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.
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.