Ranking the Top 5 Options for Dallas Cowboys' 1st-Round Selection
When the Dallas Cowboys are on the clock on May 8, they hope to choose a player who can provide an immediate impact from the moment he steps on the field.
UCLA's Anthony Barr and Pittsburgh's Aaron Donald will be the best options for the Cowboys at pick No. 16. However, the draft is unpredictable and the Cowboys will need to have other good options for their first-round pick.
With just over a week left until the 2014 NFL draft, teams are beginning to finalize their boards and work to a definitive draft plan.
With Jason Garrett and Rod Marinelli in the final year of their contracts, the Cowboys need to draft players who have the ability to make a real positive impact for the team immediately. This philosophy is especially important in the first round, where a team has the best chance to draft impact players.
The Cowboys have had good success as of late with their first-round picks. Three of the last four picks have resulted in integral players who have made a positive impact on the Cowboys.
Dez Bryant, Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick have all had great success with the Cowboys thus far, while Morris Claiborne is the only first-round pick in the last four years who cannot be deemed a success at this moment.
The Cowboys hope to continue that success with their first-round pick in 2014.
The criteria used for this ranking were the potential for the player to have immediate impact, the ability for the player to be an instant starter, the player's scheme fit and the overall value that player has at pick No. 16.
Ohio State's Ryan Shazier has been linked to being a possible Cowboys pick ever since he was reported as one of the Cowboys' 30 national pre-draft visitors. Shazier is a very athletic linebacker who was a playmaking machine in college. However, the Cowboys must be worried about the hamstring injuries that have crept up during his playing history, especially with the Cowboys' history of trouble with players and hamstring injuries.
If the Cowboys selected Shazier, he would project to battle Bruce Carter for the "Will" linebacker position. However, Shazier's small frame (6'1" and 237 pounds) would most likely limit his ability to make an impact for the Cowboys until he is able to add more bulk to his frame. His frame may limit his ability to be on the field on running downs because he doesn't have the strength or size to take on blockers in the NFL.
Overall, Shazier would most likely be a good option for the Cowboys if they traded down in the first round. At pick No. 16 the Cowboys need to be looking for a player who can make a bigger impact at a need position.
While Shazier is a scheme fit and has the ability to start his rookie year, he doesn't have the value or the ability to make as immediate an impact as players like Jimmie Ward would.
Florida State's Timmy Jernigan has been discussed as a possible Cowboys pick ever since he declared for the NFL draft.
Jernigan is a great fit in the Cowboys' scheme as a 1-technique defensive tackle. Jernigan has the size (6'2" and 299 pounds) to fit in well in Rod Marinelli's one-gap 4-3 scheme. He is strong enough to hold up against the constant double-teams that he would most likely face and he uses great hands to engage offensive lineman and get off blocks.
Jernigan would be a starter at the 1-technique position from the moment he was drafted and would go a long way toward solidifying the interior defensive line. He would make an immediate impact in the run game for the Cowboys and give them a viable player at the 1-technique position.
However, in Marinelli's scheme the Cowboys don't value the 1-technique position in the first round, according to Rowan Kavner of DallasCowboys.com. They believe whichever player plays that position would likely have to come out on passing downs. The Cowboys don't believe a player who would have to come out on passing situations has enough value to warrant a first-round selection, as evidenced by their passing on Sharrif Floyd in the 2013 NFL draft.
Altogether, while Jernigan would be an instant starter, a good scheme fit and make an immediate impact, he doesn't give the Cowboys as much value in the first round as another prospect like Aaron Donald or Anthony Barr would.
The Cowboys are in desperate need of a free safety and many believe that Louisville's Calvin Pryor would be a good player to fill that void.
Pryor is a violent hitter who plays downhill with prototypical size (5'11" and 207 pounds). He would step in as the starter at free safety instantly. Pryor would bring physicality to the defense that has been missing for the last couple of years.
However, the Cowboys should only target a free safety in the first round if he has elite coverage skills, and Pryor is not an elite coverage player. He is stiff when changing directions and wasn't asked to cover many receivers one-on-one in college. Because of this, Pryor doesn't have enough value to be a target at No. 16.
While Pryor would likely be an immediate starter, he does not have the ability to make an instant impact or the value that a player like Anthony Barr has.
5. Jimmie Ward
Northern Illinois' Jimmie Ward is a dynamic free safety prospect who has great coverage skills.
