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cowboys 2011 draft | The DC Times

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Who should Cowboys select in second round?

Jonathan Bales

The Cowboys did as everyone expected and addressed the offensive line in the first round by selecting USC’s Tyron Smith.  My initial reactions are all positive, and I can tell you now I will give the selection an “A” in my post-draft grades.  But who should the ‘Boys be targeting in the second round tomorrow night?  Well, here are the top players left from my personal Big Board, along with their original rankings. . .

9. Justin Houston, OLB, Georgia
11. Benjamin Ijalana, OT/OG, Villanova
16. Brandon Harris, CB, Miami
21. Martez Wilson, ILB, Illinois
22. Marvin Austin, DT, UNC
25. Akeem Ayers, OLB, UCLA
26. Drake Nevis, DT, LSU
27. Mikel Leshoure, RB, Illinois
30. Brooks Reed, DE, Arizona
31. Taiwan Jones, RB, Eastern Washington
33. Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State
34. DaQuan Bowers, DE, Clemson
35. Aaron Williams, S, Texas
36. Titus Young, WR, Boise State
37. Marcus Gilchrist, FS, Clemson
38. Graig Cooper, RB, Miami
39. Rahim Moore, FS, UCLA
40. Chris Culliver, FS, South Carolina
41. Colin Kaepernick, QB, Nevada
43. Dion Lewis, RB, Pitt***
44. Kyle Rudolph, TE, Notre Dame
45. Kenrick Ellis, DT, Hampton
46. Jurrell Casey, DT, USC
47. Rodney Hudson, G, FSU
48. Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri
49. William Rackley, G, Lehigh
51. Curtis Brown, CB, Texas

You can see there are plenty of talented players left on the board.  Ijalana, Harris, Austin, Williams and Moore all play positions of major need for Dallas (I’m thinking of Ijalana at guard).  Here are a few things to watch tomorrow night with the Cowboys’ 40th overall selection:

  • If Ijalana is still on the board, will the team’s first-round selection of Tyron Smith force them to pass on Ijalana?  Even though the Villanova lineman could potentially kick inside to guard, the ‘Boys probably want to address defense next.
  • Will the Cowboys select a player at a position that is not immediate need simply because of value?  Justin Houston, Martez Wilson, Akeem Ayers and Brooks Reed are all unlikely, but still names to watch.
  • Will the Cowboys view either Marvin Austin or Stephen Paea as potential 3-4 nose tackles?  I still think the defense could benefit from acquiring a true nose tackle, so their assessment of those players could be interesting.  I think Austin is capable of playing the nose, but I think Paea’s skill set makes him a better fit as a three-technique.  Also don’t rule out Kenrick Ellis.
  • There are no top five-technique players left on the board, unless you view Drake Nevis as a candidate to move to defensive end in a 3-4.  I think he is a three-technique, but Dallas might jump on him if they disagree.
  • Will DaQuan Bowers’ potential value at No. 40 intrigue Dallas?  Even without the medical concerns, I think Bowers is a poor fit in Dallas, so let’s hope they don’t fall for the trap.
  • It is looking likely that either Aaron Williams or Rahim Moore will be on the board for the ‘Boys.  Both would upgrade the safety position, but will the team wait on possibly signing a veteran in free agency?
  • Before the draft, I gave you names to watch for the Cowboys in each round.  In the second, I listed Ohio State DE Cameron Heyward, Alabama OT James Carpenter, Baylor G Danny Watkins, UCLA FS Rahim MooreKenrick Ellis, NT, Hampton, TCU QB Andy Dalton.  The first three players are off the board, but all three of the latter players are still possible.  You should all be praying Dalton gets selected before the Cowboys are on the clock.

Personally, I think the Cowboys should give a long, hard look at both Brandon Harris and Marvin Austin.  Both represent great value and the depth at cornerback and defensive tackle is weak.  There are solid players like free safety Marcus Gilchrist and tackle/guard William Rackley who could still be available for Dallas in the third, so I don’t think they need to reach on a safety if defensive end if they don’t have one rated highly.  If I had to guess the likelihood of some of the top prospects to get selected by Dallas in the second round, it would be as follows:

  • Brandon Harris: 6 percent
  • Marvin Austin: 10 percent
  • Ben Ijalana: 4 percent
  • Aaron Williams: 8 percent
  • Rahim Moore: 35 percent
  • DaQuan Bowers: 1 percent
  • Kenrick Ellis: 12 percent
  • Other: 24 percent (yes, EXACTLY 24 percent!!)

