The Cowboys made a splash in 2012 by trading up for cornerback Morris Claiborne. What does Jerry have up his sleeve in 2013?
This is really a make-or-break draft for the Dallas Cowboys. The epitome of mediocrity in recent years, the Cowboys have a number of holes to fill, and six picks to do it.
Offensively, the 'Boys need to find linemen who will fit their transition to more zone-blocking concepts; center, guard and tackle are all needs. They also need to find a backup to running back DeMarco Murray.
On the defensive side of the ball, Dallas is searching for pieces that fit into Monte Kiffin's 4-3 scheme. Defensive tackle and safety are probably the biggest needs, although linebacker and defensive end are also both in play, even in the early rounds.
A lot of people, perhaps even those within the Cowboys organization, believe the team needs to simply select the highest-rated player on their board at each spot.
I think that's a mistake.
Although it's popular to advocate such a "best player available" strategy, the truth is that it's shortsighted. A true "best player available" strategy fails to account for team needs, future picks and position scarcity.
The latter concept is a big one. Certain positions in this draft are extremely deep; there are safeties throughout the first three rounds, for example, who can probably start from the moment they suit up in the NFL. That decreases the merit of taking a player like Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro, even if he's the highest-rated player. Why draft Vaccaro when you can have a very comparable player in the second or third?
Meanwhile, this draft is extremely thin in terms of interior offensive linemen. If the Cowboys pass on an elite guard in the first round, they won't be able to find one later who's in the same stratosphere.
If one of the two elite guards falls to the Cowboys, I fully expect Dallas to go that direction. Chance Warmack was the No. 1 guard on most boards well into March, but it seems like more and more teams might now be favoring UNC guard Jonathan Cooper.
Even if Cooper is slightly inferior, he appears to fit the schemes of many of the teams that draft prior to the Cowboys and might need a guard.
I have Warmack rated at No. 5 overall on my latest big board, so he'd be sensational value in the back half of the first round. Most teams won't have Warmack rated quite that high, probably because they view interior line as a "non-premium" position. Guards don't typically command a whole lot of money in free agency, so teams are typically reluctant to jump on them in the first round.
That's the exact sort of thinking that could cause Warmack to fall to Dallas.
It's worth noting that if Warmack and Cooper aren't available for the Cowboys at No. 18, I expect them to do everything in their power to trade back for a player like UNC defensive tackle Sylvester Williams or Florida International safety Jonathan Cyprien.
Terron Armstead would be a good fit for the Cowboys, who have an obvious need at right tackle, but the question is whether or not Armstead will fall to them in the second round.
I think there's a legitimate possibility of it because he's a small-school prospect who's competing with a handful of other second-tier offensive tackles, such as Syracuse's Justin Pugh, Florida State's Menelik Watson and Oregon's Kyle Long, to sneak into the back of the first round.
Armstead was sensational at the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine, but he's not just a workout warrior. From my scouting report on Armstead:
Every year, there are a number of offseason "winners" who catapult their draft stock with outstanding workouts. Armstead might be 2013's biggest offseason winner. At 6-5, 306 pounds, Armstead ran an official 4.71 40-yard dash at the Combine. He also jumped 34.5 inches and posted 31 reps on the bench press. The 40-yard dash is hardly a make-or-break drill for offensive linemen, but that sort of explosiveness is rare and signals elite athleticism. Armstead is such an amazing athlete that many teams have reportedly considered him as a tight end. Yes, a 306-pound tight end.
I watched every snap for Armstead against Jackson State. As you'd expect, he dominated lesser competition. It's always difficult to grade small-school players because they can often cover up their weaknesses with superior athleticism or strength. You see that at times with Armstead; he would often let rushers get into his chest and pop him back a little, but since he was so much bigger and stronger, he could absorb the blow even if he was flat-footed.
If the 'Boys can find a way to pair Armstead with Warmack, Cowboys fans should be ecstatic.
There's no mid-round prospect I view as more likely to land in Dallas than Georgia Southern safety J.J. Wilcox. Dallas met with Wilcox and, although they like Barry Church and Matt Johnson at safety, the Cowboys still need a ball-hawk in the back end of Monte Kiffin's defense.
