Dallas Cowboys 2014 Draft Needs: The Defense

Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin.

Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin.

Looking forward after a disappointing finish to the 2013 season, the Dallas Cowboys clearly have needs on the defensive side of the ball. In 2013, they transitioned to Monte Kiffin’s 4-3 defense and to say the least, they struggled at times.
A look at their defensive rankings:

-They allowed more yards per game than ANY other team in the NFL.
-They allowed 27 points per game.
-They ranked 25th in sacks with 34 for the season.
-They ranked 30th in pass defense allowing almost 300 passing yards per game.
-They ranked 27th in run defense.

With the draft approaching in April, a look at the needs on defense by position, starting with the positions of greatest need and working down to the least.

1. Defensive Tackle:
The defensive line will be the key to Dallas improving their defense next season. Things started off poorly in 2013, with Ratliff claiming a hamstring injury and then moving on to play for the Bears. During the season we saw a lot of new faces brought in off the street to help at DT. Nick Hayden gave an admirable effort playing in the one technique plugging the middle of the line but there is plenty room for improvement here.

DT Hatcher had an outstanding season as the defensive line’s most consistent player but at this point, it’s not certain at all that owner Jerry Jones will be able to resign Hatcher and bring him back next season. If Hatcher doesn’t return, then DT will certainly be a position that needs to be addressed within the first two picks of the draft. If Jerry manages to sign Hatcher, I still think they could use a good young DT to work into the rotation.

2014 DRAFT– With Ratliff gone and Hatcher’s return questionable, I expect Dallas to draft a DT very early, either in the first or second round of the draft.

Prospect: I think Aaron Donald at Pittsburg is exactly the kind of attacking defensive tackle that coach Rod Marinelli is looking for. Donald appears ideal for a 3 technique in a 4-3 defense. A highlight video of Arnold HERE. Notice the play where he just tackles both the RB and QB in the backfield to make sure he gets the right one.

2. Defensive End:
Sticking with the defensive line, the Cowboys suffered a set back early in the season when DE Anthony Spencer missed the season with a knee injury. I doubt that Jerry will be able to sign Spencer this season as he used the franchise tag in 2013. If Spencer doesn’t get signed, then DE becomes a pretty big area of need.

The Cowboys were fortunate to find free agent DE George Selvie who played well for them in the absence of Spencer.

Ware played through injuries but his production was way down last season and not up to what fans expect from him.

Tyrone Crawford missed the entire season with an injury but is thought to be able to help them next season at DE. Crawford was actually drafted to play DE in a 3-4 defense and I think ultimately he will be better suited to play defensive tackle in the 4-3.

2014 DRAFT– With Spencer likely gone and Ware not so healthy, I look for Dallas to draft a DE in about the 3rd or 4th round of the draft.

Prospect: I think Jackson Jeffcoat at Texas could be an ideal fit at DE in the 4-3 defense. That name may sound familiar as his father Jim Jeffcoat was an outstanding defensive end for Dallas who was drafted in 1983. Jim once sacked Redskin QB Joe Theismann 5 times in one game. Highlights of Jackson HERE.

3. Linebacker:
Each season it seems the Cowboys become thin at the LB position and in 2013, it happened again with an injury to Sean Lee. Lee was excellent as a middle LB in the 4-3 defense but his injuries kept him from playing late in the season when Dallas really needed him.

Bruce Carter struggled often in coverage particularly with backs coming out of the back field to catch passes.

Rookie LB DeVonte Holloman was injured early in the season but played well late in the year. I think Dallas found a LB who can help in coverage in Holloman and I look for him to start next season.

2014 DRAFT: While LB is not the most glaring need for this defense, I think drafting a LB for depth at some point in the draft, makes sense. Eventually in 2014, they will be glad they did.

4. Safety:
It seems safety is a weak spot for Dallas every season and it just never quite gets addressed. Last year, Jones drafted safety JJ Wilcox who finished the season with a disappointing 0 INTs. More turnovers are expected from safeties in the Tampa 2 defense. Wilcox is a young and inexperienced safety and that’s what he played like. I think Dallas likes the potential they see in him.

Barry Church was solid as an in the box safety effectively supporting the run defense. Church finished with an impressive 134 tackles but only one interception last season.

Rookie free agent Jeff Heath started 9 games in 2013 and came up with 1 INT. and one forced fumble. While Heath showed some promise at times, he struggled at times too. He may improve a great deal in his 2nd season.

2014 DRAFT: While it appears Dallas is fairly satisfied with their safeties, they could really use a safety that can cover receivers. I think it would make the most sense to obtain a veteran safety in free agency that can help the pass defense. Dallas could add a safety late in the draft but I don’t expect them to.

5. Cornerback:
Dallas was weak against the pass last season but I actually don’t expect much to change in the secondary.

Last season Orlando Scandrick was the most consistent CB and while Brandon Carr had a tough season in their new defense, Jerry signed him for $50 million so he isn’t going anywhere.

Because of a shoulder injury, Morris Claiborne only started 7 games for Dallas in 2013, and finished with just 26 tackles, 1 INT. Jerry has a 1st and 2nd round pick invested in Mo so they have to hope he has a bigger impact next season.

Last year they drafted CB B.W. Webb but he hasn’t contributed much at this point. However Kiffin seems to have high hopes in Webb but I fear he will prove to be a bust. We will find out next season.

2014 DRAFT: Cornerback is one position of the defense that I just don’t expect to change much during the draft. I will be surprised if they draft one.

Conclusion: To improve their run and pass defense, Dallas needs to focus on their front 7. Adding young talent on the defensive line will be a must in the draft. Picking up a LB would be nice and I don’t expect much change in the secondary.