The 2013 NFL draft isn’t going to be as juicy as in years past. It doesn’t offer a robust crop of skill position players. It doesn’t feature a pair of no-brainer franchise quarterbacks. In fact, it’s possible that a quarterback isn’t even selected in the first round. (Although, that hasn’t happened since 1996, and it’s highly unlikely.)
Instead, it’s a heavy draft, rife with 260-plus-pound linemen, both offensive and defensive. If it’s true that football is won in the trenches, then this April should prove to be just as important as any in the past.
That’s great news for the Dallas Cowboys who are in serious need of beefing up their line on both sides of the ball.
Who they decide to take with the No. 18 overall pick will most likely come down to the best available player. I would expect them to go offensive line, but it’s possible that a quality defensive end or tackle slips, in which case they won’t be able to help themselves.
What I don’t expect them to do is sacrifice any late-round picks to move up in the first round, like they did last year.
Here is a position-by-position primer for the Cowboys’ draft in order of importance. That, of course, starts with protecting the quarterback and ends with replacing him.
Priority No. 1 of every team should be protecting the quarterback. The Cowboys have failed to do that for the last several years, and it’s showing up on paper. After back-to-back 8-8 seasons and three consecutive seasons without a playoff appearance, it’s time to get back to fundamentals. And fundamentals start with the five big guys up front.
We can all dream about prospects such as Luke Joeckel of Texas A&M and Chance Warmack of Alabama, but the reality is, these guys won’t be hanging around once the Cowboys are on the clock. If Jerry Jones expects to grab either, he’ll have to make some sacrifices, which would be a mistake.
With as many issues as the Cowboys need to address, quantity is just as important as quality in this draft.
The question becomes, which one do you address first? Doug Free is an obvious sore spot and a cap casualty. Even if they are able to talk him into a smaller contract and coach him into a better tackle, there’s an absolute need for better run blocking and pass protection than exists on the right side of the Cowboys’ offensive line. It all points to Free being replaced.
Mackenzie Bernardeau hasn’t exactly set the world on fire either. You have to wonder how successful any running back would be when the strong side of the formation is being crippled by guards and tackles who can’t hold their blocks (or do “hold” their blocks and move the offense back via penalties).
I expect Ryan Cook to be back and play well at center. But there’s an injury history there as well as some doubt regarding his ability to properly identify defenses.
Here’s a list of prospects that could replace, or at least challenge, the players who are currently presenting a problem for this offense.
Jonathan Cooper, Guard, North Carolina (6’3”, 295 lbs)—Round 1
Eric Fisher, Tackle, Central Michigan (6’7”, 305 lbs)—Round 1
Barrett Jones, Center, Alabama (6’5”, 302 lbs)—Could possibly fall to Round 2 or even 3 due to foot surgery.
D.J. Fluker, Tackle, Alabama (6’6”, 335 lbs)—Round 2
Alvin Bailey, Guard, Arkansas (6’5”, 312 lbs)—Round 3
I’m sure by now you are all aware that Monte Kiffin is coming to town. With him comes a change in philosophy, specifically regarding personnel.
The possibility of switching to a Tampa 2, 4-3 base defense not only represents a challenge in teaching old dogs new tricks, it further solidifies the concerns regarding the Cowboys' depth on the defensive line.
If you need a better understanding of how the transition from a 3-4 to a 4-3 defense affects this team, I would recommend reading Bo Martin’s breakdown. He does a great job of spelling out what it means for each position.
Now you understand how important personnel are and how the Cowboys have a major problem, regardless of the type of defense they run. This kind of change will most certainly come with some growing pains, and a learning curve is to be expected.
It also gives way to a different draft strategy. I think it’s much easier to make a switch from a 3-4 to a 4-3 than vice versa. Players coming out of college are much more familiar with a four-man front, and it’s easier to plug-and-play when you can minimize specific skill sets—such as those required in a 3-4—for a much more generalized responsibility.
And that’s what makes this draft particularly special. It is equipped with a large number of defensive tackles and ends that can have an immediate impact on any defense, especially one that’s getting back to fundamentals. Here are a few players that can help that transition.
Sam Montgomery, Defensive End, LSU (6’5”, 250 lbs)—Round 1 (I would take no issue if the Cowboys drafted him first overall)
Alex Okafor, Defensive End, Texas (6’5”, 265 lbs)—Round 1 (See Montgomery, Sam)
Sharrif Floyd, Defensive Tackle, Florida (6’3”, 303 lbs)—Round 1
Kawaan Short, Defensive Tackle, Purdue (6’3”, 315 lbs)—Mid Round
Joe Kruger, Defensive End, Utah (6’7”, 280 lbs)—Late Round (keep it in the family)
Last year’s draft certainly cemented a commitment to fixing the problems that held this team back in 2011. We all wondered how Jerry Jones’ gamble would pay off. Giving up a second-round pick for the best defensive player on the board doesn’t guarantee success; it only guarantees headlines.
