After weeks of delivering rumors, news and draft silliness, it's time to put my money where my mouth is, or in this case, my mock where my blog is.
I'm operating on several premises here:
1.) I am assuming, after grinding the boards over and over again, that Dallas' top priority is to beef up its defensive front seven, literally and figuratively. Dallas needs playmakers, especially ones who can rush the passer and produce turnovers. But it also needs depth, especially on the line.
2.) I am also assuming no trades. While the rumors abound and Jerry is teasing us every day, I think this is so much hokem to try to drum up interest in his picks. Trade downs are possible, but until somebody blows the doors off the Valley Ranch war room with an offer, I'm going to assume the 'Pokes will stay put.
3.) You can't have everything. Rome wasn't built in a day and the Cowboys won't be rebuilt in one afternoon. The key is to get quality players with your first picks. This may mean leaving some needs unmet. So be it.
Pick 11: Shawne Merriman, DE/OLB, Maryland Who's the biggest campaigner for Marcus Spears? Me, that's who. So here's why I'm abandoning him for my mock. I've been trying for the past few days to find a way to get Spears and one of the big rushing 'tweeners, be it Merriman, Demarcus Ware, Erasmus James or David Pollack to 20.
It just can't be done. I'm convinced that the teams between 12 and 18 will snap them up. And if they do, Dallas has to hit with this pick. One chance.
And once you treat this pick as a solitary one, rather than tie it to 20, Merriman makes the most sense. Ware is the fastest guy. Spears is the biggest guy and most technically sound. But Dallas needs a guy who is big, flexible and can rush. Merriman is 20 pounds heavier than Ware, and is thus more able to put his hand down and play end in a 4-3. That's key in my mind, because this will probably be the base scheme the Cowboys play in 2005. Merriman is also a better edge rusher than Spears. And if you get one shot, this is the point that tips the scale in Merriman's favor. Dallas HAS to find somebody who can hit the quarterback. It's been easy to find players other than Merriman to promote, because he's been the consensus pick for so long, but that does not mean he's the wrong pick.
Pick 20: Travis Johnson, DT, Florida St. If Dallas goes with the fast edge rusher at 11, it will want a thumper at pick 20. Spears is the dream pick here, but he is more likely to go to San Diego at 12. There are only two other players who fill Bill Parcells' planet theory at this pick -- Johnson and Northwestern NT/DT Juan Castillo, who the Dallas Morning News' Rick Gosselin awards to Dallas in his final mock draft.
Gosselin admits that Castillo is a reach, but he also assumes that Dallas is trapped at pick 20, not receiving a satisfactory package to trade down. Castillo would not be as surprising as you might think. He's been cited in several mock drafts as high as Green Bay's pick 24. He's also a player that could fill a need for the Falcons, Colts and Eagles at the bottom of round one.
I'm picking Johnson because he's a higher rated player than Castillo and he fits the Parcells profile. He's a big, speedy tackle who is often compared to fellow Seminole Corey Simon, a guy the Cowboys coveted before Philadelphia franchised him and froze him out of the free agent market. He's from a big school in a big conference, which is where Parcells goes to find his players. He's not as big a reach as Castillo. In fact, I'd argue he's not a reach at all. Many mock drafts the past month had Johnson going to the Bengals at pick 17. Now, you generally see him going to Baltimore at pick 22, Green Bay at pick 24 or the Colts at pick 29. In every instance, the mocks say these picks are "steals." Johnson was also a guest at the Cowboys' prospect banquet last week, so you know the team likes him. He's the top-rated DT this year, and he would give Dallas a nasty three man rotation inside with LaRoi Glover and Jason Ferguson.
Pick 42: Terrence Murphy, WR, Texas A&M The biggest need at this point is for a free safety. But OU's Brodney Pool will be long gone and the next tier of FSs, Nebraska's Josh Bullocks and Iowa's Sean Considine, are rated in the late-2nd to mid-3rd range. There could be value at CB if someone like Michigan's Marlon Jackson falls, but he's likely to go in a mini-run in the late first, along with Clemson's Justin Miller and Pool. There are other CBs with mid-2nd round grades, guys like Bryant McFadden of Florida State, Eric Green of Virginia Tech or Stanford Routt of Houston. But all of these guys are risks.
The reason Parcells has succeeded in year-three-and-four drafts at New England and New York is because he minimizes risk. Murphy is straight-off-the-board value. He's big, fast, smart and blocks like a demon. He's already a polished route runner. His skill as a kick returner could seal this pick if nobody exceptional falls through the cracks for Dallas.