The Dallas Cowboys are always an interesting team to watch during draft day. Every year, Jerry Jones seems to make at least one head-scratching decision that no one understands.
This time around, Dallas selects right in the middle of the first round with the 16th pick.
Most mock drafts believe the Cowboys will address their defense with their first few selections. With holes along the defensive line and at the one safety position, Dallas needs to upgrade its defense through the draft immediately.
However, with Jones at the helm, you never know what direction the Cowboys will go. Now that the combine is complete, let’s take a look at the team’s first-round big board.
DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
Although there’s not much chance Jadeveon Clowney drops all the way to the Cowboys at 16, you never know just how far some top prospects can fall.
Clowney is an extraordinary talent with rare athleticism for a defensive lineman. His 4.53-second 40-yard dash time tells you everything you need to know.
The main concern that surrounds the former Gamecock is that he sometimes disappears in games and is known to take plays off. I don’t see Clowney dropping out of the top 10, however, if he falls far enough, trading up is never out of the question.
OLB/DE Khalil Mack, Buffalo
Another top talent who could be a reach for the Cowboys to get is Buffalo’s Khalil Mack. Mack is a powerful linebacker who could also play defensive end depending on the system.
One of the most impressive facts about him is that he started all but one game and was a four-year starter in his collegiate career. Mack holds the FBS records for forced fumbles with 16.
Like Clowney, most projections have him going in the top 10, but if he were to slip a little, Dallas should take advantage.
DE Kony Ealy, Missouri
Kony Ealy is another defensive end who will be high on Dallas’ draft board. The former Missouri Tiger is projected to be drafted somewhere in the middle of the first round.
Ealy is an explosive player with extremely athletic capabilities. He’s fast off the snap and shows several different techniques to shed blockers and disrupt the quarterback.
If available, the Cowboys should absolutely draft Ealy. He’s got the build and look of the next great pass-rusher in the NFL. With Anthony Spencer and DeMarcus Ware’s futures uncertain, this defensive end fits perfectly.
DT Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh’s Aaron Donald would also be a fantastic fit along the defensive front. The defensive tackle is highly touted and put on a great performance at the combine.
He’s slightly undersized at 6’1”, 285 pounds, but his skill and effort make up for it. Donald has a quick first step and a relentless motor that allows him to interrupt the backfield. His burst is incredible for a tackle, and he showed it off with his 4.68-second 40-yard dash time.
The Cowboys need help on the defensive line, and there aren’t too many better options than Donald in this draft.
DE Dee Ford, Auburn
Dee Ford is a speed rusher who was very successful in 2013. The former Auburn Tiger had 8.5 sacks last season, good enough to be named first-team All-SEC.
At 6’2”, 252 pounds, Ford has to use his agility to get around offensive tackles. He’s got long arms that give him more strength than expected.
Ford will be a first-round pick and is definitely on the Cowboys’ radar.
FS Hasean Clinton-Dix, Alabama
Outside of drafting a defensive lineman, Dallas must address its safety position as well. The best safety in this year’s draft is Alabama’s Hasean Clinton-Dix.
The safety put up respectable numbers at the combine including a 4.58-second 40-yard dash. He is another great athlete and does everything with impressive fluidity. Clinton-Dix is a flat-out playmaker and can do so against both the run and pass.
If one of the first five linemen I mentioned are not available at No. 16, the Cowboys would be wise to upgrade their secondary. Clinton-Dix will be a solid pro for years.
FS Calvin Pryor, Louisville
The other safety sure to be a first-round selection is Louisville’s Calvin Pryor. He put up similar combine numbers to Clinton-Dix but showed his strength with seven more bench reps.
Pryor is a solid tackler in the open field and delivers big hits everywhere in space. He has good vision too, and has shown the ability to make plays on the ball in coverage.
Whether you prefer Pryor or Clinton-Dix, it appears both have plenty of potential and would start for Dallas from Day 1.
DT Louis Nix, Notre Dame
DT/DE Ra'Shede Hageman, Minnesota
DT Timmy Jernigan, Florida State
DT Stephon Tuitt, Notre Dame
DE Trent Murphy, Stanford
DE Scott Crichton, Oregon State
This next group of six prospects all play along the defensive line and are more options for the Cowboys in Round 1. Dallas could very well trade its pick either up or down, so there’s no sure logic of who will be available when it actually chooses.
Some of the tackles include Notre Dame’s Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt, Minnesota’s Ra'Shede Hageman and Florida State’s Timmy Jernigan. Of the four, Nix has the most impressive build (6’2”, 331 lbs), but doesn’t necessarily fit the Cowboys' 4-3 scheme. For that reason I think the front office would go with someone like Jernigan of this group.
These two defensive ends might be a slight reach in the first round, as they’re each projected to go early in the second. Dallas should have better options when it picks, but Murphy and Crichton can both play at the next level.
WR Mike Evans, Texas A&M
WR Kelvin Benjamin, Florida State
WR Odell Beckham, LSU
WR Allen Robinson, Penn State
WR Marqise Lee, USC
WR Brandin Cooks, Oregon State
An offensive position of need is at wide receiver. With Miles Austin likely departing, Dallas should add another weapon to help draw defenders away from superstar Dez Bryant.
Barring a trade, the Cowboys won’t have a chance at the draft’s best receiver in Clemson’s Sammy Watkins. The next best option is a very good one, though, with Mike Evans from Texas A&M. Evans is a monster target at 6’5”, 231 pounds and put up a number of highlight plays in 2013 with Johnny Manziel.
The others are explosive talents as well. The majority of them are expected to be drafted in the first round. I wouldn’t anticipate Dallas going with a receiver this high in the draft, but once again, you never do know.
G David Yankey, Stanford
G Xavier Su'a-Filo, UCLA
G Cyril Richardson, Baylor
Another position possibility would be along the offensive line. Although adding a tackle wouldn’t necessarily hurt, I think upgrading at guard is more essential.
Brian Waters probably won’t be around next season and the consistency of Mackenzy Bernadeau has yet to be seen. Stanford’s Yankey and UCLA’s Su’a-Filo are the top two guards and could both go in the first round.
Once again, not the position Dallas needs to address the most, but an additional option.
QB Blake Bortles, UCF
QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
QB Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville
Tony Romo will be 34 years old this April and will only have so many productive years left as a starting quarterback. I truly believe he’s the team’s best option in 2014; nevertheless, it would be beneficial to start grooming a replacement for down the line.
The top three quarterbacks available this year are Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater. Each is ranked within the top 15 by CBS and has plenty of hype surrounding their names.
The only scenario in which I see the Cowboys taking one of these prospects is if somehow they fall to the 16th pick. It doesn’t seem likely regarding the high demand for quarterbacks in today’s NFL—even though crazier things have happened on draft day.
With Jones calling the shots on player personnel, the draw of a big-name quarterback could lure him in if one of these three lands in Dallas’ lap.