As the 2016 NFL draft approaches, the Dallas Cowboys find themselves in a quandary with the fourth overall pick. Do they draft a quarterback to succeed an aging Tony Romo or pick an impact defender who can round out an average defense and make them Super Bowl caliber within a year or two? While the entire Cowboys’ organization of scouts, personnel people, and coaches, will be involved in the player evaluation process, the decision will ultimately come down to the franchise’s head brass of owner Jerry Jones and his son Stephen, the team’s Chief Operations Officer, and head coach Jason Garrett.
Tony Romo will turn 36 before the draft and he is nearing the end of his career with three or four years left to play. With this in mind, many NFL analysts believe it is time for Dallas to draft a quarterback such as North Dakota State University’s Carson Wentz or California’s Jared Goff who are widely regarded as the top two quarterbacks in the draft. Furthermore, the window is closing for the Cowboys to win a Super Bowl in the Romo-era. Romo’s three fractures of his left clavicle dating back to 2010 and his two back surgeries in 2013 have made him more susceptible to injury or re-injury. While he has played through some of those injuries and others – such as the broken rib and punctured lung that he played with in leading Dallas to an overtime win at San Francisco in 2011 – Romo is not as mobile anymore and needs to be protected better. Exposing him to big hits that drive him into the ground is too risky based on his prior back and shoulder injuries.
Helping the Cowboys here is the fact that their offensive line is the strength of the team and is one of the best in the league. Left tackle Tyron Smith, center Travis Frederick, and guard Zack Martin are all first round draft picks between 2011 and 2014 that enabled Dallas to rebuild its’ line. Guard La’el Collins was signed by the Cowboys as an undrafted free agent in 2015 but graded out by many scouts as a first-round talent. Those four along with right tackle Doug Free, a nine-year veteran, have formed a premier unit. Smith is a three-time pro-bowler while Frederick and Martin have appeared twice each.
With quality protection in place, Dallas can turn their attention elsewhere in the draft to help solidify their team. The Cowboys’ core players are Romo, tight end Jason Witten, wide receiver Dez Bryant, Smith, safety Barry Church, linebacker Sean Lee, defensive tackle Tyrone Crawford, defensive back Byron Jones, cornerback Orlando Scandrick, and kicker Dan Bailey.
Adding an impact pass rusher or cover cornerback makes sense and could turn an average defense into a top 10 defense in the league. Dallas ranked last in the league in 2015 in turnover differential at -22. Their 11 takeaways ranked last in the league and their 33 giveaways tied with Tennessee for last in the league. The Cowboys also lacked in getting pressure on the quarterback as their 31 sacks tied for 25th in the league. Furthermore, Dallas ranked 17th in total defense with an average of 348.1 yards allowed per game. Their front seven was leaky at times, allowing 120.9 rushing yards per game which tied with Chicago for 22nd in the league.
All these statistics point to the need for better defense especially in the pass rush and turnover areas. So here are five of the top defensive players along with a sleeper pick that could rise higher in the draft that would fit the Cowboys’ needs.
Joey Bosa – Defensive End, Ohio State
During the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis in February, Bosa said that he thinks he is the best player available in the draft.
Others in the media suggested that he is in the mold of J.J. Watt. If he lives up to those lofty descriptions, he will have a major impact for any NFL team. Bosa has good blood lines in the fact that his father and uncle both played in the NFL with the Miami Dolphins. Bosa was consistently productive at Ohio State where he totaled 26 sacks and 51 tackles for a loss during his three seasons in Columbus.
His best season came in2014 when he had 13.5 sacks and 21 tackles for a loss. Last year he had five sacks and 16 tackles for a loss en route to being named a unanimous first-team All-American as well as an All-Big Ten performer. At 6-5 and 275, Bosa has the strength and agility to get to the quarterback. With defensive end Randy Gregory’s recent violation of the league’s substance abuse policy causing him to face a four-game suspension in 2016, this not only makes sense for Dallas but has become a pressing need. Bosa could provide the Cowboys with the consistent pass rusher they have lacked since they parted ways with DeMarcus Ware – the franchise’s all-time sack leader – following the 2013 season.