The Dallas Cowboys are clearly in the market for a difference-making defensive end; veteran DeMarcus Ware is rapidly declining, and 2013 breakout player George Selvie is a No. 2 pass-rusher at best. In addition to defensive tackle, the 'Boys can help themselves most at defensive end in the draft.
The key to finding value at any position is identifying predictors of success that other teams aren't valuing or at least aren't valuing enough. At the wide receiver position, for example, most NFL teams pay for speed when they should be more concerned with size. At quarterback, they seek height when it appears as though hand size is more important.
At defensive end, a lot of teams seem to dismiss college production. They think they can spot talent with the "eye test," frequently overrating defensive ends who look the part but haven't gotten to the quarterback at a high rate.
One of the traits that teams overvalue seems to be quickness. Certainly, being quicker is better for every player, but even more important is size. Overall, teams do indeed pay for one aspect of size in height. Height is indeed correlated with NFL success for defensive ends, but as with quarterbacks, that might just be because it's linked to another trait that matters more.
For defensive ends, that characteristic is long arms.
Even though many NFL organizations look at arm length, they're still acting as though height matters more. We continually see tall players with short arms get drafted ahead of short players with long arms. The latter type of prospect might actually offer the most value, since he possesses the trait that helps get to the passer (long arms) but not the one that shoots him up boards (height).
In that way, not all lengths of arm are created equally. A 6'2" defensive end with 33-inch arms is better than a 6'5" end with the same arm length because the shorter player is more likely to fall (unnecessarily), thus offering value.
Valuing both college production and arm length, here are five defensive end prospects that the Dallas Cowboys should consider in this year's draft.