6 Hidden Gems Dallas Cowboys Should Have Noticed at the Combine
The Dallas Cowboys met with big names like Johnny Manziel at this year's NFL Scouting Combine, but there's no doubt they also left with some notes on later-round gems.
Dallas has two seventh-round picks in this year's draft along with its fifth. They were certainly taking a look at some players who might be sneaky picks in those rounds this year. It wouldn't be all too surprising if many of those names were for the defensive side of the ball, either.
Jason Garrett's team finished just No. 24 against the run and an abysmal No. 30 against the pass last year. The head coach and his scouts will be looking heavily at getting some young defensive help in this year's draft while sprinkling in some offensive guys here and there.
With all the 40-yard-dash times recorded, interviews conducted and notes recorded, let's take a look at which later-round gems the Cowboys should have noticed at the combine.
All combine results courtesy of NFL.com's results tracker.
WR Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt
Vanderbilt's Jordan Matthews is definitely going to be off the board before the fifth round, but he's a guy the Cowboys likely couldn't ignore in Indianapolis.
Matthews flashed a 4.46-second 40-yard dash time after a season where he hauled in 112 receptions and seven touchdowns. The guy knows how to reel in the football when he's thrown to, and it's clear that he's got the wheels to beat cornerbacks in a footrace.
Because of his impressive 40 time and his production over the last three years in college, Matthews will probably be a second- or third-round pick. The second round is a little early for Dallas to be thinking offense, but he's worth considering if he falls to the third.
The Cowboys are in all likelihood going to have to part ways with veteran Miles Austin this offseason. They just can't afford to pay him after more than a few seasons filled with injuries and disappointment.
Drafting a player like Matthews and pairing him with Terrance Williams would give Dallas two young receivers with nothing but potential. That possibility would certainly have Jason Garrett and Jerry Jones smiling.
While he will go higher than some other names listed here, Matthews proved his speed at the combine and his skills over the last three collegiate seasons. He'll be hard for the Cowboys to ignore come draft day.
DT Daniel McCullers, Tennessee
Daniel McCullers is one big man at 6'7", 352 pounds. His massive size doesn't allow him to bring much of a pass rush, but it does help him be a force stopping opposing rushers.
At the combine, McCullers recorded 27 bench press reps and a 97" broad jump. Considering the Cowboys' woes against the run last year, McCullers would provide an instant upgrade in that phase of the defense.
McCullers ranked on Bleacher Report's own Matt Miller's pre-combine big board as the No. 12 defensive tackle in this deep draft. One would have to believe that Miller will move McCullers up at least a tad after his combine performance.
For a Cowboys team that could lose Anthony Spencer and Jason Hatcher this offseason, defensive line is a huge concern draft-wise. McCullers might be what the team is looking for if Hatcher chooses to sign with another team in free agency.
QB/RB Jerick McKinnon, Georgia Southern
Georgia Southern's Jerick McKinnon wasn't exactly the talk of Indy heading into the combine. After the drills began, though, he made all scouts turn their attention toward him.
Check out McKinnon's numbers from both jumping drills, the 40-yard dash and his bench press reps:
|Bench Press||32 reps|
|40-yard dash||4.41 seconds|
The guy straight dominated the combine, and he has the potential to play several positions for an NFL team. He played quarterback at Georgia Southern but entered the combine as a running back. Plus, there's always the possibility of making him a kick and punt returner.
Considering that McKinnon likely won't hear his name called until the final two rounds, the Cowboys have to be pondering taking a shot on him come April. Dallas will not tender running back Phillip Tanner and could use more depth in the backfield with him gone.
With Miles Austin also probably on his way out, Dwayne Harris moves up the wide receiver depth chart and might not be able to be the team returner anymore because of that. McKinnon would solve two small problems for the Cowboys if he gets selected by Jason Garrett and Co.
LB Adrian Hubbard, Alabama
Adrian Hubbard made a mark in this year's combine with his impressive vertical jump of 38.5 inches, and a 40 time of 4.69 wasn't too bad either.
Hubbard has great size at 6'6" and 257 pounds. That size allows him to impose his will on blockers when he needs to and find his way into the backfield. Hubbard is a fine linebacker who will be available in the later rounds where the Cowboys take more chances with their picks.
The issues here are that he is ideally fit for a 3-4 defensive scheme and doesn't really have a ton of burst and speed just yet. Hubbard would have to adjust to playing inside behind Sean Lee and Bruce Carter on the depth chart, which takes time.
Because this draft is stacked with 3-4 linebackers, Dallas could opt to pick one of them in the later rounds and try to mold him into a 4-3 player. That is what the team would have to do with Hubbard. Honestly, the potential he has would be worth the time to adjust the way he plays his position.
DE James Gayle, Virginia Tech
Defensive end James Gayle finished this year's NFL combine as the top performer in the vertical jump where he measured 37". He also finished the 40-yard dash in 4.7 seconds.
Gayle has a crazy motor on him and knows how to work his way around blockers. He is one heck of a pass-rusher considering his six sacks and 10.5 tackles for a loss last season for the Hokies.
Gayle does lack skill against the run, but Dallas needs someone like him who can be relied on to rush the quarterback. And there's always time to improve his skills at terrorizing running backs in training camp and in practice.
Dallas is in serious need of defensive line help, and Gayle is a perfect middle-to-late-round player who could step right in and help next season.
QB Connor Shaw, South Carolina
Being a quarterback, Connor Shaw is a bit admittedly a little more high profile than some other guys listed here. That comes from playing the position that touches the ball on every offensive play, though.
Shaw is not receiving the same kind of hype as Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater or even Aaron Murray, but he proved himself at this combine. The former Gamecock finished as the top performer in the 40-yard dash, vertical jump, broad jump and three-cone drill among quarterbacks. Here's a look at his results:
|40-yard dash||4.66 seconds|
There was plenty Cowboys and 31 other teams' scouts had to line when watching Shaw breeze through drills in Indy.
As a quarterback, he has some impressive accuracy and is mobile in the pocket when he needs to be. He and Tony Romo have a little in common when you consider Shaw can take a hit, evade would-be tacklers and put the ball where only his receiver can catch it.
Dallas needs to consider drafting a quarterback in the middle or later rounds this year with Romo hitting 34 years old before next season. He's also had two recent back surgeries.
Shaw might not end up being Romo's heir apparent, but the Cowboys can take that risk in this draft. There's plenty of reason to consider the South Carolina product when Dallas feels it's appropriate to take a QB this year.
Alex Hall is a Dallas Cowboys Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @AlexKHall.