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.