It's no secret that the Cowboys were very high on defensive end J.J. Watt last year. A week prior to the 2011 draft, the National Football Post, quoting a league source with knowledge of the situation, reported that the Cowboys were strongly considering drafting J.J. Watt with the ninth overall pick of the first round:
Per a source, the Cowboys are leaning strongly toward selecting Watt if they don't draft USC offensive tackle Tyron Smith.
The source said the Cowboys love Watt's intensity, technique, toughness and motor and have grown tired of problem players and want to add someone of high character to their locker room.
The Cowboys ended up drafting Tyron Smith, another player with "intensity, technique, toughness and high character", and outside of the habitual nattering nabobs of negativism, there aren't many people who'll find fault with the pick.
Yet the situation along the Cowboys' front seven hasn't changed significantly since last year, outside of the free agency pick-up of Kenyon Coleman, who incidentally will turn 33 in a month.
The first post-Combine big boards are showing a rise of defensive linemen and pass rushers. Rob Rang of CBSsports.com for example has five front-seven players in his top 16 and eight more in his top 32:
|Top 16||17 - 32|
|8. Michael Brockers, DT, LSU||18. Devon Still, DT, Penn State|
|9. Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina||21. Courtney Upshaw, OLB, Alabama|
|10. Dontari Poe, DT/NG, Memphis||23. Jerel Worthy, DT, Michigan State|
|12. Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State||24. Nick Perry, DE, Southern Cal|
|14. Melvin Ingram, DE/LB, South Carolina||26. Kendall Reyes, DT, Connecticut|
|27. Andre Branch, DE, Clemson|
|29. Brandon Thompson, DT, Clemson|
|30. Jared Crick, DE, Nebraska|
SI.com's Tony Pauline, who claims to have gotten some insight from teams around the league on how a big board could stack up, also has five front-seven players in his top 16, but has them ranked a lot higher
|Top 16||17 - 32|
|3. Dontari Poe, NT, Memphis||17. Devon Still, DT, Penn State|
|4. Melvin Ingram, OLB, South Carolina||18. Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois|
|9. Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State||20. Nick Perry, DE, USC|
|10. Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina||25. Jerel Worthy, DT, Michigan State|
|13. Michael Brockers, DT, LSU||31. Kendall Reyes, DT, Uconn|
In the weeks prior to the Combine, we as fans have gotten used to seeing the same names populating the top ranks of various draft boards - and the same names being mocked to the Cowboys. But after the Combine, draft boards are in flux, and it looks like front-seven players in particular are flying up the boards. Suddenly, it doesn't seem so far-fetched to think that a defensive lineman or a pass rusher might represent good value at #14.
But which of the guys in the tables above has the chance to be this year's J.J. Watt, and will the Cowboys draft him this time around?