The NFL draft is filled with potential prospects that could turn the Cowboys from an 8-8 team to a postseason contender. The Cowboys just have to locate them.
The Cowboys have a ton of needs and are trying to successfully transition from the 3-4 defense to the Tampa 2 in one offseason.
That’s a tough task.
So, in a series of articles, I will break down the round-by-round draft prospects that should be available for the Cowboys to take. I’ll give a brief scouting report and look at how each prospect fits with the team.
The Cowboys are now on the clock.
Next Article (1/26/13): Dallas Cowboys: Breaking down the Cowboys' Second Round 2013 NFL Draft Prospects
Weight: 295 lbs
Sheldon Richardson is the premiere defensive tackle in this draft. He has spent the year dominating SEC opponents.
Projecting as a 3-technique in the Tampa 2 scheme, Richardson has tremendous athleticism. His speed is his biggest asset and allows him to be involved with plays anywhere between the sidelines.
Richardson has a high motor, tremendous burst and great instincts. He can diagnose plays quickly and has the skill set to blow them up just as quickly. I would expect that Richardson could be an elite athlete on the defensive line who is good at everything but excellent as a pass-rusher.
How He Fits
The Cowboys are retooling a defensive line that has been neglected for years. Although you have proven players like DeMarcus Ware and Jay Ratliff, there is still a need for a young defensive tackle that can anchor this line for years to come.
With Ratliff versatile enough to play the 1- or 3-technique, Richardson can come in and immediately contribute. The addition of Richardson would give the Cowboys the dangerous rotation they’ve needed to make the defense elite.
Weight: 218 lbs
I haven’t been fortunate enough to study Vaccaro as much as I’d like. However, I was able to talk to Alex Brown, Head Central Scout for www.OptimumScouting.com, and he had this to say about Vaccaro in his full scouting report:
A heavy factor and active player against the run, dynamic edge blitzer, and cover safety capable of manning the slot or roaming the back half, Kenny Vaccaro is a rare playmaker with an incredibly versatile skill set. Sure to be a starter right away at the next level, his impact should be really apparent in his rookie season.
A 4 star wide receiver and defensive back recruit that entered Texas with elite physical tools, raw ability and a hit-first mentality. Kenny Vaccaro will soon enter the NFL ranks as a polished, instinctive and intelligent secondary defender.
The X-factor of this Texas defense, Vaccaro impresses with presnap command, on-field leadership, and willingness to support the run. He’s developed into a dynamic weapon; whether as a robber zone defender, manned up in the slot, blitzing off the edge or shooting a gap on a twist. Vaccaro’s combination of click and close athleticism, rare instincts, and physical mentality, undoubtedly sets him apart from the rest of the 2013 draft class as a unique and NFL ready defender. Yet, with all noted traits in mind, what makes Vaccaro so special, is his non-stop motor, tremendous passion for the game, and insanely competitive nature; playing at peak performance under the brightest lights, Vaccaro thrives in pressure situations and shows no fear in taking the center stage.
Lacking nothing in the confidence department, Vaccaro has the mental makeup you look for in a starting safety prospect. Experienced in Manny Diaz’ multiple defensive system that features a number of pattern-reading coverages utilized at the NFL level, he is well prepared mentally for the next level and capable of starting right out of the box.
How He Fits
The Tampa 2 defense relies on a safety that can make all the adjustments and calls on the defense.
This is Vaccaro.
Vaccaro is a dynamic playmaker, the type that the Cowboys have longed for since the departure of Darren Woodson.
The Cowboys currently have Barry Church and Gerald Sensabaugh locked into contracts. However, those contracts are small enough to give the team flexibility if they’re given the opportunity to grab a player like Vaccaro.
Vaccaro immediately becomes a starter, solid all-around player and leader on the back end of this defense.
Weight: 260 lbs
Montgomery is an interesting prospect who may have been overshadowed a bit by linemate Barkevious Mingo. However, Montgomery has a solid skill set and great size to succeed at the next level.
Montgomery isn’t an overly exciting prospect to me. He does, however, have all the traits to be a very productive NFL player. He isn’t going to beat anyone off the line, but his length and overall speed make him dangerous in both the rush and stopping the run.
Montgomery is a high motor player who will improve any defensive line with his well-rounded skill set and devotion to the game.
One of Bleacher Report’s lead NFL draft writers, Sigmund Bloom, did a wonderful write-up on Sam Montgomery that you can check out.
How He Fits
Montgomery would be able to come in and produce on the defensive line. Where his role is remains hazy. Currently, DeMarcus Ware projects as the weak-side defensive end, and that’s where Montgomery would fit.
Montgomery is a solid prospect, but his fit doesn’t necessarily align with the Cowboys plans. While it’s hard to ignore his talent, I believe the Cowboys are better off without Montgomery.
