By filling all of the team’s major voids by way of free agency, the Dallas Cowboys have afforded themselves a certain degree of draft freedom. The Cowboys are in the enviable position of entering the draft without the obligation to come away with an immediate starter at a certain position. If the Cowboys so chose, they can sit on their hands until the 51st selection rolls around, and simply take the best available player. The team can also now feel better about swinging for the fences, and taking a player with a bigger upside.
Drafting players based on upside can be a crapshoot. Players with an exceptionally high ceiling (maximum potential) tend to have a lower floor (minimum production). Sometimes these "boom or bust" prospects pan out, and you end up with Terrell Suggs or Antonio Cromartie. More often these types of gambles prove to be failures, and you end up with guys like Troy Williamson, or Manny Lawson.
You won’t hear any complaints from my direction if the Cowboys focus on making safe selections, and take solid players with low ceilings and high floors. Those are the types of guys who provide the reliable depth that championship teams need. It would however be exciting if the Cowboys took a swing at a player with some genuine star potential. It is never a good idea to reach but if a guy with major upside falls right into your lap, do you take a chance or make the safe pick?
Here are a few prospects with undeniable ability who also have question marks on or off the field:
Michael Johnson, DE, Georgia Tech- UPSIDE: Johnson is a rare, Julius Peppers/Mario Williams type of athlete. The guy can flat out make plays in the opponent’s backfield, and can be the premium pass-rusher that NFL teams covet. DOWNSIDE: The knock on Johnson is that he doesn’t always bring his motor on game day, some scouts are even throwing around the "s" word (soft).
Jason Watkins, OT, Florida- UPSIDE: Watkins is the type of guy the team could groom to be Flozell Adams’ successor. Watkins has the quick feet and athleticism to handle elite speed rushers. DOWNSIDE: Watkins needs to improve his technique, and still has a ton of work to do in the weight room before he is ready for the big time.
Duke Robinson, OG, Oklahoma- UPSIDE: Robinson is a road-grader, and would be the perfect guy to bring into the fold to help along the Cowboys three-headed rush attack. DOWNSIDE: Countless reports of poor work ethic and weight management issues.
Marcus Freeman, LB, Ohio State- UPSIDE: Athleticism. Tested well at the combine, and impressed at Ohio State’s pro day. DOWNSIDE: Has yet to put it all together on the field. Like Johnson, scouts question his toughness and motor.
Paul Kruger, DE, Utah- UPSIDE: Natural pass rusher with a nasty disposition. Good size. DOWNSIDE: Has yet to prove that he can stand up as an OLB, like he would be asked to do in Dallas. Racked up big numbers against lesser competition, and struggled against top-notch talent.
Sammie Lee Hill, DT, Stillman- UPSIDE: As physically gifted as any defensive tackle in this draft. Exceptionally quick, and also played some end in college at 331 lbs. DOWNSIDE: We have no idea how Hill would fair against big-time competition.
Jarrett Dillard, WR, Rice- UPSIDE: One of the most productive receivers in college football history. Excellent route runner. Natural hand-catcher. Great body control. DOWNSIDE: Can Dillard survive at the next level with great technique and average size/athleticism?
Percy Harvin, WR, Florida- UPSIDE: Electrifying player with great speed and moves. Natural instincts in the open field and is a terror with the football in his hands. DOWNSIDE: No true position. Scouts say that he is self-centered, and that he lives in "Percy Harvin World." May have failed a drug screen at the NFL combine. The Cowboys have reportedly removed Harvin from their draft board. That considered, it would be interesting to see what would happen should Harvin actually make it to the 51st pick.
Herman Johnson, OG, LSU- UPSIDE: Huge (6-7, 356). Great run blocker and would fit right in opposite fellow giant Leonard Davis. DOWNSIDE: Almost identical to Robinson, scouts cite weight and work ethic as concerns.
William Moore, SS, Missouri- UPSIDE: Big-time hitter and good all around player. Probably among the top of the safety class in the athleticism department. DOWNSIDE: Struggled in 2008 after a stellar 2007. Not the world’s greatest cover man.
We can analyze and mock draft until we are blue in the face, but this draft will be no different than any other. When the Cowboys go on the clock for the 51st pick, there will be players gone whom we all thought would still be there, and guys still available we never imagined having a shot at. This much will be true with the 69th pick, and the 101st pick, and so on. You have to believe that at some point in this draft, the Cowboys will pull the trigger on a high-risk, high-reward player.