Cowboys Draft Roundtable, Part III: Defensive Positions Of Need

James Lang-US PRESSWIRE

As we gear up for the draft, I'm pleased to share a conversation with two of the scouting world's most eminent draft gurus, TFY Draft Insider's Tony Pauline and Draft Countdown's Scott Wright. We sat down for an extended chat about the draft, the Cowboys' needs and some potential draft targets. Here, in Part III, I ask them about players at the Cowboys defensive positions of need.

Once again, we're joined by TFY Draft Insider's Tony Pauline (and I do mean insider; Tony always has his ear to the ground when it comes to the draft) and Draft Countdown's Scott Wright (who was a draft guru before most of us were wearing big boy pants). I sat down with them for an extended chat about the 2013 draft. In Part I, we took a global overview of this year's selection meeting; in the second installment, we mulled over some candidates at the Cowboys positions of greatest need.

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BTB: The biggest offseason story in Dallas has been the team's conversion to a 4-3 defense that relies on smaller, quicker athletes in its front seven. Many of their players fit the new scheme, especially the linebackers. But they need an infusion of talent up front, in part because of the scheme change but mostly due to the simple fact that their starting linemen are all at least 29 years old.

Lets start with the defensive ends, where Monte Kiffin has won with smaller (250-60 pound) DEs who use quickness to beat blocks and shoot gaps. Since in his scheme, pressure needs to be produced by the four down lineman, they'll need to provide a plus pass rush. Who in this draft fits this bill?

SW: I'm not sure defensive end is going to be a priority in the early rounds with DeMarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer and Kyle Wilber already in the fold. Also, while the top of this class features a bunch of great defensive ends they are going to come off the board early and often so the depth on Day 3 will be a bit shaky.

BTB: It certainly looks to be shaping up that way. After the Dion Jordans and Ziggy Ansahs of the world go off the board, who is left other than Tank Carradine? The rest of the DE candidates seem to lack an NFL burst, the kind of first-step quickness that teams look for in a 4-3 DE. Is there ANYBODY in the later rounds who might have a little explosion in his game?

TP: I like Missouri Western's David Bass as a fifth round possibility. He's a disruptive small school defender who has been a force since his sophomore season and continually improved his game. [note: this would make O.C.C. happy; he's been on the Bass-wagon since his "finding DE playmakers" post back in February] In the seventh round they could grab Wes Horton from USC. He is athletic and shows playmaking skills but has a lot of inconsistency in his game. He could surprise people at the next level if he hits on all cylinders.

BTB: I've had my eye on Horton for the Cowboys. On day three is when you bring in guys who you hope will not only be good players but will contribute to the team's culture. This is particularly true when a team changes coaches or scheme - and Dallas is doing both on defense. So, I'm looking for USC defenders, guys who Kiffin knows well, to get a lot of late consideration. How about you, Scott, any late round DE thoughts?

SW: The first player I'd highlight in the middle rounds is Quanterus Smith of Western Kentucky, who probably would have been a second or third rounder if not for a season-ending knee injury. Smith could pay huge dividends for a team that is willing to be patient. Other names that I would highlight in the mid-to-late rounds are Lavar Edwards of LSU and Stansly Maponga of TCU.

BTB: I think the Cowboys would agree with you on that last one. They have shown a lot of interest in Maponga, who is raw but has a nice burst - something that is in short supply in this DE draft class.

Okay, now we'll move inside, to tackle. Dallas has two adequate players in Jason Hatcher and Jay Ratliff, but neither is an ideal one- or three-technique (I do think a younger Ratliff would have been a monster at the three). Lets begin with the position that has been described at the Cover-2 defense's "motor": the three tech. Who in this year's draft might follow in the footsteps of Keith Millard, LeRoi Glover, Kevin Williams and Tommie Harris?

SW: I definitely feel like a defensive tackle is going to be one of the Cowboys top priorities, perhaps as early as the first round. The guy who would be an ideal fit is Sheldon Richardson of Missouri

TP: Sheldon Richardson is the obvious choice. He's a tremendous combination of athleticism, intensity, and power. He offers possibilities as a conventional defensive tackle, 3-technique tackle, or even as a defensive end in the 3-4 alignment. And: he's a prospect who should only improve as he physically matures and learns the game.

SW: Although it's probably 50/50 at best as to whether he makes it to #18 overall. If Richardson is gone Sylvester Williams of North Carolina could be an alternative.

