The Dallas Cowboys are picking No. 18 overall in this year's draft, and it's a tough spot to be in. It's unlikely that they'll be able to land an elite prospect at that spot. It also means that they'll have to figure out who is worthy of that pick, which is not as easy as it sounds.
A big reason why it's not easy is because they have to distinguish the great from the good prospects, even though there's not one that truly stands out. Many have potential to become very good but also very bad.
Two players that could be very good and the team could have a chance of selecting are North Carolina offensive guard Jonathan Cooper and Missouri defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson.
These two have high upside and ooze talent that's typically hard to find. Cooper is a stud guard who has uncommon mobility at his size while Richardson moves like a running back at 294 pounds and is electric as a 3-technique.
Both players also fit needs on the Cowboys' roster, as the team could stand to upgrade its offensive guard position while also sorely needing a 3-technique in its new 4-3 defense.
Starting with Cooper, he was a standout at North Carolina and has the versatility to play guard or center. He is 6'2", 311 pounds and did 35 reps of 225 on the bench press at the combine. Despite his impressive bench reps, he doesn't always overpower defenders, instead he gets overpowered.
When blocking in-line, he tends to get knocked back by stronger linemen and pushed back into the pocket. However, that's not what his game is based on. Where he will make his money is in a zone-blocking scheme and traditional run concepts (e.g. power, counter) that utilize his movement skills.
Cooper has the ability to make blocks at difficult angles that linemen generally aren't able to make. He can make the back-side cut block and then get to the second level with ease. He can also pull across the formation and trap a linebacker at the second level.
Here's one example of the latter. North Carolina is in a shotgun set, and running back Giovani Bernard is to the quarterback's right. The play call is a quick trap, which means Cooper will be pulling across the formation.
When the play begins, Cooper quickly gets out of his stance and moves laterally to his right. His responsibility is to clear out the strong-side linebacker (No. 53), who will be coming downhill to tackle Bernard.
To take out the linebacker, however, he has to take a proper angle. If he goes too wide, the linebacker will slip inside and get to the running back. If he goes too narrow, the linebacker will go wide and get to the running back.
It's a tough task and one that guards sometimes struggle with. Fortunately, Cooper is mobile and has the ability to not only cover ground quickly but get to the linebacker properly.
As he closes in on the linebacker, Cooper takes a direct angle at the linebacker and latches on to him. He attacked the defender perfectly as a result and created a gaping alley for Bernard to run through.
What's interesting about this play is not only how mobile and smart of a blocker Cooper is, but how he is able to execute a concept that the Cowboys are quite familiar with. The Cowboys offense runs trap plays frequently, although not all are from the shotgun set.
If the Cowboys pass up on Cooper, it could be for the aforementioned Richardson. Richardson is a dynamic pass-rusher from the interior, with the ability to charge into the interior gaps with ease because of his mind-boggling explosiveness and mobility.
The 6'3", 294-pound defensive tackle from Missouri is an ideal fit for the Cowboys' 3-technique position. The 3-technique is an integral part of Monte Kiffin's defense because it's where the pressure comes from first. If the defense has a dominant defensive tackle, then the defensive ends become even more dominant.
That's why Richardson is not only an option for the team but a great option at that. One play that should catches the eye of evaluators is an impressive arm-over ("swim") move against the South Carolina Gamecocks.
He was at the 3-technique spot and then fired off the line of scrimmage at the snap. As he came forward, he extended his left arm and punched the right guard in the outside shoulder.
Simultaneously, his right hand was clutched with the guard's left hand. It may not seem like an ideal scenario from afar, but it is. Anytime a pass-rusher can have one hand free is good because it means he has the freedom to administer a pass-rush move.
While engaged with the guard, Richardson pulled his left arm back and released his right hand. Then he immediately brought the right arm forward, punching the guard in the left shoulder. This enabled him to keep the blocker at a distance and still have one arm free (his left).
The exchange of arms also set up the arm-over move. When his right arm was placed onto the blocker, it enabled him to pull the blocker's jersey and then bring his left arm over. The blocker was left only looking at the ground while Richardson collapsed the pocket and forced an incomplete pass.
If Richardson is able to develop and make these kinds of plays consistently, he'll be an unstoppable force. That's precisely why it will be a difficult choice for the Cowboys to make if he or Cooper are available.
One question they'll be asking is who is the better player for the team?
On one hand, Cooper is not your typical guard prospect because of his outstanding mobility. He's also an ideal fit for the Cowboys if they move to a zone-blocking scheme, which is possible considering they hired former Oakland Raiders and Houston Texans offensive line coach Frank Pollack in February (via CBSSports.com).
On the other hand, Richardson possesses an uncommon combination of explosiveness and athleticism for his position and could be a star in the making. He also plays a position of more importance, as the 3-technique defensive tackle is far more important and difficult to find than a guard is.
In addition to the above, he's also more likely to make a bigger impact on the team, which could help lead them to the playoffs.
In that case, Sheldon Richardson is the best option, but it's hard to go wrong with Jonathan Cooper, too.