With the draft fast approaching, the Dallas Cowboys have needs all across the board. During the next two weeks, we will offer up a position-by-position review of the roster and match up the best available in the draft at those positions.
On the roster: Tyrone Crawford (signed through 2020), Cedric Thornton (signed through 2019), Terrell McClain (signed through 2016), Jack Crawford (signed through 2016), Casey Walker (signed through 2017), Chris Whaley (signed through 2016), Jared Smith (signed through 2017).
Cap status: Tyrone Crawford $4.35 million, Thornton $2.25 million, McClain $1.1 million, Jack Crawford $1.1 million, Walker $525,000, Whaley $451,688, Smith $450,000.
Position review: Thornton is the biggest free-agent signing the Cowboys made at four years, $17 million. The Cowboys believe he will be able to help secure the middle to free up Tyrone Crawford while also delivering some push in the pocket in pass-rushing situations. He is not just a run-plugger, even as his four career sacks might suggest otherwise.
Tyrone Crawford is coming off a shoulder injury that required postseason surgery and negated a lot of his strength during the season. He still managed a career-high five sacks, but the expectations have been raised after he signed a $45 million contract. He needs to be a difference-maker.
McClain has been hurt for a good portion of his two seasons with the Cowboys. When he’s played, he has shown flashes of ability against the run and in the pass game. He just needs to stay healthy. Jack Crawford can play end or tackle, but might be better suited inside in passing situations. Walker was active by the end of the season after spending time on the practice squad. He will have a chance to win a job as a backup.
Whaley is an interesting study. The Cowboys effectively redshirted him in 2014 after he suffered a serious knee injury at Texas. He missed last season with a torn Achilles. They have kept him around for his talent, but he might be running out of time.
Draft need: Medium. This is a particularly strong defensive-tackle draft and there always has to be a thought that the draft isn’t only about the current year, but future years. They could use some bulk on the interior behind Tyrone Crawford and Thornton.
The defensive tackle scene: The Cowboys could be in prime position with the 34th overall pick to take a defensive tackle. However, there could be a first-round run that pushes other positions up the board.
Robinson looks the part, but was more run defender than pass-rusher in his time at Alabama. He is strong and can be a starter for a decade, but the Cowboys would only draft him if they trade out of the fourth overall pick. If the Cowboys didn’t have Tyrone Crawford, Rankins could be an ideal fit for their three-technique spot.
Butler and Billings could be available at No. 34, however, teams could take them late in the first round to be Day 1 starters. Johnson, Washington and Jones all figure in that second-round or third-round category. Teams will find contributors into the fourth round for defensive tackles.
The Cowboys coached Notre Dame’s Sheldon Day at the Senior Bowl and he seemed to receive praise from Rod Marinelli for his effort.
The best guess: The Cowboys have covered themselves in free agency by signing Thornton and re-signing Jack Crawford, but they can never go wrong in finding help along their defensive line. They want players with some pass rush, not just run-pluggers. Depending on how they shake down with their first two picks, finding a defensive tackle in the third round makes sense.