Most NFL teams, including the Dallas Cowboys, whittle down their draft boards more than you might think, cutting out the "excess baggage" of players who might not match what they want in a prospect. Whether or not that's an intelligent way to acquire value, it certainly makes the draft process easier; when the Cowboys are on the clock in the 2014 NFL draft, they'll have just a few prospects they could potentially draft.
Using the projected rounds set at CBS Sports, I've listed a few players the Cowboys might consider in each round, breaking down one of them in detail. This isn't a mock draft, but rather a compilation of prospects Dallas figures to have on its radar.
It would be mildly shocking if the Cowboys didn't come out of the first round with a defensive lineman. They can talk all they want about selecting the best player available, but unless a truly elite player at a position like offensive tackle drops to them, they're in position to select the best possible defensive lineman.
There are numerous players at both defensive end and defensive tackle who figure to interest the 'Boys.
Missouri defensive end Kony Ealy is one of those players. At 6'5", 275 pounds, Ealy figures to have the requisite size and length to excel at the next level. Known for his athleticism and ability to stop the run, he will almost certainly get selected in the first 32 selections.
The primary question mark for him is where the production was. In three years with Missouri, Ealy had only 12.5 sacks. That's not a good sign. He also had 27 tackles for loss, which is decent but hardly dominant. The good news is that he is still young, so teams will be drafting a player before a potential college breakout, allowing them to potentially land value.
Rest of Round 1 Big Board
Dee Ford, DE, Auburn
Louis Nix, DT, Louisville
The most likely outcome for Dallas is probably coming out of the first two rounds with two defensive linemen. That's hardly set in stone, however; the Cowboys knew they had some major defensive issues heading into last year's draft too, and their first three picks were a center, a tight end and a wide receiver.
The Cowboys have their center of the future in Travis Frederick, and Richardson sure would look good next to him. Quietly, Dallas figures to have issues along the offensive line this year. The group played well last year and both Frederick and Tyron Smith aren't going anywhere, but right tackle Doug Free struggled again down the stretch, right guard Mackenzy Bernadeau played better than he should have and left guard Ronald Leary's season has been overrated.
The Cowboys will be looking for a player like Stanford defensive end Trent Murphy to drop here, but don't rule out an offensive player.
Rest of Round 2 Big Board
Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
Xavier Su'a-Filo, OG, UCLA
Stephon Tuitt, DT, Notre Dame
Scott Chrichton, DE, Oregon State
With defensive tackle Jason Hatcher figuring to leave Dallas this year, the Cowboys are so thin at the position that it's not out of the question that they address it twice within the first few rounds. Thus, even if they draft a defensive tackle early, you could see them come back to a player like Penn State's DaQuan Jones in the third round.
Jones is a 6'3", 318-pound defensive tackle who reportedly lost 25 pounds before the 2013 season, according to CBS Sports. That helped him register 56 total tackles, which is a big number for an interior defensive lineman.
However, Jones had only 3.5 sacks in his entire Penn State career, and his arms are under 33 inches long. Those are big-time concerns for a player who could sneak into the second round. For those reasons, I wouldn't touch Jones in the middle rounds. But he's listed here because the Cowboys historically care more about "what the tape says" than analytics that are more predictive than traditional scouting.
Rest of Round 3 Big Board
Anthony Johnson, DT, LSU
Michael Sam, DE, Missouri
Billy Turner, OT, North Dakota State
Terrence Brooks, FS, Florida State
The Cowboys are weaker than most think at the most important position on defense: defensive end. I wrote before the 2013 season that defensive end DeMarcus Ware was no sure bet to bounce back, and that's even truer in 2014. We can blame injuries all we want, but the fact remains that older players are more susceptible to injuries and less likely to rebound quickly when they happen. George Selvie is a nice No. 2 at the position, but the Cowboys are in some trouble there.
They'll probably address the position early, but in the middle rounds, Boise State's Demarcus Lawrence could be one of the draft's best values. We don't have an official arm length measurement on him right now, but there are some rumblings that he has good length relative to his height.
Best of all, Lawrence was highly productive in 2013, which was his only full season with Boise State. He recorded 10.5 sacks and 20.5 tackles for loss. Remember, Missouri's Kony Ealy had only 27 tackles for loss in three seasons.
Rest of Round 4 Big Board
Ja'Wuan James, OT, Tennessee
Jordan Tripp, OLB, Montana
Kareem Martin, DE, UNC
Will Clarke, DE, West Virginia
The Cowboys desperately need another red-zone threat. Tight end Gavin Escobar might be that guy, but as it stands right now, Dallas would be in major trouble in terms of scoring touchdowns if wide receiver Dez Bryant were to get injured.
Enter Rutgers wide receiver Brandon Coleman. At 6'6", 220 pounds, Coleman is one of the biggest wide receivers in this draft and is a threat to score any time his offense nears the end zone.
So why is he going to drop to the fifth round? Coleman isn't going to light up the 40-yard dash, and he was never overly productive at Rutgers. The 40-yard dash time is fine, assuming Coleman can check in below 4.60, but the lack of production is more concerning. He had only 1,808 yards in three seasons, although he did convert an impressive 21.7 percent of his catches into touchdowns.
Rest of Round 5 Big Board
Adrian Hubbard, OLB, Alabama
Kenny Ladler, FS, Vanderbilt
Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson
Ronald Powell, OLB, Florida
The defensive line will be an option for Dallas throughout the 2014 NFL draft, and Alabama's Ed Stinson is an interesting late-round prospect.
As Matt Miller notes above, Stinson will probably be viewed as a 5-technique 3-4 defensive end. However, there's nothing about his size that rules him out from playing as a 4-3 defensive tackle. Actually, at 6'3", 292 pounds, Stinson might be best playing inside.
But the fact that teams will dismiss him as a very scheme-specific player could cause him to drop, even past the sixth round.
Rest of Round 6 Big Board
James Gayle, DE, Virginia Tech
Marcel Jensen, TE, Fresno State
James White, RB, Wisconsin
Antone Exum, CB, Virginia Tech
If you look solely at the numbers, Wyoming free safety Marqueston Huff is a very intriguing prospect. At 5'11", 198 pounds, Huff is projected to run in the neighborhood of 4.40 in the 40-yard dash. He also had six games with double-digit tackles in 2013, including 20 in the final contest of his collegiate career.
In general, small-school prospects are closing the gap on their large-school counterparts, but they aren't getting drafted like it. In the back of the draft, when the cost is minimal, it makes sense to take a shot with a high-upside player like Huff.
Rest of Round 7 Big Board
Cassius Marsh, DE, UCLA
Tyler Gaffney, RB, Stanford
Ricardo Allen, CB, Purdue
Shamar Stephen, DT, Connecticut