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How Rob Ryan’s 3-4 Defense Could Result in Cowboys Drafting Pass-Rusher Early

Jonathan Bales

The list of potential first-round targets for the Dallas Cowboys seems to have been narrowed down to a small group.  Rumors and conventional wisdom suggest the team is targeting LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson in a trade up (perhaps to No. 6 with Cleveland), but will likely select between Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara and USC tackle Tyron Smith if they remain in their current draft slot.  In the event that the Cowboys trade down (which is something they apparently want to do quite a bit), they have been rumored to be targeting Wisconsin DT/DE JJ WattCal DT/DE Cameron JordanWisconsin tackle Gabe Carimi and even Florida center/guard Mike Pouncey.

There may be one scenario we are severely overlooking however: the potential for the ‘Boys, with a defense that ranked in the bottom half of most important team statistics last season, to target an elite edge-rusher.  I think a lot of people (myself included, perhaps) have overlooked the fundamental differences between Rob Ryan’s scheme and that of Wade Phillips.  Both run 3-4 defenses, but they are radically different in terms of alignments, blitzes and overall philosophy.  With all of the creative personnel groupings Ryan figures to run in passing situations, the Cowboys will benefit from acquiring another dominant pass-rusher more than they would have when Phillips was still in town.

Now I’ll be the first to argue the Cowboys do not need to place a very high priority on the outside linebacker position.  We all know of DeMarcus Ware’s dominance, but the perception that Anthony Spencer had a horrible 2010 season is just plain wrong.  He failed to live up to extremely high expectations, but I still gave him a solid B (84.6 percent) in my 2010 Outside Linebacker Grades.  Spencer rushes less than most 3-4 outside backers, dropping into coverage on 18.1 percent of all snaps last season (and 29.5 percent of pass plays).  Spencer’s rate of pressures also increased by 33 percent from 2009, meaning the lack of sacks was just a fluke.  Too often, we judge pass-rushers on their sack totals, which is kind of like grading running backs on the amount of fumbles they lose.

Is Aldon Smith a legitimate option for Dallas in the first round?

On top of that, I also have a slight (and by ‘slight,’ I mean ‘massive’) man-crush on Victor Butler.  I ranked Butler as the Cowboys’ third-most efficient player in my 2010 Player Rankings, ahead of Felix Jones, Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, Miles Austin and Jay Ratliff, among others (remember, that relates to efficiency, not overall production).  Butler recorded more pressures-per-rush than Ware, and did not miss a tackle all season.  Some may argue that Butler’s success is largely the result of recording a lot of snaps passing downs, but he actually was on the field for a higher percentage of run plays (39.5 percent of his snaps) than either Ware or Spencer.  By the way–I’m tooting my own horn here–you aren’t getting these numbers or analysis anywhere else.

Even if Rob Ryan is as fond of the Cowboys’ outside linebackers as me (which I think is the case), Ryan’s unusual scheme means you cannot rule out the acquisition of another edge-rusher.  As I have written prior, the Cowboys reportedly have a lot of interest in Missouri’s Aldon Smith, viewing him as this year’s Jason Pierre-Paul (who they had ranked pretty highly on their 2010 Big Board (<–actual photos of the board).  He is higher on their board than even UNC’s Robert Quinn.

These are reasons I will have Smith as one of my primary “sleeper” candidates to come to Dallas (I will publish an article with my others tomorrow).  Nonetheless, I would still consider Smith a huge underdog to get drafted by the Cowboys.  More likely is that the ‘Boys will target an outside linebacker (if they even want one) in the second round or later.  I personally like both Akeem Ayers of UCLA and Martez Wilson of Illinois because of their ability to play inside.  What better way to indirectly bolster the outside linebacker group than by drafting a versatile backer to start inside but possibly move outside in the future?

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Dallas Cowboys 2011 Mock Draft, Version 3.0: A Free Agent Right Tackle

Jonathan Bales

I personally believe my last Cowboys-only mock draft was my most realistic, with the team addressing the free safety spot via free agency and securing USC tackle Tyron Smith in the first round.

But what if the team address the offensive tackle spot in free agency (or has plans to do so, anyway), leaving a gaping hole at free safety?  I personally believe this is a poor strategy for two reasons.  First, there are plenty of quality free agent safeties, including Michael Huff, Eric Weddle and Dawan Landry.  Second, there are no first-round free safety talents available in this draft.

Perhaps Dallas sees it differently, however, and they believe they can secure a starting-caliber player in the second round (or later).  Plus, there are some quality offensive tackles that will be free agents, including Ryan Clady and Tyson Clabo.  By the way, you can see my entire Cowboys 2011 Free Agency/Draft Guide here.

