Dallas chooses Morris Claiborne sixth overall in 2012 NFL draft.
With three games remaining in the 2012 regular season, the Dallas Cowboys have a pretty good idea of where most of their weaknesses are. Some have been obvious for years and others have been discussed more and more over the last couple of seasons.
Either way, Dallas has its work cut out for it the instant the offseason begins, and it doesn’t matter how the Cowboys finish the season.
America’s Team could be changing head coaches.
They could be continuing as is with little change expected in the coaching department.
For sure there will be changes, but the NFL draft is where Dallas will likely acquire the most critical pieces for a future that right now looks rather bleak. Should the Cowboys continue drafting well in the first round, as they have been since the Roy Williams (wide receiver) debacle, then things could turn around sooner than later for Dallas.
Here are five sure players the Cowboys should give strong consideration to selecting in the first round of the 78th annual NFL draft beginning April 25th in New York City.
Arguably the biggest problem facing the Dallas offense is the offensive line. When this is the case, the entire offense obviously will suffer.
Owner and general manager Jerry Jones felt he was in good shape, at least based on the money and resources he had spent, at both offensive tackle positions heading into this season.
Jones was wrong.
The Cowboys have three games in which to determine whether or not recently extended Doug Free or athletic Jermey Parnell are the future at right tackle. If not, right tackle could be the top priority in the first round.
Dallas could even decide that current left tackle Tyron Smith, a first-round pick just two years ago, should go back to his natural right side and draft the top tackle prospect available for the left side.
A glance south from Valley Ranch to College Station offers a couple of prime choices for the future at either tackle spot.
Texas A&M right tackle Jake Matthews looks to be the most likely choice for the Cowboys based on the idea that teammate and left tackle Luke Joekel will probably be gone.
Not only is Jake the son of former Houston Oilers tackle Bruce Matthews, but consider the events surrounding this year’s Heisman Trophy winner!
Aggies freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel won the distinguished honor last weekend and much of this historic feat had to do with his blocking. Sure, Manziel has a lot of ability and a bright future, but we’ll see how things shake up with new tackles next year.
Matthews has the genes and the instincts to be an immediate starter on the Dallas offense for years to come, and the Cowboys need this critical position settled now.
Here’s where the Cowboys could alleviate a long-term problem that recently had gotten much less urgent.
Then last weekend came and everything changed completely for the Dallas defense.
As the legally pending situation with nose guard Josh Brent seems to make his NFL future quite dim, Dallas has to move on and in a big way.
Yes, bigger than even Brent.
Teammate Jay Ratliff can’t seem to get healthy in 2012, but it would not matter if he was. A natural 3-4 defensive end, Ratliff has always been better suited penetrating quickly and rushing the passer or ball-carrier. But Ratliff doesn’t possess the size or power to get through often enough and the Dallas 3-4 scheme needs a different dynamic.
The first round could be a little high for most teams when thinking nose guard, especially the bigger, space-eating type that might not play in all situations.
The Cowboys should not be among those teams. The main reason being is that they don’t even have a nose guard on the roster, if you think about it.
Prior to last April’s player selection meeting I lobbied for Dontari Poe from Memphis as Dallas’ first-round target. Apparently, this almost happened, but obviously, the team went secondary with Morris Claiborne from LSU.
In years prior, I’ve lobbied for other guys like Haloti Ngata and Alan Branch but to no avail.
Well, don’t be shocked if Dallas makes a move on a massive enforcer like John Jenkins of the University of Georgia.
Jenkins is a monster in the middle of any defensive line. Adding him to a defense that has inside linebackers Sean Lee and Bruce Carter already behind him could ignite the Dallas defense. Then, new corners such as Claiborne and expensive free-agent acquisition Brandon Carr will become much more noticeable as opponents face more 3rd-and-long situations.
Dallas could look at other defensive linemen and I’m sure they will. But the biggest gap in football is the “A” gap—and right now it’s kind of wide open.
No, the Cowboys don’t seem to have a glaring need at wide receiver with starters Dez Bryant and Miles Austin on the payroll.
But for how long will this be the case?
Austin is simply not worth the paycheck he’s bringing in and I suspect he could be moved in the offseason. I have no evidence for this theory other than the fact that Austin is paid too much money to sustain the nagging injuries and dropped passes.
