I previously suggested a plan for the Cowboys' off-season that included an early look at the draft. With the draft upon us, it is now time for an update.
What Dallas Needs
Dallas signed Henry Melton, a 3 technique DT, and have filled their biggest need.
Dallas still has a ton of holes and will need the following out of the draft:
QB of the future, RT, MLB, 1DT, DE, RB, CB, CB, DE,OG, OG, S,
Here are players I think would be there when Dallas picks (based on today's prospect rankings), fit the desires of the coaching staff, and represent good value for Dallas's needs.
QB - Tony Romo had back surgery. Real back surgery. He's in his mid-30's. It is time to draft a replacement. Dallas is perfectly suited to sit a QB for 2 years and let him get coached, learn the system, and get used to the speed of the NFL before starting. That is the optimal situation to avoid a QB draft bust. Carr and Bortles are likely to be gone in the first 13 picks, if not the top 10. Manziel and Bridgewater are sliding because they are boom or bust prospects who could easily fail if put on the field too early or in the wrong system. Given all that, if Manziel or Bridgewater slides anywhere near Dallas, it would be dumb for Dallas not to consider them. Manziel seems ideal for Dallas. Bridgewater may be a guy who needs to land in the right system as his arm and his athleticism is more what would go in the second or third round. I think he could be great in a Bill Walsh-style west coast offense. Today, that isn't Dallas. For the Cowboys, the question in this draft is, "Is this draft is loaded with decent QB prospects who might project as starters down the road or are the odds of the lower round QB's becoming good starters significantly lower than the odds for Manziel and Bridgewater? Does Dallas have to bite in the first round to avoid another fruitless Stephen McGee-like dry well?" So what guys do I think have a legit shot to start int he NFL? Romo's Alma Mater Eastern Illinois has a nice prospect out there in Jimmy Garroppolo. He may have played himself into the end of the first round, though. LSU's Zach Mettenberger has a big arm and could prove to be a solid starter in a Coryell Offense. He's a second rounder. Wyoming's Brett Smith has a lot of fans in NFL circles. He might go as early as the third round, but would be a nice target if he is there in the fifth. Clemson's Taj Boyd is a boom or bust gamble, but might be a nice pick in the fourth if someone doesn't grab him earlier. He's a guy many scouts don't like, but some love. Georgia's Aaron Murray and Alabama's AJ McCarron look like nice NFL backups. Dallas's front office appears to like Murray. Missou's James Franklin might be a little underrated due to an injury his senior year. UNC's Byrn Renner has the same injury resume issue and might be a good late round pickup. I personally think NIU's Jordan Lynch would be a very interesting late round/free agent gamble --- great leader/athlete/developmental prospect. Ball State's Keith Wenning might be worth a few year tryout. There are a lot of solid QB options, but the question that needs to be asked is are any of the later prospects a guy Dallas wants to trust with the team's reigns? Are any of those guys guys who can win games as a starter, or does Dallas need to pay a premium (a first) on a QB to land a Manziel or Bridgewater?
RT - Doug Free is a left tackle type and really a backup level player at LT. Adding a prototypical, physical, mean right tackle to the young nucleus of C Travis Fredrick and LT Tyron Smith would create a nasty culture on the offensive line and potentially could be the most impactful upgrade Dallas could make this year. If you can get a top tackle, it makes sense to take a guy early. I am a big fan of Michigan's Taylor Lewan if he is still available. I think he can be much better pro under a top OL coach like Dallas's Bill Callahan. His mechanics could get a lot better. I think in most drafts Lewan would be a top 10 pick. He is a big guy with decent athleticism who plays with a mean streak that borders on being a cheap shot guy. Dallas needs another poke you in the eye guy like Fredrick on that line. That would allow Free to backup both tackle spots, doing a lot to stabilize the line. Zack Martin is a lesser prospect, but another solid player. He could fill RT or a guard spot solidly for 10 years. He looks like an OK value at 16. Dallas's WR coach Darrel Dooley used to be the head coach at Tennessee and either of Tennessee's tackles could end up in Dallas for this reason. JuWuan James and Antonio Richardson both look like 3rd round picks. Stanford's Cameron Fleming is in that 3rd round lot too. They look promising, but none of them gets me as excited as adding someone who could help change the culture on the OL like Brian Waters did last year. Adding a guy like Lewan trumps my view of needs at other spots, the later pick guys? Not so much...Still it is usually a safe pick to take Big 10 OL and guys like Ohio State's Jack Mewhort (3rd to 4th round) and Andrew Norwell (5th-7th) , Michigan's Michael Schofield (5th-7th). Missouri's Justin Britt and Oklahoma's Darryl Williams would be nice late round choices. NDSU's Billy Turner --- should he last into the fourth round--- is another name that would sound pretty good on draft day. Early for a plus starter (1st) or late for a good backup(s) or potential decent starters (4th to 7th round) seems to be where the value is at this position.
