What are Cowboys’ biggest defensive needs in the 2023 NFL Draft?

The Carolina Panthers don’t officially go on the clock until April 27, so the Cowboys still have three weeks to weigh their options. 

For our purposes, though, the hay is in the barn. The Cowboys have made two major trades and half a dozen signings. Their team-building is done until draft weekend, when they’ll add an all-new rookie class to a team that has made the playoffs in back-to-back seasons.

With that in mind, it’s time to look at the state of the Cowboys’ roster for draft weekend. Yesterday, we examined their offensive needs. Today, we’ll look at the defense. And when we’re done, we should have a good idea of what to expect when the festivities begin on April 27.

Edge rusher

Need level: 4

The case for drafting: You can quite literally never have too many guys who can pressure the quarterback — ask Philadelphia. DeMarcus Lawrence is about to turn 31, and both Dorance Armstrong and Dante Fowler have one year on their deals. Micah Parsons is obviously the foundation of the pass rush, and Sam Williams showed promise. If the opportunity to add to that presents itself, there’s no way the Cowboys should hesitate. 

The case for passing: This was one of the better pass-rushes in football last season, and all the big pieces are back. If everyone’s healthy, it’d be hard to find snaps for a rookie — though getting creative to find snaps for talented players has never been a problem during Dan Quinn’s time as defensive coordinator. Bottom line, this is a position they can afford to wait on. 

Defensive tackle

Need Level: 8 

The case for drafting: It’s a relief that the Cowboys re-signed Johnathan Hankins after the impact he made on their run defense. But Hankins just turned 31 and is only on a one-year deal. Osa Odighizuwa looks to be a capable starter, but the rest of the Cowboys’ efforts to find help at defensive tackle have produced middling results. It’d be strange to see them spend a first-round pick here, since they haven’t done it since 1991, but this is a spot that needs some attention. 

The case for passing: This is another position where it’s tough to make a case against adding new talent. Sure, most of the guys from last year are still on hand — but this was a defensive weak point last year. Even with Hankins in the mix, the Cowboys could be better against the run, and Odighizuwa was the only interior player who consistently pressured the quarterback. Hitting on a draft pick at defensive tackle could pay huge dividends for the rest of the defense.


Need Level: 7 

The case for drafting: It’s hard to feel good about the depth here. Leighton Vander Esch is back on a two-year deal and Damone Clark showed potential as a rookie. What’s behind them, though? Jabril Cox managed just 36 snaps of defense last year, and Devin Harper didn’t play at all. Hopefully one or both make a leap in 2023, but it’s tough to bank on that. It sure feels like they could use a few more bodies. 

The case for passing: It’s important to remember how Dan Quinn uses his safeties. Jayron Kearse and Donovan Wilson spend a healthy chunk of time in the box, and Kearse often functions as a linebacker in sub-packages. If you keep that in mind, the depth issues look slightly less concerning. Although that doesn’t account for the likelihood of injury at such a physical position. 


Need Level: 4 

The case for drafting: The Stephon Gilmore trade is likely a temporary solution. His contract expires next year, and neither Kelvin Joseph nor Nahshon Wright has shown the ability to fill that outside spot consistently. Jourdan Lewis is also entering the final year of his contract. Oh, and there’s also the matter of Trevon Diggs and his bid for a major extension. It feels like a good guess that Diggs will be here for the long term, but who can say for sure? 

The case for passing: Diggs and Gilmore form one of the better corner duos in the league, and DaRon Bland broke out as a fantastic slot in his rookie campaign. You can add Lewis to that group to make a rock-solid top four. And if Joseph and Wright are your fifth and sixth corners, you’re in pretty good shape. Any draft pick who gets added this year would likely be more about the future than the present.

What is Cowboys offseason grade after Stephon Gilmore, Brandin Cooks moves?

What is Cowboys offseason grade after Stephon Gilmore, Brandin Cooks moves?

The Cowboys have traded for All-Pro CB Stephon Gilmore and WR Brandin Cooks. FOX Sports’ Dave Helman wrote that the Cooks trade perfectly fit the team and its philosophy. Joy Taylor, LeSean McCoy, Ric Bucher and T. J. Houshmandzadeh grade the Cowboys offseason.


Need Level: 3 

The case for drafting: This is another position where a draft pick would have to be about the future, because the present looks set in stone. True, Jayron Kearse and Malik Hooker are free agents next year, but both figure to play a ton of snaps in 2023. Donovan Wilson is obviously locked in for the foreseeable future. There’s nothing wrong with drafting for the future, it just might not lead to a lot of playing time right now.

The case for passing: Wilson got the bag, and now the Cowboys have one of the better safety trios in the league for 2023. They also have an intriguing prospect in Markquese Bell, and Israel Mukuamu can provide depth at both safety and corner. As far as urgency goes, this might be the least troubling spot on the roster.

Special Teams 

Need Level: 8 

The case for drafting: The Cowboys obviously need a kicker, as they literally don’t have one right now. They haven’t drafted one since 2009, so it would be a bit of a departure from the norm. But two years in a row we’ve seen the difference that a top-tier kicker can make. 

The case for passing: The Cowboys waited until August to add a veteran kicker last year and Brett Maher turned in a wonderful season. That’s not to say they should try that strategy again, but kickers can be found at all times of the year. Drafting one hardly feels like it should be a priority, even if it is a big need for this roster.

David Helman covers the Dallas Cowboys for FOX Sports. He previously spent nine seasons covering the Cowboys for the team’s official website. In 2018, he won a regional Emmy for his role in producing “Dak Prescott: A Family Reunion” about the quarterback’s time at Mississippi State. Follow him on Twitter at @davidhelman_.

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