2011 NFL Mock Draft: Dallas Cowboys Should Go Heavy on Defense

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2011 NFL Mock Draft: Dallas Cowboys Should Go Heavy on Defense
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Up until this point, I’ve refrained from creating a mock draft because I wanted time to analyze as many prospects as possible before guessing who Dallas might select (the potential prospects I’ve analyzed thus far are here).

The anticipation is becoming too much for me, which is sad considering it is the middle of February.  Hence, I will put forth my first attempt at a Cowboys-only mock draft for 2011.

There is one major issue I want to discuss before diving into the picks.  I created this mock draft assuming the Cowboys will sign a free safety in free agency.  Michael Huff (Raiders) and Eric Weddle (Chargers) are two guys I love, but pretty much anyone can beat Alan Ball and his 67.7 percent overall grade for the 2010 season.  You can see all of my safety grades here.

The reason I think the Cowboys will target a free safety before the draft is because of the weakness of this year’s prospects. UCLA’s Rahim Moore could be the best of the bunch, but I provided him with just a second-round grade.  It sure would be nice to head into the draft with at least one of the major positional concerns patched up, and free safety seems like the best bet to me.

Also note that, for this mock draft, I am assuming no trades for the ‘Boys.  Thus, they’re “stuck” in the No. 9 hole.  Now on to the picks. . .

 

  • Round 1:  Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama

For the ‘Boys, scooping up Dareus in the first round might be a dream.  Actually, I think the Cowboys would need a sensational trade offer to move back if Dareus is still on the board at No. 9.

His versatility is something the Cowboys generally covet.  He’s big and strong enough to play the nose in a 3-4 defense (some say he’s too small, but he’s bigger than Jay Ratliff and more of an “anchor” than the Cowboys’ current starter inside).  If the Cowboys envision Dareus as a potential nose tackle, he might create an upgrade at two positions, as Ratliff could then move to defensive end.

Like Ratliff, Dareus could also excel outside as a five-technique defensive end.  With none of the current defensive ends on the roster possessing a certain future in Dallas, it’s clear the team needs an upgrade at the position.  A look at my 2010 Defensive Line Grades suggests that as well.  Let’s also not forget that a more stout defensive line generally equates to a better secondary.

In nickel situations, Dareus would kick inside to tackle.  How does a four-man nickel defensive line of DeMarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer, Jay Ratliff and Marcell Dareus look to you?

 

Right tackle is undoubtedly the Cowboys’ largest weakness.  I gave starter Marc Colombo the lowest grade of any player, ever (a 63 percent), including an "F" in pass protection (see all 2010 Offensive Line Grades here).  He allowed 40 quarterback pressures.  What the hell?

I personally think the Cowboys should look into trading back in the first round and then (if need be) trading back up from the second round to be certain they acquire one of the better offensive tackles in this year’s class.  To me, Carimi is one of the best tackles in this draft and, surprisingly, has a shot to fall to Dallas’ second-round selection.

The reason Carimi could drop is that most teams will probably view him as a right tackle only.  That’s a major concern for a lot of organizations, but not me.  Left tackle is certainly the most important position on the offensive line, but I don’t see it as that much more vital than right tackle.  Plus, what does it matter if a guy is a left tackle if he is overrated?  I’m looking at you, Nate Solder.

In my scouting report on Carimi, I said the following:

Like Nate Solder, Gabe Carimi is another mammoth offensive lineman (6’7″, 315 pounds).  Unlike Solder, however, Carimi seems to be a natural bender.  He isn’t tight in the hips, but that isn’t to say Carimi is incredibly light on his feet either.  Although Carimi plays with what I consider to be outstanding leverage and balance, his lack of elite athleticism probably makes him a better fit for the right side than the left (which could fit Dallas well). Overall, however, I like Carimi’s game.  Although he gets flack for not being an elite pass protector, I think he’ll be just fine at the next level.  His technique is above average and his skills seem to coincide with those which one needs to play right tackle.  See ya, Colombo.

 

  • Round 3:  Brandon Burton, CB, Utah

Despite the need for a new starting free safety, I don’t think the safety position is as poor as everyone makes it out to be.  Yes, Ball is garbage, but I am way higher on strong safety Gerald Sensabaugh than most (I gave him an 87 percent and rated him as the team’s fifth-best player in 2010. . .yes, fifth).  You can check out my entire 2010 Dallas Cowboys Player Rankings here.

Since we’re going into this mock draft with the idea of Dallas having already acquired a starting free safety, the position isn’t that big of a need at this point.  The starters are set, and there is some potential sitting behind them (I still really like Akwasi Owusu-Ansah).

