Cowboys' Team Needs to Fill in 2021 NFL Draft

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistMarch 31, 2021

Cowboys' Team Needs to Fill in 2021 NFL Draft

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    Alabama cornerback Patrick Surtain II
    Alabama cornerback Patrick Surtain IIRon Jenkins/Associated Press

    With the bulk of free agency behind them, the Dallas Cowboys will now turn to the 2021 NFL draft to improve the roster heading into the season. 

    Owner Jerry Jones and Co. were surprisingly busy in free agency despite limited salary-cap flexibility. They were able to address many of the team's immediate needs with cheap deals, but those were simply options, not solutions. 

    Dak Prescott's long-term deal is a true solution at quarterback, while the three-year contract to retain Jourdan Lewis should hold down the slot cornerback position for the foreseeable future. Other than that, most of the moves in free agency come down to being one-year bridges or players on "prove it" deals. 

    That puts a lot on this year's talent grab for the Cowboys. They will have to fortify a defense that now has Dan Quinn at the helm, protect their star quarterback's future and find a few starters in a draft where they have four picks in the top 100. 

    Here are the most pressing needs they will likely address depending on how the draft unfolds before them. 

Cornerback

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    Virginia Tech cornerback Caleb Farley
    Virginia Tech cornerback Caleb FarleyJohn Bazemore/Associated Press

    For the second year in a row, the Cowboys are losing a starter at one of the two outside cornerback positions. Chidobe Awuzie was no Byron Jones, but his departure leaves another hole in a secondary that wasn't elite to begin with. 

    Last year, the Cowboys used the 51st pick to take Trevon Diggs. One year in, he looks the part of an outside corner in the NFL after recording 14 passes defended and one interception.

    If Dallas can find a way to pair the 23-year-old with another young cornerback, they could have two of the more expensive positions locked down on reasonable contracts. Diggs will be on his rookie deal for three more seasons, while another elite option on the outside would also be on a rookie deal. 

    That's the kind of move you have to make to contend while working under Prescott's new contract. 

    Fortunately, the Cowboys are in a good position to address the position: specifically, the 10th overall selection. With at least four quarterbacks potentially going in the top 10 along with Penei Sewell and the top two receivers, it isn't hard to start making predictions that leave Dallas with its choice of all the top corners in the draft on April 29.

Offensive Tackle

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    North Dakota State tackle Dillon Radunz
    North Dakota State tackle Dillon RadunzBruce Kluckhohn/Associated Press

    Most of Dallas' needs exist on the defensive side of the ball, but the unfortunate injury luck it had on the offensive line last season exposed another big hole: left tackle. 

    Tyron Smith has been the answer at the position for a decade, but he only played in two games last season and missed the rest of the year after having surgery on his neck. Right tackle La'el Collins spent the entire season on the IR as well and had hip surgery. 

    Collins is only 27 years old and has four years left on his contract. The hope would be that he'll recover. Smith, however, is entering his age-31 season and has a hefty contract. 

    What are the odds both tackles make it through the season unscathed?

    After watching the Cowboys' offensive line without the bookend tackles last season, it would be wise for the tackle of the future to be on the roster next season. Ty Nsekhe raises the unit's floor, but he only signed a one-year deal and is in the twilight of his career at the age of 35.

    Even if it's someone they just use as a swing tackle in 2021 or even kick inside to guard, getting an offensive lineman of the future is the biggest need on offense. 

    Alabama's Alex Leatherwood or North Dakota State's Dillon Radunz could make it to the Cowboys' second pick at No. 44. Either would make for a good successor to Smith. 

Safety

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    Syracuse safety Andre Cisco
    Syracuse safety Andre CiscoKeith Srakocic/Associated Press

    Taking a safety and a corner with two of its four top-100 picks would be a heavy investment in the secondary for Dallas. That's probably warranted after surrendering a 100.4 passer rating to opposing quarterbacks last season. 

    The Cowboys' approach to the position in free agency is a short-term patch. Damontae Kazee and Jayron Kearse signed one-year deals and are replacement-level players at best. Keanu Neal also signed a one-year deal, but Quinn is reportedly looking to transition him from safety to weak-side linebacker. 

    That will help the defense get more athletic, but it doesn't cover the need for a safety to pair with Donovan Wilson. 

    Finding a ball hawk who can cover ground and be a center fielder in Quinn's Cover 3 system would make the Cowboys' transition to this defense a bit easier. 

    Richie Grant and Andre Cisco would be good targets who would bring some excitement to a young secondary. 

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