This is my next to last mock prior to draft day on April 25. As Dallas isn't expected to do a whole lot in free agency, I doubt the main needs for this team (OL, S, RB, LB) will change between now and then. The biggest difference between this and previous mocks is the likelihood that ALL of the top three offensive tackles (Joeckel, Fisher and Johnson) and most of the best defensive tackles will be off the board by the time Dallas picks at 18. With Dallas deciding that Purdue DT Kawann Short and Texas FS Kenny Vaccaro could both be reaches or just not the Best Player Available at 18 overall, the Boys finally heal the wound from not drafting David DeCastro and select:
1st round 18th overall Johnathan Cooper OG University of North Carolina
The 6"3 315 pound Tarheel is exactly what Jason Garrett needs to shore up the woeful right side of Dallas o-line and give Jeremy Parnell a fighting chance as a starter in this league. Cooper showed off his strength at the combine and has the athleticism on tape to make the Cowboys rushing/screen attack finally work 'both handed', as opposed to leaning on power runs to Tyron Smith and Nate Livings' side of the field.
In fact, drafting Cooper and immediately starting him at right guard could give the Boys a chance to salvage David Arkin and Mackenzy Bernadeau's careers by keeping them as backups with Ronald Leary pushing Nate Livings for the left guard job in training camp. (Here's hoping Kevin Kowalski also claims the starting center job from Phil Costa).
Given Cooper's athleticism, the alternate pick here could very well be Chance Warmack despite Warmack's outstanding Alabama career. But I don't personally think Warmack will get past the St. Louis Rams who pick before us. Kawann Short and Kenny Vaccaro could both make sense at 18 but the most likely scenario would involve Dallas burning up all of its allotted time working the phones with anyone with late 1st round picks (say, San Francisco) who may want to trade up for a cornerback or safety like Florida State's Xavier Rhodes.
2nd round 49th overall - trade down with Green Bay Packers, who select Margus Hunt 3-4DE SMU
This move could make some Cowboy fans groan, but it's based on OTs Kyle Long and Terron Armstead both being snatched up shortly before Dallas goes on the clock, as well as the top safeties like Kenny Vaccaro, Matt Elam, Shamarko Thomas and Eric Reid all being grabbed by the mid-2nd. Hence Jerry and co decide to trade back a several spots in the 2nd round in return for the Packers' 4th round pick -- which in a class this deep for running backs, we'll see will prove very important.
2nd round 58th overall - Dallas uses Green Bay's selection to pick Johnathan Cyprien SS Florida International
With Gerald Sensabaugh sent packing and either Matt Johnson or Sterling Moore expected to man the free safety spot, Dallas decides not to take a chance on Barry Church coming back full speed. The Boys go for a small school phenom who can play center field as well as deliver a good hit in run support, making their top two picks a pair of Johnathans. For Dallas the logic of having three of their four young safeties locked up for the next two seasons makes too much sense not to draft a safety in the first three rounds. If Cyprien is gone rather than reaching for Southern Cal's T.J. McDonald, the Boys might consider drafting a running back or Texas A&M SAM linebacker Sean Porter a little bit early.
3rd round 82nd overall Sean Porter SAM LB Texas A&M
I admit this is a very lucky break for the Cowboys here but I tried not to be overly optimistic in the scenarios above. The Cowboys would be overjoyed if Porter were to be left on the board when they hand in their 3rd round pick. Sometimes a local product just makes too much sense to pass up, and Porter's proven blitzing ability would be a nice bonus on the strong side behind Anthony Spencer while Bruce Carter mans the WILL spot behind DeMarcus Ware. Given that Dallas would definitely like to keep Alex Albright around this pick could be bad news for Kyle Wilberif last year's 4th round pick fails to shine in backup/special teams duties this preseason.
4th round 113th overall
Christine Michael RB Texas A&M
The 5"10 220 pound Christine Michael ran a fast time of around 4.45 at the Combine, but this is a class that looks pretty stacked at the running back position, so Dallas could get lucky with two Aggies slipping right to where the Boys can get them in this draft. Michael also fits the profile of the more shifty type back one of the Boys offensive assistants recently spoke of. He can definitely catch the ball out of the backfield but delivers a much bigger frame than Lance Dunbar when chipping pass rushers.
If Michael proves he can stay healthy this preseason, the ripple effect could see Dunbar demoted to the practice squad (if he's still PS eligible) and a more power rusher/fullback from the UDFA ranks claiming the active third RB spot behind Demarco Murray and Michael.
