After the disastrous '10 season, the Cowboys were in desperate need of an improved offensive line and new head coach Jason Garrett (and the scouts) apparently convinced Jerry Jones to break his ‘No First-Round OLineman' tradition by drafting blue-chip, left tackle prospect Tyron Smith, who is now paying big dividends and playing at an All-Pro level.
After the '11 season, it was clear that the Cowboys needed an overhaul of their porous secondary. First, they signed free agent corner Brandon Carr (who despite his struggles and high-priced, market value contract still remains the best FA corner from '12) and then traded up to the #6 pick in the '12 draft to attain the consensus #1 cornerback prospect. While most draft experts were calling Morris Claiborne the best defensive player in the '12 draft, the young man still has a long way to go to earn any such accolades.
After the '12 season, it seemed that the interior offensive line was still the biggest need the team had for a rookie starter, and after trading down to get an extra pick the Cowboys "reached" for the top center prospect on their board. While many draft experts blasted the team for the trade down and their pick at the bottom of the first round, Travis Frederick has since proven to be a blue-chip prospect and made it to the all-rookie team of one of those same "experts" that blasted the Cowboys for the pick.
And now, preparing for the '14 draft with a clear (and expected) need for talent infusion along the defensive line, it seems the stars are aligning for the Cowboys to again get a top prospect at their greatest position of need. While it is rare for a team to get a blue-chip prospect at pick #16 (or 17), the draft order and the needs of teams ahead of Dallas seem to make it a very probable outcome for the Cowboys.
First, a look at the priority needs of the teams drafting ahead of Dallas. According to one NFL.com article, of the fifteen (or sixteen) teams drafting before the Cowboys only seven teams have DL as one of their top three needs heading into the '14 draft. Of those seven, only three have DL as debatably their greatest need (Falcons, Bucs, and Bears). With the Cowboys needing help along all the DL positions, it leaves them in a great spot to get a Top 3 (perhaps even #1) talent at either DE or DT.
Let's look at a few (very early) mock drafts to see what some other football pundits predict:
|STL||WR-Evans||OT-Kouandjio||OT-Robinson||S-Clinton Dix||S-Clinton Dix|
With a pretty good rookie QB class in the '14 draft and plenty of teams looking for a franchise quarterback, there could be three or four quarterbacks taken in the top half of the first-round. While I disagree that St. Louis will draft Clowney, I think all of these early mocks do a good job in presenting what seems to be a very promising outcome for the Dallas Cowboys: a top 4-3 DL prospect will be available at pick #16 (or 17).
Now, a lot can change between now and the draft in the spring, but there is also something else that makes this outcome very probable for the Cowboys. The NFL Free Agent list for '14 is heavy with quality (though some aged) defensive linemen. Depending on how much cap room the Cowboys create, they may benefit from the supply/demand factors in the free agent market by getting a reasonably priced veteran to also bolster the DL depth. But even if they don't manage to sign one of them, it could also help guarantee them a top rookie prospect because one of the teams drafting before them do sign a free agent and instead target a different position with their first-round pick.
With what appears to be a perfect storm for the Cowboys' need to draft a top DL prospect in the '14 draft (strong rookie DL class, strong rookie QB class, and strong FA list of DL), it also makes one wonder whether the Cowboys decision to "gamble" on veteran starters Ware, Hatcher, Ratliff, and Spencer in '13 without reaching for a DL prospect in the draft was based more on insightful foresight than front office negligence.