- Tim MacMahon, ESPNDallas.com
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For a team without any glaring holes on its roster, the Dallas Cowboys have a lot of needs.
The majority of those will have to be filled through the draft. The rules regarding the upcoming uncapped season severely restrict what the Cowboys, as a team that went to the divisional playoffs, can do in free agency.
The Cowboys, who have the 27th overall pick, aren't so desperate that they need to reach at any particular position in the draft. It's doubtful that they'll have a rookie start right away next season. They can go with the best-available-player approach, for the most part.
But, looking at the roster with a long-term view, there are some clear needs. A look at those:
OFFENSIVE TACKLE: Left tackle Flozell Adams will be 35 in May. Right tackle Marc Colombo turns 32 next season and has a troubling history of injuries. The Cowboys must have their replacements ready. Doug Free proved during a seven-game stint as the starter at right tackle when Colombo was injured that he's capable of handling that job. The jury is still out on him as a left tackle. Robert Brewster, a 2009 third-round pick who spent his rookie season on injured reserve, will begin his NFL career as a right tackle but might be better suited as a guard. If the Cowboys are looking for a left tackle in the first round, Iowa's Bryan Bulaga and/or Maryland's Bruce Campbell could be their best options.
CENTER/GUARD: Ideally, the Cowboys could find a center who has the versatility to play guard and could replace Cory Procter on the gameday roster. They thought they could do that in the second round last year, but the Seattle Seahawks swooped in to snatch Oregon's Max Unger before the Cowboys went on the clock. Dallas needs a backup for center Andre Gurode and an eventual replacement for left guard Kyle Kosier, whose contract expires after the 2010 season. Kosier's replacement might be Brewster, but the Cowboys need competition at that spot. Scouts Inc. ranks Baylor's J.D. Walton, an Allen product, as the top center in the draft and projects him to go in the middle rounds.
SAFETY: This could become the Cowboys' biggest need if they opt to cut overpaid free safety Ken Hamlin in a financially motivated move. That could be a scenario in which a rookie has a chance to start right away, although converted cornerback Alan Ball was solid in a four-game stint as the starter when Hamlin injured his ankle. Texas' Earl Thomas would be a terrific fit, but he's projected to go in the top half of the first round. USC's Taylor Mays was once projected as a top-10 pick, but his stock dropped significantly this season. He'd be hard to pass on if he slipped all the way to No. 27, but that's doubtful considering he's expected to post eye-popping numbers at the scouting combine. It's more likely that the Cowboys will wait until later in the draft to select a safety.
CORNERBACK: The Cowboys consider their top three cornerbacks one of the elite trios in the NFL, but there's little depth after that, especially with Ball focusing more on free safety. They were fortunate to get through last season with Terence Newman, Mike Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick not missing any games. Newman will be 32 next season, so the Cowboys can't count on him forever. Jenkins and Scandrick could form an outstanding tandem for years to come, but a team can never have enough quality young corners. The Cowboys need to add one. If they can find a late-round steal like Scandrick, a fifth-rounder in 2008, that's even better.
WIDE RECEIVER: Jerry Jones does not like drafting receivers. He believes they take too long to develop. He's been fortunate to find a Pro Bowler (Miles Austin) and an up-and-comer (Kevin Ogletree) in the undrafted bargain bin in recent years. The Cowboys don't need an immediate impact rookie receiver, but it'd wise for them to get a guy they could groom to be ready if, say, the Roy E. Williams experiment is officially declared a failure after the 2010 season.
KICKER: Could the Cowboys draft a kicker for the third time in four years? Well, after Nick Folk flamed out, getting a guy to put the ball through the uprights became the most glaring need on the roster. David Buehler, the fifth-round pick last year who excelled as a kickoff specialist, has been told to prepare to compete for the field goal gig. The Cowboys could sign a proven veteran within the free agency restrictions, but it wouldn't be stunning if they used a late-round pick again on a kicker.
Offensive linemen top the Cowboys' list of long-term needs entering NFL draft.