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Not quite as ridiculously premature 2013 NFL Draft Projections: Part IIB - The 4-3 Edition!

In the first half of my Dallas Cowboys Mock Draft 2.0, I looked at some of the top priority positions this team needs to address: PASS RUSHER...with LSU bookends Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery or BYU 'mini-Jason Pierre Paul' Ezekiel Ansah being the pick at 18 overall, guard/center in the 2nd round, and offensive tackle (whether a true right tackle or a 'swing' tackle prospect) in the third. I assumed that Anthony Spencer is probably on another team in 2013 (my money would be on his 'hometown' Indianapolis Colts signing him to bolster their switch to the 3-4) and the-now rumored conversion back to the 4-3 defense seems to make that almost a certainty.

In part A I not only discussed some top prospects and how they would fit into Dallas system, but also how free agent signings could play a part, for example in the team looking at likely NFL center Barrett Jones over some of the top ranked guards in the draft (please sign Peter Dyakowski Jerry, make it happen!).

Now in part B we look at the other 'needy' positions that the Boys can address in this draft -- including replacing Felix Jones at backup tailback and finding another safety in the fifth and possibly another 3-4defensive end or a nose tackle for the line rotation in the sixth round (though I think Rob Callaway is better as a 4-3DT like he was in Detroit than a 3-4 end or nose). In a nod to the title of this post I should point out that both Parts A and B were written prior to the firing of defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, a decision I support -- with some reservations.

I am not sure Ray Horton would have the success continuing to run the 3-4 here that he had in Arizona as none of our d-lineman except for Rob Callaway compare in size and power to Calais Campbell or man-mountain Darnell Dockett (who apparently has a thing for leggy Miss Alabamas). Both of those guys have made Horton's outside linebackers look a lot better than they would have been in Dallas or other 3-4 defenses around the league. Jason Garrett has indicated a change in philosophy is afoot and I agree with BSPN writers that strongly implies a new defensive system.

If you subscribe to the philosophy that the system should be built for the personnel you have and not the other way around (the fundamental flaw of the Bill Parcells era, besides failing to draft offensive linemen) then I'd say a switch to a base 4-3 almost makes too much sense, especially when you have guys like Tyrone Crawford and Alex Albright and Ernie Sims who were always going to be undersized for the 3-4 but can fit very well as role players if not starters in the 4-3. Albright in particular can be used more like the Giants have used the slightly bigger Matthias Kiwanuka as a strongside linebacker against running teams and then a rotational pass rusher in obvious passing situations. Watch for Albright to get a good value contract extension this off-season like Sean Lissemore received last year -- after the Cowboys clear out some cap room by cutting Jay Ratliff and Doug Free and/or re-structuring several contracts. (The Cowboys newly signed undersized DT Brian Price also makes much more sense in a 4-3 than in a 3-4 system).

That all being said the not so big switch which the Patriots have already made...while it reduces the pressure to use a high draft pick on a big-bodied nose tackle still doesn't fix Dallas' offensive line or the depth issues at the skill positions. That's why I have the Cowboys using their 4th round selection on:

4th round 113th overall RB Christine Michael Texas A&M 5"11 215 Even if the Cowboys re-sign Felix Jones to a one year deal -- and given his struggles this past season even that looks like it would be considered a wasted roster spot -- look for the Cowboys to select a back in the 4th or 5th round of what again looks like a very deep class at the position. Michael brings decent size but the essential speed and good hands that Jason Garrett looks for in his running backs. With Murray, Michael and either Dunbar or a speedy or big UDFA back and an improved OL the Cowboys running game can finally take some of the pressure off Tony Romo in 2013. Alternatively the Cowboys could pick a safety higher and hope one of the backs they've had their eye on slips to the 5th round, or take a linebacker (see Jeremiah Attaochu below).

