The Dallas Cowboys seem to be going in two different directions with their roster over the past few seasons. On offense, they have been steadily climbing towards the top, thanks to smart drafting and the continued growth of the offensive line.
On defense, however, they have somewhat overachieved with marginal talent, particularly on the back end. This offseason the team lost multiple players in the secondary — safeties Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox, along with cornerbacks Maurice Claiborne and Brandon Carr — and on the defensive line, letting Terrell McClain and Jack Crawford sign elsewhere.
It was safe to say most knew the Cowboys would draft heavily on the defensive side of the ball, but the front office did a fantastic job of getting need and value in the early rounds. Taco Charlton, the defensive end out of Michigan, was projected between 21-28, with most experts saying the Cowboys’ pick would be as far as he’d possibly fall.
They were right, as the Cowboys pounced on the talented pass-rusher with the 28th pick. And while some fans wanted the team to grab one of the many defensive back prospects in the first round, those with knowledge of Rod Marinelli’s scheme understand it’s predicated on pressure from its front four.
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Dallas certainly lost some push up the middle but adding a dominant run defender with good pass-rushing potential, in Chalrton, was the quickest way to improve this defense through the draft. Let’s not forget linebacker Jaylon Smith, a first-round talent the team grabbed in the second round last year, should be healthy in 2017.
That still left a somewhat bare secondary. In the second round, Dallas grabbed cornerback Chidobe Awuzie out of Colorado, then in the third, selected Michigan’s Jourdan Lewis. The two defensive backs can certainly contribute this season, considering the lack of depth at corner and safety. Lewis, in particular, has great ball skills and may end up as one of the steals of this draft if his offseason troubles can stay behind him, unlike some recent Cowboys defenders.
Dallas hasn’t been overly active in free agency, but with such a high-powered offense, they just needed to raise the overall talent level on the defensive side of the ball. It may take more than a season for these draft picks to pay dividends. But long-term, Smith, Charlton, Awuzie and Lewis could be exactly what Dallas has needed to set its defense on course to catch up to an explosive offense featuring Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott and Dez Bryant.
It’s safe to say they were thinking beyond 2017 when making the switch from Tony Romo to a 4th-round rookie, in Prescott. Still, last season proved the Cowboys can play with anyone and if some of these young players arrive ahead of schedule, Dallas will quickly become one of the most dangerous teams in football.