Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys better load up on defensive help in draft ... or else

UCLA defensive end Takkarist McKinley is among the prospects who could be available for the Cowboys at No. 28.
UCLA defensive end Takkarist McKinley is among the prospects who could be available for the Cowboys at No. 28. AP

The Cowboys have obvious defensive needs, none of which they likely completely fill in free agency. Thus, the Cowboys will attempt to improve through the draft.

The good news: The Cowboys have drafted well the past few years. They drafted Ezekiel Elliott, Maliek Collins, Dak Prescott and Anthony Brown last year and still have high hopes for Jaylon Smith, Charles Tapper and Kavon Frazier. They added Travis Frederick, Terrance Williams, Zack Martin, DeMarcus Lawrence, Anthony Hitchens, Byron Jones and Geoff Swaim in drafts from 2013-2015.

The bad news: The Cowboys don’t draft until 28th in the first round. They have many needs despite last year’s 13-3 finish.

Right tackle Doug Free’s retirement creates a need for an offensive lineman at some point, and the Cowboys have to begin planning for a future without Jason Witten by drafting a tight end (again!). But their bigger needs are on defense.

The Cowboys ranked 14th in total defense, including 26th against the pass. They were fifth in points allowed. But the Cowboys made only 36 sacks and nine interceptions and forced just 11 fumbles.

Worse still, the Cowboys have lost seven defensive players in free agency. Barry Church, Ryan Davis, Jack Crawford, Terrell McClain, J.J. Wilcox, Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne combined for 88 games played, 64 starts, 325 tackles, six sacks and five interceptions.

The Cowboys did sign defensive tackle Stephen Paea, cornerback Nolan Carroll and defensive end Damontre Moore last week, but they still have much work to do after seemingly taking a step back in free agency.

During the three-day draft, the Cowboys likely spend picks on a defensive end, a cornerback and a safety. It’s a good year to be in the market for those positions.

“You can get a corner in the second or third round,” NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said. “You can get an edge guy in the second or third round. This defensive draft at edge and corner is outstanding, also at safety.”

Missouri defensive end Charles Harris, UCLA defensive end Takkarist McKinley, UCLA cornerback Fabian Moreau, LSU cornerback TreDavious White, Michigan safety Jabrill Peppers and Connecticut safety Obi Melifonwu are among the defensive players who could remain on the board when the Cowboys draft.

“I think it’s one of the best defensive drafts I’ve seen, [including] the defensive edge rusher, whether it’s 4-3 or 3-4,” Mayock said. “…I think Derek Barnett is one of the hardest working, toughest edge rushers in this draft or any draft. I think he’s going to go let’s say 10 to 22, somewhere in that range. Solomon Thomas from Stanford. Kid can play outside on run down, inside on pass downs. There have been some comparisons to Aaron Donald. I’m not sure I see that, but I love his versatility. And then you start talking about a Taco Charlton from Michigan, who is really gifted. A long-edge guy. Charles Harris….”