Dallas Cowboys Day 1 2014 NFL Draft Primer

Alex HallCorrespondent IIIMay 8, 2014

Dallas Cowboys Day 1 2014 NFL Draft Primer

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    Gus Ruelas/Associated Press

    The Dallas Cowboys have finished the last three seasons at 8-8 but are hoping that ending the offseason with a solid draft class will end that streak.

    Dallas has lost more than a few notable names since losing its final regular-season game to Philadelphia. Change has also been in the air for the coaching staff, with Rod Marinelli becoming the new defensive coordinator. Monte Kiffin will serve as his assistant this season.

    This year's draft class is full of talent that could help the Cowboys revamp their defense and fill in a few offensive holes as well. Considering Jason Garrett's record is 29-27 so far as Dallas head coach, this is an important draft for his job security on top of roster building.

    Garrett has to go into this season feeling as if he is on the proverbial hot seat and has a tall task ahead of him considering all the changes in Big D.

    Let's take a look at all the rumors, possible draft selections and who the experts think the 'Boys want to bring to Valley Ranch.

Departures and Additions

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    Tim Sharp/Associated Press

    This offseason was one of the most eventful in recent history for the Cowboys. The team lost more than a few notable names, the biggest among them being defensive end DeMarcus Ware. Dallas was not without its share of free-agency signings, but they did not outweigh who was lost.

    Some important defensive signings were certainly made, though. Henry Melton was brought in from Chicago to help ease the loss of Jason Hatcher, for example. Here's a full list of all the players Dallas has lost and added so far this offseason.

     

    Departures

    DE Everette Brown
    OG Ray Dominguez
    DT Corvey Irvin
    OG Jeff Olson
    C Phil Costa
    DE DeMarcus Ware
    DT Jason Hatcher
    S Danny McCray
    WR Miles Austin

     

    Additions

    P Chris Jones
    DT Terrell McClain
    DE Jeremy Mincey
    DT Henry Melton
    QB Brandon Weeden
    QB Caleb Hanie
    DE Anthony Spencer
    WR LaRon Byrd

     

Team Needs

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    USA TODAY Sports

    It's no secret the Cowboys lost plenty of talent this offseason with the departures of some notable veterans. With names like Ware, Hatcher and Austin gone, new needs have popped up on top of ones that appeared during the 2013 season. Below is a list of positions that must be addressed in this draft.

     

    Defensive Tackle

    Even after bringing in Henry Melton and Terrell McClain via free agency, the Cowboys still have work to do at defensive tackle. Melton needs a partner to help him rush opposing quarterbacks and tackle rushers for losses. If Dallas grabs one of this year's top DT prospects, all of a sudden it has a young, promising interior defensive line.

     

    Defensive End

    Anthony Spencer is indeed back in the fold, but his contract is another one-year rental deal. If Spencer gets back to Pro Bowl form and leaves in free agency next offseason, Dallas is in trouble at defensive end.

    George Selvie emerged last season and produced seven sacks at DE, but it takes more than one solid year to earn a team's confidence. Jeremy Mincey is the team's only other viable option at the position. The Cowboys need to bring in a young talent that they can count on for years to come. You can't get by with rentals and mid-level veterans for too long.

     

    Safety

    There is debate among Cowboys fans as to just how important it is for the team to draft a safety early on. Some have faith in J.J. Wilcox, often-injured Matt Johnson and Barry Church. The team does not have the luxury of relying on faith alone.

    Johnson has never played in an NFL game over his two years in the league. Wilcox lost his starting job last season and Church falls into the "just another guy" category. He's not above being replaced. Dallas needs to fill the void at safety that has been felt arguably since Darren Woodson hung up his cleats. Look for Jerry Jones and Co. to draft a promising safety within the draft's first two or three rounds.

     

    Offensive Guard

    The offensive line looked far better in 2013 than it did in 2012, but it is far from perfect. Mackenzy Bernadeau and Ronald Leary played well enough last year, but neither are long-term options. Dallas has invested heavily in its offensive line with Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick, but the two are not enough. Drafting a highly touted guard would give the team three building blocks that should help keep Tony Romo upright for a long time.

     

    Wide Receiver

    Terrance Williams was drafted just last year and lived up to expectations in his rookie season. The Baylor product posted 736 yards and five touchdowns in 2013. Despite his production though, the departure of Miles Austin makes wide receiver a need once again come draft time. Williams did as well as anyone could have expected, but there's no guarantee that production will continue to rise.

