Breaking Down the Dallas Cowboys' Top 1st-Round Options
With the No. 16 overall selection, the Dallas Cowboys have myriad options in the 2014 NFL draft. With numerous needs, they might go with a "best player available" strategy in the first round, because it's likely that whoever is sitting as the top player on their board will also fill a position of need.
Perhaps the team's top need is finding a quality defensive lineman. That might be ideal, but this is a weak class at both defensive end and defensive tackle. In all likelihood, most defensive linemen whom the Cowboys would draft at No. 16 would also be available at the back of the first round.
Dallas has other options in the middle of the first, including a playmaking safety. The value of the draft's top free safeties will depend on how the Cowboys view their defense. Is an upgrade at safety going to compensate for the lack of a pass rush?
Let's take a look at five current first-round options for Dallas right now (in terms of popularity), giving each a score from 1 to 10 based on how much the player would help the team.
Note: Combine results are courtesy of NFL.com.
Option 1: Missouri DE Kony Ealy
As mentioned, one of the problems for Dallas is that the draft class is deprived of top-end talent at defensive end. After South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney, the two top defensive ends on the board might be Auburn's Dee Ford and Missouri's Kony Ealy.
Ford is explosive, but at just 252 pounds, it's unlikely the Cowboys will want him for their 4-3 system. Whether or not that's a good idea, there's little doubt that he doesn't fit what Dallas wants in a pass-rusher.
That leaves Ealy, who is probably the only legitimate defensive end option for Dallas if the team stays pat in the middle of the first round. He has good size at 6'4", 273 pounds, but he just wasn't productive at Missouri. In three seasons, he had only 12.5 sacks and 27 tackles for loss. That kind of production isn't worthy of first-round consideration.
Option 2: A Safety
The Cowboys need an upgrade at free safety. They might have high hopes for J.J. Wilcox and Matt Johnson, but those players aren't even guaranteed to make the final roster in 2014.
Will the Cowboys consider drafting a free safety in the first round to cure their woes in the back end?
If so, Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Louisville's Calvin Pryor are the two options. From a physical standpoint, they're comparable:
Clinton-Dix: 6'1", 208 pounds, 4.58 40-yard dash, 33-inch vertical, 9'9" broad jump
Pryor: 5'11", 207 pounds, 4.58 40-yard dash, 34.5-inch vertical, 9'7" broad jump
Clinton-Dix has a little height on Pryor, which might or might not be an advantage, but athletically, they are basically the same.
That might end up hurting their value; when a player is unique at his position, his value increases. Why would the Cowboys draft Clinton-Dix or Pryor at No. 16 overall when they could trade down and still likely grab one of them later?
Option 3: Pitt DT Aaron Donald
Perhaps the most popular player for Dallas is Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald, and for good reason. The Cowboys desperately need a defensive tackle, and he was insanely productive at Pitt.
Remember how Ealy racked up 12.5 sacks and 27 tackles for loss in three years? Well, Donald had 11 sacks and 28.5 tackles for loss from the defensive tackle position last year alone.
The main concern with him is his size; he's pretty light (285 pounds) with relatively short arms (32.625"). That's not as much of a problem, however, when you consider how much he dominated big-school competition.
The problem for Dallas is that Donald might be an underdog to make it to No. 16. After running a 4.68 40-yard dash at the combine, his stock is going to soar. If available, he seems like a no-brainer.
Option 4: The True "Best Player Available"
The Cowboys might see that the best player available on their board also plays a position of heavy need, but what if he doesn't? What if someone like Michigan offensive tackle Taylor Lewan or Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack drops to them in the first round?
Teams champion a "best player available" draft approach, but the truth is that they at least consider their needs, which they should.
In reality, teams should be balancing their board with needs; you can get away with drafting your top player at a position that's not a need if he's ranked highly ahead of everyone else. Otherwise, it doesn't make sense to draft the top player at a non-need position if he's barely ahead of a need player.
We can't grade this possible move without knowing exactly whom Dallas would take, so the score here is "TBD." However, looking at the realistic players who could fall to the Cowboys, there doesn't seem to be anyone so out-of-this-world that they can ignore their needs.
Option 5: Trade Down
If Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald is on the board, he's probably the Cowboys' most likely draft choice. If he's not, the team should consider doing everything in its power to move down in the draft.
First, there are all kinds of value in trading down in the first round in general. Teams that have traded down in the first round have generally come out victorious.
Second, this draft in particular is deep but not loaded with elite talent. The prospects who are projected to go in the back of the first round and throughout the second round are nearly just as good as most players the Cowboys can grab at No. 16.
On top of that, trading back will give them a lot of flexibility. If they covet a player such as Penn State wide receiver Allen Robinson, for example, a lot of the risk of drafting a pass-catcher would be mitigated by Dallas potentially acquiring an extra second-round pick in a trade down.
Because of the nature of this draft and the flexibility a trade down would provide, it's almost certainly going to be Dallas' best option in 2014.