The Dallas Cowboys could go a few different routes to fill defensive holes in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft. The route they should ultimately choose, however, is to grab defensive tackle Aaron Donald by any means necessary.
Donald led the nation in sacks and tackles for loss per game last season. He wasn't just a headache for opposing coaches to deal with, he was a flat-out migraine. If the Cowboys are able to land Donald in the first round, their defensive line would go from their biggest weakness to biggest strength on defense.
Here's what Dallas' starting defensive line could look like with Donald in the fold:
ESPN Dallas Cowboys Depth Chart
What was once an aging, yet talented line headed by Jay Ratliff and DeMarcus Ware would turn into a promising young bunch led by Melton, Spencer and Donald. Just think about what kind of pass-rushing and run-stuffing techniques coordinator and former line coach Rod Marinelli could do with that front.
Like Spencer, Melton is also a former Pro Bowler and could do plenty of damage with Donald on the inside. While at Pittsburgh, Donald showcased his ability to fire off the snap and use his brute force to power his way into the backfield.
Dallas could have the best defensive line in its division in a few years' time; the only missing piece is Donald.
The other name that more than a few analysts think makes sense for the Cowboys in the first round is defensive end Kony Ealy. With Spencer back in the fold, even on a one-year deal, it would make sense for the team to have Ealy as a backup plan if it can't land Donald.
Spencer hasn't played defensive end for Marinelli just yet, but last offseason, all reports out of Valley Ranch stated it would be an easy transition for the Purdue product.
Spencer agreed to come back to Dallas despite testing the free-agency market. It's likely the team could convince him to come back again a year down the road if he proves himself this season. There's reason to find a defensive end in this year's draft as insurance for Spencer but not in the first round.
The issue the Cowboys now face is that Donald has been rising up mock draft boards as of late, especially since Bleacher Report's own Mike Freeman reported the Lions have discussed trading Ndamukong Suh. CBSSports.com's Rob Rang and Dane Brugler project that Detroit will take Donald with the 10th overall pick in their latest mock drafts.
Had an AFC executive call Aaron Donald the “best D-lineman coming out in the last 10 years.” Buzz is real. Comparative player?John Randle.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) April 25, 2014
Even if the Cowboys need to trade up to grab him, Donald is well worth the draft picks they'd lose out on. Donald is exactly what this team needs, especially with Melton in the fold.
Aaron Donald + DC/DL Coach Rod Marinelli = Limitless.— Louis Riddick (@LRiddickESPN) April 24, 2014
Two young yet skilled big men on the interior line will bring many more sacks and tackles for loss to this defensive unit. If Morris Claiborne, Brandon Carr and Orlando Scandrick get more help from their friends on the line, that will make their jobs in coverage a whole lot easier as well.
Donald isn't an instant fix to all the troubles that made the Cowboys' defensive unit one of the worst in the league last year. What he is, however, is a huge step towards fixing several current issues and a defensive building block.
There are certainly other players in the first round that can bring an instant upgrade to the Dallas defense. None can bring the kind of potential and instant improvement that Donald can bring, however.