    With Austin gone as well, the Cowboys could use another wide receiver for depth reasons at the very least. Receiver won't be the first position addressed, but it will likely be addressed before the later rounds.

Top Targets

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    With these needs in mind, the Cowboys likely have their ideal players at these positions already picked out. Jones and Garrett will have their fingers crossed in the war room hoping some of these names fall into Dallas' lap. Let's take a look at who its biggest targets are just hours before Day 1 of the draft kicks off.

     

    1. Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh

    Donald has been flying up mock draft boards of late, and for good reason. He led the nation in sacks and tackles for loss per game last season. Donald is arguably this class' top prospect at defensive tackle, thanks in part for how NFL-ready he appears.

    Equipped with explosiveness off the snap and his plethora of ways to maneuver around blockers, Donald could be the league's next big DT. The Cowboys have lost a lot of talent up front on defense.

    Drafting Donald would give them two young and widely-talented tackles to pair with Selvie and Spencer, who are no slouches themselves. Donald would instantly bring this defensive line talent up a letter grade.

     

    2. Anthony Barr, OLB/DE, UCLA 

    Barr has more of an outside linebacker kind of build to him at 6'5", 255 pounds, but he's used to changing positions. Barr started out as a running back and made the switch to defense in college.

    With a little more weight on him, Barr could be that big-time defensive end prospect Dallas certainly needs. Selvie and Spencer certainly have talent, but if either leaves or regresses, there isn't a ton the team can do to improve the position. 

    Barr has outstanding agility and flies around the field on every play. While he has room for improvement, like any rookie, the sky is the limit for Barr at DE after adding on a bit of weight. Dallas needs a player on the line that can replace that quickness it lost when Ware was released. 

     

    3. Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri

    For many of the same reasons the Cowboys have to like Barr, Ealy is another guy they'll have their eyes on. The Missouri product is almost 20 pounds heavier than Barr and possesses similar speed. Paired with his speed, Ealy proved himself to be a reliable and consistent pass-rushing force for the Tigers.

    Drafting Ealy would give Dallas a great insurance policy if Selvie or Spencer falters. Heck, the soon-to-be rookie could even beat out one of those veterans for a starting gig come training camp. Ealy has all the potential to step in and be an instant contributor.

     

    4. Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State

    If the Cowboys can't grab Donald, Jernigan has to be the next person on their list at DT. The former Seminole has a fine 6'2", 299-pound frame to pair with his impressive hands and footwork.

    Jernigan doesn't move like a man his size, and that has caught would-be defenders off guard on more than a few occasions. Melton was Dallas' biggest signing of free agency, but the Cowboys need to address defensive tackle early and give him someone to work with. Consider Jernigan a backup plan if Donald is gone, but that's no slight to what he can bring to the table.

     

    5. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama

    Clinton-Dix is the best safety in this draft and the Cowboys would be happy to take him if guys like Donald are off the board by pick No. 16. Safety isn't a position that needs to be addressed in the first round, but it would be hard to pass up on a player like Clinton-Dix.

    Playing for Nick Saban, the 6'1" safety become the leader of the Crimson Tide defense, something Dallas could use. Clinton-Dix has impressive speed and constantly made smart decisions that prevented big plays. He's everything Dallas could ask for considering the help it needs at his position. 

What Are the Experts Saying?

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    Gail Burton/Associated Press

    The NFL draft's top experts don't seem to have a consensus as to what position, let alone which player, the Cowboys will pick at No. 16. The only thing that remains constant regardless of whose mock draft Dallas fans check is that their team will take a defensive player. Let's take a look at what some of the draft's most respected analysts think Jerry Jones will do at pick No. 16 at the time of writing.

     

    Mel Kiper Jr.: Calvin Pryor

    Depending on how you feel about the prospects of J.J. Wilcox, you could argue the Cowboys need not just one safety, but two. I know defensive line is a pretty big need here for Dallas, but it's a big leap to target either defensive tackle or an edge-rusher here. I actually think the Cowboys could consider moving down if they run into a scenario like this, but I'm not projecting trades, and Pryor, a likely immediate starter at a position of need, makes plenty of sense here.

    The Cowboys certainly need a safety, and one that can start right away. It's just hard to see the Cowboys taking Pryor. Even if Donald is off the board, it's likely guys like Ealy and Clinton-Dix will still be available. Safety isn't Dallas' top need on defense either, so it's hard to see Pryor donning the star next season.