BTB: Sly Williams to Dallas has been getting a lot of traction of late, probably because you're right about the general unlikelihood of Richardson falling that far. Lets say they pass on Williams, or a higher rated player is available at 18. What later-round candidates should Cowboys fans look out for?

TP: Bennie Logan (LSU) is an explosive, one-gap defensive linemen who projects as a 3-technique tackle at the next level. He'll probably go in round two. Illinois' Akeem Spence is coming off a disappointing 2012 campaign, but he can be a disruptive force who penetrates the line of scrimmage and shows ability in pursuit.

SW: Another possibility in round two would be Kawann Short of Purdue while Everett Dawkins of Florida St. could be a mid-round option. I will be surprised if Dallas comes out of the top three rounds without a defensive tackle.

BTB: I would too, frankly. If we look at the list of invitees to the Ranch, Richardson, Short and Logan are all on it, as well as Jordan Hill - and both Spence and Dawkins fit the profile: about 300 pounds; quick, one-gap penetrators. I think the Cowboys will get one of these guys; it's just a matter of which one. But let's play devil's advocate. What if they find better value earlier on and have to take a DT late. Any third-day candidates?

TP: Josh Boyd is an athletic defensive line prospect who projects as a 3-technique tackle at the next level. He lacks great size and strength but would do well on the inside of a four-man line in a one-gap defense. I think he's a fifth rounder. In the seventh round, I'd look at Jared Smith of New Hampshire. He offers the skill as well as athleticism to be used as a one-gap penetrator on a four-man line.

BTB: I've been looking through my draft books, searching out undersized DTs who have been described as "quick" or good fits to "one-gap." The guys I've come up with are essentially the ones the two of you have listed. I wouldn't be surprised if this comprised almost all of the team's DT board.

Let's switch gears. The Cowboys have been searching in vain for an impact safety since Darren Woodson suddenly retired. This year's safety class is as strong as any since 2010's, and looks to be deeper. Given Dallas' preference for defensive backs with some length (6'0" or taller), who are your favorite candidates?

SW: I agree that safety has been a major issue for Dallas for far too long now and it's time to fix the problem. Obviously Kenny Vacarro of Texas would be a logical fit in the first round.

TP: Yes, Vacarro is the obvious choice. He's athletic and productive and has the size, ball skills and wherewithal to be used as either a zone safety or traditional centerfielder at the next level.

BTB: I'm hearing a lot of talk that Vacarro won't make it past New Orleans at 15. If this proves to be the case, what are the Cowboys' other options?

TP: Philip Thomas is a good second round option. With all the talk centering around the high profile safeties, for some reason it seems people have forgotten about him, but he's talented. He presently ranks as our #4 safety in the updated rankings. Thomas has a hectic schedule as he will be visiting the safety needy Cowboys, Redskins and Steelers, all good fits in round two.

SW: Yeah, they'll need to get him then, because I am not sure if the consensus next tier of players - Eric Reid of LSU, Matt Elam of Florida or Johnathan Cyprien of Florida International - is going to fall to the Cowboys pick in round two.

BTB: This is indeed my fear as far as the position is concerned. I actually prefer the second tier guys to Vacarro, but it seems that they will fall neatly in between the Cowboys' picks, so if they miss or pass on him, they miss on the rest of them as well.

How about third-day picks? Will any intriguing size-speed candidates still be on the board?

SW: The interesting guy for me beyond that is T.J. McDonald of USC, who has outstanding size and athleticism plus pro bloodlines but saw his stock take a hit as a senior, like all of the Trojans prospects. However, in round three I think the potential rewards far outweigh the risks. Some other possibilities in rounds three through five could include D.J. Swearinger of South Carolina, Bacarri Rambo of Georgia and J.J. Wilcox of Georgia Southern.

BTB: The Cowboys are reportedly very interested in Wilcox...but so are a lot of other teams. Any other possibilities? Any seventh round/ UDFA types who might have sufficient upside to make an NFL roster?

TP: Richmond's Cooper Taylor is a huge [6'4", 224 pounds] safety with good range in centerfield. Also, Jonathan Meeks from Clemson is an underrated safety with the size [6'0" 214] and skill to play at the next level in a variety of defensive schemes...and comes with a special teams mentality.

BTB: I've liked Taylor since I watched him blow up at the Shrine Game.

Well, that concludes this year's draft chat. I hope you all enjoyed it, and look forward to more talk next year. Thanks once again to our two esteemed panelists for their fine contributions!

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