MLB - The 4-3 funnels traffic at the middle linebacker. This creates a ton of opportunities for head on collisions. It is a job that creates injuries. The MLB position is the key to a 4-3 team's run defense. Sean Lee is way too fragile to play MLB. This is a huge problem for the defense. It makes a ton of sense to bring in a starting caliber MLB to allow Lee to avoid hits playing the WLB slot. How many starting caliber draftable MLBs are there? How many look sturdy enough to endure an NFL season? The best MLB in the draft, Alabama's CJ Mosely will likely be there at 16 and is a solid pick there, but he has an injury risk label on him. Chris Borland is a nice run stuffing MLB but he may go in the second round. After that...? Christian Jones is a likely 3rd round guy and looks like a good LB prospect, but is he a 4-3 MLB? Stanford's Shayne Skov is clearly an ILB and has the resume you are looking for, but is he a MLB? Yawin Smallwood played MLB at UConn. If he is there in the 4th round, the value would be right. In the 5th round picking a 2 down MLB might make sense. MSU Max Bullough and WKU's Andrew Jackson might make sense. MLB hits me as a huge need for Dallas, but this draft doesn't seem all that deep and the quality may or may not be there. The value early may be at other spots. Unless Borland knocks Dallas out, it might make sense to look at the 4th or 5th round to get a band-aid for the position.
RB - Adding a guy like Carlos Hyde would do a ton to help Dallas's offense. Dallas currently has a great starter who is an injury risk with more than about 14 carries a game. Having a bull like Hyde back there filling in would dramatically help in short yardage and red zone situations. Towson's Terrence West is a small college battering ram who may sneak into the second round. He would be a steal in the third, but Dallas may have to trade up a bit to land him. Tyler Gaffney of Stanford is another bruising runner Dallas could use. he has a 4th or 5th round grade, but has taken very little damage in college. Looks like a steal to me. FB Trey Millard of OU would be a nice asset for the Cowboys. A physical blocker and runner, he has about a 5th round grade.
CB - Both of Dallas's starting CBs are man coverage guys who do not play the run well. The Kiffin cover 2 calls for CBs who play well in zones and are reliable and willing tacklers. It is unclear how much man coverage will be used this year under new coordinator Rod Marinelli. If the cover 2 is here to stay, it might make sense to look for zone CBs or even safeties who can satisfy those cover 2 CB responsibilities in preparation of cutting Brandon Carr next off-season. As a lack of speed is often part of the package with those player, those players can often be found later in the draft. It might be worth grabbing a small school DB who projects as a big zone CB in the fifth to seventh round.
