Since Jerry Jones has become owner, the Dallas Cowboys are always a prime candidate to trade up or down. In the 25 drafts since Jones has been the owner, he has traded the Cowboys' first-round pick, in some fashion, 20 times.
However, since the draft is so deep with talent, it seems more likely that the Cowboys will trade back to acquire additional picks so they can draft more impact players. The assumption is that the Cowboys will trade back somewhere in between picks No. 20-32.
Even though in this scenario the Cowboys are trading back to the latter part of the first round, the object is the same. The Cowboys must draft players who will make an immediate impact this season.
In the 2013 NFL draft, the Cowboys accomplished this objective by trading back to the No. 31 pick with the San Francisco 49ers. Going into the draft, the Cowboys had a huge hole in the interior of their offensive line and needed to upgrade that aspect of their team through the draft.
The Cowboys drafted Wisconsin's Travis Frederick with the 31st pick to help improve a weak spot on the team. Frederick proved to be a huge upgrade over both Ryan Cook and Phil Costa.
The Cowboys are hoping to duplicate this type of success if they trade back again in this year's draft.
Ohio State's Ryan Shazier would be a good fit for the Cowboys if they traded back. Shazier is an athletic and playmaking outside linebacker who can make plays from sideline-to-sideline.
Shazier was one of the 30 national pre-draft visitors, therefore making it likely the Cowboys are interested in him should his value match up with their pick.
NESN compiled nine of the top draft experts' prospect rankings, and Shazier is rated at 21st, which is perfect value if the Cowboys trade down somewhere in between picks No. 20-32.
Cowboys Assistant Director of Player Personnel Will McClay said on 105.3 The Fan's Draft Show (h/t Blogging the Boys):
So one of the first things we look at is speed. You’ve got to be a good football player, the character has to fit in to what we do and in our environment, but we’re looking for speed. We want to build the team speed and the depth with good football players.
Shazier fits that bill; he is explosive off the snap, has incredible short-area quickness and has the speed to make plays all over the field.
Shazier has shown the ability to play at all three linebacker positions in college; however, he would best fit as a "Will" linebacker in the Dallas 4-3 scheme. The "Will" linebacker is usually aligned off the ball on the weak side of the offense. The "Will" is usually the smallest and most explosive of the linebackers because he normally does not need to deal with any immediate blockers.
Shazier has all the abilities to become an elite outside linebacker in the NFL. Bleacher Report's Matt Miller stated in the above video that Shazier compares well with another great "Will" linebacker, Lavonte David.
He takes great angles on the ball-carrier and has impressive football intelligence. Shazier showed the capacity to be able to read the offense and its keys and then decipher the play quickly enough so that he could go and make a play.
Shazier's athleticism gives him the ability to be good in coverage as well. He has the speed to stay with running backs during passing plays, along with the physicality to cover tight ends. As their game versus the San Diego Chargers showed, the Cowboys need a "Will" linebacker who has the ability to stay with and cover running backs.
Shazier would surely improve the defense from the moment he stepped on the field. Shazier would instantly bring a playmaking presence to the Cowboys defense. Shazier's intelligence and athleticism make him a perfect fit for the Cowboys.
If the Seattle Seahawks proved anything in their super bowl run, it was how much it helps to have a great coverage free safety. The ability to have the confidence in a player to play as the single deep safety opens up a ton of opportunities for the defense.
With the Cowboys stating last year that their defense will closely resemble the Seahawks defense, the Cowboys should be looking for a free safety with great coverage skills.
Northern Illinois' Jimmie Ward would go a long way toward filling that void. Miller rated Ward as the best coverage safety in the NFL draft.
Ward was also one of the Cowboys' 30 national pre-draft visitors, which shows that the Cowboys at least have some interest in him.
Ward has the ability to play as a single-high safety or drop down and cover the slot receiver. Ward is truly special in that regard as a prospect.
What Ward doesn't have in speed, he makes up for in intelligence. Ward is not as fast as some other safety prospects, but he diagnoses plays and routes very quickly, which allows him to get where he needs to be at the right time.
Ward has fluid hips and great change-of-direction ability, which are vital in coverage for defensive backs.
The one area where Ward will struggle initially is having enough strength and physicality to cover bigger tight ends in the NFL. However, with some work in the weight room, Ward will develop the strength necessary to battle tight ends down the field.
NESN's rankings place Ward at 35th, which may be a little bit of a reach. However, since Ward is such a great scheme fit for the Cowboys, he is probably rated a little bit higher on their board.
Ward would immediately improve the Cowboys' coverage and give the Cowboys their first playmaking coverage safety since Darren Woodson.
Since the Cowboys released DeMarcus Ware, the team has had a huge need at both the strong- and weak-side defensive end positions.
Missouri's Kony Ealy would give the Cowboys a good option at weak- or strong-side defensive end. Ealy has great size (6'4" and 273 pounds) and athleticism, which give him potential to fill one of those needs.
In the above video, Miller states that Ealy is more polished and a better player than Aldon Smith coming out of college.
Ealy also has the versatility to move inside to 3-technique defensive tackle during pass plays, much like former New York Giants defensive end Justin Tuck. Ealy's size makes him a good option at the strong-side defensive end, while his athleticism make him a good option as the weak-side defensive end.
Ealy is a bit raw at this point in his career, but he has all the tools to develop into an elite defensive end.
Ealy still needs to develop better pass-rush moves and also improve on his strength at the point of attack. The good thing about this is that both of the aspects are easily fixed with proper coaching and work ethic.
What Ealy has that you can't teach is freakish size to go along with his incredible short-area quickness.
Ealy's athleticism makes him great in pursuit and gives him a great burst off of the line.
NESN's ranking has Ealy rated at 26th, which makes his value match up with the Cowboys' potential pick. The Cowboys seem to have some interest in Ealy because they brought him in for a pre-draft visit.
At this moment, Ealy could bring a good pass-rushing option along with the versatility to play a myriad of positions along the defensive line. Ealy would be a great option on the Cowboys' defensive line rotation and could develop into an All-Pro type of defensive end.
Some other players the Cowboys may consider if they traded down include: TCU cornerback Jason Verrett, Boise State defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence and Oregon State defensive end Scott Crichton.