Dallas Cowboys Ultimate 2014 Draft Primer
The Dallas Cowboys have been strapped for cash for some time, and that isn't likely to change in the short-term future. Tony Romo's contract is extra large, and Dez Bryant and Tyron Smith will be owed sizable paydays soon.
As a result, America's Team will only break from its current four-year playoff drought if it continues to find starting-caliber talent early and often in the draft. So there'll be a lot of pressure on Jerry and Stephen Jones Thursday, Friday and Saturday in New York.
Here's our full pre-draft primer for Big D.
List of 2014 Draft Picks
The Cowboys have 11 picks in total this year, but that's a bit misleading. The first five picks are all their own, with one in each round. But they traded their sixth-round pick to the Kansas City Chiefs last summer, gaining a seventh-rounder and linebacker Edgar Jones in return. That's one of six seventh-round picks Dallas possesses, because it also acquired a seventh-rounder from the Chicago Bears in exchange for tight end Dante Rosario while picking up three seventh-round compensatory picks.
The Cowboys have six of the draft's final 28 selections.
Round 1, pick 16
Round 2, pick 47
Round 3, pick 78
Round 4, pick 119
Round 5, pick 158
Round 7, pick 229
Round 7, pick 231
Round 7, pick 238
Round 7, pick 248
Round 7, pick 251
Round 7, pick 254
Position-by-Position Big Board
Here's a look at several players who would make sense as Cowboys draft picks at key positions.
1. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
2. Tom Savage, Pittsburgh
3. AJ McCarron, Alabama
4. Aaron Murray, Georgia
Manziel would be a potential first-round pick if he were to drop to the team at 16. He's got the star power to shine in Dallas and the ability to one day relieve Tony Romo. Savage and McCarron have the raw passing ability to one day become franchise quarterbacks, and both sort of remind you of Troy Aikman. They're mid-round picks. Murray could be a late-round steal who could be groomed under Tony Romo.
1. Jeremy Hill, LSU
2. De'Anthony Thomas, Oregon
3. LaDarius Perkins, Mississippi State
I think it would be hard for the Cowboys to rationalize using a second-round pick on Carlos Hyde or Tre Mason. Hill can grind out yardage and has the size to take beatings, but character concerns could knock him into the third round. Perkins is small but explosive and could be a superb late-round complement for DeMarco Murray. Same for Thomas, who ranks ahead because he's a more versatile weapon.
1. Bruce Ellington, South Carolina
2. Josh Huff, Oregon
3. Jeff Janis, Saginaw Valley
4. John Brown, Pittsburgh State
5. Chandler Jones, San Jose State
Despite the end of the Miles Austin era, I think the Cowboys are in solid shape at wide receiver. I'd just keep my eye out for versatile guys who can play the slot out of the middle or late rounds. All five of the receivers above how the skills to make the roster and could challenge Cole Beasley and/or Dwayne Harris for slot snaps.
1. Zack Martin, Notre Dame
2. Morgan Moses, Virginia
3. Cameron Fleming, Stanford
4. Seantrel Henderson, Miami
Martin could be a long-term replacement for Doug Free at right tackle, but is that what you do with a first-round pick? Dallas should only go down that road in the worst-case scenario—and preferably with a trade back. Instead, it can focus on quality tackle candidates in the middle or late rounds.
Moses would be a stellar addition in Round 3, especially because he could also help at guard, but he might be taken in Round 2. Fleming could be a third- or fourth-rounder who would push Free immediately. As would Henderson, who might be available in Round 5. All of those guys are solid pass protectors, which is vital at this stage of Romo's career.
1. Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State
2. Cyril Richardson, Baylor
3. Trai Turner, LSU
4. Spencer Long, Nebraska
I really don't believe you reach for interior offensive linemen, especially with so many needs elsewhere. But the Cowboys are in dire need of help on both sides of Travis Frederick. Jackson, Richardson and Turner would be intriguing picks in Rounds 2, 3 or 4, as all are NFL ready and good pass protectors (relatively speaking). Long could be a potential steal late, because he has the ability but missed most of his senior year with a torn ACL.
