The Dallas Cowboys were the epitome of an NFL underdog story in the 2018-2019 NFL season. After starting off 3-4 going into their bye week, the Dallas Cowboys seemed dead in the water. Well, that’s when the front office got aggressive. Dallas then sent their first round pick in transit to the Oakland Raiders for a young and promising Amari Cooper. Following a firing of their offensive line coach Paul Alexander prompting a transition to Marc Columbo, the Cowboys were making moves on offense.
Dallas would later go 8-3 (including the playoffs) following the trade for Cooper and the changing of their offensive line coach. The effect of Cooper on America’s Team cannot be overstated as Dak Prescott’s passing yards per game proliferated from 202.4 passing YPG in seven games without Cooper to 274.2 passing yards per game in his nine regular season games with Cooper. On top of that, Prescott had fourteen passing touchdowns to four interceptions in the regular season with Cooper compared to eight touchdowns and four interceptions without him.
Nonetheless, the Dallas Cowboys had one of the most drastic resurgences by an NFL team in recent memory. However, they fell short yet again in what seems like cursed territory for the Dallas Cowboys: the divisional round of the NFL Playoffs. The Dallas Cowboys (as seen against the Rams) certainly still have a lot of work to do this off-season if they want to make their first conference championship appearance since the 90s, let alone contend for a ring.
The NFL draft and free agency will provide the Dallas Cowboys with a plethora of opportunities to fill needs and chase rings. First and foremost, let’s delve into the areas of improvement and need for the Cowboys roster this offseason.
Offseason Needs: Safety, Defensive Line
The Dallas Cowboys have a safety problem… again. Last off-season the Dallas Cowboys were cited as having a major need at safety with Xavier Woods not having played a full season yet in the NFL, Kavon Frazier being utilized as a one dimensional box safety, and Heath showing promise but inconsistency at the safety position. Well, Heath had the second most missed/broken tackles allowed in the whole league last season with 22 missed tackles or broken tackles allowed. On top of that, he had an absolutely deplorable grade of 56.4 by Pro Football Focus this season. That’s a particularly lamentable situation to have as a starter at defense. Furthermore, the Dallas Cowboys have had dire issues creating turnovers in the passing game, having ranked bottom ten in the league in defensive interceptions for four consecutive seasons now. Woods has blossomed well and looks as a promising young piece at the safety position for Dallas, but it isn’t enough to keep safety from being Dallas’ number one need this off-season.
It wouldn’t be a Cowboys off-season without a pass rusher getting suspended. Demarcus Lawrence, Randy Gregory, and David Irving (the top three pass rushers for Dallas) have all been suspended over the last two seasons with Gregory and Irving suffering multiple suspensions. Just like clockwork, both defensive tackle David Irving and Randy Gregory were suspended indefinitely this offseason for substance abuse. Irving even went a step further and announced his retirement from the NFL on Instagram, while smoking marijuana. Gregory’s suspension, however had the colossal implications, taking away the Robin to Demarcus Lawrence’s Batman after Gregory contributed with six sacks in just a handful of starts this past season. Also, all of Cowboys nation had to witness the horror story of a defensive line that showed up versus the Rams in the divisional round where he Rams had two 100 yard rushers. Dallas absolutely has to address either the defensive tackle or defensive end position this off-season.
Juan Thornhill, S (UVA)
——- With a huge need at the safety position this offseason, there may be no more of an enticing option than Juan Thornhill. The safety out of UVA was previously a cornerback transition to safety, and the ball skills have followed him. Thornhill is an excellent ball hawk who drives through his tackles and isn’t afraid to lay a hit either. Thornhill displays magnificent range when covering the deep end of the field and doesn’t take plays off in coverage. He still has some issues with staying disciplined on play action and double moves, but Thornhill’s route recognition allows him to play the ball aggressive in air with success. Overall, Thornhill is a rangy ball hawk with ideal size (6 foot and 210 pounds) and insane physical traits (clocked in at 4.42 in the 40 yard dash at the NFL Combine while also hitting an astronomical 44 inch vertical) while bringing an aggressive play style and non stop motor. He still needs to work on balancing his playmaking instincts with staying disciplined to fakes sometimes, but overall, Thornhill is an athletic and well sized safety with immense plus side in the turnover department and in coverage.
Gerald Willis iii
——- As previously stated, the loss versus LA in the divisional round certainly highlighted some issues for Dallas on the interior offensive line. Gerald Willis is a great option out of Miami to shore up the position. Gerald Willis has shown time and time again in the tape that he can bring a dangerous mix of speed, power, and hand usage. However, his pad level is a huge concern at times which causes him to get washed up on double teams quite often. Willis has the ability to constantly cause disruption in both the run and pass game, but is largely a boom or bust prospect on a play-to-play basis. Willis will either blow up the play and be in the backfield every other play, or get washed out completely. The good thing is that pad level is very much coachable and with Rod Marinelli, who has been known as a bit of a defensive line whisperer, he just may be able to correct his pad level and improve his game a ton. If Willis is able to just shore up his hand technique a bit and fix his pad level at the point of attack, he’s shown time and time again that he can be a prospect worth game planning around in the NFL.
Irv Smith Jr.
——– With future Hall of Famer Jason Witten coming out of retirement, Dallas doesn’t have as strong an immediate need at the tight end position. However, it would be wise for them to invest in the position perhaps because Jason Witten isn’t going to get any younger. Furthermore, Witten is only in Dallas for one season. Irv Smith is my favorite tight end prospect in the draft because of the roundness of his play. Smith is one of the premier blocking tight ends of this draft, meanwhile he also was a dynamic and dominant receiving threat at Alabama as well. He shows great straight line speed with the ball in his hands for the tight end position while also running solid routes and showing the toughness to complete catches in traffic when needed to. There really is no blatant weakness to Irv Smith’s game in my review of the film. Smith could stand to make absolutely sure he goes full speed at all times as on occasion he can show varying levels of effort in the blocking game as well as slowing down to track the football sometimes when not needed in the passing game. Smith does make mistakes and can round his routes or give up blocks here and there but overall, Irv Smith Jr has pro bowl potential as a dual threat tight end in the NFL. If Smith is there at pick 58, Dallas needs to seriously consider skipping out on perhaps a greater need at defensive line or safety and take the dynamic tight end.
The Dallas Cowboys were an inspiring Cinderella story in the last NFL season no doubt. However, if they want to break the divisional round curse and have a chance at being real contenders, they need to address the safety position and defensive line this off-season. Though they missed out on the honeymoon signing of Thomas and a possible star in Collins, Dallas still has a chance to find cheap value as they did last free agency with Antwuan Woods at defensive tackle. Also, as previously outlined, there are many exciting options via the draft come time in April. One thing is for certain, the Dallas Cowboys have a bright future ahead of them as the league’s youngest team. Watch out league… the Cowboys are coming.