Just because the college football season is in its infancy doesn't mean it's too early to look forward to the 2015 NFL draft. The best teams are the ones that are built through the draft. If the Dallas Cowboys want to become a great team, they must stack successful drafts on top of one another.
Look no further than the 2013 Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks.
From 2010-2012, they selected five Pro Bowl players in the draft, while the Cowboys only selected three. That doesn't even take into account the other great draft selections the Seahawks made who just haven't made a Pro Bowl yet. Players such as Golden Tate, K.J. Wright, Malcolm Smith, Bobby Wagner and Bruce Irvin all played integral parts in the Seahawks' Super Bowl campaign.
Looking forward to the 2015 NFL draft, the Cowboys will have ample opportunities to draft players who can come in and contribute immediately.
Every week, we will take a look at three to five players who are draft-eligible and who fit the Cowboys' schemes and philosophy. This week we will take a look at a potential playmaker at "Will" linebacker, a possibly dominant 3-technique defensive tackle and an incredibly quick edge-rusher.
If you are looking for a potentially game-changing "Will" linebacker in the 2015 NFL draft, then Shaq Thompson is your man.
Thompson is listed at 6'1" and 228 pounds as a junior outside linebacker for the Washington Huskies. Last year, he finished second on the team with 78 tackles in his breakout campaign. He played safety early on with the Huskies, but he has since bulked up and switched positions, now playing linebacker.
I'm watching Shaq Thompson film just for fun. He's really good, y'all.— Jordan Plocher (@StarvingScout) September 2, 2014
The first thing that jumps out about Thompson is his athleticism. He uses his blazing speed to get to his gap quickly and usually finishes the play very violently. His athleticism, along with his great instincts, allows him to make a ton of plays for the Huskies.
The best thing about Thompson is his coverage ability. He has the speed, size and fluidity in his hips to take opposing tight ends completely out of the game. For evidence of this, watch this clip:
He understands his drops in zone coverage and can also turn and run against seam routes that have routinely killed the Cowboys linebackers in the past.
The one area where Thompson struggles is when he has to shed blockers in the run game. This is likely due to his relatively small frame (for a linebacker). Thompson could combat this by exercising better arm extension and hand usage.
This week, Thompson and the Huskies take on the Eastern Washington Eagles. Even though the Eagles are not a powerhouse, it is still critical that Thompson dominates in these type of environments. If he shows weakness against lowly competition like this, what is going to happen to him at the next level?
Altogether, Thompson is the perfect candidate for the Cowboys at "Will" linebacker if Bruce Carter and Justin Durant don't show enough at that spot this year. It's still very early in the process, but Thompson has all the makings of a first-round player.
If Henry Melton doesn't live up to his lofty expectations and the Cowboys decide against activating his three-year option, then Leonard Williams should be a top priority.
Williams, an All-American defensive lineman for the USC Trojans, is a junior listed at 6'5" and 300 pounds. He lines up at almost every defensive line spot for the Trojans throughout each game.
In the NFL, he would be best suited as a 3-technique defensive tackle in a 4-3 defense or a 5-technique defensive end in a 3-4 defense. For the Cowboys, he would obviously be a 3-technique defensive tackle.
Williams shows incredible strength with his hands as he routinely walks offensive lineman into the backfield. He couples that with textbook hand usage and a variety of shed techniques and pass-rush moves.
Just asked 4 NFL scouts who is the best NFL prospect on the west coast not named Mariota. All 4 said USC DL Leonard Williams— John Middlekauff (@JohnMiddlekauff) September 3, 2014
Williams is like Aaron Donald but with better size, which allows him to be much more effective against the run. Williams knows how to set the edge as a defensive end and get penetration to disrupt the offense when at defensive tackle.
The only negatives about Williams is that he sometimes gets lazy at times. It seems that in some stretches throughout games he becomes disinterested, which causes his effort level to drop. Another minor negative is that his pad level gets too high at times, but that is easily correctable.
This week, Williams will face a huge test against the Stanford offensive line. If that wasn't hard enough, Williams sprained his ankle during practice this week, but he is still expected to play.
#USC QB Cody Kessler was limited. DE Leonard Williams was out. Sark said both will play against Stanford. And they will. Just won't be 100%.— Adam Maya (@AdamJMaya) September 3, 2014
One of the highest-profile matchups in college football this week will be the few occasions where Williams and highly touted Stanford tackle Andrus Peat lock horns. Because of the variety of positions Williams plays on the defensive line for the Trojans, the two will likely only be matched up with each other for around 15 or so plays.
Williams is such a great player that Bleacher Report's Matt Miller has dubbed him "the most dominant defensive prospect in college football."
The only negative from the Cowboys' standpoint is that they will have to be awful this year to have a chance to select him since Williams is likely a top-five draft pick.
Anyone who follows the Cowboys knows that one of their biggest weaknesses is they don't have many players who thrive as edge-rushers, especially from the weak-side defensive end position.
Enter Shane Ray.
Ray is a redshirt junior defensive end for the Missouri Tigers listed at 6'3" and 240 pounds. Last year, he recorded 39 tackles (nine for loss) and four-and-a-half sacks for the Tigers where he played behind Michael Sam and Kony Ealy.
Shane Ray is so damn explosive. It's crazy.— Jason Madson (@Jason_Madson) August 30, 2014
Ray's best trait is that he is an explosive pass-rusher with a ridiculous first step. He knows how to set up a tackle with his speed before countering with a hard inside move. Like here (right defensive end):
Ray's biggest weakness is playing the run game. His lean frame allows him to get pushed around in the running game at times. However, this can be remedied by a couple of years in an NFL weight room.
This week, Ray and the Tigers will take on the Toledo Rockets. Expect to see a few splash plays from Ray as he uses is incredible pass-rush ability and quickness to get in the Toledo backfield often.
Once again, it is still very early in the process, but Ray looks like a mid- to late first-rounder who could be a serious upgrade for the Cowboys' pass rush.
Imagine DeMarcus Lawrence and Ray lined up at both defensive end positions in the nickel, quarterbacks would be scared for their lives.