Bigger draft need: CB or DE?

Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara is a popular pick for the Cowboys in mock drafts.

There is a school of thought, however, that defensive end is a much more dire need for the Cowboys. Wisconsin’s J.J. Watt and Cal’s Cameron Jordan are realistic options if the Cowboys decide to go that route.

If the Cowboys do draft a defensive end with the ninth overall pick, they better be certain that they’re getting a special player. It’s a position in limbo with Stephen Bowen, Marcus Spears and Jason Hatcher all on the free agency market, but it’s also the most expendable position in a 3-4 scheme. That’s what a high-ranking Cowboys official told me a couple of years ago while explaining why the franchise made little attempt to prevent Chris Canty from leaving.

Cornerback, on the other hand, ranks right up there with outside linebacker as the most important positions in the scheme. It’s not a coincidence that DeMarcus Ware and Terence Newman are the Dallas defense’s highest-paid players.

“We have to get tremendous players out there on the corner and be able to shut down receivers and again be accurate tacklers,” defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said during his first meeting with the Valley Ranch media. “There is no place in football for a coward and it's definitely not on a corner for us. It's a marquee position and that's what it is here and in the NFL.”

Newman, who turns 33 in September, needs to be replaced in the near future. That doesn’t necessarily mean Newman, who had an extremely rough season while battling a rib injury in 2010, can’t help the Cowboys next season. But they can’t afford to count on him without preparing his successor. And it wouldn’t be a bad thing to give Mike Jenkins, who had an even worse 2010 than Newman, some competition.

Maybe the Cowboys aren’t that high on Amukamara and believe they can get a quality corner in the second or third round. If that’s the case, filling another need in the first round makes sense, whether that means drafting Watt or Jordan or an offensive tackle such as freakishly athletic USC product Tyron Smith.

Having said that, Amukamara would seem to be a safe, smart pick if he’s still on the board at No. 9. It's more important to get a great cornerback than it is to get a great defensive end.