Here at Blogging The Boys, there is a lot of momentum behind the idea that the Dallas Cowboys' choice for a first-round draft pick should be Aaron Donald or Calvin Pryor. Clearly, our influence and inarguable logic will sway Jerry and Stephen Jones and the entire coaching and scouting staffs, and that is exactly how things will play out, with the team taking one of those two, and no one else in the NFL figuring out what the Cowboys know.
I know I have been right in the thick of the love fest we are having over Donald and Pryor. And, as we all kinda know, there are some people reaching very similar conclusions about the two players and the needs of the Cowboys in other places besides BTB.
And most of us were expecting the team to pull the trigger on Sharrif Floyd last year, because he fit a need and was probably on the Dallas draft board as a first-round talent. Well, he was on that board, but as you might recall, that is not how it went down. In other words, we really don't know what we don't know about the Cowboys and how they are going to approach the draft.
That was the same draft we all had our hearts set on a top offensive line prospect at 18. The team could hardly miss, with four really good offensive tackles in the mix (Eric Fisher, Luke Joeckel, Lane Johnson and D.J. Fluker). And if they all went, Dallas would still get a guard because almost no one ever drafted guards in the first round. Dallas would get to pick between Jonathan Cooper and Chance Warmack.
And by the time the Cowboys came up at 18, all six of the likely first round offensive linemen were gone. They were all gone in the top 10. More offensive linemen taken that early than ever before. In the history of the NFL.
This little history lesson is just to remind you that the draft is a strange and unpredictable creature, and he who thinks he can figure it out is likely to be highly embarrassed.
So what do the Cowboys do if Donald and Pryor are not available? What is their fallback plan?
A fallback plan is vital. Last year, despite the last minute dispute over Floyd, the team had the trade with San Francisco ready to go. The year before that, they had already worked out a trade up to get to Morris Claiborne when he fell a few spots. The alternatives need to be worked out. So what are the possibilities for the Cowboys?
Most would probably vote to make another trade back and accumulate some more picks in a draft that looks to be pretty strong in the middle rounds, especially along the defensive line. However, if you are going to move back, you better be sure you are not leaving a player the team really needs on the board.
I am more interested in who else the Cowboys might take at 16/17 instead of Donald or Pryor. Or what the arguments against them are.
To start with, what happens if the unthinkable happens? Suppose the draft takes another strange turn this year, and one of the top three quarterbacks falls for no apparent reason. If Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater, or Johnny Manziel were to be there, and the only cause seems to be some strange decision-making by all the teams who needed quarterbacks and passed on them, should you pull the trigger or try for a trade at that point? Avoiding the entire argument of whether there would be a trade possible or if the falling itself would scare teams off, why would you not want to take one of those three? Remember Aaron Rodgers? Franchise quarterbacks do sometimes fall for odd and erroneous reasons.
Personally, if one of those three was there, I would take him. None are seen as Andrew Luck-type sure-things, and Dallas might be a perfect place to get the rough edges smoothed out and turn them into franchise players without having to throw them to the wolves. Tony Romo, and especially his back, is not going to last forever.
Now that I have gone over the most improbable of situations, let's look at some other alternatives.
What about another defensive lineman? While the list is obviously subjective, I think the following players are ones that may be first-round talents (and that is based mostly on various mocks and boards, rather than my own slaving away over a hot video).
- Kony Ealy DE
- Dee Ford DE
- Ra'Shede Hageman DT
- Timmy Jernigan DT
- Louis Nix DT
I have already referred to it in a previous post, but Bob Sturm recently broke down the three defensive tackles here (along with Donald). Sturm really didn't like anyone for the first round outside of Donald.
I would have to take a good hard look at Jernigan and Ealy. They would both have likely slipped a bit to get to Dallas, but if someone took Donald early, that would make sense.
Likewise, if Pryor is taken, that increases the chance that HaHa Clinton-Dix would be available. Personally, I would be more in the "Pryor or nothing" camp on safeties, but I know not everyone will agree with that.
Although there are a couple of DL possibilities, I would not be surprised to see Cowboys have to go another direction if they had to pick someone besides the two favorites. There are some interesting candidates here, again based on where players seem likely at this point to land in the draft.
- Cyrus Kouandjio OT
- Taylor Lewan OT
- Zach Martin OT
There is a school of thought that the blush is a bit off the rose for offensive tackles now. NFL defenses (like the Seattle Seahawks) are no longer lining up their best rusher exclusively against the man protecting the quarterback's blind side. Instead they try to come at the passer from all directions. This may lead to a soft market for tackles, and Lewan and Martin especially seem to be very good players. Doug Free was a lot better last year, but there is room for improvement. And look at how young the line would be then.
- Mike Evans WR
- Marquise Lee WR
These are the only two wide receivers I see that there is any real chance they could make it to 16/17, and that would also clearly warrant a first round grade. For those who argue that Terrance Williams is already the answer for the expected loss of Miles Austin as a cap/eternal hamstring injury casualty, I would counter that you can't expect to get through the season with just four wide receivers. I think Dallas should have both of these players as first-round options.
- Anthony Barr OLB
- Khalil Mack OLB
- Ryan Shazier OLB
- C.J. Mosley ILB
This is a little trickier. You have two second-rounders in Sean Lee and Bruce Carter already on the roster. The argument for using a first-round pick to bolster the linebacking corps is that Lee has yet to play all the way through a season, and Carter had an awful year in 2013. Mack may be a bit of a stretch, since he should be long gone by Dallas' turn, but the rest are all possibilities.
I don't see any other real options for Dallas to consider with 16/17. All the other names I looked at either just aren't realistic (which, I admit, is really the case with the quarterbacks), or just are not players that look to be that good. Last year, as you recall (or can look up here, thanks to the most famous post ever at BTB), Dallas had 18 names as possible first-round picks. And since several of the names were still available when Dallas went on the clock, it is clear that they were "soft" on some of those first-round names. (As far as I can tell from Rabble's research in his article on the board, Dallas feels some players are worth a later first-round pick, but would trade back rather than use the middle-of-the-round pick they have. This would certainly be likely to apply again this year.) And obviously the best laid plans frequently turn to absolute crap.
Time to get the backup plans ready. What would your fallback be?