     

    Todd McShay: Calvin Pryor

    Defensive end, defensive tackle and safety are all need positions for the Cowboys, and in this scenario, they get a potential starter opposite leading tackler Barry Church in the secondary. Pryor is an intimidating presence in the middle of the field who does his best work in the box but is capable of holding up in deep-half zone and deep-third coverage. He sets the tone with his relentless playing style and willingness to deliver the knockout hit.

    McShay shows in his comments about the pick that he knows what the Cowboys' top needs are. Because of the obvious help Dallas needs on the defensive line, Pryor isn't likely to be the pick at No. 16. It seems unlikely that Dallas' defensive line isn't addressed in the first round.

     

    Rob Rang: Timmy Jernigan

    The signing of defensive tackle Henry Melton helps fill the gaping hole in the middle of Dallas' defensive line but the Cowboys may want insurance that his surgically-repaired knee will hold up. Jernigan, athletic, powerful and just scratching the surface of his potential would give Dallas the interior duo needed for defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli's scheme to be successful.

    Rang is on the right track with his prediction that the 'Boys will take Jernigan. If Donald is gone, Jernigan is arguably the next best option at defensive tackle. Dallas will certainly address defensive tackle before the first two rounds are done. There's a good chance Jernigan could be the Cowboys' solution to shore up the interior defensive line.

     

    Dan Brugler: Anthony Barr

    The Cowboys have done their due diligence on Barr in the scenario that he falls to them. With Barr still around, I don't think Dallas will pass.

    Brugler doesn't expand much on why he thinks the Cowboys will take Barr, but he doesn't need to. Barr is a top-notch talent that can help ease the loss of Ware. Defensive end is one of the team's top needs and there's few better prospects at the position in this draft.

     

    Daniel Jeremiah: Anthony Barr

    The Cowboys need to address their pass rush, and Barr brings plenty of production and upside.

    The entire NFL.com team is projecting the Cowboys to take Barr in the first round. Considering Dallas' defensive line situation, it's quite possible that the former Bruin will become a Cowboy. Losing Ware hurt Dallas' line badly.

    Barr might not be at Ware's level just yet, but he has the potential to get at least close to it in time. He'd provide another young building block Dallas could count on for years to come.

Latest Rumors, Reports and Analysis

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    Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

    The Cowboys are always in the limelight for one reason or another, and especially around draft time. There are several rumors out there regarding America's Team, but here are the three getting the most buzz.

     

    Johnny Manziel to the Cowboys?

    Manziel was asked today about being drafted by Dallas and said, "it would be nice," according to the Associated Press (via The Dallas Morning News), but he hopes he's been off the board for some time by pick No. 16.

    Owner Jones tried to put an end to the Manziel speculation recently when he spoke with ESPN Dallas' Todd Archer.

    "I will go as far as to say it is not our primary goal in the first round to be looking at a quarterback. We've got a good one," Jones told Archer.

    Regardless of whatever Jones says between now and when his team is on the clock, if Manziel is there, it's anyone's guess if he can resist the high-profile QB.

     

    Cowboys Rumored to Move Back in First Round

    While Jones is busy putting out the Manziel fire, NFL Network's Ian Rapoport just added to it. He reported on NFL Network's Total Access Draft Preview that the 'Boys will look to trade down in the first if the Texas A&M product is still available at No. 16:

    Cowboys would be looking to trade down if Manziel is still on the board at No. 16, per @RapSheet on Total Access Draft Preview.

    — NFL: AroundTheLeague (@NFL_ATL) May 7, 2014

    After weeks of rumors that Dallas was going to grab Manziel at any cost, it now appears that it is only hoping to profit off him still being on the board. Given how many defensive holes need to be addressed, the Cowboys are one of the most likely teams to draft down in order to grab more selections.

     

    Kony Ealy says the Cowboys are Interested

    Ealy spoke with NFL.com's Chase Goodbread on May 6 and explained that both the St. Louis Rams and Cowboys are showing plenty of interest in him.

    "Dallas was really good. I like them. They feel like they can use me across their D-line, inside and out," Ealy told Goodbread regarding the Cowboys.

    The Rams have the draft's No. 2 overall pick, but it's unlikely that they're so enthralled with Ealy that they take him there. Their second pick at No. 13 is more likely, but St. Louis has other needs to address before defensive end. Out of the two teams, it's fair to say that Dallas is the more likely landing spot for the former Tiger.

7-Round Dallas Cowboys Mock Draft

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    After looking through the possible targets, expert projections and going around the rumor mill, here's one last mock draft. The Cowboys will focus this draft on fixing up their defensive unit while adding a few key pieces for the offense. Here's a look at the last seven-round mock draft for Dallas before Day 1 kicks off.

