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The Cowboys' Top Pick: Offense or Defense?

Between David LaFleur (1997) and Felix Jones (2008) every first-round pick selected by the Cowboys has been a defensive player. Ekuban, Ellis, Roy Williams, T-New, Spears, Ware, Carpenter, Spencer, and then they followed the Felix Jones pick with Mike Jenkins.

Such a run has got to make you wonder if the Cowboys will again go defense in this draft's first round.

What if?

First, thanks to all for your votes in yesterday's poll: The Dallas Cowboys are on the Mock Clock. What if the draft dominoes did end up falling similar to that mock? The Cowboys could conceivably have their choice between a top OT in Anthony Davis and the draft's best center in Maurkice Pouncey. Everybody knows the team needs to get younger on the offensive line. It would just make too much sense to draft either of those guys.

Left Tackle

But what if the Cowboys plan on bringing Flozell Adams back for another season and project Doug Free as the sole backup/heir apparent at LT? Anthony Davis would essentially be red-shirted unless he could compete on the right side. Taking a year to learn the nuances of the pro game may not be a bad thing for him, especially if you are one to worry about his question marks.

He arrived at Rutgers at 368 pounds as a freshman, and had to lose nearly 40 pounds to earn a starting job then.

As a sophomore in 2008, he was suspended from the Morgan State game for violating team policy, and this summer he was demoted to second team for six days in preseason camp for being overweight.

"It’s minor stuff," he said. "I have no weight issue. I’ll be ready to explain all the questions they have about me missing the Morgan State game last year."

Guard/Right Tackle

If the Cowboys choose to stick with what they've got at LT for one more year, this could then push their top O-line need to guard, and then RT. Robert Brewster could backup either position, but is he starting material - enough to push Kyle Kosier, or enough to supplant Doug Free at RT if Marc Colombo went down again?

In this mock, Mike Iupati was long gone (#11 to the Denver blog) before Dallas' pick. For now, let's scratch his name off the list and suppose the Cowboys are looking at guys like Vladimir Ducasse and John Jerry as second round targets. Both of those guys could easily compete with Brewster and inspire the team to move on from Pat McQuistan.

They could even further stabilize the guard and RT depth later in the draft by nabbing a guy like TCU's Marshall Newhouse, who even has experience at LT. Also, the team will be bringing in Newhouse's teammate, RT Nic Richmond, for a "Dallas Day" visit. Richmond is expected to be a late round consideration, which suggests that the Cowboys are willing to go with a developmental prospect on the O-line.

The 6’8", 322-pounder from Garland, Tex. was a three-year starter for the Horned Frogs and is currently the NFP’s 26th ranked offensive tackle prospect. Richmond was an integral part of last year’s 12-1 TCU team that earned a trip to the Fiesta Bowl.


Finally, I must address Florida C Maurkice Pouncey. In the poll, he's not too far behind Anthony Davis in BTB votes. It's interesting to see that a good number of fans would pass up on a quality LT to draft what essentially would be a backup center on the Cowboys. Now, Pouncey could compete at guard. And he is considered to be the best center prospect, which suggests solid value at #27.

I know many of you are ready to run Cory Procter out of town, but he signed his tender and will at least be in training camp. Andre Gurode is a perennial Pro Bowler and arguably the best center in the conference. For Pouncey to play, Gurode would have to miss time unless they rotated him in for shotgun snaps (I kid!). At guard - presumably the left side -  he would compete with Kosier and Brewster.

Argument Against Drafting an O-lineman in the First

The Cowboys feel as if Free can provide quality depth at either tackle position. If they do not plan on cutting Flo in June, then maybe they address the LT position next year after seeing how well Free progresses.

If the Cowboys see good value in Gs and RTs beginning in the 2nd round, then what do they do with that #27? Although taking O-linemen in both the 1st and 2nd would give them talented depth up front, it's hard to see them doing that. Of all the positions in football, the offensive line's are some of the least likely to be rotated; there's a solid chance that the rookies won't see much playing time. That's not what the Cowboys' War Room would want from their two top picks, is it?

Argument For Drafting a Defensive Playmaker in the First

In Sunday's poll, I figured the offensive linemen would garner most of the votes, especially with Davis falling and Pouncey right there. But I submitted my pick before posting that poll and went a different direction. With the 27th pick in the 2010 Draft I had the Cowboys selecting SFU's DE Jason Pierre-Paul, .

Before flinging your tomatoes, hear me out. Of the players listed in the poll (I used CBS' Top 50 List), I narrowed the available players down to four: Davis, Pouncey, Pierre-Paul, and Jared Odrick.

Because of the reasons listed above along with the Cowboys' tendency to go defensive in first rounds, I trimmed it down to Pierre-Paul and Odrick. Now, I really like Odrick and would be ecstatic if the Cowboys took him, but there is a possibility that Marcus Spears, Stephen Bowen, and Jason Hatcher will all sign their tenders to remain with the team. As of now, Odrick would be entering a team stacked with DEs, especially if Marcus Dixon develops and Igor Olshansky continues to man the running downs.

