Beginning tomorrow, the eyes of the football universe will focus on Dallas as they prepare to host their first Super Bowl.
However, the focus of the Dallas Cowboys staff will be diverted to Mobile, Alabama.
The Senior Bowl has become the “Super Bowl” of the draft season. This is the last opportunity for scouts to see the top college talent compete against each other in game situations.
This year’s game includes some big names, such as Jake Locker and Von Miller. Each team has their own list of “big names” to watch during the week.
For the Dallas Cowboys, their watch list should include:
The Cowboys are suffering from years of ignoring the importance of drafting young offensive linemen to replenish the talent at that position.
Moffitt is a 323-pound guard who has experience at center as well. He comes from a program in Wisconsin that is known for being a smash-mouth, run-first program. Moffitt was a first team AP All-American in 2010.
Moffitt could be available early in the 2nd day of the draft, and would provide great value.
Moffitt could be brought in to replace Kyle Kosier, challenge Leonard Davis, or provide depth behind the aging Andre Gurode.
Scouts should get a good look at Moffitt in Mobile facing the South’s defense line that will have a good mix of skill-sets including LSU’s Drake Nevis, the 340-pound Phil Taylor from Baylor.
As you can tell, the offensive line should be a main focus for the Cowboys in the 2011 NFL Draft.
Ijalana played tackle at FCS powerhouse Villanova, and could come as a bargain in the 2nd or 3rd round.
Ijalana has proven durable, starting all 53 games in his collegiate career, including 11 as a true freshman. Ben has a winning pedigree, amassing a 40-13 four-year record, including 7-2 in the playoffs and one national championship in his time at Villanova.
Ijalana will need to show how he stacks up against a higher level of competition. He could be helped by the success Dallas had with Larry Allen, another highly decorated small-school offensive lineman.
Many will argue that the defensive backfield is a larger area of concern for the Cowboys than the offensive line.
One of the biggest deficiencies on defense was the lack of presence at the safety position.
Ahmad Black may be the best fit for the team’s needs.
Though small in stature at 5’9 and 189 pounds, Black has shown the ability to make plays both as a tackler and in coverage.
Black has proven himself on the biggest stage in college football having played in the SEC and winning a national championship.
He is one of the highest rated safeties in the draft, so his availability to the Cowboys may be questionable at best, but he could help fill a huge hole on the defense.
Combined with poor on-the-field results from Alan Ball, Gerald Sensabaugh is set to become a free agent.
Etheridge has been a staple on the Auburn defense since 2007.
Etheridge is an at-the-line, run stopping strong safety that could come more affordably than Sensabaugh.
Etheridge also has made big plays in big games, including an interception in this year’s National Championship game.
He will be challenged in Mobile by a talented group of receivers, but a good performance would likely answer questions about his coverage ability.
Paea would offer the Cowboys a more traditional 3-4 nose tackle, and give them more flexibility with Pro-Bowl tackle Jay Ratliff.
While Ratliff has shown great playmaking ability, teams began double-teaming him and opening up gaping holes in the middle of the Dallas defense.
Paea comes in at 311 pounds, but will likely be one of the strongest players in the draft.
If not before, his stock will likely soar at the combine, as his workout numbers are gawdy.
He is accustomed to facing double teams, and was still able to make at least one tackle-for-loss in 12 of his last 18 games. He also has 14 sacks for his career and forced 9 fumbles.
In short, Paea is a big, strong, playmaker on the defensive line.
Drafting Paea would allow Dallas to use Ratliff more as an end, keeping him away from double teams, or give them more of a rotation at nose tackle, keeping Ratliff fresher throughout the season.
Paea could put himself into the first round area with a dominating performance in Mobile.
Unfortunately, that may put him out of reach for the Cowboys.
McPhee appears to be a great fit as a 3-4 defensive end.
He has good size at 285 pounds.
McPhee also showed his character by being selected as a permanent captain prior to the season.
One concern may be that McPhee only recorded 2 sacks as a senior, after leading the team with 5 his junior season.
However, the 3-4 defensive end is more about controlling the line than rushing the passer.
McPhee had totals of 35 and 56 tackles in his two seasons in Starkville.
McPhee could easily be an upgrade at the position as Olshansky is aging quickly, and Marcus Spears will likely be leaving Dallas.
Scouts will look to see how well McPhee controls the line of scrimmage in Mobile against the likes of Wisconsin's Gabe Carimi and the previously mentioned Ijalana.
Ponder is one of the better pocket passers in this draft.
Technically, he looks to be one of the more polished passers available.
He obviously has the smarts for the position, entering the 2010 season as the only FBS player to have earned an MBA.
Ponder has good accuracy, completing almost 62% of his passes, including 68.8% as a junior.
Ponder’s numbers are solid, not stunning, which is why he is not mentioned in the upper quarterback groups for this draft.
However, he has shown improvement during his three seasons as a starter.
He would be an upgrade over Stephen McGee, but could use time to develop behind Kitna, Romo, and under the tutoring of Jason Garrett.
If he is available in the later rounds, he could be a great value pick-up.
Dallas needs more consistency from the kicking game.
David Buehler is a great kickoff specialist, but his inconsistency on field goals has cost the Cowboys.
Jasper is the best kicker in the draft.
He finished his career as the most accurate kicker in LSU history.
Jasper also proved to have the leg strength to make any kick, connecting on 16 field goals of over 40 yards, including 5-of-7 over 50 yards.
The Senior Bowl will show scouts his kickoff abilities, which could lock up a spot during the draft rather than going the free agent route.
These are some of the top names the Cowboys should watch.
The Senior Bowl will go a long way in shaping this year’s draft.
Many players on this list could make themselves unavailable to Dallas with good performances.
Good performances by other players could also lead to some of these players unexpectedly falling to a place where Dallas could grab them later than expected.
Either way, the eyes of the Cowboys’ world will shift to Mobile with great expectations.