1DT - A one technique DT would be a useful addition. Currently Dallas is relying on journeyman free agent signee and former 3rd round pick Terrell McClain to suddenly develop into a starter. That may be asking too much. Stephen Jones has said that Dallas considers the DT spot to be a position they can fill in later rounds of the draft. It sounded like that was in reference to a 1 technique DT. This makes sense due to the lesser physical demands of the 4-3. Still Dallas needs DL help. Do not be surprised if Dallas drafts a DT or a couple of DTs who look more like 3 techniques. Marinelli's scheme is not overly concerned with DT's stuffing the run. This draft is loaded with good DT prospects. Aaron Donald could easily be the pick in the first round. He looks like a top 10 talent in this draft. He is very fit and athletic. He runs a 4.6. His only flaw is that he is a smaller guy at 288. His films don't look great because he is so quick off the snap and so fast. He made a lot of decent college linemen look like slow unskilled schlubs. They weren't. He is a dynamite at disrupting the backfield. If there is a negative it is that he struggles to finish. At the pro level that shouldn't be a huge issue because just penetrating destroys pro timing-based pass offenses. I also think very highly of Will Sutton of Arizona State. He tried to bulk up to impress scouts his senior year and was a shadow of his junior year form when he was Donald's size. If Dallas cannot get Donald, Sutton in the 2nd would make sense. Caraun Reid of Princeton would make sense if he is there in the fourth. He isn't a rusher like Donald or Sutton, but he's not bad. South Carolina's Kelcy Quarles may be a product of playing on the same line as Jadaveon Clowney, but if he slips to the fifth round would represent great value. He is described as a situational pass rushing prospect at the pro level, but that seems to be what Dallas wants. George Uko of USC played for Monte Kiffen in this system and might be a solid add in round five or six. Stanford's Josh Mauro is a guy I think has a chance to have a long career as a DE in a 3-4 or would do quite well in Dallas as a 1 technique. He might be a 5th to 7th round prospect. I think landing 2 DTs ---one early and one late preferrably -- would make a lot of sense.
DE - Former Jaguar and Broncho Jeremy Mincey can probably hold down a DE spot and match the production Ware gave Dallas last year, but neither DE starter is what you want.Stanford's Trent Murphy & Ben Gardner would be nice gets in the second and third rounds as rotational players. Murphy is 6'6" runs in th 4.7's and was a very productive in college as a feature rusher on the edge, but is only 250. At 6'6" he has the frame to add 20 lbs over the next few years. Gardiner is bigger at 262 and is tall at 6'4". He runs in the low 4.8's. UCLA's Cassius Mash might be worth a look in the fourth round. USC's Morgan Breslin would be an interesting candidate in the 5th to 7th round.
G - UCLA's Xavier Su'a-Filo is a great looking guard prospect who made a name for himself playing left tackle. He could go late in the first. David Yankey of Stanford is a Guard/Tackle prospect I like a lot too. He excelled at left tackle and played guard in college. He is a second to third round guy. If he goes in the third he will be a bargain. Both of those guys would start in Dallas from Day 1 and really help the run blocking. I don't see much point in drafting a late round guard as we already have those kinds of guys starting for us at this position.
S- This draft is loaded with good safety candidates and honestly I am not sure show much of a concern that position is for Dallas. I don't think Dallas needs to burn a first or second pick on a safety and I think it only makes sense to draft one safety tops this year. USC's Dion Bailey would not be a surprise draft candidate. He has a 3rd round grade. Stanford's Ed Reynolds is a 3rd or 4th round guy who some love for his instincts and others consider too undisciplined on the field.
What Dallas has
Round 1, Pick 16 (16)
Round 2, Pick 15 (47)
Round 3, Pick 14 (78)
Round 4, Pick 19 (119)
Round 5, Pick 18 (158)
Round 7, Pick 14 (229) (From Bears)
Round 7, Pick 16 (231)
Round 7, Pick 23 (238) (From Chiefs)
Round 7, Pick 33 (248) (Compensatory selection)
Round 7, Pick 36 (251) (Compensatory selection)
Round 7, Pick 39 (254) (Compensatory selection)
Draft Day thoughts and strategy
QBs appear to have slid, but not all of them will slide. I could see Bridgewater going in the second round. Manziel could go in the top 5 or the top 24 or so. Bortles still seems a lock for the top 8 and I think it is entirely likely that Carr goes between 4 and 8. It only requires 1 team in that group to fall for him and he has a very nice skillset and resume. Plus Tampa's OC was his college coach.