Weight: 303 lbs
Sharrif Floyd is a tremendous athlete who maximizes production despite his shortcomings.
While Floyd may be a bit shaky on his technique, he makes up for it with his non-stop motor. He’s a strong, fast lineman who impacts games in both the run and the passing games. He has the pass rush moves and acceleration to get upfield and pressure the quarterback. Meanwhile, he also can control the point of attack to control his gap and make plays against rushers through the hole.
How He Fits
Floyd will fill an immediate gap at the 1-technique. His skill set would allow him to couple with Jay Ratliff and form a very formidable inside tandem.
The Cowboys need two defensive linemen. While I believe that Sheldon Richardson is the best selection here, Floyd is a viable consolation that could easily develop into a star in this league.
Weight: 335 lbs
D.J. Fluker is your prototypical mauler. He has awesome size and a nasty style of play.
This is the tackle you want to toughen up your offensive line.
Fluker is a phenomenal run-blocker who displays great strength. He plays very physically and seems to thrive in big games against big competition. He uses his length and size well to stymie opposing rushers and has decent enough athleticism to get to the next level.
Fluker could improve his pass-blocking, but his skill set and on-the-field leadership are invaluable to a franchise that is looking to create a tougher identify on the offensive line.
How He Fits
Doug Free has been awful on the offensive line. It is no secret that it’s time for an upgrade.
Fluker could come in immediately and upgrade the right side of the line. The attitude his game brings would make the Cowboys offensive line a vicious one with a mean side. With Fluker manning the right side, the run game would see an immediate boost, and Tony Romo would see his life expectancy improve.
Weight: 310 lbs
Jonathan Cooper is your dominant athletic guard. He isn’t as nasty as some of the higher-rated guards, but he’s every bit as good.
Cooper is a strong lineman that is an exceptional combination blocker. He has good length and excellent technique. His athleticism allows him to get to the second level quickly, and he is an impact blocker that allows running backs to thrive.
I think that Cooper is probably underrated because he hasn’t been on a team that has achieved the visibility of a team like Alabama. While Chance Warmack will likely go ahead of Cooper, it doesn’t mean that he’s going to be the better player.
I expect that Cooper is going to fall because of the fact that teams are wary of taking guards early. I also expect that Cooper will offer a team excellent value. His skill set and desire to get better will work in his favor to allow him to develop into one of the league’s best guards in a few years.
How He Fits
Cooper fits Jason Garrett’s mold of targeted players. He is a hardworking, good character player who has tremendous upside and minimal risk. Basically, with Cooper, you know what you’re getting.
Cooper would fill in immediately at the right guard spot. He would allow the Cowboys to maximize their balanced offensive attack and give them a reliable inside blocker to eliminate the dangers of interior pass-rushers mauling Tony Romo.
Weight: 202 lbs
Elam is a solid coverage safety that could improve. However, his instincts and awareness are what make him the prospect he is.
When you watch Elam in games, you see that he has all the raw ability in the world to become a great ball hawk at the next level. He is good at recognizing plays and reacting to the ball when it’s in the air.
The strongest aspect of Elam’s game is his ability to tackle players. He plays with high energy and aggression and punishes players that cross him on the field. He is around every play on the defensive side of the ball and has been the leader of his defensive unit that was a surprise in the SEC.
Overall, Elam is an athletic player who thrives on competition. He blitzes well, possesses great instincts and range, and is a great leader.
How He Fits
I don’t know that Elam is the type of safety that can cover deep like the Tampa 2 requires. However, he does remind me of a John Lynch type that can play in the box and as a ball hawk.
Elam would be able to move in and provide an intense leader to the team. Some have argued that the Cowboys are lacking a fiery playmaker, a role that Elam could fill nicely.
Weight: 270 lbs
Drawing comparisons to Jason Pierre Paul, Ezekiel Ansah is a raw athletic defensive end with an incredibly high ceiling.
Ansah possesses an extremely rare combination of speed and strength to accompany his incredible size. He sheds blocks with ease and can close on his opponent with surprising speed. He moves laterally extremely well and can make plays anywhere on the field.
Ansah still has a lot of coaching in front of him. He needs to learn to diagnose plays and locate the ball better.
However, his small shortcomings are easily masked by his enormous potential and extremely rare combination of physical attributes.
How He Fits
Ansah has a weird role, but he fits any of the defensive end positions in the Cowboys' Tampa 2 scheme.
If the Cowboys select Ansah, it will be because of sheer projected value. Ansah could easily be the most productive player in this draft once he hits his ceiling. Expect the Cowboys to do their homework to figure out if they’re getting a once-in-a-generation player.