While Mike Mayock isn't the "be-all end-all" of NFL draft rankings, he does have a solid reputation as a media scout who watches a lot of tape. So his rankings are always a good measure to go by when looking at draft prospects. In the 2014 NFL draft, most observers feel the Cowboys are looking at the defensive line as the primary need, followed by the rest of the defense which was dreadful in 2013. Of course, as we've documented, injuries played a big role in the Cowboys defensive issues last season, but Dallas has lost DeMarcus Ware, Jason Hatcher from their defensive line and Anthony Spencer's future is in doubt. Dallas has signed Henry Melton, Jeremy Mincey and Terrell McClain to bolster the defensive line but the consensus is they'll need more help.
So let's take a look at how Mayock ranks players at positions of need, especially along the defensive line. We'll discuss mainly the Cowboys first-round pick at #16, but obviously some of these guys could be of interest in the second round.
Aaron Donald and Timmy Jernigan remain his top two defensive tackles, and both players remain popular picks for the Cowboys at #16. Louis Nix doesn't seem to fit the Cowboys scheme. Ra'Shede Hageman has also been in the mix as a Cowboys pick but his stock seems to have dropped from earlier in the year.
Clowney will be gone early, but Ealy has also been a popular name in Cowboys mock drafts. Dallas is looking for help at right defensive end, the spot vacated by Ware and Ealy seems like the top choice among the hand-on-the-ground college defensive ends that will be in range at #16. Dee Ford is an interesting possibility, but there is concern that his build is more suited for a 3-4 OLB.
Mack is expected to go very early. Anthony Barr could be a guy who plays at defensive end in a 4-3 although he could also be an OLB in a 3-4 scheme. Either way, his stock is climbing and he might be well out of reach by #16. If he fell, the Cowboys would probably be very interested. Ryan Shazier is not going to convert to a defensive end but remains an interesting prospect for a Will position if Dallas isn't confident in Bruce Carter.
Safety hasn't gotten as much mention recently with the rash of moves on the defensive line, but could very well be an option. Both Clinton-Dix and Pryor have been mentioned as Cowboys prospects, with Clinton-Dix the better cover guy of the two, something Dallas could use.
So where are you leaning for the Cowboys at pick #16?