The results weren’t surprising. The Cowboys finished 2012 almost exactly the same way they finished 2011: with really bad defense. But this time, it wasn’t all on the secondary.
Without question, we are happy to have Morris Claiborne as a Cowboy and are very excited to see him progress into what we presume to be the best corner on this team, if not in the NFL. I think it goes without saying that there is no disappointment regarding the decision to sacrifice a second-round pick to acquire his talents.
But you can’t survive with two cornerbacks. Mike Jenkins isn’t expected to be back, and even with Orlando Scandrick signed long-term, you can’t possibly give any validity to a Tampa 2-style defense without excellent safeties.
Barry Church is expected to return from injury but there’s not enough of a sample size to suggest that he will have a major impact. If this defense is truly rebuilding in the way of Kiffin, then an addition in the backfield is absolutely required.
I’m not even going to list any players here. I’ll cut right to the chase: The Cowboys need to draft Tyrann Mathieu.
I can’t necessarily guarantee any particular round, though I suspect Round 4. We have all seen him on the field. We have all seen him in the tabloids. Surely by now we’ve all made our judgments and probably lowered our expectations accordingly. What a prime advantage for Jerry Jones to make use of his relentless dictatorship in forcing the hands of his cronies.
And what better fit to this restructured, realigned defense than a young man in search of structure and alignment? He may be too small to play safety straight up, but he would be a hell of a nickelback and a great No. 3 safety in the 3-3-5 or 4-2-5 formations Kiffin might be interested in.
Besides, what is there to lose? The guy has a problem with smoking pot. That’s like being addicted to Diet Coke.
We all want two things: We want DeMarco Murray to stay healthy, and we want him to be productive. But if that doesn’t happen, we want the next man up to be Emmitt Smith.
That sounds terribly hopeful and almost certainly unrealistic but it’s not so far off. Running backs are no longer the must-draft, first-round picks that they once were. At the risk of sounding ignorant, I boldly assert that great running backs can be found anywhere. So much so that it’s almost getting to the point where drafting one above Round 3 is nearly a fireable offense.
The Cowboys franchise knows this all too well. They haven’t had a great running back since Smith. They thought for brief instances that they had drafted the next No. 22 but ended up with Marion Barber, then Felix Jones and now Murray.
It’s no fault of Jerry Jones, or anyone in that organization, that they haven’t been able to lock up a really solid runner to plod through their seasons. It’s just a matter of time though. The thing with drafting running backs is that you don’t know if you’re getting Ryan Mathews or if you’re getting Alfred Morris.
In case you don’t know what I mean by that, allow me to clarify. Mathews was a first round pick selected by the San Diego Chargers (No. 22 overall) in 2010. Since then he has amassed a total (rushing and receiving) of 3,328 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Alfred Morris was a sixth-round pick (No. 173 overall) in last year’s draft and has amassed 1,690 yards and 13 touchdowns.
The qualifications of those statistics go well beyond our point here. Obviously, Mathews has had some injuries, which only furthers my case. The center of this discussion comes down to picking the right guy at the right time and having the appropriate offense to take advantage of his talents. And under no circumstances should a team feel bullied into drafting a running back in the first 15 picks unless their roster allows them to do so.
The Cowboys’ roster does not allow them to draft a running back before Round 4 this year and probably won’t for many years to come.
What a blessing in disguise. Here are some players that fit the mold.
Montee Ball, Running Back, Wisconsin (5’11”, 212 lbs)—Round 4 (basically a Felix Jones repeat with a ton of mileage. But more than worth a look.)
Marcus Lattimore, Running Back, South Carolina (6’0”, 230 lbs)—Late Round (I won’t link to his injury(s), but if he happens to recover in the way that Adrian Peterson does, look out.)
Cierre Wood, Running Back, Notre Dame (6’0”, 215 lbs)—Late Round
I don’t know that there has been a quarterback that’s sparked more debate than Tony Romo. For every statistic that validates his elite status among passers, there’s one that buries him into the class of catastrophe. I myself have denied him—hid from him, if you will—in the hardest of times, only to defend him in the fiercest of winds.
That hypocritical storm is the exact measurement, the unrelenting test of the Cowboys’ ship; can it survive its own captain? Can its fleet trust the powers that be, that whichever direction they are headed is the right one? That survival and victory lie ahead?
They know, after all, that there should be a Plan B, an exit strategy just in case things go far from planned.
We know, because we’ve seen it. We’ve seen Romo pull us out of indubitable losses into unbelievable victories. But we’ve also seen the opposite. We’ve seen him “snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.”
Our hearts have been broken more than once.
This generation has felt nothing short of disappointment. At the same time, we have felt a revitalized hope that has been missing from this franchise for almost two decades.
So should his replacement be counted on in the 2013 draft? I say no. But that’s not to say that there aren’t a couple of prospects in Rounds 5 and 6 worth a nod.
Tyler Bray, Quarterback, Tennessee (6’6”, 215 lbs)—Late Round
Landry Jones - Quarterback - Oklahoma (6’4”, 218 lbs)—Late Round