With the NFL Draft approaching, we’re taking a team-by-team look at the needs of each club. Next up are the Cowboys, who are coming off another Week 17 loss that left them without either a division title or a playoff spot. The Cowboys have 11 picks to use to avoid another bitter end to their season and we’re taking a look at the holes they need to fill.
Defensive End: The DeMarcus Ware era has come to an end in Dallas, leaving the Cowboys without the man that’s been the face of the defense for years. Finding a replacement for Ware will be a daunting task, which makes the return of Anthony Spencer a good move for the team.
Spencer missed all but a game last season and will need more help than there already is on the roster when he’s healthy, though. UCLA edge rusher Anthony Barr could fit the bill in Dallas if he’s still around at No. 16 or the Cowboys could add some picks by dropping down to take Missouri’s Kony Ealy or Boise State’s Demarcus Lawrence.
Guard: The Cowboys have been active on the offensive line in recent years, drafting Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick in the first round, but they still have holes to fill. Guard is this year’s need, although it seems a stretch that the Cowboys will address it in the first round. There’s enough depth at the position to find a contributor in later rounds to push either Ronald Leary or Mackenzy Bernadeau out of the lineup. If they can’t find such a player, they may need to push for Brian Waters’ return for a second season in Big D.
Notre Dame’s Zack Martin is a possibility in the first round and he could wind up at either guard in the NFL. He could also play right tackle with Doug Free kicking inside.
Defensive Tackle: If Henry Melton makes a full recovery from a torn ACL, the Cowboys will miss Jason Hatcher a bit less. Even with Melton at 100 percent, though, the team needs more at the position if their defense is going to take strides in 2014. Pittsburgh’s Aaron Donald would be an ideal fit, which makes him unlikely to drop to the 16th pick, and a later flier on Florida’s Dominique Easley (coming off his own knee injury) could also bear some fruit.
Safety: It has been a long, long time since the Cowboys have had a playmaker at the back end of their defense and they could be in position to remedy that in May. Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Louisville’s Calvin Pryor could both be available in the first round and either would be a starter from their first moment in Dallas.
Quarterback: Tony Romo isn’t being ousted as starter, but he is 34 and coming off of back surgery. Kyle Orton, who started the finale last season, may not be returning to the team, leaving Brandon Weeden and Caleb Hanie as the backup options in the event Romo’s recovery hits a snag. Even if rumored interest in Johnny Manziel doesn’t amount to anything, it wouldn’t hurt the Cowboys to add a younger option with upside to the mix.