And even with Austin in the mix, never exclude a skill position player as a Jones target in the NFL draft.
Dallas is paper thin at wide receiver after the two starters, and it’s far from necessary to choose a receiver in the first round simply for depth. But somehow Jones could rationalize it.
In fact, I could see Jones taking Baylor wide receiver Terrance Williams for the simple fact that Washington owner Daniel Snyder wouldn’t be able to select him for former Baylor teammate and Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III.
Williams had another strong season with the Bears even without RG3 in 2012, and his combination of height and great hands will have him selected very early. At 6’3” and slightly over 200 pounds, he has the prototypical look of a No. 1 wideout and has shown he can carry the load.
I don’t look for this scenario to happen, but I think anything is possible with Jones calling the shots on draft day. Until I see another head coach with more weight and experience than current head coach Jason Garrett, I put nothing at all past Jones.
The most important unrestricted free agent on the Dallas roster heading into 2013 is outside linebacker Anthony Spencer.
Some will say that Spencer hasn’t played up to his first-round pedigree coming out of Purdue back in 2007. Others understand Spencer’s value at his position and might realize that there’s really no weakness to Spencer’s game.
For as good as Spencer has been while with Dallas, there is a distinct possibility, if not a strong likelihood, that Spencer is playing elsewhere for more money next season, regardless of who the head coach is going to be in Dallas.
The Cowboys have to be very careful here, as you only move away from Spencer if you’re pretty convinced that there really is a better option in the draft.
This would not be likely or easy—but it is possible.
Should Dallas select high enough in the first round, look for the pass rush to be addressed as soon as possible. If Spencer has already vacated Valley Ranch, then bet money he is dealt with right away.
In this case, a possible target, possibly where availability is concerned, is LSU defensive end Sam Montgomery.
For all Spencer does in Dallas, he’s no Montgomery.
Montgomery has the tools to be as disruptive and problematic for opposing offensive lines as Cowboys outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware—and this is saying a whole lot.
Montgomery actually has the same measurables as San Francisco 49ers outside linebacker Aldon Smith, a second-year veteran who’s already setting records and recording stats that would make Hall of Fame pass-rusher Reggie White proud.
I prefer Montgomery to teammate Barkevious Mingo because of his added bulk for run support, and Montgomery actually has the frame to add more size. At 6’5”, Montgomery is an impressive athlete that might actually slip due to previous injury concerns and other pass-rushing prospects.
Only one other player offers a higher level of interest for Dallas if adding a defensive player with the first selection is the rule.
Some things are really going right in College Station, Texas, at least where football is concerned.
Texas A&M just scored the first ever freshman Heisman Trophy winner in quarterback Johnny Manziel.
As seen earlier, A&M also boasts the best offensive tackle tandem in college football.
Who could forget that upset over top-ranked Alabama in Tuscaloosa last month?
The Aggies have re-established their reputation as a defensive program with the offering of pass-rusher Von Miller to the Denver Broncos in the 2011 NFL draft as the second overall selection.
As if the "12th Man" wasn't enough, now meet Damontre Moore.
Moore looks about as explosive as any pass-rushing prospect I have seen in some time. He’s not going to beat offensive tackles with power very often, and there’s no doubt that he needs to add anywhere from 10-15 pounds to maximize his capabilities as a pro.
But Moore will put on the weight. And then, look out.
Moore surpasses even Montgomery in speed and athleticism, as he gives up a little size in this comparison. He’s the same height as Ware but also gives up a little size here, too.
But I’d bet good money that Moore is poised to be the fastest pass-rusher in the NFL over the next several seasons.
Adding a player like this is a rare opportunity and still there’s no guarantee of success. But the opportunity is all that’s required for Dallas to suddenly emerge with a pass rush that rivals anyone in the league as early as next year.
After a year of experience and lifting weights in a pro regimen, Moore might be good enough to entice the Cowboys to move Ware to the left side in order to give him better matchups than he already has.
These might be lofty projections for a rookie coming out a historic college program that’s blooming once again. But Dallas would be well served to find out about those projections while Moore is wearing a blue star as opposed to anything else.