If the Cowboys do plan on securing a veteran offensive tackle, their draft will look radically different from the one I predicted last week.  With Jerry Jones’ past hesitancy to select offensive linemen in the first round, though, the mock below may not be all that far-fetched.

Round 1- J.J. Watt, DT/DE, Wisconsin

Let me start by stating that, if the Cowboys do not plan on selecting an offensive tackle in the first round (or perhaps even if they do), I believe they will trade down from the ninth overall selection.  With the primary areas of concern being defensive end and safety, there is no reason for the ‘Boys to remain in their current draft slot.  The value simply isn’t there at those positions.  Plus, with Washington selecting 10th and in need of a quarterback and wide receiver, there could be a lot of potential trade partners.  I detailed those scenarios here.

With Dallas eying both Watt and Cal’s Cameron Jordan (also an option here), they would almost certainly be able to acquire a defensive end they like at, say, St. Louis’ 14th overall pick.  For this particular mock, we will assume they acquired an extra third-round pick.

Watt is a player I like, but one with whom I am not in love.  In my scouting report on him, I wrote:

One of my initial concerns about Watt is that, contrary to other reports, he doesn’t seem that stout at the point-of-attack.  I still stand by that statement.  Watt obviously has great size and strength, but when asked to hold ground against the run, he’s an average player.  It’s a bit perplexing, as Watt generally plays with superb leverage.  I think his mindset changes when he’s not asked to get after the quarterback and he becomes more tentative.  That could make him a poor fit in Rob Ryan’s two-gap scheme.

At 290 pounds, though, Watt seems to be a natural fit as a five-technique end.  For his size, Watt is incredibly quick and agile.  He finished in the top four among all defensive linemen in the bench press, vertical jump, broad jump, three-cone drill and 20-yard shuttle at the Combine.  Quite impressive.

Watt uses that athleticism on the field in a diverse array of pass rush moves, including what I consider the best swim move in the class.  His rip move and bull rush are also solid, particularly because of his leverage.

I personally prefer Jordan by a hair, but I do consider Watt to be a relatively safe pick.  In the first round, it is better to be safe than sorry.

Round 2- Rahim Moore, FS, UCLA

If the Cowboys plan on addressing the free safety position via the draft (meaning attempting to find their starter), there are really only two players they will likely consider.  One is Texas cornerback Aaron Williams, who most view as a safety.  He is actually the top safety on my board, and I think he is a far better player than Moore.  In my opinion, he will be a first-round selection, but he is also certainly a possibility for Dallas here.

I see Moore as a second or third-round talent who is getting pushed up because he is the “consensus” top player at his position.  From my scouting report on Moore:

Moore’s range is quite good, but not extraordinary.  He diagnoses plays very quickly, however, and uses his intelligence to put himself in proper position.  He also has good speed which should help him become better in man-to-man coverage.  Sometimes he has trouble turning his hips and shadowing receivers.

I think Moore can be a good NFL player, but not a great one.  The Cowboys need to be sure they do not overvalue Moore simply because of the weakness of prospects at his position.

Note: Since the Cowboys must ensure they secure Moore (or whichever safety they covet), I have assumed they will use a mid-round pick (in this case, their fifth) to jump up a couple spots for him.

Round 3- Clint Boling, G, Georgia

The ‘Boys current interior linemen are quite long in the tooth.  Even though I think Kyle Kosier, Andre Gurode and Leonard Davis should all stay in Dallas this season, the Cowboys need to address the interior line before it becomes a massive concern.

Boling reminds me much of Kosier in that, while he isn’t a dominating run blocker, he is superb in pass protection.  He is extremely athletic and uses his short-area quickness and athleticism to gain leverage on larger defenders.

Round 3- William Rackley, OT/OG, Lehigh (this pick acquired from first-round trade)

Yes, I had Rackley in all three of my Cowboys mock drafts, but I know the ‘Boys really like him.  He has the versatility to play any position on the offensive line, which could be huge in Dallas.  I think Rackley should get a look at tackle, but will probably eventually play guard in the NFL.

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, and who better than a prospect with legitimate potential to play every position on the line?

Round 4- Curtis Marsh, CB, Utah State

Despite a pedestrian 4.52 40-yard dash at the Combine, Marsh plays fast.   He is extremely athletic, having played running back his first two years in college.  He is a bit lean (6’1”, 197 pounds), but he is a physical player who is willing to come up in run support.  Overall, I think he is a good fit in Rob Ryan’s scheme.  The Cowboys will have to address cornerback earlier than this if they cut Terence Newman, of course.

Round 6- Colin McCarthy, ILB, Miami

Due to McCarthy’s “low” weight (238 pounds), some might see him as a poor fit for Dallas.  Inside linebackers in a 3-4 defense are generally massive (think Bradie James), and the Cowboys already have a smaller linebacker in Sean Lee.

