Streak of drafting a linebacker could come to end for Cowboys

The Cowboys have seven picks in next week’s draft and more needs than selections. This week we will take a position-by-position look at the roster to determine which spots the needs are more necessary to fill than others.

LINEBACKER

What they have: Sean Lee, Anthony Hitchens, Damien Wilson, Jaylon Smith, Kyle Wilber, Mark Nzeocha, Jeremiah George, John Lotulelei.

What they need: They don’t really need anything. Lee had an All-Pro season in 2016 and led the Cowboys in tackles. Wilson became a starter and valuable contributor with the ability to play multiple spots. Hitchens is dependable.

The backups, like Wilber and Nzeocha, can play multiple spots and are core special-teamers.

All eyes will be on Smith, their second-round pick from a year ago who did not play as a rookie because of a knee injury. The Cowboys are confident he will be able to play this year even if he has to wear a brace on his foot as his nerve continues to re-generate.

In a way Smith will be a draft pick for the Cowboys this year, albeit one with the experience of knowing their scheme even if he has yet to take the field. If Smith is anywhere close to the player he was at Notre Dame, then the Cowboys will have a better front seven than in 2016. Without the injury, Smith was a top-five pick from a year ago. Expectations for him might need to be tempered, but he believes he will be a playmaker in 2017.

If there is a requirement for the Cowboys’ linebackers, it’s that they can run and hit. Speed is essential. They can work with an undersized linebacker if he can run. The defenses Rod Marinelli has been around from Tampa Bay to Detroit and Chicago relied on athletic linebackers at all three spots.

Best fit: Jarrad Davis, Florida. This would be an only-if pick at No. 28. In other words, the Cowboys wouldn’t have a pass rusher or cornerback worth taking when they are on the clock. But he can run. He is productive. The Cowboys like to say, ‘Keep your strengths strong,’ so while Davis might not fill a need, he would fall in a best-player available category if everything is wiped out.

Late-round possibility: Blair Brown, Ohio. He’s not big (5-foot-11, 238 pounds) but he can run. And he can make plays. He had 128 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks and a forced fumble in 2016. The Cowboys aren’t shy from taking players in the Mid-American Conference. They did it twice last year. Brown could come in as a special-team ace from the beginning and develop into a starter down the road.

Feeling a draft: The Cowboys have drafted at least one linebacker every year since 2005, starting with DeMarcus Ware up to Jaylon Smith last year. Given the numbers they have on their roster right now, that streak looks like it will come to an end in 2017.

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