The most important thing NFL teams try to accomplish on draft day is finding players who will be immediate starters. For the Dallas Cowboys, they’ll need to find at least one of these if they want to consider their draft successful.
Nearly every team believes its first-round selection should be someone competing for a starting position. The real difficulty is finding quality talent on the second and third days of the draft.
There’s no question the Cowboys should be focusing on defense with their first few picks. With holes along the defensive line and at safety, Dallas will be trying to find guys who can play right now at those positions.
Let’s take a look at some draft prospects who could start instantly in Dallas.
All statistics via Sports-Reference.com unless indicated otherwise.
Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is one of the highest-rated safeties in this year’s draft for good reason. The kid can play.
During his tenure with the Crimson Tide, Clinton-Dix was one of the most impactful and consistent players on Nick Saban’s defense.
The safety is an instinctual player who can help against the run by making plays around the line of scrimmage.
Clinton-Dix would start from Day 1 opposite of Barry Church, barring any kind of injury or setback. His ability would solidify Dallas’ secondary and give the team its best safety combo in numerous years.
Another safety who would fit right in is Louisville’s Calvin Pryor. The safety is actually slightly bigger than Clinton-Dix and is projected to go in one of the first two rounds.
Like the Alabama star, Pryor is a great tackler at his position. He takes good angles to the ball and loves to be physical around the point of attack.
Pryor also plays well against the pass by using his quickness. He totaled three interceptions this season.
Again, Pryor would be an immediate starter for the Cowboys. Forming a duo with Church could create a very consistent tandem for years to come.
A less recognized safety in this year’s draft is Jimmie Ward. The former Northern Illinois Husky had an incredible seven interceptions in 2013, including one in his team’s bowl game.
Ward is a smaller prospect than Pryor and Clinton-Dix, but it hasn’t hindered his play at all.
According to Rob Rang of NFLDraftScout.com, “Ward was the Senior Bowl’s most impressive pass defender this year”.
Although he comes from a smaller school, Ward is still projected to go near the second round. Even though he wouldn’t step into a starting role instantly like the other two prospects, he would probably be the favorite entering camp.
Another position Dallas needs to address is defensive end. There are several quality options this year, including Stephon Tuitt from Notre Dame.
Tuitt is a monster at 6’6”, 312 pounds. Despite his size, the defensive end is surprisingly quick and uses both to his advantage to create pressure on the outside.
He had 7.5 sacks this season and is projected to be drafted in the first two rounds.
Anyone the Cowboys draft on the defensive line has an opportunity to start because of how thin they are up front. With DeMarcus Ware’s play declining and Anthony Spencer likely moving on, Tuitt would have a chance to compete with George Selvie to start.
Missouri’s Kony Ealy is also an option for the Cowboys. The ultra-athletic defensive end is smaller than Tuitt at 6’5”, 275 pounds but uses his explosive quickness to disrupt plays.
Ealy is a solid tackler and uses his speed off the snap to get to the quarterback. The junior had nine sacks for the Tigers this year.
He’s projected to go in the first round, and Dallas wouldn’t be wrong in selecting him. With his athleticism, Ealy could grow into a sack machine similar to Ware.
The Cowboys desperately have to upgrade the interior of their defensive line as well. Florida State’s Timmy Jernigan would work perfectly to help the situation.
The 300-pound tackle is effective because of how well he can rotate his hips and move laterally. He collapses on gaps and has the ability to move blockers with his hands.
The former Seminole is projected to go somewhere in the middle of the first round, right where Dallas picks. With Jason Hatcher potentially leaving in free agency, the Cowboys must find interior defensive linemen who can start right now. Jernigan fits the mold.
Louis Nix III is another defensive tackle who’s supposed to be drafted in the same area as Jernigan. The former Fighting Irish star is slightly bigger at 345 pounds and will be someone else the Cowboys should target.
Nix has an extremely well-built frame to go with quick, agile feet. He is a high-energy player, and it shows on the tape consistently. With his motor and natural size, Nix is going to be a playmaker in the NFL.
Like Jernigan, Nix would be able to start for the Cowboys immediately. Alongside of Nick Hayden, Nix could be someone who has an impact on the 2014 season.