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Dallas Cowboys' Guide to the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine

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Dallas Cowboys' Guide to the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine
John David Mercer-USA TODAY Spor

As things stand right now, the Dallas Cowboys have jack squat to spend on free agents. Consider that as well as the fact America's Team has now gone four years without making a playoff appearance, and you'll begin to see how crucial this year's draft will be in Big D. 

The draft itself is still 11 weeks away, but draft season officially kicks off this week at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. The Cowboys are, of course, on hand as the game's best prospects prepare to be poked and prodded at Lucas Oil Stadium. 

Here's a preview of what the Cowboys should be looking for. 

 

Where they pick

Round 1: 16 or 17
Round 2: 47 or 48
Round 3: 78 or 79
Round 4: 110 or 115
Round 5: 146 or 147
Round 7: 206, 208, 215

 

What they need

Jeff Gross/Getty Images

DeMarcus Ware's successor: Maybe Ware survives cut season, and maybe he returns in 2014, but the reality is that he's no longer the pass-rusher he used to be, and few teams can excel without an elite defender creating pressure. Anthony Spencer and George Selvie are good, but the priority now has to be finding a stud who can rush the passer. 

A defensive tackle to replace Jason Hatcher: We don't know if they're going to be able to keep Hatcher, and neither do they. Regardless, the guy is 32 years old, and they don't have a lot of depth inside. 

A strong guard who can pass protect: We don't know what the deal is with Brian Waters, and that's something Mackenzy Bernadeau and Ronald Leary struggled with last year. This team has long-term options at tackle and center, but the guard positions are weak. 

A safety to compete with J.J. Wilcox: Matt Johnson might be a bust, and Wilcox hasn't played well enough to earn the ability to walk into the starting role next to Barry Church. 

The guard and the safety can come in the middle or late rounds. If I'm Dallas, though, I'm focusing on that defensive front early on, especially considering they ignored the defensive line in last year's draft. 

 

Must-watch prospects

Timmy Jernigan (DT, Florida State): He can defend the run while creating interior pressure, just like Hatcher did. 

Ra'Shede Hageman (DT, Minnesota): Freakish athlete who can get after the quarterback but may need a little time. 

Louis Nix (DT, Notre Dame): First-round talent who could really transform that run defense over time. Could also start from the get-go. 

Aaron Donald (DT, Pittsburgh): Quite the motor and an ideal fit, but with Senior Bowl buzz, he could be taken ahead of Dallas' pick. 

Will Sutton (DT, Arizona State): Another explosive first-round talent at that position. Sutton is also extremely versatile.

Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Trent Murphy (DE, Stanford): He was a sack machine at Stanford. Could be a potential steal in Round 2. 

Stephon Tuitt (DE, Notre Dame): Not really a pure pass-rusher but has the versatility to line up anywhere.

Jackson Jeffcoat (DE, Texas): Former Cowboy Jim Jeffcoat's son really turned it up as a rusher during his final year at Texas. 

Kareem Martin (DE, North Carolina): Had 11.5 sacks during his senior year in the ACC. Would step in right away. 

Dee Ford (DE, Auburn): Comes with plenty of SEC experience but may have a lower ceiling. 

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (S, Alabama): Arguably the best safety in the draft, he's been a popular first-round candidate for the Cowboys.

What position should the Cowboys be most focused on at the combine?

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Deone Bucannon (S, Washington State): More of a big hitter. Can he cover? The 'Boys need safeties who can do that.

Ahmad Dixon (S, Baylor): Good run defender, but he has to prove he has the technique and cover skills to cut it. 

Dion Bailey (S, USC): Looks like the type of player who can cover tight ends, which is something the Cowboys need. 

Terrence Brooks (S, Florida State): Versatility in coverage is a key for the former corner. Could be a steal in the middle rounds. 

Calvin Pryor (S, Louisville): Better than his teammate Hakeem Smith, but he might not be as good a fit. 

Gabe Jackson (G, Mississippi State): Second-round possibility who can pass protect. 

Cyril Richardson (G, Baylor): Has to prove himself after a tough Senior Bowl. 

David Yankey (G, Stanford): Looks like he'd be a bit of a reach early, especially when his strength is as a run blocker. 

 

Don't forget about...

Brandon Thomas (G, Clemson): A strong pass protector who will likely have to move inside at the NFL level and should be available in Round 4, maybe even Round 5. 

Kadeem Edwards (G, Tennessee State): Late-round guard with long arms who could help protect Romo. 

 

They'll have to wait to see...

Alden Darby (S, Arizona State): A strong safety who is good in coverage and could be available beyond Round 5. 

Hakeem Smith (S, Louisville): Same deal, and he's a 24-year-old redshirt senior, so he could be NFL-ready. 

Neither Darby nor Smith is in Indy, but they'd both be interesting fits in Dallas. 

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