are a very talented trio, but some depth could be brought in, as there isn’t anyone of note behind those three.
Round One: Prince Amukamara
Round Two: Curtis Brown, Ras-I Dowling, Johnny Patrick, Brandon Burton
Round Three: Kendric Burney, Curtis Marsh, Rashad Carmichael, Jalil Brown, Davon House
Round Four: Shareece Wright, Chimdi Chekwa
Round Five: Marcus Gilchrist, Buster Skrine, Chykie Brown
The Cowboys could take Amukamara in round one if he is available if they want to go with the best player available. However, guys like Carmichael or Chekwa would be more logical options, as they would be able to fill the dime cornerback position in 2011.
Inside Linebacker: Bradie James and Keith Brooking didn’t play all that well last season, and the Cowboys may want to find another future starter to pair with Sean Lee.
Wide Receiver: Roy Williams may not be back next season, so the Cowboys are lacking depth behind likely starters Miles Austin and Dez Bryant.
Outside Linebacker: DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer are an intimidating duo, but there is no depth at the pass rush position behind those two.
I think that the Cowboys can put themselves right back into the Super Bowl discussion with a solid draft class this year. They don’t have a ton of glaring needs, except at a few positions, so contending for a Super Bowl isn’t out of the question. The weak spot of the defense last season was the secondary, specifically the safety positions, which I expect to see upgraded in this year’s draft.
The Cowboys could target a number of positions in round one, but I think the best strategy for them could be to take the best player available. This team has a lot of talent on it, and hopefully Jason Garrett can keep them focused and passionate for an entire season in 2011. Only then will they reach their full potential.