However, Rob Ryan’s 3-4 defense calls for defensive linemen to play two gaps, meaning the inside linebackers can probably get away with being a bit smaller.  Plus, the game is changing anyway, and I will take a player who can defend the pass over a run-stuffer any day.

McCarthy needs to work on his technique in coverage, but he is a high-motor player with some explosiveness who would look good with a star on his helmet.

Round 7- Noel Devine, RB, West Virginia

I am pretty certain the Cowboys are going to come out of this draft with a running back.  I really, really hope it is a speedster (like Devine) who can catch some balls and become an insurance policy behind the fragile Felix Jones.  I think Jason Garrett might covet a bigger running back, but there will be far more value with the little guys in this particular draft.  Other options in the middle or late rounds include Taiwan Jones, Graig Cooper, Dion Lewis, Kendall Hunter, DeMarco Murray, Jacquizz Rodgers and Derrick Locke.  I like all of them.

Round 7- Byron Maxwell, CB, Clemson

At 6’0”, 201 pounds and running a 4.46 40-yard dash, Maxwell has a good size/speed combination.  I put much more stock in game film, but you want to garner upside in the late rounds.  Maxwell’s measurables indicate he has that.

Conclusions

Personally, I would not be very happy with this draft.  The only player in the group on whom I am high is Rackley.  I really think the Cowboys need to sign a free agent free safety and address the offensive tackle position in the first round.  The value of a Michael Huff/Tyron Smith combination, for example, far exceeds that of Tyson Clabo/J.J. Watt.

I do think Jerry Jones’ refusal to draft offensive linemen early does make a scenario similar to the one above possible, however.  As long as Marc Colombo and Alan Ball are not starting in 2011, though, the Cowboys will be a better team.

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Dallas Cowboys 2011 Draft Trade Scenarios: Your Ultimate Guide

Jonathan Bales

Despite a much earlier draft slot than usual in 2011, the fluidity of this particular draft class and the multitude of needs for Dallas has made predicting their draft choice a difficult task.  The “consensus” seems to be that they will end up with USC offensive tackle Tyron Smith, but that is far from certain.  I actually think there is a solid chance that Smith gets selected before the ‘Boys are on the clock, either by a team currently ahead of them or another looking to move up (Washington, perhaps).

Either way, Smith is far from a sure thing.  I do think he’s the most likely of all the prospects to come to Big D (as evidenced by my last 32-team mock draft and Cowboys-only mock draft), but the abundance of targets and draft scenarios shifts Smith’s potential arrival from ‘likely’ to ‘most likely.’

So what are the Cowboys’ true plans?  I really think it depends on how the top of the draft plays out.  I wouldn’t rule out a trade up, a move down, or remaining at No. 9.  Each situation could present the best value depending on how the prior picks pan out.  Listed below are potential targets for the Cowboys if they do decide to make a move, along with suitable trading partners.

Moving Up

  • Possible Trade Partners

Cleveland Browns No. 6

To move up three spots, the NFL’s draft value chart suggests the Cowboys would need to relinquish their third-round pick.  Is it worth it?  Perhaps for P-Squared.

San Francisco 49ers No. 7

If you have not deciphered it yet, I am writing the team names in their uniform colors.  Why?  I honestly don’t know, but enjoy it while it lasts.

The Cowboys would probably need to relinquish their third-rounder to move up to San Fran’s spot, but they would receive a pick in return (likely a fourth).  Not a bad exchange if the right guy is still on the board.  The problem is that the Niners will likely have interest in the same sort of prospects as Dallas.  Why would they move back if Peterson or Dareus fell, for example?

  • Possible Targets

Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU

The Cowboys are rumored to have Peterson at the top of their board.  I don’t think he will fall, but if he drops to Cleveland, look for Dallas to at least inquire about a trade.  The Browns could very well have interest themselves, but it is highly unlikely the Niners would move back if Peterson drops to them.

Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama

This is a tough call for me.  I have Dareus rated as the No. 2 overall player on my board, but I don’t think the Cowboys should trade up for him.  My reasoning for this is lengthy, but I previously wrote an in-depth article on why selecting the best player available is a myth.  In short, it deals with position scarcity.  There aren’t any elite offensive tackles likely to be around in the second round, so grabbing one in the first (with such a huge need at right tackle) makes more sense.

Is Dareus’ value too much to overlook?  It depends on how highly the Cowboys have him rated, but I am hearing they like Smith just as much, if not more.  Thus, moving up even two spots for Dareus doesn’t seem that likely to me.