     

    Round 1, Pick No. 16: Timmy Jernigan

    Outside of a move to trade up, the Cowboys won't be able to land top defensive tackle Aaron Donald. For the purpose of this mock draft, possible trades were not taken into consideration.

    At pick No. 16, the Cowboys should focus their attention to finding Melton a top-notch partner to rush the QB with. Having two young, talented tackles on the defensive line is exactly what Dallas needs.

     

    Round 2, Pick No. 47: Terrence Brooks

    The next step for rebuilding the defense has to be addressing the safety position. Terrence Brooks has the skills to be an instant starter next to Barry Church. He has an impressive 5'11", 198-pound frame that allows him to race towards the ball-carrier. Brooks ran a 4.42 40-yard dash at this year's NFL combine.

    As for his coverage skills, being a former cornerback, Brooks knows all about getting between the ball and the defender. The Florida State product can help the Cowboys at both positions and no matter where he lines up, can provide stout coverage.

     

    Round 3, Pick No. 78: Jackson Jeffcoat

    His father Jeff was a solid starter for the Cowboys and Jackson Jeffcoat will continue the family tradition. At 6'3", 247 pounds, Jeffcoat has the power to match up with plenty of blockers he'll face at defensive end. His speed is another advantage that he'll have over most offensive linemen.

    At the NFL combine, Jeffcoat ran a 4.61 40-yard dash time, showing off that quickness that helped him get to so many QBs in college. Dallas will be all smiles if it can land Jeffcoat in the third round and put its immediate defensive line needs to rest.

     

    Round 4, Pick No. 119: A.J. McCarron

    Romo is 34 years old and has had two back surgeries in as many offseasons. Dallas doesn't need to draft someone to replace him just yet, but it's time to find his heir. McCarron comes from a pro-style system and has mechanics as good as any QB in the draft.  

    The Alabama product knows how to throw the deep ball and gets rid of the ball quickly and decisively. McCarron has all the talent a team could hope for out of quarterback taken in the fourth round. In this draft with plenty of promising players at this position, Dallas has to take someone to fill Romo's shoes for when he retires.

     

    Round 5, Pick No. 158: David Yankey

    After addressing all their big needs, the Cowboys need to get some depth at the guard position. At 6'6", 315 pounds, Yankey has that size Dallas has always loved for its offensive linemen. He knows how to use that frame to blast through defenders and make room for his running back. With a little coaching up, Yankey could become a solid starter.

     

    Round 7, Pick No. 229: Terrance Mitchell

    With their first of six picks in the final round, cornerback is as good a position as any to address. Oregon product Terrance Mitchell has some great acceleration and would provide some needed depth at the position. It would make perfect sense for Dallas to grab a corner in the final round considering Morris Claiborne's struggles in 2013 and the lack of depth at the position.

     

    Round 7, Pick No. 231: David Fluellen

    After letting Phillip Tanner walk in free agency, there's room for Dallas to bring in a running back. Joseph Randle was drafted just last year, but providing him and Lance Dunbar some competition would be a smart move.

     

    Round 7, Pick No. 238: Mike Davis

    Even though Cole Beasley had some solid moments last year at wide receiver, the Cowboys need to bring in another young player at the position. With Miles Austin gone and Dwayne Harris on punt and kick return duty, Dallas could use some insurance at wideout. Davis is a homegrown talent that the 'Boys won't be able to resist.

     

    Round 7, Pick No. 248: Jon Halapio

    For depth purposes, bringing in another guard through this late in the draft makes sense. Chris DeGeare is the only listed backup for Bernadeau and Leary on ESPN's projected 2014 depth chart. Halapio is someone Dallas can develop and be a last resort kind of option at guard next year.

     

    Round 7, Pick No. 251: Matt Patchan

    The offensive tackle position is a bit more stable, but Patchan would be a great depth guy. He stands 6'6" and weighs in at 302 pounds. The Boston College product has ideal size and moves pretty quickly for a guy that big. Patchan would be a nice backup to have on the roster.

     

    Round 7, Pick No. 254: Chris Whaley

    Going back to Texas, Dallas will probably look back to defensive tackle with its last pick, specifically Chris Whaley. He's an athletic lineman that knows how to stay on his feet. There's some real raw talent here that Marinelli might be able to mold.

     

    All statistics were retrieved from Pro Football Reference. All 2014 NFL combine statistics were retrieved from NFL.com's results tracker