The future of the cornerback position, on the other hand, looks cloudy at best.  Terence Newman is getting old in a hurry and Mike Jenkins regressed considerably in 2010.  I was really high on Orlando Scandrick, but I don’t think his skill set would fit well on the outside.  He’s a nickel cornerback, and that’s probably it.

The Cowboys love speed in their cornerbacks (who doesn’t?), and Utah’s Brandon Burton is a burner.  He’s tall (6’1”) and has the potential to add some quality size (he’s only 185 pounds now).  Despite the lack of elite weight, Burton is a physical player.  He tackles with good form and, more importantly, he’s willing to stick his nose in there.

Burton is very athletic, displaying fluid hips and excellent ball skills.  The Cowboys need a playmaker in the secondary, and Burton is just that (the lack of interceptions are the result of few opportunities. . .a good thing).

 

  • Round 4:  Will Rackley, G, Lehigh

Current starting guards Kyle Kosier and Leonard Davis both could be out of Dallas in 2011.  I don’t envision that happening, but it’s still a possibility.  I’ve been very high on Kosier the past two years, voting him the team’s most underrated player in 2009 and providing him with the seventh-highest grade in 2010.

The Cowboys need an infusion of youth along the entire offensive line, however.  I have had the chance to watch Lehigh offensive tackle Will Rackley a few times, and I think he could fit well in Dallas.  Rackley projects as a guard in the NFL, and his size (6’4”, 310 pounds) makes him the prototypical Cowboys lineman.

Rackley is tremendous in pass protection.  He’d probably already be an upgrade over Davis in that department.  Although Rackley attended a Division 1-AA school, it wasn’t due to a lack of talent.  He reportedly had plenty of big-school offers but decided to go to Lehigh for the academics.  Thus, character concerns are probably non-existent.

 

  • Round 5:  Jeron Johnson, SS, Boise State

Due to the current labor situation, I think current strong safety Gerald Sensabaugh will still be in Dallas in 2011.  He’s technically a free agent, but the ‘Boys can still retain him if a new deal isn’t hashed out by March.  They could also franchise him, assuming they don’t use the tag on Doug Free.

If the latter option is invoked, the Cowboys would basically be telling Sensabaugh to “prove it” again.  Even though I provided him with a good grade in 2010, I still think he over-performed.  If his play drops in 2011, the position could become a concern.  The Cowboys know this (and they also know Barry Church and Danny McCray haven’t shown much in the way of coverage ability), so Jeron Johnson might become an option.

Johnson is a player who has simply produced in college.  He led Boise State in tackles last season, despite weighing only 195 pounds.  His lack of elite straight-line speed is why he’ll drop, however.  Nonetheless, I think he plays faster than he will time.

 

  • Round 6:  Jarvis Jenkins, DT, Clemson

At 6’4”, 310 pounds, Jenkins could be the pure nose tackle the Cowboys might seek.  Despite the prior selection of Marcell Dareus, Dallas could look to select a developmental defensive lineman late in the draft.  Remember, Dareus has the potential to play nose tackle, but he’s not a sure thing.  He might be best suited at defensive end.

Jenkins has been labeled a “one-dimensional” player who only stops the run, but that might be all the Cowboys need from their nose tackle of the future.  With Ratliff/Dareus/Bowen kicking inside in nickel situations, Jenkins would be off of the field anyway.

 

  • Round 7:  Mario Harvey, ILB, Marshall

With Keith Brooking likely out of Dallas in 2011 and Bradie James’ play declining, the Cowboys could address the inside linebacker spot in the middle to late rounds of the draft.  I really like the improvement I saw from rookie Sean Lee (I graded him as the Cowboys’ most efficient inside linebacker with an 82.4 percent), but he’ll need help in the future.

Harvey is a beast inside (250 pounds) and could add some physicality to a somewhat “soft” defense.  Although Harvey would probably come off of the field in passing situations, he’d certainly improve the blitz packages from the inside linebacker spot.

 

Other Potential Dallas Cowboys Draft Picks in 2011

Nebraska CB Prince Amukamara

Cal DT/DE Cameron Jordan

UNC DE/OLB Robert Quinn

Ohio State DT/DE Cameron Heyward

Colorado OT Nate Solder

Wisconsin OT Gabe Carimi

Iowa DE Adrian Clayborn

USC OT Tyron Smith

Miami CB Brandon Harris

LSU CB Patrick Peterson

UCLA FS Rahim Moore

Baylor NT Phil Taylor

Aaron Williams, CB, Texas

Muhammad Wilkerson, DT/DE, Temple

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