Back in late April, I penned a post looking at the Cowboys' most likely first round targets, with the express purpose of determining whether they might actually be there when the Cowboys are on the clock with the sixteenth pick. To determine the likelihood thereof, I researched other teams' interest in the same players, with the understanding that we can tell a lot about where players will end up where by looking at which teams have interviewed, arranged a private workout, or, like Dallas, invited them to their facilities.
What I've done is to compile a list of other teams that are interested in the Cowboys recent invitees in order to give us a more concrete example of the various gauntlets the players in whom Dallas has expressed interested will have to run to get to the Cowboys picks. In this post, I'm limiting the conversation to two groups:
1. Players Dallas would probably select if they trade back in round one: Kony Ealy; DeMarcus Lawrence; Scott Crichton; Ryan Shazier; Jimmie Ward
2. Guys they are most likely to select in round two, at pick #47: Timmy Jernigan; Dominique Easley; and Gabe Jackson
To distinguish between mere curiosity (Combine interviews, chats at pro days, etc.) and real interest (national invites to the team facility), I've marked all the national invites with an asterisk (*). Here's what I have:
Let's look at these guys one-by-one:
Kony Ealy: While a couple other teams in the 1-15 range are interested in Ealy, it seems like the hot spot for his services lies in the mid-20s. Sure enough, both Kansas City (at #23) and Carolina (#28) have expressed interest in the former Mizzou Tiger. If Dallas trades back with, say, Clevelend, they'll be well situated for Ealy. If, however, they move back into the late 20s or early 30 (via a trade with the 49ers, for instance), it's less likely we'll see Ealy in blue and silver.
DeMarcus Lawrence: Lawrence and Shazier are the most inquired-about players on this list, and its easy to see why: their athleticism is very evident on film. The Cowboys won't spend the 16th pick on Lawrence, but its also hard to imagine how he'll last to their second rounder at #47. Look at the gauntlet of interested parties he'll have to get through to make it to the Cowboys' selection in round two: New Orleans (27); New England (29); San Francisco (30); Washington (34); Atlanta (37); Minnesota (40); NY Giants (43); and Pittsburgh (46). Moreover, all of these teams save the Giants invited him to their facilities, which tends to be an expression of genuine interest. To be frank, Dallas will have to select him at the bottom of round one or not at all.
Scott Crichton: As with Lawrence, Crichton must survive a nasty late first- and early second-round murderer's row to make it to pick #47. To wit: San Diego (25); Carolina (28); New England (29); Denver (31); Seattle (32); Washington (34); Atlanta (37); Buffalo (41) and Pittsburgh (46). Again like Lawrence, it appears Dallas will have to select Crichton in the late first round or bid him a fond farewell.
Timmy Jernigan: The former Seminole was always an interesting case for amateur draftniks to parse; now that the news is out that he failed a drug test at the Combine due to a diluted sample, we may have caught up to NFL front offices in our understanding of his draft status. His recent legal kerfluffle perhaps explains why Tennessee (at #42) is the only other team to extend an invite to Jernigan. The question on the table is whether or not he's still on the Cowboys' draft board. If he is, there may well be a chance that he'll fall to the second round - at least if the invite list is any indication.
Dominique Easley: If that were to happen, Jernigan's second-round competition might well come from his in-state rival, Easley, who can number among interested teams the Browns (25 & 35); Patriots (29); and Rams (44). Moreover, the Cowboys will have to be on guard that the Ravens (48) and Bears (51) don't try to jump their 47th pick to grab the former Gator. And, it wouldn't surprise me if several interested teams are playing it close to the vest, trying desperately not to drive his stock up. Despite this interest, there's still a decent chance he makes it to Dallas at #47, especially if the Rams select a DT with either of their two first rounders (which would mean they'd look elsewhere at #44).
Ryan Shazier: Take a look at the teams who have contacted and/ or extended invitations to the former Buckeye: St. Louis (13, 44); Pittsburgh (15, 46); NY Jets (18); Arizona (20); Philadelphia (22); Cincinnati (24); Cleveland (26, 35); New Orleans (27); New England (29); Houston (33); Oakland (36); Buffalo (41). The real question here is: do the Rams and Steelers consider him a viable option at #13 and #15, respectively. If not, then his range begins with the Jets and the 18th pick and runs until those teams pick again at 44 and 46. If so, then its clear that, for the Cowboys to secure Shazier's services, they'll have cross their fingers and stay at the sixteenth pick. If not, then they can probably trade back to the early 20s and still have a 50-50 shot at landing him.
Jimmie Ward: Although there might not be a lot of teams courting Ward, those who are are bunched fairly tightly, between picks 17 (Ravens) and 27 (Saints), with the Chargers (25) as another possibility. If the Cowboys trade back in the first round, they will evidently be in Ward's drafting zone; on the other hand, they'll have to contend with several other teams in that same range to land the former Huskie.
Gabe Jackson: The only other teams to have given Jackson some love are the Ravens and Saints, both of whom pick after the Cowboys do in round two (its hard to imagine that Jackson would be selected in round one, especially with the 17th pick). The upshot here is that, if the Cowboys see Jackson as a second-rounder (and there's no evidence that they do), there probably won't be much interference by teams picking ahead of Dallas.
To my mind, the chief takeaway from this exercise is this: this draft's central problem, as far as the Cowboys are concerned, is how they are going to land a dynamic weakside edge rusher. After free agency brought the team Henry Melton, it became clear that the main position of concern was that DeMarcus Ware manned for nearly a decade. A player like that cannot be replaced; still, the Cowboys must find a reasonable facsimile.
And that's the problem: there are precious few such players in this draft class; here's the short list: Anthony Barr; Dee Ford; Demarcus Lawrence; perhaps Jeremiah Attaoachu. And that's it. The rest of the DE candidates are either strongside types whose games look more or less like Tyrone Crawford's or undersized guys without the necessary quickness and burst to succeed in this system. To make matters worse, the potential candidates don't appear to fall at the points in the draft where Dallas selects. Barr is, by all accounts, a top-ten pick who isn't likely to fall to Dallas at #16; Ford (if he's on their board at all, given the condition of his back) and Lawrence fall neatly between picks #16 and 47.
Although he's not on this list, since he didn't receive in invite to the Ranch, Attaoachu has received interest exclusively from 3-4 teams, the Chargers, Colts, Eagles, Patriots, Ravens, Redskins and Saints. The absence of interest form 4-3 teams, even those that employ fast, undersized ends, makes me wonder whether NFL teams doubt that he possesses sufficient bulk to play 4-3 end and, as a result, whether he'd be on the Cowboys' board.
Attaoachu aside, if Barr doesn't fall to sixteen, the Cowboys will almost have to work a trade back and select either Ford or Lawrence, as its highly unlikely any of them last until the middle of the second round. If they do otherwise, they will spend the rest of the draft chasing defensive ends, or spend the entirety of the 2014 season futilely chasing rival quarterbacks. And that's never an optimal strategy.