Tyron Smith, OT, USC

No one is talking about this, but I don’t think Smith’s presence when the Cowboys select at No. 9 is a foregone conclusion.  With all of the Smith/Dallas connections floating around, why is it implausible to think a team will look to jump the ‘Boys for the USC tackle?  The most likely candidate to do that, in my mind, is Washington.  They could easily move up two or three spots to secure Smith.  If the ‘Boys catch wind of this and truly covet Smith, they will need to make a move themselves.

Moving Down

  • Possible Trade Partners

Minnesota Vikings No. 12

According to the chart, the Cowboys could swap their current fourth-rounder for Minnesota’s third if they elect to move back in the first round.  The Vikings haven’t been mentioned as a potential trade partner for Dallas, but it could happen if either Cam Newton or Blaine Gabbert shockingly falls.

In my opinion, any move down all but eliminates Smith from contention, so the Cowboys will need a backup plan.

Detroit Lions No. 13

The difference in compensation between Minnesota and Detroit highlights a flaw in the NFL’s draft value system, in my opinion.  Instead of swapping third and fourth-round selections, the Cowboys would simply acquire the Lions’ third-round pick if they alternated first-round selections.  With the Lions possibly interested in Prince Amukamara or even Robert Quinn, they appear to be a more likely trade partner for Dallas than Minny.

St. Louis Rams No. 14

Can you even read the yellow font?  Oh well.  The Rams are known to have interest in Alabama receiver Julio Jones and may want to jump Washington to secure him.  They are the most likely partner for the Cowboys, in my view, and would need to relinquish their third and fifth-round round picks to make the move.

New England Patriots No. 17

Am I even choosing team’s true colors at this point?  In any event, the Patriots are known to stockpile draft picks, but they already have a bunch, including two first-round selections.  To swap first-rounders with Dallas, they would need to yield their second-round pick.  Like St. Louis, a possible target for New England in this scenario is Julio Jones.

  • Possible Targets

Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin

Carimi is listed first for a reason–if the Cowboys move down, it is Carimi who I think they will target.  I have heard this “rumor” from a number of sources.  I would personally rather have Anthony Castonzo or even Ben Ijalana, but Carimi is no slouch–he’s still No. 14 overall on my latest board.

Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College

I find it hard to believe the Cowboys have divulged as much information (about their views on Smith, for example) as they have without a reason behind it.  I have heard very little linking Castonzo to Dallas, however.  Of course this shouldn’t be used as evidence that the ‘Boys are definitely interested in him, but he will certainly be on their radar if they have him rated as I do.

J.J. Watt, DT/DE, Wisconsin

Watt is considered a prototypical 3-4 defensive end, and only one team (Washington) between the Cowboys and Miami at pick No. 15 runs a 3-4 defense.  The ‘Skins have a bunch of holes, so Watt may not be a priority for them.  I don’t personally want Watt in the first round, but if he is the player the ‘Boys covet, I think he will still be around at St. Louis’ 14th overall selection.

Cameron Jordan, DT/DE, Cal

See Watt, J.J.

Conclusions

Overall, I think the Cowboys need to be flexible in their draft plans.  They should have a list of players for whom they would be willing to trade up, a group they would select at their current spot, and a list of prospects to target if they slide back.  Those lists need not be long.

I wouldn’t consider trading up unless one of two scenarios plays out.  The first is if Peterson drops to Cleveland.  If the Browns are willing to deal, I would sacrifice a first and a third for the top player on my board.

More likely, Peterson won’t drop, and the Cowboys will target Smith.  If he is truly the No. 2 rated player on their board, I would actually trade up for him (if possible).  I think the depth of this draft class is solid enough that yielding a third for an early fourth is worth the ability to acquire an elite offensive tackle with the ability to play either side of the line.  Here are four other reasons to target Tyron Smith.

If the Cowboys miss out on Peterson and Smith, I would desperately seek a trade down (assuming Dareus does not fall).  Castonzo would be the player I target, but the ‘Boys will probably seek Carimi.  The largest positive from a trade back is the possibility of moving up into the very top of the second of even the back of the first to acquire another instant impact player, such as Baylor NT Phil Taylor, Temple DT/DE Muhammad Wilkerson or Texas CB/FS Aaron Williams.

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Dallas Cowboys 2011 Mock Draft, Version 2.0: Rounds 1-7

Jonathan Bales

You can see my first Cowboys-only mock draft here.  Both that mock and this one contain a built-in assumption that the Cowboys will sign a veteran 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 Cowboys may target UCLA’s Rahim Moore in the second round, but I don’t think the team should put all of their eggs in the rookie safety basket.  This class is awfully weak at safety, and filling that hole via free agency will allow the organization to concentrate on other needs, such as right tackle and defensive end.