The thought going around is that there will be a run on WRs and OL that might push Manziel to the Cowboys. I think there will be a run on those positions, but maybe not to the extent of what is being reported. The top two WRs will be gone in the top 12. A third WR could go in the 12-15 range (--- how high will LSU's Odell Beckham climb????). That is possible. At least 3 of the top four tackles will be gone by the time Dallas drafts and maybe all four.
Offense vs. Defense. Dallas is leaning towards picking a defensive player in the first round. I think it actually makes a lot more sense to take an offensive player in this draft because guys like Lewan, Martin, Ebron, or Hyde could dramatically help Dallas in short yardage and goal line situations. That could trump any defensive help Dallas could land in the first (unless Donald is there).
Draft day round by round
1 QB, DT, RT, TE, WR - Lets start with 2 guys who probably won't be there. If QB Johnny Manziel is a scratch on some team's draftboards due to his party lifestyle and slides this far, he maybe should be the pick. QB's with magic are rare. I heard a scout describe Manziel as Brett Farve on the field, but a guy who if you tell him not to go drinking, will go drinking. I don't think Manziel has Farve's arm to cover his gambles and that will hurt him in the NFL. I think his arm is merely very good, not exceptional. He will likely be a flop if given an NFL starting job off the bat because he and his game are both immature, but Dallas is well suited to park him on the bench for 2-3 seasons and let him bulk up and mature (ala Aaron Rodgers). Manziel is young enough and the salary cost for the 16th pick is low enough that such a move would make a ton of sense for Dallas. Picking a QB in the first also gives you another year on the initial contract, which helps given the financial trouble created by the Romo contract situation. Aaron Donald would be a legitimate option to Manziel in that he fits the defensive scheme to a 't" and is everything you would want as a college playmaker and an athlete. Now I full recognize in a QB and DT I am advocating spending the #1 on a player at the two highest bust positions in the first round. I think the reasons for both make it worth considering. If no Manziel and no Donald, I'd try to get Michigan tackle Taylor Lewan, a chain moving Tackle with a mean streak. That is a safer pick. OC Bill Callahan appears a short timer in Dallas. Better get proper use out of Callahan by giving him another first round talent to develop while he is here. Notre Dame's Zack Martin would make a lot of sense if Lewan is gone, but recent mocks suggest Martin may go before Lewan! A very solid argument could actually be made for picking TE Eric Ebron. Picking another TE would be very unpopular in Dallas, but Ebron is a major receiving threat who would take over the #1 TE role in the next season or two and would provide both a deep threat stretching the field and an end zone and short yardage target --- neither of which Jason Witten provides at this point. This would allow Dallas to use Jason Witten as a number 2 tight end until Gavin Escobar grows into the role. Dallas could trade down. WR Marquise Lee is a guy Dallas might be able to pick 6-8 slots later who looks like the rare #1 receiver with a knack for the home run play. I am not sold on Dez Bryant as a clutch playmaker. I would not advocate trading down in the first round if one of the other players is there, but if Dallas did, Lee would be a nice prize and adding another third round pick would make a ton of sense. Dallas could trade down twice and try to pick up a pair of third rounders. UCLA Guard Su'a-Filo would be a nice pickup there. So would Carlos Hyde. At the end of the first, start of the second FSU 1 technique Timmy Jernigan begins to make more sense to me, but I think the Cowboys might consider him the kind of DT they can get later. He is disruptive, but he is not an elite pass rusher. I am not a fan of the idea of drafting a safety in the first round.
