One of the perks of having several chasm-sized holes to fill on your team is sitting back and waiting for players to fall to you. The Dallas Cowboys are in such a position with their No. 16 spot in the NFL draft. They simply need to pick whomever they like best from the players still left on the draft board.
From defense to offense and everywhere in between, here’s a rundown of the Cowboys’ biggest inadequacies:
Only a year ago, Jerry Jones announced that the Cowboys didn’t draft top defensive line prospect Sharrif Floyd of Florida — the top available prospect remaining on their own draft board — because the Cowboys’ defensive line was “a position of strength.” Today, DeMarcus Ware is gone to Denver, 2013 sack leader Jason Hatcher is at division rival Washington, and defensive end Anthony Spencer is coming off of major knee surgery and only has a one-year contract. There goes the position of strength.
There is an X-factor by the name of Johnny Manziel. As the draft draws closer, more people suggest a Dallas address for Johnny Football.
A perfect fit for the Cowboys line would be Aaron Donald from Pittsburgh. Now that Dallas runs Monte Kiffin’s 4-3 defensive alignment, the team needs a penetrating defensive tackle to do some damage up front. Should Donald be gone, Tim Jernigan from Florida State is a one-man road block. He’s more of a run stuffer, however, and Jones listed that as the reason why he didn’t want Floyd last year, so don’t bet on Jernigan.
If the Cowboys opt for a defensive end, the choice would most likely be Kony Ealy of Missouri. He has raw athletic ability and the potential to help the anemic Dallas pass rush.
Dallas could conceivably go after another defensive end and grab Stephon Tuitt from Notre Dame. Tuitt would shore up the run defense, but he is not an elite pass rusher type. He would more likely be an eventual replacement for Anthony Spencer rather than making fans forget about DeMarcus Ware. This might be an option if the Cowboys decide to trade down like they did in last year’s draft.
The Cowboys have been looking for a good cover safety since Darren Woodson roamed the defensive backfield in the late ’90s. Calvin Pryor of Louisville is a name that continues to be linked to the Cowboys. Pryor is known for his hitting ability, and there’s a natural instinct to compare him to John Lynch, the hard-hitting safety who played for Monte Kiffin in Tampa Bay. The problem is that the NFL is now shying away from big hits because of the concussion controversy swirling around the league. This takes the biggest facet of Pryor’s game away from him.
The Cowboys could opt for the amusingly named HaHa Clinton-Dix out of NFL hotbed Alabama. Clinton-Dix has the range to play cover safety for Dallas but must make it past the St. Louis Rams, who are picking three spots ahead of the Cowboys and have a glaring need at safety.
Chances are that the Cowboys aren’t going use their first-round pick on a linebacker. The one exception would be if Anthony Barr of UCLA or Khalil Mack of Buffalo somehow fell to them. Both have outstanding athletic ability and would be tough to pass up in the unlikely event that either made it within striking distance of Dallas. Either one has the possibility of moving to defensive end to try to replace what Ware brought to the table.
Despite having two first-round picks playing on the offensive line, the Cowboys could still use more help up front. That could come in the form of Zach Martin, another Golden Domer. Martin isn’t an overwhelming athlete, but he is a superb technician who will at least be a solid addition.
If the planets align for Dallas, they might be able to grab Taylor Lewan from Michigan. He has top 10 talent, but recent character questions might make him slide to the Cowboys. He’d be an immediate upgrade over Doug Free at tackle and would give Tony Romo two legitimate pass protectors.
The X factor
There is an X-factor by the name of Johnny Manziel. Most draft experts don’t think he’ll last all the way to the Cowboys, but as the draft draws closer, more people suggest a Dallas address for Johnny Football. Sports Illustrated’s Peter King fanned the flames of this rumor; announcer Jim Nantz furthered the thought that Manziel will wear a star on his helmet by telling a Cleveland radio station that the Browns better watch out for Dallas if they want Manziel.
Should Johnny Football be there when the Cowboys pick, Jerry Jones would need to decide whether he wants to stay in the Romo era or look to the future by picking No. 9’s successor. If history is any indication, Jones will choose the most attention-grabbing player, whether he has a plan for the pick or not.