IRVING, Texas – This doesn't really seem like a team that can afford to be picky.
Yeah, the Cowboys need help with their pass rush. Dallas finished with 34 sacks as a team last season, which tied them for No. 25 in the league. The rush defense also finished 27th in the league, surrendering 2,056 points.
Clearly, it needs to get better.
That applies to a lot of areas, though. The pass defense was bad. The linebackers weren't good in coverage. Despite the strides by the offensive line at the end of the season, the running game finished near the bottom of the league. The passing game was missing some dynamism.
Point being: there are a lot of things the Cowboys need to improve. That's why they went 8-8 and finished in the middle of the league.
I'm not trying to argue for the Dallas defense. It was the worst in franchise history and the worst in the NFL last year. The Cowboys need to spend the majority of their picks in this draft on the defensive side of the ball.
But in the first round, when the draft's elite talent is going off the board, can this team really go wrong? If there isn't a defensive tackle or defensive end deserving of the No. 16 or No. 17 pick in the draft, do you take one anyway – simply for need?
I'd argue no – not with so many needs to fill. The same goes for safety, when considering that this year's class of safeties seems to be thin on top-round talent. The Cowboys just spent a third round pick on J.J. Wilcox, who has hardly played enough games to make a clear judgment on. The same can be said for Jeff Heath, who certainly struggled – as an undrafted free agent rookie on a team with a bad pass rush.
A whopping 98 underclassmen have declared for this upcoming draft, which is a record for the NFL draft. That's more than three rounds worth of young, talented players in addition to senior stars like the guys we've seen at the Senior Bowl.
This draft is packed full of pass rushers like Dee Ford, Dominique Easley, Kareem Martin, Marcus Smith and Scott Crichton – all of whom figure to be good players, none of whom currently project as first round picks.
If all that talent is available in the later rounds, why reach with your first of seven selections? You could pick another offensive lineman, like Notre Dame tackle Zack Martin, and bolster your offensive front with four quality players who are all 25 or younger.
There are currently five or six wide receivers who project as first round picks. The odds seem pretty good that a few of them will still remain when the Cowboys pick No. 16. Would it be that disheartening to see the Cowboys add an immediate impact player to their offense over a questionable defensive pick? Not with a slew of later picks to use.
I'll even go as far as to say this: it makes more sense to draft a developmental quarterback in the middle rounds or sign one in undrafted free agency. But, if on the slim chance a seminal talent like Teddy Bridgewater or Johnny Manziel were to fall to the middle of the first round, I'm down to pull the trigger. [embedded_ad]
We've seen big-time talents, like Aaron Rodgers, fall far before. It isn't an immediate need, but it would certainly bolster the Cowboys' talent level, and it could give them a bargaining chip – either in the form of Tony Romo or the youngster – later on down the road.
I guess my basic point is that the Cowboys have far too many needs to pigeonhole themselves into one strategy. Worse-case scenario: if you don't have a slam dunk pick at No. 16/17, trade back and turn it into multiple players – just like the Cowboys did with Travis Frederick and Terrance Williams last year.
Ultimately, I still think the Cowboys' pass rush should be this team's No. 1 priority when the draft does finally roll around. But there's too much talent out there for them to ignore other possibilities – even if they don't seem as evident.