The NFL Draft is now a month away, and the pressure is on the Dallas Cowboys to address several needs and make the playoffs for the first time in four years.
Dallas came ever so close to clinching the NFC East and a postseason berth last year, but was severely limited due to its 30th-ranked pass defense and 27th rush defense.
Clearly the Cowboys need help in both the secondary and along the defensive line, but they didn’t address those needs in free agency. Instead, they opted to release veteran defensive end DeMarcus Ware, and let eight-year defensive tackle Jason Hatcher sign with division rival Washington.
Owner and general manager Jerry Jones did plug in former Chicago defensive tackle Henry Melton to replace Hatcher, but it was only a one-year deal and defensive tackle will continue to be an issue unless Dallas tries to find a solution in the draft.
Safety is also a major concern, with the Cowboys giving up a league-worst 71 plays of 20-plus yards last season. They did sign Danny McCray away from Chicago, but again it was a one-year contract.
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The NFL awarded the Cowboys with compensatory seventh round draft picks two weeks ago, rounding out their total picks to 11 this year. However, the real question is: Who will Dallas take with their first-round, No. 16 overall pick?
Here are four players the Cowboys can target.
Calvin Pryor, Louisville, S
Considered one of the best players in this year’s draft, Pryor has excellent speed (4.58 40-yard dash at the Combine), and is known as a big hitter who isn’t afraid to mix things up in the running game. He was second on Louisville with 75 tackles last year, and over his three-year career Pryor totaled seven interceptions, 18 passes defended and nine forced fumbles.
Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama, S
He's the other elite safety in the draft, but it's unclear if Clinton-Dix will even be available when the Cowboys select, especially with secondary-desperate teams like Minnesota and Pittsburgh ahead them. Clinton-Dix has terrific size (6-foot-1, 208 lbs.) to matchup with the NFL’s bigger receivers. There would have been concern about knee surgery he underwent back in December, except he wowed scouts at the Combine three months later.
Ra’Shede Hageman, Minnesota, DT
At 6-foot-6 and 310 lbs. Hageman possesses tremendous speed for a player his size, running an impressive 5.02 40-yard dash at the Combine. More importantly, Hageman improved each season in Minnesota, upping his stats in his senior year to 38 tackles, including 13 for a loss. He also show veratility by stepping up against the pass, defending eight pass attempts and recording the first and only interception of his college career.
Kony Ealy, Missouri, DE
There are some top-line defensive ends in this draft, but Ealy may have as much upside as projected No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney. Ealy was known as a leader in the Tigers locker room and he never missed a game during his three seasons.
Missouri had one of the best defenses in the country thanks to Ealy and Michael Sam. Ealy was third in the SEC with 9.5 sacks and was second with 14.5 tackles for a loss.