Alternate picks here:

QB E.J. Manuel Florida State 6"5 239 It would take a lot for Manuel to slide this far but the knock on him is that he might not be able to grasp NFL offenses quickly or demonstrate a quick drop and release. But Dallas unlike a lot of teams has time to groom a QB behind Tony Romo so Manuel could be worth a flyer after the 3rd round. Whatever Dallas does at quarterback in this draft, I DO NOT expect them to take a statuesque pocket passer which would be a huge mistake. Nonetheless with too many other needs elsewhere I'd be surprised if the Boys picked a QB and didn't instead look to sign the top undrafted QB -- guys like Western Michigan's Alex Carder or Kansas State's Collin Klein. I'm of the opinion that when looking at all of Dallas' other needs, a true successor to Tony Romo needs to be drafted in the first two rounds of the 2014 draft (again, I want a QB in the Andrew Luck mode who's a passer first and scrambler second -- not an undersized QB who's going to struggle if defenses clamp down on the zone read/pistol offense the way they shut down the Wildcat after the Dolphins' initial success running it. As for those who doubt whether the offense is a gimmick, just ask RG3 about when he's coming back from offseason ACL/LCL surgery).

ILB Jeremiah Attaochu Georgia Tech 6"3 240 This would be a bit of a reach but the junior has good size, speed and tackling ability. It just seems an unlikely pick unless the team cuts Dan Connor and is not satisfied with re-signing Ernie Sims and Orie Lemon and/or wants to play more 4-3 defense (bold added after Rob Ryan fired). Attaochu would make a lot of sense to be groomed as a strongside LB to play alongside the Bruce/Lee combo in a "Redskins-run game stuffing" 4-3 look. If Michael and the other top five or seven running backs are off the board Attaochu or another 4-3 linebacker would be my pick.

5th round 146th overall S Duke Williams Nevada 6"0 200 The season-ending injury to Barry Church probably forces Dallas to use one pick they'd rather not use on the safety position, which otherwise would appear to be reasonably good with Church, Sensabaugh, Matt Johnson as the nickel backup and Sterling Moore as the dime safety/corner.

There's no guarantee Church will be ready for the regular season though he might be placed on PUP to free up the reserve injured slot for someone else (and believe me I have an injured outside linebacker defensive end in mind to build up for that spot -- W. Kentucky's Quanterus Smith). Williams has speed and could play down in the box like Giants safety Antrell Rolle. The only reason he's still around in the 5th is the number of good safeties in this class and the fact that he's more of a tackler than a 'ballhawk' like Matt Johnson. But if Johnson lasted until 2012's 4th round though it's not inconceivable Duke Williams will be there in the 5th after playing his football in the Mountain West conference.

Regardless of what they do about safety in the draft, the Cowboys are going to be playing a lot of 3 safety looks anyway whether it's 3-4 or 4-3 in 2013 to stop the zone read/play action bomb. They better have depth at the position and guys who can do more than just play special teams which likely means Danny McCray is losing his job to a draft pick, Sterling Moore and/or Eric Frampton.

Alternate picks here:

TE Travis Kelce Cincinnati 6"5 260 Philadelphia Eagles center Jason Kelce's younger brother is a sort of sleeper in this draft, but given his athletic pedigree and blocking skills he could go anywhere from the 4th to the 6th rounds. I'm going to go out on a limb though and say that the development of former Hokies top target Andre Smith at the fourth TE spot and John Phillips OK special teams play signals the Cowboys won't use a 2013 pick on a tight end. In any case, the biggest improvement at the TE spot might come from Jason Garrett firing his brother as TEs coach and perhaps plucking a blocking tight end like Alabama's Michael Williams from the UDFA ranks or taking a sixth round flyer on Michigan State's Dion Sims so the two-TE set can again move the chains in Dallas.

DRAFT A BIG BODIED WIDE RECEIVER (Now that Andre Holmes is going to New England)

6th round 177th overall WR Tyrone Goard E. Kentucky 6"4 200

Goard is skinny and raw coming from a small school -- but he's also tall and blazing fast for his size. I simply don't think Dallas can afford to spend high picks on safeties or wide receivers in the 2013 draft, given the urgent need to shore up the trenches. But Gourd has been projected anywhere from a 5th rounder to a UDFA. If he doesn't get drafted watch for him or someone like him to be brought into training camp to push Andre Holmes out of a job in 2013.

