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Cowboys 2012 NFL Draft: Mike Mayock Updates Top 5 Players Per Position For DT, DE and OLB

Has the search begun for Jay Ratliff's successor?
Has the search begun for Jay Ratliff's successor?

A little over two weeks ago, NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock released an updated, post-Combine version of his top five players per position (full rankings here). You would think that after a whole season of evaluating prospects and after the Combine was over, these rankings would be pretty solid. Apparently, they are not, as Mayock re-arranges his rankings for a couple of positions that may be of interest to the Cowboys in the draft later this month.

Curiously, the biggest change in Mayock' rankings is for Dontari Poe. Just two weeks ago, Mayock had Poe ranked as the number one defensive tackle on his positional rankings, but now drops him to fourth on his list. Here's his rationale per Pro Football Talk:

"Coming off the combine I wanted to show people what a freak this kid Poe is, and he is a physical freak, no doubt," Mayock said. "However, the tape is very average, so how do you match the two up — potential vs. his actual game footage? When I look at this kid I see a freaky athlete with a good motor. If you have those two things, over time, I believe over time you can develop into a high-quality NFL player. But the key is time … so I moved Poe back with the expectation that he needs to get into a good locker room with a mentor in that defensive line group who can show this kid how to play football."

Poe is visiting with the Cowboys this week, and there are reports that the Cowboys are seriously interested in Poe, but news like this confirm the reservations many Cowboys fans have had about Poe.

Related: Cowboys Interested In Dontari Poe The Most?

However, drafting a big guy for the middle of the defensive line has been a common mantra for many Cowboys fans over the last few years, but is Poe the right guy? After the break, a look at Mayock's updated rankings.

Defensive Tackles: There's been talk out of Valley Ranch of moving Jay Ratliff to DE. Jay Ratliff isn't getting any younger: outside of Kenyon Coleman, he's the oldest Cowboys defender currently under contract and will turn 31 at the start of the 2012 season. There definitely could be a vacancy at the Cowboys' NT position. Perhaps not right now, but that time will be coming soon.

So if the three things that Poe needs (per Mayock) to become a high quality NFL player are "time, a good locker room and a mentor", the Cowboys are in a position to offer that. But should they draft a guy with potential, or should they take somebody else, perhaps with a proven record of college production, from the following list of defensive tackles?

Rank Previous Ranking (3/16)
Updated Rank (4/1)
1 Dontari Poe, Memphis Fletcher Cox, Mississippi St.
2 Fletcher Cox, Mississippi St. Jerel Worthy, Michigan State
3 Michael Brockers, LSU Michael Brockers, LSU
4 Jerel Worthy, Michigan State Dontari Poe, Memphis
5 (tie)
Kendall Reyes, UConn Kendall Reyes, UConn
Devon Still, Penn State Devon Still, Penn State

Fletcher Cox has seen his stock jump dramatically over the last few weeks and now finds himself in the number one spot for defensive tackles. The 6-4, 298-pound Cox is also gaining momentum as a candidate for the Cowboys as a defensive end, but he might not last all the way to the #14 position.

Defensive Ends/OLBs: Even though the Cowboys slapped the franchise tag on Anthony Spencer, the Cowboys are still likely to look for ways in which to improve their pass rush and an Improved pass rush must rank at the very top of the Cowboys' to-do list entering the draft. At defensive end, Mayock leaves the top three unchanged, but has Chandler Jones breaking into the top five.

In his latest mock draft, ESPN's Todd McShay has the 6-foot-6, 266-pound Jones going to the New England Patriots in the first round, 27th overall, and has this to say about the Syracuse product:

"Jones is one of the most underrated prospects in the entire 2012 class and just the kind of versatile defender Bill Belichick likes. Jones is long and athletic and can play end in an odd or even front, maybe even some outside linebacker in 3-4 looks."

For Cowboys fans harboring hope that Jones could possibly still be around when the Cowboys pick in the second round, it may be time to look for a new pet cat.

Rank Defensive Ends (3/16)
Defensive Ends (4/1)
1 Quinton Coples, North Carolina Quinton Coples, North Carolina
2 Courtney Upshaw, Alabama
Courtney Upshaw, Alabama
3 Nick Perry, USC Nick Perry, USC
4 Vinny Curry, Marshall Chandler Jones, Syracuse
5 Jared Crick, Nebraska
Vinny Curry, Marshall

Another pet cat, and my personal dark horse for the Cowboys' second round pick, Boise State's Shea McClellin makes the biggest jump of any prospect and finds himself slotted into the number two spot on Mayock's outside linebacker ranking.

Rank OLBs (3/16)
OLBs (4/1)
1 Melvin Ingram, South Carolina Melvin Ingram, South Carolina
2 Whitney Mercilus, Illinois Shea McClellin, Boise State
3 Andre Branch, Clemson Whitney Mercilus, Illinois
4 Ronell Lewis, Oklahoma Andre Branch, Clemson
5 Shea McClellin, Boise State Ronell Lewis, Oklahoma

McClellin may be the most versatile pass rusher in the draft - he played DE, OLB and ILB during his college career - and has been very productive over his last two years: 12.5 tackles for loss, 7 sacks, 2 INTs, a forced fumble and a blocked kick in his senior season; 8.5 sacks and 12.5 TFLs in his junior season.

Rob Rang from described McClellin's Pro day workout as "fantastic", and sees him sneaking into the first round:

Speaking to several talent evaluators at Stanford's workout about McClellin, specifically, I'm getting the impression that he could be one of this year's surprise risers. In fact, there are some who believe McClellin could even crack the first round.

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