It is becomingly increasingly obvious that USC tackle Tyron Smith is a legitimate option, and probably the favorite, for the Cowboys at No. 9 overall.  The team desperately needs an upgrade over right tackle Marc Colombo, and Smith played right tackle during his time at USC.

Smith is an extremely athletic player and the future of NFL linemen.  His selection would be a good indicator the Cowboys are moving in the right direction.

The ‘Boys may try to trade up for Patrick Peterson or Marcel Dareus if either player falls past the fifth pick, but that may be unlikely.  Smith was the pick in my last 32-team mock draft.

  • Round 2: Kenrick Ellis, NT, Hampton

I recently performed a March Madness-style “tournament” with 16 prospects who could get selected by Dallas in the second round.  I concluded that, if the ‘Boys do not plan on signing a veteran free safety, Rahim Moore is the most likely candidate to go No. 40 overall.  The other “Final Four” prospects were Miami CB Brandon Harris, Baylor guard Danny Watkins, and Ohio State defensive tackle Cameron Heyward.

But what if the Cowboys go “off the map” in the second round?  Who is someone we are all overlooking who could potentially land in Big D?  Enter Kenrick Ellis.

I understand new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said he will keep Jay Ratliff at nose tackle.  Guess what?  I don’t necessarily believe him.  If the Cowboys are on the clock and their highest-rated player is a nose tackle, they would be foolish to pass on him.

The concerns about Ellis are plentiful.  He was dismissed from South Carolina for academic reasons and marijuana use.  He was suspended this season due to assault.  There are concerns about his work ethic and weight (he is reportedly 346 pounds).  All of these issues could lead Dallas to take him off their board.

But you don’t often find true 3-4 nose tackles with Ellis’ athleticism.  He has big-school talent that he used to dominate his competition at Hampton.  He’s a mean player that, despite off-field work ethic concerns, works very hard in games.  Most importantly, he is the two-gap defensive lineman that Rob Ryan covets.  Mike Mayock recently stated Ellis will not get out of the second round.  He’s a “sleeper” to go to Dallas here, but don’t rule it out just yet.

I had Rackley going to Dallas in my last Cowboys-only mock as well.  That’s because I really like him and I know the Cowboys do too.  Actually, Rackley was just in town on April 5 for a visit and lengthy conversation with Jerry Jones (via Rackley’s Facebook. . .he requested me guys, cause we’re tight like that).  I recently interviewed Rackley and I think his versatility to play any position on the line would be huge for Dallas.

In that mock, I had him going in the fourth round, but I really think the ‘Boys will need to spend their third round selection on Rackley to secure him.  He is gaining some steam and a third round pick would by no means constitute an ‘overpayment’ for Rackley.

I see Rackley playing guard in Dallas (especially if the team drafts Smith, obviously).  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, and who better than a prospect with legitimate potential to play every position on the line?  From my scouting report on Rackley:

I do think whoever drafts Rackley should at least give him a look at tackle.  He’s quite athletic for a 310-pounder, displaying great knee bend and quick hand movement.  His lateral movement and slide in pass protection are superb.

Rackley’s athleticism allows him to play with tremendous leverage.  He can easily get to the second level in the running game, which is something Dallas is missing right now at right tackle.  It sure would be nice to be able to run a toss or counter to the right side of the field, huh?

Rackley’s mobility is complemented well by his strength.  He has a very thick lower body, and his upper body strength is adequate (29 reps at the Combine).

  • Round 4:  Johnny Patrick, CB, Louisville

Patrick is No. 66 on my revised Big Board (yet to be published).  I recently posted a scouting report on Patrick in which I wrote:

At 6’0”, Johnny Patrick has a long frame that allows him to effectively re-route receivers at the line-of-scrimmage.  He will become even more effective at that when he adds five or 10 more pounds (he’s only 190).  Despite being thin, Patrick is physical in all aspects of the game.  He’s generally a willing tackler.  He could benefit from using better technique at times, but a willing attitude is far and away the most important aspect of tackling.

Patrick has plenty of flaws, but he possesses the sort of upside you want in a mid-round draft pick.

  • Round 5:  Lawrence Guy, DT/DE, Arizona State

Once considered a potential second-rounder, Guy has dropped down boards.  He never tallied much production at Arizona State and his arms are shorter than you would like.  Nonetheless, Guy is a natural 3-4 defensive end with tremendous character and intelligence.

