Dallas Cowboys' 8 Biggest Combine Takeaways
There were quite a few takeaways for the Dallas Cowboys at the NFL Scouting Combine. With the measurables recorded, the majority of what the team needs to create their big board is now in place. After they incorporate the numbers, their board probably won't change all that much leading into the draft.
This is a strange draft in that, although deep, there's not a ton of top talent that might interest Dallas in the middle of the first round. The prospects who seemed possible before the combine separated themselves from the Cowboys by either raising or lowering their stock such that Dallas would either need to trade up or reach to grab them.
It will be really interesting to see how the Cowboys approach this year's first-round pick. Along with that idea, let's take a look at the eight biggest combine takeaways for Dallas.
Only One Player Makes Sense at No. 16
As mentioned, the Cowboys don't have a whole lot of options in the middle of the first round. They'll talk about the importance of "best player available" all day, but they're still very likely to target someone at a position of need.
If you look at most big boards right now, the players listed near Dallas' pick probably won't interest them. The Cowboys desperately need help along the defensive line, but most of the prospects there who are projected to be first-round picks seem like they're probably not scheme fits (defensive tackle Louis Nix and defensive end Dee Ford, for example).
The one player who makes sense for Dallas is Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald. He's a dominant player at a position of need, he fits the scheme and he tore up the combine. The question is whether or not he'll be available.
A First-Round Trade Seems Highly Probable
Donald seems like a no-brainer choice for Dallas, if he's available. After lighting up the combine with a 4.68 40-yard dash and 35 bench-press reps at 285 pounds, however, there's now a very real possibility that Donald won't be available.
Actually, you could make a strong case that Donald will be the top defensive tackle off of the board, in which case it's improbable Dallas will be able to grab him.
All of this adds up to the Cowboys being eager to move. If Donald is still on the board in the range of the 13th pick, it might make sense for Dallas to move up to get him. If he's not, there appear to be so few fits for the Cowboys that they'll likely look to move back in the first round.
The Safety Class Is Very Weak
Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix initially seemed like a fit for Dallas, and he still might be, but his combine performance was uninspiring. Safeties don't need to be burners, but his 4.58 time at 208 pounds in the 40-yard dash was subpar.
The same goes for the only other safety who could sneak into the first round: Louisville's Calvin Pryor. At 207 pounds, Pryor ran the same time as Clinton-Dix. They're very similar prospects, but probably not worthy of the 16th overall selection.
With the group of young players the Cowboys have at free safety (J.J. Wilcox and Matt Johnson among them), Dallas will probably bypass the position in the first round.
Defensive End Might Be a Bigger Need Than We Thought
Owner Jerry Jones recently hinted to ESPN Dallas that defensive end DeMarcus Ware could be a cap casualty:
(DeMarcus) had a tough time getting on the practice field because of various injuries, all of that we have to weigh with how much of that has impacted ... where he is with his career and his age.
Those are the ingredients in the stew and we have to stir it up and see where we're going. It will be a very difficult call for us because of how much salary cap he uses.
Are the Cowboys really going to cut Ware? My guess is that Jones is standing firm in an effort to get Ware to take a pay cut. The Cowboys might legitimately cut Ware if he refuses to take a cut in salary, but Ware knows that and doesn't have a whole lot of leverage in this situation.
Still, the Cowboys need to find a No. 1 defensive end for the future. Although there don't seem like many options in the first round, you still can't rule out a player like Missouri's Kony Ealy if the team feels like they desperately need an end.
A Second-Round Wide Receiver Makes a Lot of Sense
This class is loaded with wide receiver talent, much of which is underrated. Looking at CBS Sports' big board, there are several immensely talented receivers who are projected to get selected in the second round: Penn State's Allen Robinson, Vanderbilt's Jordan Matthews and Fresno State's Davante Adams.
Matthews really helped himself at the combine with a 4.43 40-yard dash, which could put him in first-round consideration. Robinson's workout was considered lackluster since he turned in a 4.60 40-yard dash, but that time isn't horrible for someone who checked in at 220 pounds. Robinson also jumped 10'7" in the broad jump, showing he does indeed have some explosiveness.
Robinson has all the predictors of receiver success: size, youth and college dominance. His 40 time might drop him to Dallas in the second round, in which case there's probably not going to be a better value.
But the Cowboys don't need a wide receiver, you say? They do indeed need another big, physical player to complement Dez Bryant, but the impact of selecting a player at a position deemed a "non-need" could be minimized if the Cowboys trade down in the first round and potentially pick up an additional second.
Dallas Has No Shot at Landing Texas A&M WR Mike Evans
The lone wide receiver that could have been a possibility for Dallas with the 16th overall pick was Texas A&M's Mike Evans. He would have been an underrated choice, because he's probably a top-10 talent who wasn't being viewed like it.
After his combine, though, Evans isn't going to fall to Dallas. At 6'5", 231 pounds, Evans ran a 4.53 in the 40-yard dash and jumped 37 inches vertically. He's going to be a true No. 1 receiver with big-time scoring ability in the NFL.
The Cowboys Might Need to Draft a QB
The Cowboys met with Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, according to Dallas Morning News, but he's highly unlikely to wear a star on his helmet anytime soon. A mid or late-round quarterback isn't out of the question, however.
The main reason for that is the uncertainty of backup quarterback Kyle Orton. DMN's Rainer Sabin reported that the Cowboys aren't sure if he'll return to Dallas in 2014:
He hasn’t indicated that he has decided or not decided to play. I can logically look at it and think that he would want to play, but I don’t know that anymore. Let me put it like this: I haven’t talked to him and we haven’t talked to him directly about him not playing. I’m assuming he’s going to play.
The drafting of a mid-round quarterback might be taken as a knock on Tony Romo, but it would likely just be so the team could groom a viable backup.
Dallas Might Have Room to Work with the Salary Cap
The Cowboys aren't in a great situation with the salary cap, but it might not be as bad as we initially believed. After an initial cap projection of around $126 million increased to $130 million, NFL.com reported that the 2014 salary cap will now likely be even greater than $130 million. That extra $5-plus million in cap space should really help Dallas.
It's still unlikely the 'Boys will be able to sign a big-name free agent, but they should now have room to work in order to bring in a second-tier talent. If they sign a free-agent defensive tackle like Henry Melton, for example, that could go a long way in dictating the course of their draft.