DRAFT PREVIEW – DALLAS COWBOYS

 A look at the Cowboys heading into the 2011 NFL Draft; Dallas has the 9th pick in the first round.

REVIEW OF 2010

Record – 6-10, where they struggled in the early going before putting together three victories in the last five games. They started the year 1-7, but came back with an overall record of 5-3 in the second half of the year.

Finish – tied for third in the NFC East with Washington, four games behind Philadelphia and the New York Giants who tied for first place.

Playoffs – the Cowboys last post-season appearance was the 2009 season, when they went 11-5 and won the NFC East, but lost in the second round of the playoffs. The victory in the wildcard game was the first in the post-season since 1996.

OVERVIEW

When there is disappointment with the Dallas Cowboys, then it’s major disappointment. Nothing that happens with the Cowboys in Dallas happens quietly. Last year, there was the injury suffered by QB Tony Romo, the quick start of rookie WR Dez Bryant that was ended by an injury, the firing of head coach Wade Phillips and a host of other moments that proved embarrassing to Jerry Jones. The whole idea was to go to the Super Bowl, since it was set for Cowboys Stadium.

Now, it’s important for Jones to quickly get his team back on track. The Cowboys owner has to keep his stadium filled and interest in his team high to pay off the bills he racked up in building the dome they call Jerry World. Dallas has not had back-to-back losing seasons since 2001-02 when they went 5-11 in both seasons.

PARTICULARS

Offense – averaged 364.3 yards per game last season and that left them ranked as the No. 7 offense in the league. They were the sixth-rated passing game, picking up 252.6 yards per game. Dallas scored 39 offensive TDs, with 29 of those coming through the air. TE Jason Witten topped everyone with nine scores. He was also the team’s leading catcher with 94 receptions for 1,002 yards. Leading the yardage parade was WR Miles Austin, who caught 69 for 1,041 yards and 7 scores. On the ground, RB Felix Jones was the leading gainer at 800 yards on 185 carries. Marion Barber had 113 runs for 374 yards and 4 TDs. Until he was injured, QB Tony Romo was putting up familiar numbers for his name with 11 TDs, 7 INTs, 69.5 percent completion percentage. Jon Kitna stepped in to replace him, throwing 16 TDs to 12 INTs, while throwing for 2,365 yards. Pass protection was very solid with just 31 sacks on 601 passing plays, or one every 19.4 pass plays.

Defense – they allowed an average of 351.8 yards per game, having the hardest time in passing yards allowed, giving up 243.2 per game to rank No. 26 among the 32 NFL defenses. They allowed 44 touchdowns, with 33 of those coming through the air. They had 20 interceptions, led by SS Gerald Sensabaugh and CB Terence Newman with 5 each. OLB DeMarcus Ware led the NFL in sacks with 15.5, just one sack ahead of Chiefs OLB Tamba Hali. The rest of the defense, made up of 10 other players, put up just 20.5 sacks. Overall, the Cowboys forced 30 takeaways.

Special teams – K David Buehler came through the ’09 draft and was OK, as he missed 8 FG attempts. Of concern would be the three misses at under 40 yards by Buehler. Punt Mat McBriar had a great season, with an average punt of 47.9 yards and Dallas had a net average of 41.7 yards. McBriar did have one punt blocked. The Cowboys returned 3 punts for touchdowns, topped by Bryant who averaged 14.3 yards per return and scored twice, including once from 93 yards out. Dallas was not so effective on kickoff returns, and gave up a 95-yard score there.

DECISION MAKER

New head coach Jason Garrett will be in the Cowboys Draft Room for this year’s selection meeting, but he will take a seat on the drafting bus behind GM Stephen Jones, who sits behind owner and club president Jerry Jones. There are scouts and directors of personnel and yada, yada, yada in the room, but the decision will be made by Jerry. He’ll talk it over with Stephen and Jason, but the buck stops right in front of the Owner/President/General Manager.

Who has the draft room juice? Make no mistake, that’s Jerry.

TEAM NEEDS

1. Cornerback. With the pass defense being the worst part of the season for the Cowboys, they may have to turn their attention to defensive backs, whether on the corner or in the secondary. Opposing passers threw 33 TDs against Dallas last year with an overall 92.8 passer rating. Former first-rounders Terence Newman and Mike Jenkins are the starters on the corner, with Orlando Scandrick being the nickel back. Help is needed, especially given the fact that Newman will be 33 years old in September.

2. Offensive tackle. The Cowboys have trouble on the right side of their line due to age and effectiveness. RG Leonard Davis and RT Marc Colombo will both be 33 in the fall. Injuries and age have limited their effectiveness. Colombo allowed 40 QB pressures, 11 hits on the QB and nine sacks. There is no one in the pipeline pushing for playing time.

3. Inside linebacker. In his rookie season, second-round selection ILB Sean Lee showed he has a future with the Dallas defense. Now, he must come back and do it again, but the Cowboys need help for Lee and the other starting ILB Bradie James.

FIVE-YEAR DRAFT HISTORY

The Cowboys success in the NFL Draft helped build their memorable teams of the 1960s, 1970s and 1990s. The duos of Tex Schramm and Tom Landry, and then later Jerry Jones and Jimmy Johnson drafted the foundation and stars of their championship teams. That’s not been the case in recent years with the ‘Boys and that explains a bit of their problems in getting to the post-season, let alone winning titles.

In the past five drafts, Dallas has added just five starters and a kicker. Only one of those starters has made the Pro Bowl (CB Mike Jenkins). In the ’08 Draft, they traded away a third and four different fourth round picks they held at some point. They traded first, third and sixth-round choices in ’09 for WR Roy Williams. They traded first and third round picks to get into the spot to select WR Dez Bryant last year.

2006 – Just backup DE Jason Hatcher (3rd) is left on the Cowboys roster. They struck out with early picks in LB Bobby Carpenter and TE Anthony Fasano.

2007 – They scored three starters in this group, with Anthony Spencer at OLB, LT Free and FS Alan Ball, he in the seventh round.

2008 – They got Jenkins and RB Felix Jones in the first round, then added TE Martellus Bennett and two more key backups, RB Tashard Choice and CB Orlando Scandrick.

2009 – This poor draft has already left major holes in the Dallas roster after just two seasons of play. They hit on fifth-round kicker David Buehler, otherwise they missed on just about every other choice.

2010 – Only Bryant and Lee brought any production in their rookie seasons, and Bryant obviously brings baggage with him when he comes to a team.

PREDICTION

There are plenty of offensive linemen that will be left when it comes time for Dallas to draft ninth. Blockers like USC’s Tyron Smith, Boston College’s Anthony Castonzo, Colorado’s Nate Solder and Wisconsin’s Gabe Carimi will be under consideration. But I think the Cowboys will go for the best available athlete at that time and it will be Nebraska CB Prince Amukamara or WR Julio Jones. My guess is Amukamara.

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