  • Round 6:  Bilal Powell, RB, Louisville

I personally have no interest in Powell.  Despite his production in 2010 (1405 yards rushing and 14 total touchdowns), I think Powell is a better fit for a zone-blocking scheme.  He is a downhill, one-cut runner who doesn’t possess great lateral quickness or burst.  I would much prefer Pitt’s Dion Lewis here, but the Cowboys have shown heavy interest in Powell.  I think Garrett views him as a potential replacement for Barber.  Little does he know, he already has that player on the roster in Tashard Choice.

  • Round 7: Kristofer O’Dowd, C, USC

O’Dowd is a talented player who may not last this long, but centers tend to drop.  O’Dowd has also been horrible since the season ended, getting blown backwards all week in Senior Bowl practices and running just a 5.16 40-yard dash at the Combine.  He has the potential to play any position along the interior line, however.

  • Round 7:  Alex Wujciak, ILB, Maryland

The National Football Posts’ Wes Bunting characterized Wujciak as “tough, instinctive, and hard-nosed.”  He’s not going to ‘wow’ you with athleticism, but he is a good football player.  He’s a hard-worker that, with Sean Lee taking over Keith Brooking’s role, could eventually be the Cowboys’ “new” Bradie James.

Overall Thoughts

You can see this mock draft is heavy on both the offensive and defensive lines.  If the Cowboys came out of the 2011 Draft with high-upside prospects at tackle (Smith), guard (Rackley), and center (O’Dowd), I would be thrilled.

Plus, the Ellis/Guy combination would do a lot to strengthen the defensive front.  With Ellis and Josh Brent manning the nose, Ratliff would upgrade the defensive end spot.  He would join forces with (perhaps) Stephen Bowen and/or Jason Hatcher (Bowen is more likely to stay, in my opinion).  With Guy as a prospect for the future, the line is suddenly looking okay.  Throw in improved play from Anthony Spencer and the continued emergence of Victor Butler, and the Cowboys’ potential pass-rush looks a whole lot more formidable.

Personally, I would pass on Powell.  I do think the ‘Boys should address the running back position late in the draft, but there are an abundance of talented second and third round talents who will drop.  Taiwan Jones (Eastern Washington), Graig Cooper (Miami), Dion Lewis (Pitt), Shane Vereen (Cal), Kendall Hunter (Oklahoma State), DeMarco Murray (Oklahoma), and Jacquizz Rodgers (Oregon State) are all players I really like and have rated anywhere from No. 34 to No. 63 on my Big Board.  A few of those backs will go later than they should, and Dallas can and should benefit from that.

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Dallas Cowboys 2011 Draft: Five Potential First Round Picks

Jonathan Bales

With the Cowboys heading into Week 17 of the 2010 season, they are in position to acquire somewhere between (about) the sixth pick and 12th selection in the 2011 Draft.  In that area, they will undoubtedly be able to obtain a true impact player–someone who should start immediately.  Picking toward the latter portion of that range may actually be optimal for Dallas, as the requisite contract funds take a steep drop from the top of the round.

Predicting the Cowboys’ pick in 2011 will be far easier than it was this past draft due to their draft spot.  Further, the team’s primary needs (defensive end, inside linebacker, cornerback, safety, offensive line) weed out some of the prospects.

Without further ado, here are my initial picks for the Cowboys’ five most likely potential first round draft picks. . .

5.  Cameron Jordan, DE, Cal

Jordan is a bit smaller than the “prototypical” Cowboys defensive end (he’s 280 pounds), but the massive ends haven’t been working in Dallas anyway.  It’s time to acquire smaller, quicker playmakers across the board on defense, and that starts on the line.

Jordan has an incredible frame and strength, yet carries it well.  He is good in pursuit, able to shed blocks rather easily.  His experience in a 3-4 defense is always a plus.

With literally all of the team’s current defensive ends possibly on the way out (I predict they’ll retain only Jason Hatcher), Jordan would be an immediate starter for Dallas.

4.  Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa

Clayborn is a 4-3 defensive end in college, but he possess enough size (6’4”, 285 pounds) that he could stay at that spot in the Cowboys’ 3-4 defense.  He’s a high-motor player with great athleticism for his size.  He actually appears to have a frame which could add some bulk, meaning he could transition into a run-stuffing 3-4 end or even eventually kick inside to nose tackle.

3.  Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU

Peterson has it all.  He’s big (6’1”, 211 pounds), fast (probably a low 4.4 guy), and intelligent.  He has the skill set to fit into any system, excelling in both man and zone coverages.  He plays big in big games and possesses excellent ball skills–characteristics Dallas needs in a cornerback.

With Terence Newman getting old quickly and Mike Jenkins regressing in 2010, cornerback is a huge need for Dallas.  Orlando Scandrick played really well in the slot during the second half of the season, but it’s unclear if he could hold up outside as a starter.  Peterson’s presence would allow the Cowboys to possibly move Newman to free safety, giving the secondary a much-needed makeover.