Give Goard or another big and fast prospect a year in our strength and conditioning program and I'd say he'll start to show flashes of ability in 2014 and break out in 2015 by which time Miles Austin will definitely be gone and Dez Bryant should be in his prime signed to a long term deal (hopefully after the Cowboys clear out some cap room by cutting Kevin Ogletree this off-season they can extend Dwayne Harris with a very team friendly deal to be their fulltime third wide receiver while Danny Coale or Cole Beasley can battle for the 4th spot).

Alternate selections:

OG Alex Hurst LSU 6"6 332 This pick would be a gamble even in the 6th round as Hurst reportedly quit the LSU team due to off the field issues. He may even end up going into the 2013 NFL supplemental draft where Dallas is more likely to take a flyer on him, despite bad memories associated with the Josh Brent pick. Hurst will either be in the supplemental draft or a UDFA.

3-4DE Pass rushing DT Joe Vellano Maryland 6"2 285 Not a flashy pick here but one the Boys might be better served making by trading back into the 7th round with a 2014 5th or 6th rounder (when the Cowboys can expect to receive some compensatory picks for losing Mike Jenkins and/or Anthony Spencer to free agency). Vellano had eight sacks as a senior and kind of reminds me of a slightly smaller/slower version of Tyrone Crawford (whose speed makes him more suited to be a BIG 4-3DE like what the Raiders run). That lack of size and speed could slide Vellano into the UDFA ranks however. Other players I like to bolster Dallas DL rotation either through the 6th or 7th round or the UDFA ranks include Princeton undersized DT Caraun Reid (guarantee you Jason Garrett will hear about this kid before long from fellow alumni) or Southern Utah NT Cody Larsen.

All three have good athleticism and a fair number of sacks as senior interior defensive linemen. Larsen has demonstrated a knack for blocking kicks, though as a Mormon he's likely to come in two years older than the others. In fact if we managed to sign Reid, Larsen, and Goard in UDFA while drafting a big guard in the 6th t I'd be ecstatic and declare our haul the 'All UDFA Team'. But unfortunately I don't see us being able to get em' all into our training camp. Of the three Larsen would probably be the most likely to stick with the nose tackle position and compete with Rob Callaway for that final spot in the DL rotation.

Trade back into the 7th round with a 2014 6th for:

3-4OLB 4-3DE Quanterus Smith W. Kentucky 6"5 250 (redshirted in 2013 with late 2012 season ACL tear)

Dallas needs more pass rush and I'm still one of those fans who thinks losing Adrian Hamilton last year to the Ravens practice squad was a mistake that needs to be rectified (maybe in part with a 4-3 switch). Like Hamilton, Quanterus was a small school sack artist who's likely to either be drafted very late or go undrafted. Unlike Hamilton Quanterus is only 22 not 25 years old so waiting around for him to take the field in 2014 doesn't seem like such a bad deal if his senior season-ending knee injury allows him to slide this far. Quanterus is also two inches taller than Hamilton and hence has a frame more suited to bulking up to play 4-3end, something Hamilton (and probably Victor Butler) never could do except in a Wide 9 system. Quanterus never had as many sacks at his level as Hamilton but he also played tougher competition.

So in conclusion my mock draft has:

1st 18th overall 4-3DE Ezekiel Ansah BYU 6"6 255
2nd 49th overall OC Barrett Jones Alabama
6"5 302
3rd 82nd overall OT Justin Pugh Syracuse 6"6 300
4th 113th overall RB Christine Michael Texas A&M 5"11 215
5th 146th overall FS Duke Williams Nevada 6"0 200
6th 177th overall WR Tyrone Goard E. Kentucky 6"4 200

trade back into 7th round using 2014 5th round pick:

7th ? pick overall 4-3DE(inj.) Quanterus Smith W. Kentucky 6"5 250

That means 2 pass rushers and one FS on D, two OL, one RB, and one WR on offense.

It almost goes without saying that Dallas doesn't have enough picks to fill all of the holes and provide enough depth for this team. Affordable free agent signings like Peter Dyakowski to play guard or right tackle, UDFA signings and possibly poaching one or two more players from the playoff teams' practice squads will be critical to making this team a genuine contender in 2013.

Read Part I of this series here.

Another user-created commentary provided by a BTB reader.

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