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Dallas Cowboys' draft needs: Anthony Barr could boost defense

Roster weaknesses: Every team has them, and the draft is often the best way to address them. With the 2014 NFL Draft fast approaching, NFL Media's Daniel Jeremiah will be taking an up-close look at the main areas of weakness -- and the prospects who could fix them -- for all 32 squads in the league. Be sure to catch "Path to the Draft" on NFL Network at 7 p.m. ET Monday through Friday for more in-depth analysis.

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The Dallas Cowboys haven't had a winning season since 2009, finishing 8-8 the last three years. Their defense shoulders much of the blame for 2013's disappointing campaign, as it surrendered an NFL-worst 415.3 yards per game and allowed 400-plus points for the third time in four seasons.

It's hard to pinpoint just one area of need on the defense; the unit couldn't effectively rush the passer (tied for 25th in sacks) or stop opposing running backs (gave up the third-highest yards per carry). The financially motivated release of DeMarcus Ware won't help the Cowboys' sack totals, and adding defensive tackle Henry Melton to replace Jason Hatcher likely maintains the status quo against the run. With the Philadelphia Eagles adding Darren Sproles, the New York Giants signing Rashad Jennings and the Washington Redskins bringing in DeSean Jackson, Dallas must improve its defense in the draft or risk falling to the bottom of the NFC East.

Dallas still has Tony Romo under center and Dez Bryant lined up outside, so there's hope for the team to make a strong push in 2014.

Here are four positions of need for Dallas -- and four prospects who could fill them:

1) Safety


The Cowboys have been searching for a playmaking safety since Darren Woodson last donned shoulder pads and a helmet more than a decade ago. That search might be over in May, when the Cowboys should have their pick of the two top safeties in this year's class: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (Alabama) and Calvin Pryor (Louisville). Pryor would bring a more physical presence to the back end of Dallas' defense, but Clinton-Dix fits better in coordinator Rod Marinelli's scheme.

Dezmen Southward from Wisconsin would be an interesting mid-round option if the Cowboys go in a different direction at No. 16 overall. The defender created some buzz in scouting circles at his pro day, posting a sub-4.4-second 40-yard dash and a 42-inch vertical. He's still raw, but he has a lot of tools to work with.


Path to the Draft
Airing weekdays at 7 p.m. ET on NFL Network, "Path to the Draft" previews the 2014 NFL Draft by providing in-depth expert analysis of the top prospects and each team's needs.

» 'Path to the Draft' videos
» NFL Network broadcast schedule

2) Defensive line


Losing Ware -- the franchise's all-time sacks leader -- was a big blow for an already troubled defense. The Cowboys won't find a player of his quality or talent at No. 16 overall, but they might be able to land a guy like Anthony Barr, who has a ton of upside. Although many teams view Barr -- who began his UCLA career on offense -- as a 3-4 outside linebacker, he could play end in Marinelli's defense. The 6-foot-5 defender has outstanding burst and shows great balance when bending the edge on speed rushes. If the Cowboys wait until Round 2 to nab a rusher, they could take Oregon State's Scott Crichton. He doesn't have Barr's athleticism, but he has strong hands and a fanatical motor.

Dallas also could opt for Aaron Donald in Round 1. The Pittsburgh product is a terror at defensive tackle, but he possesses the athleticism to play end if need be.


3) Offensive guard


With so much talent at the position in this year's class, I expect the Cowboys to wait until the later rounds to land an interior lineman. Furman's Dakota Dozier -- who's expected to switch from tackle to guard at the next level -- is a projected fourth- or fifth-rounder who could fit nicely in Dallas. The 6-foot-4 lineman had a great week of practice ahead of the East-West Shrine Game. Despite coming from a small program, he should be able to contribute very early in his NFL career.


4) Offensive tackle


Fourth-year pro Tyron Smith is one of the NFL's premier left tackles, but Doug Free is just a capable option on the right side. The Cowboys have an opportunity to grab their long-term answer at right tackle in the draft. The top three tackles -- Auburn's Greg Robinson, Texas A&M's Jake Matthews and Michigan's Taylor Lewan -- likely all will be off the board by the time the Cowboys pick, but Notre Dame's Zack Martin should be available. The 6-foot-4, 308-pounder has the versatility to slide in at guard if the Cowboys choose to keep Free as the starter this season.


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Projections


So what will the Cowboys do with their first-round pick (No. 16 overall)? Here's what NFL Media's analysts see happening, according to their mock draft projections (click here for full mock drafts):


Daniel Jeremiah: Aaron Donald

Bucky Brooks: Kony Ealy

Charles Davis: Calvin Pryor

Matt Smith: Calvin Pryor

Chase Goodbread: Calvin Pryor

Follow Daniel Jeremiah on Twitter @MoveTheSticks.

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