So why not take Kenny Vaccaro in the first round? Again, he's not scarce.
I actually have Wilcox rated just below Vaccaro, and I have a suspicion that a lot of teams have some combination of safeties rated just behind or even ahead of the Texas safety. It wouldn't make sense to grab Vaccaro in the first round with so many intriguing safety prospects projected to go in the second and third rounds.
The third round might be a little early for Wilcox, but I don't think the 'Boys will want to take a chance that he's off of the board by the time they pick again in the fourth round. I posted a scouting report on Wilcox earlier this year:
Wilcox has excellent size at 6-0, 213 pounds. He turned in a solid 40 time at 4.51 and a remarkable 4.09 short shuttle, showing why he was used at receiver for three seasons. As you'd expect, Wilcox is an outstanding athlete; he moves fluidly and shows excellent lateral quickness. Despite little experience at safety, Wilcox is a good tackler. He doesn't wait for ball-carriers to reach him, but instead attacks the line and breaks down well in space.
Wilcox would come in and immediately compete for a starting job.
After giving Kiffin a playmaking safety in the third, the Cowboys come back in the fourth with the high-upside defensive tackle that Kiffin covets. In Logan, the 'Boys would be getting their potential 1-technique of the future.
From my Logan scouting report:
Logan is a shorter defensive tackle at 6-2, 309 pounds. He has long 34-inch arms, so a lot of defensive coordinators might see Logan’s height as a positive because it can help him stay low to gain leverage inside.
Logan is very quick off of the snap and displays a nice combination of speed and power. He does a good job of using his strength to fend off interior linemen in the running game. Logan can stand his ground at the point, rarely getting driven back, and then use his long arms to shed blockers. Logan also has decent lateral quickness to chase down ball-carriers in short areas.
Logan's arrival probably wouldn't affect Jay Ratliff's 2013 status with the team, but there's no doubt that the Cowboys need to replace both Ratliff and Jason Hatcher at some point in the near future.
Could the Cowboys possibly go five rounds without drafting a skill position player? It's very possible that the 'Boys could target a running back in the middle rounds, but you can find quality runners throughout the draft. Just ask the Washington Redskins.
Actually, late-round running backs have historically been just as efficient as early-round running backs in terms of yards per carry.
In Gerald Hodges, the Cowboys would get a very talented pass-defending linebacker. From my Hodges scouting report:
Hodges is a small linebacker at 6-1, 243 pounds. He added 30 pounds after coming to Penn State, and it doesn’t appear like he’ll be able to add that much more weight. From that standpoint alone, you’re probably looking at a guy who can play only as a 4-3 linebacker, and most likely as the Will (weak side). That’s fine, but it will drop his stock since most 3-4 teams won’t be interested.
Hodges ran a 4.78 at the Combine, and he elected to not run the 40-yard dash at his Pro Day. Long speed is obviously an issue for Hodges, but it’s not like he’s too slow to play linebacker. He also jumped 35.5 inches and ran a 4.25 short shuttle, showing he has a little burst in short areas.
Hodges would compete with Justin Durant and Ernie Sims to play alongside Bruce Carter and Sean Lee. All three linebackers (Hodges, Durant and Sims) are very similar, but Hodges obviously has age on his side.
Like I said, you can find talented running backs in any round.
Michael Ford doesn't have a lot of tread on his tires with only 243 career carries, but he averaged 5.7 yards per rush at LSU and ran a 4.44 40-yard dash at his pro day. That might seem irrelevant, but running backs who have run below 4.50 have recorded over three times the total production of those above 4.50.
On top of that, Ford's 4.25 short shuttle is superior to UCLA running back Johnathan Franklin, and his 38.5" vertical confirms that he's an explosive athlete.
At 210 pounds, Ford also possesses the bulk you want to see in a running back. The biggest knock on Ford is that he doesn't catch passes out of the backfield, but that's the price you pay for a late-round running back whose ceiling is possibly higher than any runner who will get selected in the sixth round.
Ford would step in as the No. 2 running back behind DeMarco Murray.