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BTB Talks With Draftek, Part IV: Cowboys Defensive Needs (DL, LB)

For the past two days, it has been my pleasure to share with you the first two parts of my interview with Longball from Drafttek In part one, he shared some insights about the big board and cooked up a few draft scenarios. Yesterday's second part showcased his areas of expertise, the bouncing behemoths along the offensive front. If there was any doubt about that, his most recent posts in his "big uglies" series for Drafttek will dispel it. Go here to absorb some of his deep knowledge about this years crop of left tackles; you'll find some equally juicy info on right tackles here. Today, our discussion shifts gears to the other side of the ball; LB and I talk about players of interest at Dallas' areas of defensive need--in this edition we talk defensive line and linebackers. In the final installment coming later, we'll talk secondary.

BTB: Lets start up front, with your type of guys, the "big uglies" on the DL. Dallas is set at NT, where Jay Ratliff and Josh Brent provide a good 1-2 punch. But, given that the Cowboys had three guys playing on one-year tenders last year and won't be re-tendering Marcus Spears, it's a good bet that they'll be looking at the DE position closely and picking up at least one five-technique guy-a 3-4 DE-assuming that they haven't already penciled in Sean Lissimore as a replacement. Luckily, this is a great draft for defensive line talent. Moreover, there are a lot of guys who can play that 3-4 DE position.

Longball: Due to the flexibility of Jay Ratliff and the promise of Josh Brent, I'm saying DL instead of DE. I haven't forgotten that Spears, Bowen and Hatcher are all free agents, but I have to believe that Dallas will hold on to at least one if not two of them - and if a quality NT is there to be drafted, do you consider moving Ratliff?  It would be nice to return to the days of a solid DL rotation.

BTB: No kidding. I'll always remember that Jimmy Johnson once said his teams won because of good defensive line and quarterback play. We saw with the Giants playoff run in 2007 how a dominant defensive line can take over games. So, tell us about some of your favorite five-technique players. How about an off-the-radar guy?

Longball: I'm sure everyone that watched the Senior Bowl practices saw how unblockable Cameron Jordan of Cal was - and he was going against the best OL prospects, as the North had Castonzo, Carimi, Solder, Pinkston, and Moffitt....J.J. Watt of Wisconsin has the size, frame and tenacity to play the strong side...Muhammad Wilkerson of Temple has great lateral movement for a man his size and Christian Ballard of Iowa was the 2nd best DL prospect (to Jordan) at the Senior Bowl.  You will notice I have not mentioned Fairley or Dareus - that's because they will be much better as 4-3 DT's.

BTB: Yeah, Ballard has really been quiet and underhyped thus far. But I think he's a guy with a lot of upside, and wouldn't be surprised to see him rise between now and the draft.

Read the rest of Longball's delectible defensive determinations after the jump.

BTB: You've listed a bunch of first-round guys here. Let's assume for arguments sake that the Cowboys go OT and DB with their first two selections. What d-linemen might still be on the board in the third and later rounds?

Longball: Some 3rd/4th round guys I like are Clemson's Jarvis Jenkins and Arizona's Lawrence Guy, but if you really want to get "off the radar," keep an eye on Charlie Bryant from Memphis in the later rounds.

BTB: Our readers would love to hear more about these guys. Are they all 3-4 DEs? Do they have position flexibility?

Longball: Jenkins (6'4", 310) may be stronger at the 4-3 DT position, but he has the range and lateral movement to play the 5. Guy (6'5", 300) has the length (height and reach) you look for in the position and is a better fit at the 5 than inside.  Bryant (6'7", 320) will have to be coached up, but he displayed some real flashes on the game film I graded...but at that height, he will either be a 5 or a field goal block specialist.

BTB: Noooo! We don't want to back to the days of special teams specialists! If the ‘Boys pick him, I hope Bryant can play the heck out of the five. Okay, lets move on to the next level. What are your general thoughts about the Cowboys' ‘backers?

Longball: Is Sean Lee forever injury prone?  (BTW, I screamed at the TV when his selection was announced-unlike Cuzzin Jerruh, I did not have a 1st round grade on him). Will we see the Anthony Spencer from the end of 2009 season or the blip on the radar during 2010?  I would say to address the ILB position before OLB and there are quality prospects to be had in the mid rounds.

BTB: No argument here. I think the Cowboys are pretty well set at the rush linebacker positions, and might just have better depth than we realize with Victor Butler and Brandon Williams. On the other hand, the depth at ILB looks very shaky. Clearly, the Dallas brass has been trying to rectify that the past couple of drafts. After the failure of the Jason Williams experiment, however, they remain wafer-thin.

As a result, Dallas will almost certainly take a long look at inside ‘backers. Ideally, they'd tab a backup who could replace Bradie James in a year or two However, given both their need (not super high) and the lack of deep elite talent at the position, this probably isn't likely to happen until the fourth round or later. See any interesting late-round 3-4 ILB types?

Longball: Assuming Sean Lee can take Keith Brooking's place at Mo, I like Chris White of Mississippi State in the 4th round to groom as Bradie James' replacement at Mike.  

BTB: I like White as well, but wonder whether he'll last to the later rounds given the aforementioned dearth of talent at the position and the number of teams moving to the 3-4. What if another 3-4 team gobbles him up before the Cowboys go on the clock? Anybody else grade out in his range?

Longball: Well, you have to segregate the ILB position between Strong side (Mike) and Weak side (Mo) - while I agree with your statement about a dearth of talent, keep in mind that skill positions and big bodies are normally drafted early and the run on linebackers normally starts in the mid-rounds.  

BTB: I hear you. Let me clarify: there isn't any Patrick Willis in this draft class.

Longball: Nope, hate to disappoint - at Mike, Wilson has a late 1st round grade, Sheppard, Foster & Ayers could go in the 2nd, Wright may go late 3rd/early 4th, and then you have a cluster of Herzlich, White, McCarthy and Matthews.  I have to believe as early as Dallas drafts in the 4th they should get a good player...let's go with Colin McCarthy of Miami, even though he is more of a ‘Mo," I was impressed with him during Combine drills (although I would never discount anyone with the last name of Matthews).

BTB: Me neither; that genetic pool has been engineered to produce football players! Say they miss out on the Matthewses of the world, those mid-round guys that nonetheless show up on rosters across the league. Is the linebacking equivalent of Jay Ratliff hidden in the weeds somewhere?

Longball: Later round prospects would include Alex Wujciak of Maryland or Matt Marcorelle of Delaware - I was real impressed with him during their championship game loss to Eastern Washington when I was grading Devlin at QB.  

BTB: Can you tell us a little more about those guys? What are the strengths and weaknesses in their respective games?

Longball: Well, they are both in the 6'2-3" range and 250+ lbs, solid run-pluggers and perpetual tackling machines.  Wujciak was 1st team All-ACC again, averaging over 10 tackles per game and even with his bulk, he knows what to do with the ball after a turnover - he's 2nd on Maryland's all-time interception return yardage list to former Terp DB Tom Brown.  In the FCS rankings, Marcorelle was 4th in forced fumbles with 7, 18th in sacks with 16.5 and 11th in tackles for loss with 40.5.  Both prospects run a sub 4.8 forty but their anticipation makes their "football speed" seem much faster on game day.

Thanks Longball. Excellent stuff on the draft for Cowboys fans. We'll be back later with Longball to discuss the Cowboys secondary in-depth. You won't want to miss that.

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