The Dallas Cowboys' pre-draft visitors list is the best resource for fans to find out whom the Cowboys are truly interested in.
Every year, NFL teams bring in draft-eligible college players for pre-draft visits. The value of these pre-draft visits cannot be understated, especially for a team like the Dallas Cowboys.
These visits are used to get a better understanding of certain players the Cowboys are interested in. Former Dallas Cowboys scout Bryan Broaddus explains the importance of these pre-draft visits.
Along with the annual Dallas Day, these pre-draft visits are vital to working toward building the final draft board that the Cowboys will use. Impressions good or bad will shape that board and ultimately shape this team. As we start to bring you news of who is visiting Valley Ranch, pay close attention who they are because trust me, other teams around the league sure are.
As Broaddus indicated, there are two types of pre-draft visits. First, there are the 30 national pre-draft visits. These visits include prospects from around the nation and are usually players that the team wants more information about. At the combine, teams can only interview players for 15 minutes, however, at these visits, teams can get much more in depth and see what really make the players tick.
The second type of pre-draft visit is called "Dallas Day." The Cowboys can bring an unlimited amount of players to Dallas Day, but there are some rules as to which players they can bring in. The players must have played for a college team that is located in the metro area of the Cowboys' complex, or it must be in the player's hometown. This type of pre-draft visit gives the Cowboys quite an edge because of the wealth of talented players that come out of the Dallas area.
Teams do not release the full list of pre-draft visits to the public, so it can be hard to find out which teams are bringing in which prospects. However, thanks to the guys at Blogging the Boys, there is a list of the visits that have been leaked to the media. Now, this is not a full list, but it is enough of a list to be able to discern what positions and what type of players the Cowboys may be looking at in the draft. The updated list can be found here.
The importance of the Cowboys' pre-draft visits can be seen easily in the last eight drafts. The Cowboys drafted only one player with their highest pick that wasn't on the pre-draft visit list, Morris Claiborne.
Surprise! The Cowboys Are Looking at Defensive Line
The Cowboys reportedly have or have had pre-draft visits with at least 11 defensive line prospects. Players like Aaron Donald, Anthony Barr, Kony Ealy and Timmy Jernigan headline the names that the Cowboys have brought in. This shows the Cowboys are thinking defensive line early in the draft, whether it is defensive end or defensive tackle (specifically 3-technique).
An interesting tidbit to come out of some of the pre-draft visits is that the Cowboys see Anthony Barr as a defensive end.
Barr is seen as a tweener type that could fit at either outside linebacker or defensive end. Some have floated the idea of playing Barr at "Sam" outside linebacker:
While the Cowboys brought in a lot of the top rated defensive line prospects, they also have visits with some mid-to-late round prospects. Interesting names like Will Clarke, Jackson Jeffcoat and Devon Coleman look to be considerations in the later rounds.
The last year has not been kind to the Cowboys' defensive line; not one of the four projected starters for the 2013 season are currently on the team. Furthermore, the Cowboys have only signed defensive tackles Terrell McClain and Henry Melton and defensive end Jeremy Mincey, so it is logical that the Cowboys will bring a lot of fresh blood via the draft.
Look for the Cowboys to draft around three players to help fix the Cowboys' defensive line.
Cowboys Look for Flexibility in Offensive Linemen
With the pre-draft visits of Billy Turner and Zack Martin, the Cowboys prove they are looking for offensive linemen with versatility. While both Turner and Martin are projected to be better guards, they both have shown the ability to play well at tackle.
Martin is seen as a good possibility for the Cowboys' first-round selection at pick 16. Martin has the flexibility to start out at guard and then maybe move to right tackle when Doug Free is done with the Cowboys.
For the Cowboys, I would project him to play guard initially, then move to right tackle in time. At guard in the Senior Bowl, he received plenty of work against Aaron Donald and fought him to a draw where no guard could handle him during the practices. At the Combine, Martin even referenced what a battle it was to work against Donald and what he gained from that experience. Depending on what direction this draft goes, it would not be hard for me at all to consider him for the 16th selection for this team because of all the traits he has.
Bleacher Report's own Matt Miller stated in the above video that he believes Martin compares well with Packers' guard Josh Sitton because of his versatility.
Turner is seen in the same light as Martin but may be available in the late second or early third round. CBS Sports' Dane Brugler believes Turner can be a serviceable tackle, but also believes he could be a Pro Bowl guard.
SB Nation's Matthew Fairburn reported Turner has always wanted to play guard.
It is obvious that the Cowboys are looking to get younger on the offensive line and also bring in versatility. Versatility comes in handy on game day when you can only have a certain amount of linemen active. Therefore, a player who can play both tackle and guard is highly valuable.
If the Cowboys invest a high pick in an offensive lineman, it would give them three high-level starters under 24 years old in Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and the 2014 draft pick. This would be a great foundation for the Cowboys offense to have for years to come.
Also, Tony Romo will be a 34-year-old quarterback coming off of two back surgeries in one year at the start of the season. Romo figures to only have two or three good years left. Therefore, when the Cowboys eventually get a replacement quarterback, the core of the offensive line will just be coming into their collective primes, thus making it an easier transition for the new quarterback (maybe Aaron Murray?).
If the Cowboys do select any offensive linemen in the draft, they will most likely have versatility to play guard or tackle.
Cowboys Looking at Free Safeties with Great Coverage Ability
The Cowboys look to be set at strong safety with players such as Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox. However, the Cowboys are void of a free safety with good coverage ability. As the Seahawks proved, if a team has a free safety with great coverage ability, it makes things a lot easier on defense. While there are no players with the ability of Earl Thomas, there are players who have the potential to be impactful free safeties.
The Cowboys have had pre-draft visits with Lamarcus Joyner and Jimmie Ward. Both players have shown the ability to cover receivers in the slot but can also play that coveted single-high safety role.
While most draft experts have Calvin Pryor and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix rated at the top of the safety class, Miller said that Ward has the best coverage ability of any safety in the draft.
Miller believes Ward's versatility make him a very valuable player:
A potential late first-round talent, Ward has the vision, aggressive attitude and three-down skill set to play immediately in the NFL. He brings big value as a versatile safety/cornerback with the talent to play in the nickel or when lined up in either safety spot.
While the Cowboys seem set at nickel cornerback with Orlando Scandrick, a player like Ward would give the Cowboys great flexibility in the event of an injury.
Ward would seem to be a likely target if the Cowboys end up trading back in the first round, preferably in between pick No. 25 and 30.
Joyner brings much of the same skill set that Ward does, except that Joyner has size concerns. At just 5'8" and 190 pounds, Joyner is very small by NFL standards. These size concerns could benefit a team like the Cowboys. Joyner's size concerns could push him to the middle rounds in the draft, which could give the Cowboys the ability to get a starting caliber safety while still filling other needs (like defensive line) early in the draft. Joyner has played both safety and cornerback in college, so he has the same position-flex Ward has, which gives him a lot of value.
If the Cowboys draft a safety, look for the players to be strong in coverage with the ability to play the slot in a pinch.