Quite frankly, my first choice would be for Dallas to fix the offensive line, but history and recent events say that they will not go OL in the first round. With that thought in mind, many of us would agree that the team could use a little help on the other side of the trenches. Considering that time seems to have taken a toll on Jay Rat's body and the loss of Josh Brent, this would be a good time for the firm of Jones, Jones, and Garrett to select a first round bull who could dominate in the middle of the defensive line. With the upcoming move to a four man defensive front, having such a bull becomes even more vital. Fortunately there are a few guys in the upcoming draft who might find favor with the scouts and coaching staff at Valley Ranch.
One name that was linked to the Boys even before the departure of Rob Ryan is Ohio State defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins. The junior has declared for the 2013 draft, and based on most evaluations he is the second best defensive tackle availible. Big Hank has played all along the line for the Buckeyes, but he is most at home in the interior. Hankins consistantly faced double teams in the Big Ten the last two seasons and he proved to be more than up to the task. This year he earned first team all Big Ten honors as well as second team All America from the AP. Johnathan is a strong wide bodied guy who plays with suprising quickness for his size, and he is a bully at the point of attack. He recorded 55 tackles for the Buckeyes this season. Quick off the snap, he routinely beats his man into the gap and disrupts the flow of an opponent's offense. He was a three down player for OSU this season, rarely leaving the games that I watched. Given his size, Hankins would be better served if he were given more opportunities to rest during the game. None the less he proved to be a player that had to be accounted for on every down. Several times this season he proved that he could get outside and make a play as well. Although he has proven to be a monster in the middle, Hankins is not a high sack guy. That does not mean however that he is not effective as a pass rusher. He consistantly denied quarterbacks the ability to step up into the pocket and avoid the outside rush. I shouldnt need to remind anyone here of how many times we have seen Eli Manning do that to the Cowboys recently. I for one would love to see Eli given more opportunities to interact with a certain Mr. Ware over the next few seasons. Hankins also has the potential to tie up blockers freeing up Sean Lee to continue being the playmaker that he is. In addition, having a cohort in the middle should help relieve pressure on Jay Ratliff as well.
A second big time talent that has recently been a subject of much speculation is junior DT Sheldon Richardson from Missouri. Richardson proved himself to be a tackling machine for the Tigers this season. He recorded 75 stops, second on the team. That total includes 10.5 for a loss, and he added four sacks. For good measure, Richardson added 7 QB hurries and 3 batted passes. While he is not quite the bull in the middle that Hankins is, Richardson seems to be even quicker firing through the gap and penetrating the backfield. Several times this season he displayed amazing quickness in running down plays from behind. He plays the game with a relentlessly high motor as well as with solid technique. Sheldon explodes into his tackles and also plays to strip the ball: he created three forced fumbles for the Tigers this season. That is a trait which would endear the young man to new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. Off the field Richardson does seem to have some issues however which might raise a red flag for head coach Jason Garrett. His academic career has been less than stellar. Richardson originally committed to the Tigers out of high school, but was not eligible due to grade issues. He instead went the juco route before returning to Missouri to honor his original committment. There have been rumors that he has struggled there since his return, and also that Richardson has been disciplined by the team for skipping class and study hall sessions. In addition, Sheldon Richardson seems to have spent some time at the Ryan School of Gum Flapping. He likes to run his mouth, going so far as to provide opponents with some good bulletin board material before games. To his credit, Richardson has backed up his words with his actions. Against high level competition he has elevated his game. Moving over to defensive end against Alabama, Richardson owned highly touted tackle D J Fluker this season. There seems to be little doubt that Richardson is ready for the NFL physically but some questions remain about his maturity level. These may or may not put off the Cowboys front office.
The third option linked to Dallas as a possible first round DT selection is Perdue fifth year senior Kawann Short. Kawann truely fits the bull description. For his final year the young man committed himself to becoming a more powerful player and spent extensive time in the weight room. This season he was much more difficult for opposing guards to move out of position. Admittedly I only got the chance to see Short play once this season, and during that time he was suffering from an ankle injury that hampered his play. After seeing that Birddog26 had him listed as his first round choice, I went back and took a closer look. What I found was a young man who had not only a damned good senior season even while playing through injuries, but one who had been consistant throughout his time as a four year starter for the Boilermakers. For this season Short tallyed up 42 tackles, including 14.5 for a loss and six sacks. He also batted down four passes. Last season his numbers were almost exactly the same. He was twice named as a second team All Big Ten DT and this year he added second team All America honors to his resume as well. Kawann Short is a good combination of speed, strength, and athletic ability that will serve him well in the NFL. In addition, he is dedicated to improving himself as a football player both on the field and in the film room. His efforts and leadership resulted in Short being selected by his fellow players as a Boilermaker co-captain this season
Any of these three young men would be able to step into the league and have an impact. With the Dallas Cowboys moving to the 4-3 this season, and the issues that surround the team's top two guys in the middle, I would not be shocked to see Dallas go defensive tackle in the first round. I anticipate the top guy availible, Star Lotulelei, undoubtably going well before the Boys pick. The guys listed above should all be carefully considered by the front office. Of the three, I am most partial to Hankins but I wouldnt be surprised to find out Garrett and company have a strong preference for the Boilermaker, Mr. Short. Due to some off field questions, I doubt that Richardson would be selected over the other two, however if they are gone, the team might be willing to take a chance on the kid from Missouri. No matter which choice they make the Cowboys should have a solid foundation to build the defensive line around.