Ward has decent size for a free safety (5'11" and 193 pounds), is an above-average tackler and has great coverage skills. Bleacher Report's own Matt Miller rated Ward as the best coverage safety in the NFL draft.
As evidenced by the highlight above, Ward has the ability to make game-changing plays in coverage. He has the unique ability to make an instant impact in any game. He has shown that he can play the one-deep free safety and has also shown that he can come down to the slot and cover wide receivers.
The Cowboys have been in desperate need of a free safety with great coverage skills since Darren Woodson retired. J.J. Wilcox has shown some promise but he seems to be a better fit at the strong safety position in the Cowboys' scheme. Ward would be a much better fit at the free safety position, which is why he would figure to be the starting free safety if selected by the Cowboys.
This makes Ward an enticing possibility for the Cowboys at pick No. 16. Ward is a great scheme fit, would be an immediate starter at free safety and would make an immediate impact in the passing game from day one.
Nonetheless, Ward does have some weaknesses. Ward doesn't have any of the great physical tools that teams look for in free safety prospects. Furthermore, he does have a tendency to miss tackles from time to time, and since the free safety is the last line of defense in many situations, that has to be worrisome.
Also, Ward may not have enough value to pick at No. 16. NESN compiled nine of the top draft experts' prospect rankings and Ward's average ranking was 35th. This makes Ward a much better value to the Cowboys if they traded back from their No. 16 pick.
Therefore, Ward does not have the value at No. 16 that players like Zack Martin and Anthony Barr do.
4. Kony Ealy
Missouri's Kony Ealy may be the answer to the Cowboys' problem at defensive end. With the loss of DeMarcus Ware and the uncertainty of Anthony Spencer's knee, the Cowboys have a huge need at both defensive end spots.
Ealy has an elite frame (6'4" and 273 pounds) for a defensive end prospect. Because of his frame and athleticism, Ealy has a ton of upside and projects well in the NFL.
He has a great burst off the line and elite closing speed. Another positive for Ealy is that he brings a lot of versatility. Ealy has played numerous spots along the defensive line in college and could project to the 3-technique defensive tackle position on passing downs in the NFL.
Ealy would be an immediate starter for the Cowboys as a strong-side defensive end. He fits in great with the Cowboys' defensive scheme because of his ability to get up the field in a hurry.
Matt Miller states in the above video that Ealy is a better player coming out of college than Aldon Smith and compares well with Smith coming into the league.
Nevertheless, Ealy is not in a position to make an immediate impact in the NFL. He is simply too raw of a player at this point in his career and needs to develop better technique when disengaging from the offensive line, as well as develop more pass-rush moves.
Also, while Ealy wouldn't necessarily be a reach at No. 16, he doesn't have the value that a player like Anthony Barr does at No. 16. NESN's NFL draft expert rankings have Ealy rated 26th.
Altogether, Ealy does not have the value or the ability to make an instant impact to justify being the No. 1 option as the Cowboys' first-round selection like Zack Martin would.
3. Zack Martin
For the Cowboys to select an offensive player with their first-round selection, the player must fill a need and be able to make an immense impact. Notre Dame's Zack Martin fits that bill perfectly.
Martin has the versatility to start at either guard or tackle. He has great feet, great hands and has a mean streak in the running game. Martin finishes his blocks well and has great quickness for an offensive lineman. Martin has all the ability to be great at either guard or tackle.
Miller states in the video above that Martin compares well with Green Bay Packers guard Josh Sitton because of his versatility and skill set.
Nonetheless, Martin projects better at guard than tackle. Martin is on the small side for an offensive tackle (6'4" and 308 pounds) and has short arms (32 7/8" arm length). This limits Martin's ability to keep defenders off of his body and also makes him susceptible to swim moves by lengthy defensive ends.
Martin's size is no worry at all at guard. Even though Martin didn't play there in college, he has shown all the traits to be an All-Pro guard.
Martin would be an immediate starter for the Cowboys at either guard position. He would bring an instant upgrade to the pass protection in the interior of the offensive line while still being effective in the run game.
Also, NESN's NFL draft expert rankings have Zack Martin at 15th, which is great value.
In spite of the fact that Martin is a scheme fit, will instantly start and make an immediate impact, he does not have the value that a player like Barr or Donald would have. Since the Cowboys defense was so putrid last year, players on defense are given a higher value than players on offense.
