From Kicker to Kick-Returner: Cowboys' Position Rankings

With the NFL Draft three weeks from Thursday and free agency down to desperate teams scraping for crumbs, it’s a good time to assess just who the Cowboys are and what they need in order to get to where they want to go in 2015.

In other words, what are their real needs heading into the draft?

To get that answer, let’s rank each position on the team:

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1. Long Snapper – No Cowboy has been more perfect in recent years than L.P. LaDouceur. There might be cheaper, younger options, but why fix it if ain’t broke?

2.Kicker – Dan Bailey missed only four field goals last year, and two were from 50+. Chris Jones punted 57 times, 21 of which were downed inside the 20 to only two going into the end zone for touchbacks. All good here.

3. Offensive Line – With three Pro Bowl players – Tyron Smith, Zack Martin and Travis Frederick – all under age 25, it’s safe to say this is the strength of the team. Considering Doug Free’s injuries the last couple of years and the loss of main backup Jermey Parnell in free agency, there is a need for additional depth here.

4. Wide Receiver – Dez Bryant is one of the NFL’s five best receivers, and he has youthful help with Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley. They need Devin Street to step up into the No. 4 role but, remember, Dwayne Harris had only 7 catches in that position in 2014.

5. Quarterback – I know there is no proven backup and zero idea of who will be taking snaps come 2020, but for now the position is in the very capable hands of a Pro Bowl veteran who in the last two seasons has thrown 65 touchdowns and only 19 interceptions. Draft a quarterback? Sure, but not early. This team has more pressing, win-now needs.

6. Tight End – Jason Witten is obviously slowing down at 32, but still managed 64 catches and five touchdowns in another reliable season. Behind him, however, are talented backups ready to step up. Of Gavin Escobar’s nine catches, four were for touchdowns.

7. Defensive Line – The addition of sack-monster Greg Hardy certainly elevates this group. As does the continued improvement and expected development of Tyrone Crawford and DeMarcus Lawrence. A high draft choice on a behemoth, hole-plugging tackle wouldn’t be the worst idea, though.

8. Linebacker – The return of Rolando McClain in the middle is a game-changer. Flanked by Sean Lee (fingers crossed) and Anthony Hitchens, this group has a chance to be an asset rather than a liability. Still, if an upgrade to Hitchens is available, they should snag it.

9. Safety – Starters Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox were solid, if not spectacular, last season. Though a definite upgrade from past years, the Cowboys need to draft a better No. 3 so Jeff Heath sees the field only on special teams.

10. Running back – Without NFL rushing leader DeMarco Murray, they’re left with a committee of mediocrity featuring Darren McFadden, Joseph Randle, Lance Dunbar and Ryan Williams. There will be a feature back available in the draft, and Dallas would be foolish not to nab one. Out of fullbacks Tyler Clutts, Jed Collins and Ray Agnew, you’ve got to think they’ll find one who can lead block.

11. Cornerback – Yuck. Brandon Carr is a $50 million bust who will probably be asked to take a pay cut and may not be on this roster. Morris Claiborne is a No. 6 overall pick bust with major injury and confidence concerns. Strange to say, but Orlando Scandrick saved this group the last two seasons. But with Sterling Moore gone in free agency, there aren’t two above-average starters and there is zero depth. One of the Cowboys’ early picks has to be for a corner.

12. Kick Returner – Harris wasn’t great last year, with neither a punt- or kickoff-return of more than 42 yards. But with him in New York, who’s left? Right now the answer is Dunbar, but that needs to change. The Cowboys obviously won’t draft solely a kick-returner, but would be wise to nab a receiver who has kick-return skills.

A native Texan who was born in Duncanville and graduated from UT-Arlington, Richie Whitt has been a mainstay in the Metroplex media since 1986. He’s held prominent roles on all media platforms including newspaper (Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Dallas Observer), radio (105.3 The Fan) and TV (co-host on TXA 21 and numerous guest appearances, including NBC 5). He currently lives in McKinney with his wife, Sybil, and two very spoiled dogs.

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