2 MLB DT or DE- Dallas could get a run stuffing MLB to play first and second down. Sean Lee, the Porcelain Ninja, is going to miss 4-12 games a year playing MLB. MLBs are vitally important to the stability of the 4-3. 4-3 defenses funnel head on collisions at your MLB. Lee is an absolute weapon vs. the pass at MLB, but you have to protect Lee vs. the run. You lose your MLB in the 4-3 and your defense falls apart. Lee doesn't need to be the every down MLB on this team. His skills are just as great on the outside, but much more replaceable if injuries hit and you have a solid MLB next to him. Play him on the weak side. There is less contact there. Let him cover backs with Durant on the strong side. You can land a very good and durable MLB in the draft in the forth round most years. Giving Dallas a durable guy in the middle would fix a ton of problems on defense. Hopefully you can find the firery, call-out-his-teammates leader this team has needed for years. Carter and Ernie Simms can compete for passing down responsibilities at the WLB. Such a leader/playing-time-threat might do a lot to get the best out of Carter. Wisconsin's Chris Borland might fit the bill. The more demanding of his teammates this prospect, the better. ASU DT Will Sutton could be a nice pick here. I think Jernigan may fall to this spot and would be a solid pick here. This draft is loaded with good looking DE prospects in the second and third round range. I would probably advocate trying to turn the 2nd round pick into multiple third round picks if none of the above are there. I think the value is better in the third round. I liked Louisville DE Marcus Smith as he was a top notch pass rusher in college, but I have become suspicious that he may be a bit of a product of their system. Trent Murphy may be too much of a projection in a 4-3 scheme. Dallas likes Demarcus Lawrence. I don't. Hopefully that is not the pick here.
3 DE, OT, RB - Texas DE Jackson Jeffcoat is an undersized pass rush specialist. He is seen as more of a 4th rounder but has elite athleticism. He was a very accomplished pass rusher in college. His burst off the line is not what one would expect, but he has very good closing speed. He can really accelerate to the QB. For the collegiate level, he is a master at avoiding cut blocks and will run down a running play. As good as he is there, I think he could get a lot better in that regard with a demanding coach as a lot of times he seems to half quit on a play before remembering he can still track that player down. He would be a popular pick in Dallas and would likely work his butt off to make it here. He would be a nice add, as a guy who could be a quality pro 4-3 WDE in 2-3 years. He is considered a very undersized 4-3 DE only today. He could be very good in a few years or he could be another Shante Carver. Given his lineage, I think he would put the development time to proper use. Stanford DE Ben Gardiner looks like another potential future starter that could be available at this spot. He is a lot bigger, but not the pass rusher. Tennessee OT Antonio Richardson could make sense. Richardson is a guy WR coach Derek Dooley really likes. Dooley was the coach at Tennessee and Richardson played for him. Dooley has Garrett's ear. Some scouts compare Richardson to Erik Williams. Williams prior to the car crash was the best OT in football. He would pound even the great defensive ends into submission. He beat the crap out of Reggie White one game, for example. I don't see that potential in Richardson's film, but the guy is well built and has the talent to be good. Richardson seems to be a third round prospect now. I think he would be a steal there. I'd be OK with Mewhort or James here too. I think both of them look like future starting NFL strong tackles. Towson RB West would be a nice get here. Dallas would be smart to try to stockpile 3rd round picks, IMO.
4 DT, DE, or RB - Adding a quality 3rd or 4th DT would do a lot to help the defense. You can usually find a guy of that ilk here. Just pick one Marinelli likes. Caraun Reid? DE Cassius Mash might make sense too. Stanford RB Tyler Gaffney would make sense here.
5 DT or FB - One more time. George Uko? Josh Mauro? OU FB Trey Millard?
7 DL, S, CB, CB, MLB, CB - A late gamble on a guy like talented but undisciplined West Texas A&M DL Ethan Westbrooks or raw Bloomsburg DE Larry Webster would be smart. I like our safeties, but they are not proven. This is a good spot to gamble on a DII or FCS safety prospect like Eastern Washington's Tevin McDonald. I'd pick a couple slower, good tackling CB prospects here to close out the draft. The Tampa 2 doesn't require top talents at CB. It requires disciplined guys who can tackle, not elite talents who can cover. You might find that guy here. It is time to start looking for potential replacements for Carr and Mo Clairborne if the duo can't adjust to this scheme and the scheme stays--- Just don't spend a lot, in case the cover 2 goes away and regular man coverage returns. I also would advocate picking any run stuffing MLB available. If Andrew Jackson falls, he could be a steal as a part-time player.