There are a lot of different directions that the Dallas Cowboys can take with their first-round draft pick, and few people agree on what exact direction that should be.
The debate starts with the choice of using the pick for offense or defense, and then proceeds to argue the merits of improving one specific position over another. Using the pick for defense is almost a consensus among fans this year—not that the offense is perfect, but the defense has more glaring holes.
Of the various defensive positions that would benefit from having a first-round pick added to their ranks, many feel that safety is the best option by drafting Mark Barron from the University of Alabama. Barron is widely regarded as the best safety in this draft, but that does not mean that he is the best option to improve this defense. He would not be the top-ranked safety in another draft class, and instead would be valued a little lower.
The scant supply of available safeties has affected the demand of his draft position. In other years he might be a late first-round or early second-round pick—rarely is a non-coverage safety ranked number one at his position. Dallas should see that he's the best of a bad group, and not let rankings overshadow piles of game film.
Instead, the Cowboys should look to get as much defensive bang for their buck in a draft pick. This pick should be used on a position that will improve and benefit every other spot on the defense. Only one position can single-handedly take this average defense and make it great—the sexy position of defensive tackle.
Dallas should should draft Michael Brockers out of Louisiana State University. Brockers started 15 games at LSU and received an overall grade of 94 from Scouts Inc. He is a quick player who can play very physical against both the run and pass. Scouts Inc. also noted that he has a "powerful upper body. [He] Flashes [the] ability to rag doll some offensive linemen." Exactly the kind of player you want to unleash on Eli Manning.
By drafting Brockers, the Cowboys would be able to move Jay Ratliff to defensive end, which he is better suited to play in the first place. He could stop being abused at a position where he is undersized and instead be allowed to unleash his speed more effectively. Everyone has heard Ratliff and Rob Ryan say that he is a good nose tackle and will stay there, but when you have the opportunity to improve the whole defensive line, you make the decision that is best for the team.
Increasing the pass rush is tantamount to Dallas' success in 2012 and these two moves will accomplish that, but the benefits from this pick do not stop there. A Brockers/Ratliff defensive line joined by DeMarcus Ware at linebacker creates a pass rush that improves the secondary playing behind them. If the quarterback is unable to set his feet and throw from the pocket, those bad passes are much easier to defend.
To use a draft pick on a player who improves two other positions simultaneously is a no-brainer, and an accomplishment that drafting any of this year's safeties can duplicate. Pass rushes help the secondary, rarely the other way around. A mediocre pass rush with an elite secondary only means that the elite players are having to cover their men for nine seconds each play, and that is not a viable option.
Brockers would also allow flexibility at the outside linebacker position. Anthony Spencer was given the Franchise Tag designation by the Cowboys; in other words he was given a one-year contract for $8 million. He has yet to sign the tender (even though signing it would not prevent a long-term deal from being worked out), and is skipping offseason workouts.
Franchising a player who did not play well enough to deserve it could have blown up in Jerry Jones's face. Since Spencer has not signed it yet, the team can release him,and a gamble on Bruce Carter looks a lot less scary with an elite defensive line in front of him.
Brockers is a great player and has the potential to be a monster on whichever team drafts him next week. Picking him would create an improved Jay Ratliff and secondary—two holes that desperately need attention. It also allows the team to send a message to all other players by releasing a routine under-performer. This pick would not make this another Doomsday Defense; there would definitely still be holes on that side of the ball. But drafting Brockers would not give quarterbacks time to exploit them.