2.  Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska

The only reason I have Amukamara ranked ahead of Peterson is draftability:  I don’t see Peterson being available for Dallas no matter where they pick–he’s that good.  Amukamara is still an outstanding cornerback, excelling in press and zone coverages.  Despite being six pounds lighter than Peterson, he’s far more physical.  With the Cowboys likely to transition to more zone coverages in 2011, Amukamara could make sense.

1.  Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama

Dareus is an absolute stud.  At 6’3”, 306 pounds, he possesses incredible athleticism.  His size is tremendous, yet he carries it very well–so well, in fact, that when you look at him, you see “oversized linebacker.”

Dareus is versatile enough to play all three defensive line positions for Dallas.  That sort of versatility would be extremely valuable.  Because of his size, I think Dareus’ primary position would be nose tackle.  If that’s the case, current Pro Bowl nose tackle Jay Ratliff could move back to defensive end–a position that seems more suitable for him at this point in his career.

So how could Dareus fall to the Cowboys’ pick?  Well, there are some off-field concerns.  If Dallas is willing to overlook them, they could secure incredible value in the first round.

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Dallas Cowboys’ 1-5 start: Five good things that could come from it

Jonathan Bales

As I wrote in a previous article, the objectives of this 2010 Cowboys team must change after their 1-5 start.  Specifically, the balance of importance between winning now and preparing for the future must shift to emphasize the latter.

Don’t get me wrong–I’m ultra-competitive and want to win each and every football game.  Losses kill me.  But the Cowboys need to be careful to not compromise their ability to win in 2011 and beyond because they want to “save face” this season.

If the Cowboys choose to make decisions with the future as a priority, here are five good things (many of which were brought up among DC Times readers–specifically Craig Kocay) that could result from this nightmare season. . .

5.  Skeptical fans might see the importance of Tony Romo.

It’s stunning to me how a quarterback with one of the highest passer ratings, yards-per-pass, and winning percentages in NFL history can be hated by so many fans.  Do people not remember the days of Quincy Carter, Chad Hutchinson, and Drew Henson?  How about Brad Johnson?  Remember his three-game stint a few years ago that resulted from Romo’s broken finger?

Jon Kitna is much better than all of the aforementioned former Cowboys quarterbacks, but he sure isn’t Tony Romo.  This season will represent another opportunity for those on the fence about Romo to see the light.  Appreciate what you have.

4.  There will be little to no pressure on the Cowboys in 2011.

When expectations are high, the Cowboys crumble.  Even though they are extremely talented, it will be difficult for anyone to have seriously high expectations for them in 2011.  That’s the good news.

The bad news is that Super Bowl-caliber teams win regardless of outside opinions.  At some point, champions must win when expectations are through the roof.  Low expectations might help the Cowboys early, but what’s going to save them once they’re a “great” team again?

3.  Dallas could secure a high draft pick.

The Cowboys need to get young on the offensive line in a hurry.  Unlike some other positions, rookie offensive linemen can come into the NFL and often make a fairly significant impact.  The Cowboys figure to have a top 15 (and probably top 10) pick in the upcoming draft, which should be more than enough to obtain a very talented offensive lineman.

2.  The ‘Boys have an opportunity to discover what some young players can do.

I have a feeling the Cowboys are going to continue to give the bulk of reps to the usual suspects–Marion Barber, Marc Colombo, Leonard Davis, Keith Brooking, and so on.  But now is a perfect time to uncover some possible gems hidden in the back end of the roster.  Players like Phil Costa, Sam Young, Brandon Williams, Victor Butler, Jason Williams, Sean Lee, and Akwasi Owusu-Ansah need to acquire significant playing time before season’s end.  The first step in moving in a positive direction as an organization is knowing where you currently stand.

1.  Dallas can attempt exotic schemes/plays they normally wouldn’t try.

I thought the Cowboys should bring a unique approach to both sides of the ball to start the 2010 season, but it didn’t happen.  The major problem here is that the coaches, who are all trying to save their jobs, will be hesitant to attempt anything too outlandish.  They’ll want to remain conservative and implement what has worked in the past to try to win as many games as possible right now.

But that approach is only valuable to the coaches, not the entire team.  The 2011 Cowboys would benefit from offensive and defensive experimentation in 2010.  Jerry Jones might want to step in here and give the coaches some sort of incentive to be a little “crazy” (i.e. innovative) in their play-calling and overall approach to games.

Because if I see another punt on 4th and 3 from the opponent’s 39-yard line. . .

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