Draft Decisions: Dallas Cowboys
Which need will the Dallas Cowboys address with the No. 14 pick in Thursday's NFL Draft?
Whenever I introduce myself to folks who aren’t from Texas or are otherwise unfamiliar with Dave Campbell’s Texas Football, I always explain to them that DCTF covers football in Texas more comprehensively than anyone, from high school all the way up to the pros.
Now, admittedly, the majority of people come to DCTF for our high school and college content. We know that; it’s a dedication to those two realms that’s made DCTF the Southwest’s leading football source for over 50 years.
But the professional realm – the NFL – is most certainly part of our coverage area, and there is maybe no more exciting time (save the Super Bowl) for NFL fans than the annual NFL Draft. And, well, it’s that time again, as the 2012 NFL Draft will kick off from New York on Thursday night, spanning through Saturday.
There are plenty of storylines to get to – like that two Texas high school football products will likely go in the first two picks in Stanford QB Andrew Luck (he of Houston Stratford) and Baylor QB Robert Griffin III (he of Copperas Cove), or where Texas A&M QB Ryan Tannehill will go, and many, many others – but a good place to start is with the Lone Star State’s own NFL teams: the Dallas Cowboys and the Houston Texans.
[I took an unofficial poll on Facebook as to which team I should profile first, and the Cowboys won. So, here’s the Cowboys NFL Draft preview! Democracy!]
The Cowboys are coming off another disappointing season by Dallas standards, finishing 8-8 and missing the playoffs by a single game to eventual champion New York. Now, they’ll be picking 14th in Thursday’s first round, and there are a number of areas of need that America’s Team could stand to address.
In this piece, we’ll identify those areas of needs and offer some players that the Cowboys could select at No. 14 (and potentially the 45th overall pick in the second round) if they decide to go that route.
The general consensus is that the Cowboys have three major areas of need that they’ll likely address in the first two rounds.
Defensive back (Safety or CB)
Here’s a pop quiz: when’s the last time the Dallas Cowboys finished in the top half of the NFL in pass defense? Time’s up: the answer is 2008. The Cowboys finished 23rd in pass defense in 2011, 26th in 2010 and 20th in 2009. It’s been since 2008, when the Cowboys finished fifth in the league, that they’ve cracked the top half. The reason is, well, the secondary just hasn’t been very good. There are big changes coming to the secondary – mainstay CB Terrence Newman is gone, replaced by big-ticket free agent signee Brandon Carr, and Brodney Pool has been brought in to solidify the safety spot – but they hardly address the entire problem. Mike Jenkins, it turns out, may not be the answer at cornerback, and the consensus is that Gerald Sensabaugh is not the long-term solution at safety (nor is Pool, who is in on a one-year deal). In any case, the Cowboys need help in the secondary, and No. 14 is an awful good place to start looking for a new playmaking defender in the backfield.
Options: Alabama SS Mark Barron (a terrific player and a top 20 talent in the draft, reports indicate this could be the guy), Alabama CB Dre Kilpatrick (a lockdown corner from one of college football’s all-time great defenses could do wonders opposite Carr), North Alabama CB Janoris Jenkins (could be a bit of a reach at No. 14, and there are character issues to deal with after he was caught with marijuana, but there’s no denying the talent).
Edge rusher (DE/OLB)
One of the great – and self-perpetuating – myths about the Dallas defense is that it’s really good at rushing the passer. This is largely because of Demarcus Ware, who is, quite simply, one of the best pass-rushers in the league. But if you take away Ware’s 19.5 sacks last season, the entire rest of the Cowboys defense managed just 22.5 sacks altogether. The Cowboys could very much use an additional pass rusher coming off the edge in their 3-4 formation, either from the defensive end spot or the outside linebacker role opposite Ware. The plan for this spot got muddied a bit when OLB Anthony Spencer was hit with the franchise tag, bringing him back for one more season, but this is still a long-term area of need. There are a couple of ways to go here: draft an outside linebacker to challenge Spencer for playing time and eventually take over the spot; draft a defensive end to step in immediately and contribute; or draft a nose tackle and move All-Pro NT Jay Ratliff to defensive end. Each route carries with it ts own risk and reward, but the bottom line is that the Cowboys could use another presence coming at the quarterback off the edge.
Options: North Carolina DE Quinton Coples (a true DE out of a 3-4, Coples could step right in and contribute right away), Boston College LB Luke Kuechly (he might not be there at No. 14, but Kuechly is the best linebacker in the draft and is considered one of 2012’s few “sure things”), Memphis NT Dontari Poe (a big guy whom the Cowboys have been all over for quite a while, if he gets the call, it’ll shift Ratliff out to the end, a risky but potentially worthwhile move).
Always. The Cowboys simply haven’t had a great offensive line since, well, since they were winning Super Bowls. The tackle spots look pretty well locked down, with last year’s first-round pick Tyron Smith moving to left tackle and Doug Free maintaining his spot at right tackle. And the center spot is pretty well taken care of as well, as Phil Costa looks like the guy for the future. But the guard situation is, to put it lightly, a mess. There are three guards on the roster: 30-year-old journeyman Nate Livings, undrafted free agent pickup Mackenzy Bernadeau and second-year tackle-turned-guard David Arkin. None of these guys appear to be the long-term solution (maybe Arkin, but that seems like a stretch right now). There are some viable upgrades on the board, but it’s not popular to take a guard with the No. 14 overall pick. This will probably get addressed later in the draft, but an offensive lineman could go in a strange scenario.
Options: Stanford G David DeCastro (the best guard on the board should be there for the Cowboys at No. 14, and would shore up the offensive line for the foreseeable future), Georgia OT Cordy Glenn (could be there in the second round and would be a nice upgrade to the current OL talent on the roster), SMU G Josh Leribeus (local kid could be a nice late round pick-up for the Cowboys).
Greg Tepper is the associate editor of Dave Campbell's Texas Football and TexasFootball.com.