1. Anthony Barr, UCLA
2. Dee Ford, Auburn
3. Kony Ealy, Missouri
4. Demarcus Lawrence, Boise State
5. Scott Crichton, Oregon State
6. Marcus Smith, Louisville
7. Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas
As you can see, we're thinking the Cowboys have to draft a shiny new pass-rusher early. Maybe it's Barr in Round 1 and they have a Week 1 starter and a great fit for that Tampa 2 scheme. If not, Ford, Ealy, Lawrence and Crichton are options in Round 2, while Smith and Jeffcoat could be possibilities in the third round. All suit the system well and have a chance to make an impact as rookies in a deep draft class.
1. Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh
2. Timmy Jernigan, Florida State
3. Dominique Easley, Florida
4. Stephon Tuitt, Notre Dame
5. Will Sutton, Arizona State
The Cowboys obviously complicated things by signing Henry Melton, and defensive tackles aren't as key as pass-rushers, but Donald has Pro Bowl ability and should top Dallas' draft board altogether. If the team can't land him and take a pass-rusher or safety instead, the idea should be to land Jernigan, Easley, Tuitt, Sutton or even Louis Nix, RaShede Hageman or DaQuan Jones in Round 2 or Round 3.
1. C.J. Mosley, Alabama
2. Ryan Shazier, Ohio State
3. Telvin Smith, Florida State
Mosley is talented enough that if the Cowboys can get him via a trade into the bottom of the first or the top of the second round, they consider it. Then, they could move Sean Lee outside and be set at linebacker, maybe for years to come. Shazier and Smith could also make a run at starting spots from the get-go, but Smith would probably be a better value pick.
1. Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Nebraska
2. E.J. Gaines, Missouri
3. Andre Hal, Vanderbilt
Jean-Baptiste is big, strong and can cover. In the third round, he'd be a pleasant surprise. The problem is that Dallas already has so much committed to corners so it really can't rationalize picking someone earlier than that. Gaines and Hal would be better mid- to late-round picks.
1. Calvin Pryor, Louisville
2. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama
3. Deone Bucannon, Washington State
4. Ed Reynolds, Stanford
5. Marqueston Huff, Wyoming
6. Ahmad Dixon, Baylor
If the circumstances are right, I've got no issue with the Cowboys drafting Pryor or Clinton-Dix in Round 1. Both are good enough to start Week 1 on this team. Beyond that, though, I'd be thinking about using either a third, a fourth or a fifth on Bucannon, Reynolds, Huff or Dixon, all of whom might need some time at the next level. It's also possible the Cowboys package some of their seventh-rounders to grab one of those safeties if the team slides into Round 6.
Round 1, Pick 16
Team needs: Defensive line, offensive line, safety
The Cowboys might have long-term replacements for DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher in Anthony Spencer and Henry Melton, but both of those players are coming off major knee procedures and Spencer is on the wrong side of 30. This team knows how crucial it is to get pressure up front, whether it's in the middle or off the edge, and now it's time to find some fresh blood along that entire defensive line.
That's why Aaron Donald and Anthony Barr are ideal candidates in Round 1. The problem is that both of those blue-chip D-line prospects have a chance to be taken earlier. If that transpires, the Cowboys will have to think long and hard about trading back and landing Timmy Jernigan, Kony Ealy or Dee Ford later in Round 1 or even early in Round 2.
If those two two defensive linemen are gone and the Cowboys don't trade back, an offensive tackle like Zack Martin or one of those two blue-chip safeties, Calvin Pryor or Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, make a lot of sense. All three of those guys would likely start Week 1.