Alternate picks here could include UCLA's Johnathan Franklin -- who was definitely the more productive back during his college career than Michael. The Cowboys could also
take a gamble on former Gamecocks back Marcus Lattimore or even Arkansas' Knile Davis should their injury histories cause them to slip this far into the mid-rounds take Miami Hurricanes running back Mike James in the 5th round while grabbing Louisiana Tech OT Jordan Mills if he's still on the board.
4th round 122nd overall David Bass DE Missouri Western
I told ya'll that extra pick from Green Bay would be important after the 2nd round trade down! Bass seems slightly undersized to handle the strong side defensive end duties but those can be handled by Jason Hatcher should Anthony Spencer miss some time. What Bass gives Dallas is a weak side rusher to develop behind Ware who could be ready to start in a couple of seasons, despite coming from a small school level of competition that he dominated. Bass in fact is one of the top rushers in this year's draft class for 'splash plays' (sacks or tackles for loss) although that comes with the caveat of playing at a small school level. As for who will play the strong side defensive end spot as Jason Hatcher enters the sunset years of his career, see a subsequent draft pick.
5th round 122nd overall
Tanner Hawkinson OT Kansas
The Cowboys whiff on grabbing wide receivers like TCU's Josh Boyce or Elon's Aaron Mellette early in the 5th, but they do get a consolation prize in a very athletic tackle from a not so strong program. It's true that relying on Jeremy Parnell, or even Darrion Weems to step up at right tackle seems very risky in 2013. But this draft scenario doesn't preclude that Dallas has already grabbed a released veteran like former Chief Eric Winston or Bears tackle Jonathan Scott as insurance at RT, either during the offseason or after cut downs in September.
While putting on some muscle, Hawkinson could be groomed to take over the swing tackle job should Parnell claim the starter's role with Weems as a backup mauler/right tackle who could slide inside to guard. Like Doug Free before him, Hawkinson will definitely need two full offseasons of strength and conditioning work to reach his NFL potential, but he may also come relatively cheap when extending from his rookie deal in 2015-2016. As it stands now, I think Darrion Weems will be the biggest surprise (at least along the offensive line) of training camp and may very well grab the starting RT job, leaving Parnell as the gameday backup.
An alternate selection here could be West Texas A&M right tackle/mauler Manese Foketi or a reserve/slot cornerback. If they take Jordan Mills in the 4th as mentioned above, the Boys could go RB here with Miami's Mike James or Nevada's Stepfon Jefferson as excellent options to give Demarco Murray a breather.
6th round 177th overall Quanterus Smith DE Western Kentucky
This is another one of those 'draft an injured player and coach him up' value picks the Cowboys have become known for since 2010. But at least in 2013 they'll wait until the 6th round to throw the dice on an injured player coming back full speed or better. At 6"5 and a light 249 Quanterus has plenty of frame to tack on some muscle and eventually become a solid WILL or SAM DE in Rod Marinelli's scheme.
Smith led the nation in sacks for Western Kentucky before tearing his ACL in December. He's already demonstrating signs of recovery by running at the Combine, though he did not lift. The fact remains Dallas doesn't know how strong the 2014 pass rusher class is going to be (and they're not going to be picking Jadeveon Clowney first overall). Having two young, improving DEs already on the roster would be prudent.
Now that Jay Ratliff's contract has been restructured at least through next season the Cowboys must also have the flexibility to draft a DT (in case Sean Lissemore or Brian Price fail to step up) or a QB high in 2014 rather than reach for a Jackson Jeffcoat or another mediocre DE in the 1st.
So to review the seven (or eight) draft picks are:
1st 18th Johnathan Cooper OG UNC
2nd 58th Johnathan Cyprien SS Florida Intl (from Green Bay who selects 3-4DE Margus Hunt 49th overall)
3rd 82nd Sean Porter SAM LB TAMU
4th 113th Christine Michael RB TAMU
4th 122nd David Bass DE Mo. Western (from Green Bay in return for trading back in 2nd)
5th 146th Tanner Hawkinson OT Kansas
6th 177th Quanterus Smith DE W. Kentucky
7th 218th overall Michael Williams TE Alabama
(if Green Bay gives us an extra pick for trading back in the 2nd)
Again the point is not just to pick these particular players but to demonstrate how going in different directions at various points could impact the rest of the roster. I hope you all have enjoyed this mock and I expect the next two to be much closer to what Dallas actually selects come April.