2. Anthony Barr
UCLA's Anthony Barr has the size (6'5" and 255 pounds) and skill set to develop into an elite defensive end.
The Cowboys are looking to fill the huge void left by DeMarcus Ware at weak-side defensive end. They are in desperate need of a pass-rushing presence at either defensive end spot.
Enter Anthony Barr.
Barr has an elite initial burst along with outstanding acceleration. He has the length (33 1/2" arm length) to be able to keep offensive linemen off his body.
Because of his athleticism, Barr is great in pursuit and often make plays that are designed to go away from him.
Miller states that he believes that Barr is a playmaking machine that compares well with Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks.
Nonetheless, Barr is a bit raw as a pass-rusher right now. He was initially brought to UCLA to be a running back but switched to outside linebacker. Because of this, Barr has not developed a wide array of pass rush moves. This also has led to Barr not being able to disengage from blocks at times.
Even though Barr is a little bit raw, he has made significant improvement with his pass rush technique in the two seasons he has been on defense. There is no reason to believe that Barr will not continue to improve and pick up on the little intricacies of pass rushing.
He would be an immediate starter for the Cowboys and hopefully bring an immediate presence to the pass rush. Even though Barr is raw, he has the ability to make a great impact on defense with his athleticism alone.
One aspect of Barr that may be a little bit concerning for the Cowboys is that he has never played with his hand in the ground at UCLA. If the Cowboys picked Barr, he would have to make the switch from outside linebacker to weak-side defensive end with his hand in the ground.
Because of this, it is still yet to be seen if Barr is a great scheme fit for the Cowboys. However, when you have a player like Barr, you make your scheme fit the player.
NESN's expert rankings have Barr rated at 13th, which would be incredible value for the Cowboys. It is very rare that a player with Barr's production and elite physical tools is available at pick No. 16.
Altogether, Barr is an incredible value, an instant starter and would make a considerable impact immediately. However, Barr is not as good of a scheme fit as a player like Donald would be.
1. Aaron Donald
The best-case scenario for the Cowboys in the 2014 NFL draft would be for Aaron Donald to be available at pick No. 16. Donald is the best player who could realistically be available when the Cowboys are on the clock in the first round.
Donald is the prototypical 3-technique in Marinelli's 4-3 scheme. He has incredible quickness off the snap and has amazing hand usage to engage and disengage offensive linemen. Donald has a wide array of pass rush techniques that he uses almost flawlessly on a game-to-game basis. Donald also has the rare ability to be able to take on double-teams and still win. He would immediately be one of the best pass-rushing defensive tackles in the NFL.
Miller states in the video above that Donald is the most explosive defensive tackle and pass-rusher in this year draft.
The one negative about Donald is he does not have elite size (6'1" and 285 pounds). His small stature has led to him being blocked in the run game quite a bit. Donald doesn't have the size to be able to sit and anchor in the run game, and once a blocker gets his hands on him, it is hard for Donald to disengage from time to time.
Since Donald doesn't have the size to anchor in the run game, he uses his elite quickness to get upfield and disrupt plays. When teams pull their guard away from Donald, he often makes them pay with his quickness and acceleration.
While some teams may want their defensive tackle to anchor in the run game, Marinelli's scheme allows for the defensive tackles to get up field quickly. The Cowboys look for a defensive lineman to have that "quick twitch."
This is why Donald is a perfect fit for the Cowboys' 4-3 scheme. He uses his quickness to get up the field in a hurry.
Donald's pass-rushing ability would allow him to make an incredible impact from day one. Donald projects to have a Sheldon Richardson-type rookie season. He is projected to have the greatest immediate impact out of any other prospect who has a chance to be available at No. 16.
NESN's rankings have Donald rated eighth. Because of this, Donald's impact and scheme fit mean he would give the Cowboys the best value out of any other prospect who could be available.
However, Donald would likely not be a starter for the Cowboys, at least not initially. The Cowboys signed Henry Melton to be the starter at the 3-technique position for at least one year.
However, this does not mean that Donald would not get significant playing time. He would likely be in rotation with Melton throughout the game, while also taking over the other defensive tackle position in nickel packages and passing situations.
Overall, Donald is a great scheme fit, brings immediate impact, will get a lot of playing time and is the best value for the Cowboys' first-round selection.
Donald is the best possible pick for the Cowboys at pick No. 16.