Round 2, Pick 47
Team needs: Defensive line, offensive line
Those needs naturally shift now depending on what happened in Round 1. If an offensive tackle or safety has been added at this stage, it'll be all about the defensive line. However, it wouldn't be surprising to see the Cowboys take D-linemen in both Round 1 and Round 2. That's how desperate they are for short- and long-term help there.
If the 'Boys take a pure pass-rusher like Ford or Ealy in the first round, they might look to take an interior defensive lineman like Jernigan, Easley, Tuitt or Sutton here.
The reality is that safety won't likely be touched here. There's a big gap between Clinton-Dix, Pryor and everybody else at that position, and a slew of good safeties should be around in the third round, including Deone Bucannon.
Round 3, Pick 78
Team needs: Defensive line, guard, safety
Again, this could be the prime round for that safety. But if the Cowboys have already added a safety, this will be the spot to add that second defensive lineman. Otherwise, guard makes a lot of sense in Round 3. The Cowboys can't enter 2014 with Ron Leary and Mackenzy Bernadeau starting there, and the third round isn't too early to look for interior offensive linemen.
Gabe Jackson, Cyril Richardson and Trai Turner all come from big schools and could start from this spot. David Yankey is another intriguing possibility, but Yankey's stock has been sliding and he might not be an ideal fit for that offense considering concerns regarding his pass protection. He'd be a good fourth-round pick, though.
Round 4, Pick 119
Team needs: Quarterback, running back, offensive line
We're assuming that at this point the Cowboys have addressed the defensive line and can turn their attention to secondary needs after filling holes at safety and guard. Now's where they should consider a potential mid-round, groomable quarterback to learn from Tony Romo (think: Aaron Murray or AJ McCarron) or a running back to work with DeMarco Murray (De'Anthony Thomas or Jeremy Hill).
It's also possible the team could take that guard or tackle now, especially if it wants somebody who can challenge Free, Bernadeau or Leary for a starting spot this summer.
Round 5, Pick 158
Team needs: Running back, offensive line, wide receiver
At this point, I'd expect the Cowboys to add one more offensive weapon for the upcoming season. Maybe that's a back like Jeremy Hill or De'Anthony Thomas, or maybe it's a versatile, slot-ready receiver like Bruce Ellington, Josh Huff, Jeff Janis or John Brown.
If they've already addressed those needs, it's back to the trenches for reinforcements. Remember, as of now, the 'Boys don't have a sixth-round pick. After this, they'll go 71 picks without making a selection. That makes this an incredibly important spot.
Team needs: Cornerback, linebacker
Earlier, we gave you some linebackers and corners Dallas could take early, but since the Cowboys have committed plenty of recent picks and free-agent money to players at those positions, there's a chance they use late picks in order to draft fliers like E.J. Gaines or Andre Hal at corner or Denicos Allen or Marquis Flowers at linebacker.
Dallas picks six times in the seventh round, so it could package some of those selections to move into Round 6, where Gaines might still be available. Regardless, the team will have the ability to add some defensive depth with these picks, especially in such a deep draft.
Latest Draft Buzz
The Johnny Manziel hoopla
Among others, ESPN's Ed Werder linked Manziel to the Cowboys last week. As a result, there's been plenty of chatter regarding the possibility that Dallas takes him in Round 1. However, the 'Boys don't have a lot of ammunition to move up from the No. 16 spot and Manziel is expected to be gone well before that. NFL Media's Ian Rapoport reported earlier this week that the Cowboys had no intention of drafting Manziel, even in their regular spot.
Wide receiver in Round 1?
Rapoport also noted that he wouldn't be surprised if the 'Boys take a wide receiver in that No. 16 spot. That's surprising considering all of those needs on defense. Plus, Terrance Williams looked nice last season.
Kyle Orton coming back?
Orton has been absent from voluntary offseason workouts, but that doesn't mean the 'Boys will be drafting a quarterback to work with Brandon Weeden behind Tony Romo. Owner Jerry Jones expects Orton to return, according to ESPN.com.