2011 Record: 8-8
Key Free Agents:
WR Laurent Robinson, TE Martellus Bennett, G Montrae Holland, G Derrick Dockery, LB Anthony Spencer, LB Brady James, LB Keith Brooking, CB Alan Ball, CB Frank Walker, S Abram Elam, P Matt McBriar
After clinching the NFC East in 2009 and losing by a lopsided score of 34-3 in the Wild Card round of the playoffs against the Vikings, the Dallas Cowboys have failed to clinch a playoff berth over the last two seasons. While Tony Romo takes a lot of the blame and is considered a "choker" by many, much of the blame should be on a defense that gave up a lot of big plays in 2011. Look for owner Jerry Jones to draft defense early this year, while also trying to keep together an offense that averaged 23 points a game last season.
1st Round (1.14): Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
With a 2012 cap figure of $8 million, Terence Newman is strong candidate to be released this offseason. Orlando Scandrick is not starting material, so the Cowboys should make cornerback a No. 1 priority in the draft. The second-best corner behind LSU's Morris Claiborne, Kirkpatrick was the leader of a secondary that ranked No. 1 nationally in pass defense (116.3 ypg) & pass efficiency defense (83.9). Has also had 26 tackles, with two forced fumbles and nine pass breakups last year. The team could look at linebacker instead, but Kirkpatrick seems like a lock at this spot. Regarding his ceiling, our own Vincent Frank had this to say:
This is what separates first round prospects from those of the mid-round variety, ceiling. Rarely do you see teams say “that’s going to be a marginal starter, lets go for him.” Due to superb athletic ability and a massive frame for a defensive back, Kirkpatrick has a tremendous amount of upside. In fact, it could be stated he has one of the highest ceilings of any defensive players in the draft.
Make sure to check out Vincent's entire scouting report on Kirkpatrick.
2nd Round (2.13): Bobby Wagner, OLB, Utah State
Sticking with defense, the Cowboys need another playmaker outside of DeMarcus Ware. Neither Anthony Spencer or Bradie James are expected to be re-signed. And aging Keith Brooking is fairly close to retirement. In 2011, Wagner was named the WAC Defensive Player of the Year after he recorded 147 tackles, four sacks and notched two interceptions. The Giants have shown that a strong front seven can mask a lot of the secondary's weak spots.
3rd Round: (3.19): Senio Kelemete, OG, Washington
It seems Dallas has offensive line concerns almost every year. That doesn't change this year. RG Kyle Kosier is coming off an MCL tear from Week 17 and could be questionable for the start of training camp. And with Montrae Holland expected to walk to free agency, the left and right guard position need to be filled. Kelemete started all 13 games at left tackle in 2011, but projects as a guard in the NFL.
4th Round: (4.18): Duke Ihenacho, SS, San Jose State
Gerald Sensabaugh is signed through the 2016 season, but Elam is questionable to return. He was a strong run stopper, but was a liability in pass coverage. The team should look to upgrade even if they do bring Elam back. Ihenacho broke up six passes in 2011 and could be someone to groom as a future starter or a strong backup option if the team decides to go the free agent route for a starter to replace Elam.
5th Round: (5.17): Quentin Saulsberry, C, Mississippi State
Tony Romo trying to catch a pass out of the shotgun is like a catcher trying to catch a poorly-thrown fast ball. Phil Costa clearly isn't the answer at center.
6th Round: (6.16): George Bryan, TE, NC State
The Cowboys have yet to completely shut the door on the idea of bringing Martellus Bennett back, but they should. Bennett is highly athletic, but hasn't been able to live up to expectations after catching a mere 74 receptions in four years. Not to mention he's a bit too outspoken and considered lazy at times. Bryan has a huge frame at 6'5/265 and is, at least, someone fresh who the team can work with behind Jason Witten or in two tight-end packages.
7th Round (7.15): Lennon Creer, RB, Louisiana Tech
The team will roll with DeMarco Murray and Felix Jones as the two-headed monster in the backfield, but they could draft competition for the No. 3 spot on the depth chart. A transfer from Tennessee, Creer averaged an impressive 5.25 yards a carry and racked up 25 total touchdowns in four years while playing at Tennessee and Louisiana Tech.