We did our first BTB writers' mock draft for the Dallas Cowboys a few days back, and it quickly became clear that there are two early favorites for the first round. We split right down the middle, three of us going for Senior Bowl standout DT Aaron Donald of Pittsburgh, and the other three opting for S Calvin Pryor of Louisville.
The only thing the two picks have in common, of course, is a desire to improve the frequently inept and injury-ridden defense. Joey Ickes took a look at one strategy for deciding which one to choose (which leans towards Pryor because there are more DL opportunities later in the draft than for safety).
Not long ago, neither Donald nor Pryor were on many lists as first-round level players. However, more and more mock drafts and draft boards are starting to put both of them in the first 32 players. Sports Illustrated's most recent mock has the Chicago Bears taking Donald at pick 14 (an entirely likely scenario that will cause much grief around here if it happens) and Pryor going to the Carolina Panthers at 29. They also have Dallas taking HaHa Clinton-Dix rather than Pryor, which I personally do not think would happen.
It doesn't help that there seems to be a growing level of support for both players in the larger NFL world. Bob Sturm's latest look at draft prospects lays out the case for Donald as the best first round D line fit for Dallas.
If you want to know who the dream target should be for the Dallas Cowboys when they get to the clock, it is Pitt's Aaron Donald. And, it appears he might have a chance due to his height and run stopping warts that some have seen. But, a guy who averages almost 2 destructive plays per game over 4 years in school? Sign me up.
This is high praise, of course. And the bad thing (from my perspective, anyway) is that Strum is very, very good, and people pay attention to him. If he is high on Donald, then it is likely that other people, including scouts for other NFL teams, are as well. The SI projection makes a lot of sense, since Chicago is running a very similar defense to what Dallas is trying to use under Rod Marinelli, whose last stop was with the Bears, of course.
Donald, of course, emerged in many people's consciousness during the practices for the Senior Bowl, so his chance of staying under the radar was pretty much shot. As a junior coming out early, Pryor did not have the opportunity to impress in all star games, so he was not getting that kind of attention. But now he is popping up as a coming talent, as in a review of him at Football Outsiders.
A colleague of mine recommended I watch Pryor in September and I'm late to the draftnik party. However, I understand why there are teams that have Pryor ranked higher than Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.
The asset I value the most from Pryor's game is aggression. He treads the fine line between disruption and recklessness, which can scare some evaluators.
However, good safeties take great angles in a hurry. It's a skill rooted in confidence and belief in what the player sees on the field.
With notable exceptions where a player demonstrates a lack of overall football intelligence, I prefer an aggressive player with diagnostic skills that a coach can refine over a player who sees valuable keys but doesn't trust his eyes. When considering the past path towards assertive play, I'd pick aggression over passivity as a football player's behavioral baseline a majority of the time.
The Pryor/Clinton-Dix comparison is one that has already been made by several who follow Dallas, both here and in the major media, and for my money, the preference for Pryor is dead on.
However, as Dallas fans, we probably should hope that the rest of the world keeps seeing Clinton-Dix as better, because that increases the chance that Pryor will still be available when Dallas goes on the clock in the first round.
All this assumes that the Cowboys' staff sees Donald and Pryor the way we fans do. But if that is correct, then it becomes a bit of a waiting game. Once again, Dallas is just far enough down in the draft to have to sweat out just about any first-round target making it to them. Last year, they wound up opting for a trade just because there were those in the war room that felt they did not see a legitimate first-round talent that fit the team.
Best case scenario for the Cowboys is, of course, for their top targets to be available and then to choose between them. Now if we can just keep anyone else from getting on their respective bandwagons. I still am in the camp that Donald is the best choice for the Cowboys outside of the blue chip players (and I really am not sure how many of those there are in 2014, given the question marks for the quarterbacks). I certainly don't expect the one defensive line player who would be better than Donald, Jadeveon Clowney, to make it out of the top five, so I will continue to pull for Donald to be there. But Pryor is a great fallback to have, and has the advantage of being more likely to still be there, I think.
So how would you rank them? Are they your top two, and in what order?
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