That left me with Pierre-Paul.

What if?

What if the Cowboys drafted another college DE to move to OLB? It could certainly be frustrating to many fans. They already have starters set in DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer. And they snagged a couple of these DE/OLB tweeners with their 4th-round picks last year in Victor Butler and Brandon Williams. We saw some flashes of playmaking ability out of Butler early on, but he wasn't much of a factor late in the season. Williams showed promise before tearing his ACL in the preseason game against the Titans.

Steve Octavien seems like a decent special teams player, but a bit smallish at 6'0"/245 to hold up as a solid backup OLB candidate. Curtis Johnson, listed at 6'3"/237, never saw any action to warrant nicknaming him CuJo. Butler (6'2"/246) and Williams (6'3"/248) are solid in size, but Spencer (6'3"/256) and Ware (6'4"/262) offer even more bulk to the front seven.

At the Combine, Pierre-Paul measured 6'5"/270.

If All You Have is Potential, Then That's All You Have

Having just spent one season with South Florida and two in junior college, Pierre-Paul is a raw talent. Any team drafting him would be drafting him for potential. But he does have a ton of potential. He is a very athletic pass-rusher with a good burst off the line to complement his large frame.

Last season with the Bulls, Pierre-Paul registered 45 tackles with 16.5 for losses along with 6.5 sacks. That's quite a productive year for a guy who only started seven games.

Again, if the Cowboys are looking to beef up their offensive line in rounds two through four, then why not take a chance at 27? In Wade Phillips' defense, pass rushers are of the utmost importance. He's a defensive-minded coach, and the Cowboys are all about drafting defense in the first round. It sounds like a great fit. Plus, Pierre-Paul can provide the team another dynamic player on passing downs. Check out his goods and bads...

The way this mock fell, there's another playmaking position the team could consider - safety - but it was rather thin with Earl Thomas going at 12 to the Dolphins and Taylor Mays going at 17 to the 49ers. Pierre-Paul's teammate, Nate Allen, may be too high of a reach at 27.

The team could go with Terrence Cody if they felt that a backup nose tackle was a pressing issue. Also on defense, CBs Patrick Robinson, Devin McCourty, Kareem Jackson, and Chris Cook could also be had; though, the Cowboys have enough young players at that position to go elsewhere with their first pick.

Besides, on Draft Day, the chips should fall for the Cowboys to be able to grab value at 27 instead of having to reach.

And Pierre-Paul Would Fit in With the Cowboys...How?

Initially, as a pass-rushing DE in sub-packages. Being so inexperienced, I would assume that Coach Phillips would bring him along slowly as an OLB. Butler and Williams will both be a step ahead of Pierre-Paul in the OLB learning curve, but his talent should get him some time on the nickel and dime.

While Anthony Spencer stayed healthy, we saw how banged-up DeMarcus Ware was over the course of the season. Ware rarely leaves the field. Much of that is because he leads the league in awesomeness, but part of that has to do with the available backups. As of now, Butler will be asked to be Ware's primary backup. If so, much of his focus will be on making that transition to weakside OLB, while Williams will be doing the same behind Spencer. Having one more DE/OLB such as Pierre-Paul could further the development of Butler and Williams.

Remember, both Octavien and Curtis Johnson were on the 53-man roster for much of the year. That shows that Coach Phillips will have at least five OLBs make the team. One or both of those two can be bumped. With Williams returning from injury, another spot could be up for grabs. Someone with unique pass-rushing skills would fit nicely.

The Cowboys' Top Pick: Defense

Looking back at all the defensive names the Cowboys have drafted in the first round since '98, they have many more hits than misses. Ekuban did not have a stellar career in Dallas, but enjoyed a long tenure in the NFL. Carpenter's future remains to be seen, though Phillips may have found a niche for him as a nickel 'backer. All the other names, other than Spears - a solid starter - have each seen at least one Pro Bowl. Not bad for the Cowboys' brass.

Barring any trades, if a top WR or OT falls to the Cowboys, they very well could go offense next month. That's a story for another post.

For now, I'm sticking with defense at 27. Unless they earn a starting job, defensive rookies are more likely to see the field than offensive ones. Teams don't rotate offensive linemen like they do with defensive ones. There are far more sub-packages for LBs and DBs to get in on than there would be for WRs learning Jason Garrett's playbook. Not to mention, Jerry Jones sounds content with his young group of receivers.

Unlike 2008 when many of us saw Felix Jones and/or Mike Jenkins projected to the Cowboys, this draft has possibilities galore. Just checking out OCC's Mocking the Cowboys Draft post, pundits have them selecting positions all along the O-line to WR, DB, and LB.

I guess it's good that the Cowboys don't have glaring holes entering the draft. The team could remain much the same. Still, I want a playmaker on defense. If JPP's name is called late Thursday night on April 22, I won't be disappointed.

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