Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys stick with draft plan in search for defensive star

The Cowboys acknowledged they needed a pass rusher and took one with their first pick.

Dallas then strongly indicated the focus had shifted to cornerback and stuck with that plan in the NFL draft.

Two stars emerged last year — one anticipated, one not — with rookie sensations Ezekiel Elliott, the fourth overall pick who turned into the NFL rushing champion, and quarterback Dak Prescott, the league’s biggest surprise as a fourth-rounder who took over when Tony Romo was hurt.

With this draft, the Cowboys acknowledged they need a complementary young standout on defense.

“It opens the oyster,” owner and general manager Jerry Jones said. “It opens the world to looking at any option that we might have relative to helping our team. What we want to do is, with every decision, move that needle forward, arrow up.”

Like with Elliott and Prescott, the Cowboys adhered to their preference of players from major programs, getting two former Michigan teammates in defensive end Taco Charlton (28th overall in the first round) and cornerback Jourdan Lewis (third round).

In between, Dallas took Colorado cornerback Chidobe Awuzie in the second after losing two starters in free agency in Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne. It’s just the second time the Cowboys have taken two cornerbacks in the first three rounds.

The emphasis on the secondary continued on the final day of the draft Saturday, with Dallas also trying to replace two starting safeties in Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox. The Cowboys took Louisiana Tech safety Xavier Woods and Florida State cornerback Marquez White in the sixth round.

“There was so much depth this year in the secondary, unlike anything we probably have seen in quite some time,” executive vice president of personnel Stephen Jones said. “It just so happened it was in a spot where we needed some help.”

An overview of the second Dallas draft in the past six that started with at least three defensive players:

NEEDS ADDRESSED: Pressure on the quarterback and interceptions have been issues for the Dallas defense the past couple of years. Those two things were largely responsible for divisional playoff losses in 2014 and 2016, and the inability to make big plays kept the Cowboys from overcoming Romo’s twice-broken left collarbone when they went 4-12 two years ago. They can at least say they tried in both areas in this draft.

HOW THEY FIT: Charlton could be a walk-in starter with Randy Gregory suspended for almost all of 2017 and DeMarcus Lawrence coming off a second back surgery. But don’t forget about Charles Tapper, a third-rounder from last year who missed his rookie season with a back injury. Awuzie, Lewis and others will compete with Orlando Scandrick and Anthony Brown, another promising young player from last year’s bumper crop.

STILL NEED HELP AT: The Cowboys didn’t take a linebacker, and Jaylon Smith is a big X factor this season. Dallas took him in the second round last year knowing he was a long shot to play as a rookie because of a college knee injury. If he can perform at the level the Cowboys hope, they don’t have any worries, particularly with Sean Lee coming off an All-Pro season. Otherwise, Dallas could be lacking another playmaker there.

ABOUT THE OFFENSE: Dallas drafted two receivers on the final day: North Carolina’s Ryan Switzer in the fourth round and Noah Brown of Ohio State in the seventh. Switzer, who tied an NCAA record with five punt returns for touchdowns as a freshman, will have a good chance to be the primary returner.

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