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2014 NFL Draft: Who Are The Cowboys' Top Three First-Round Targets?

I asked my fellow BTB writers for their assessment: Who are their top three picks, in order of preference, for the Cowboy at No. 16?

Matthew Stockman

On the eve of free agency, it briefly looked like the pre-draft consensus has narrowed down the Cowboys likely first round picks in the 2014 draft to two defensive tackles, Aaron Donald and Timmy Jernigan. But then the Cowboys went out and got themselves three defensive linemen in free agency, two of whom turned out to be defensive tackle.

So instead of a consensus, we now have a conundrum: the latest round of mock drafts are all over the place once more, and while there seems to be a solid rotation of DTs, DEs, LBs and safeties mocked the Cowboys' way, no single player has a significant lead among the draft analysts out there.

So today, I'm asking my fellow BTB writers for their assessment: Who are their top three picks, in order of preference, for the Cowboy at No. 16?

You'll find the top three picks for each BTB writer below, followed by each writer's comments. And because I asked the initial question, you'll have to labor through my take first:

1. Anthony Barr, DE/OLB
2. Aaron Donald, DT
3. Timmy Jernigan, DT

OCC: For me, this draft is all about the pass rush. And I don't really care where it's coming from, inside or outside.

Modern offenses are increasingly adapting to the more traditional outside edge rushers. That's not to take anything away from Anthony Barr, because if the Cowboys were to get really lucky and Barr falls their way, they'd get an explosive edge-rusher who is drawing a lot of comparisons to DeMarcus Ware. Barring that (pun intended) I'm focusing on the two defensive tackles:

Sometimes, all it takes is a quick release by the QB or two small steps to climb the pocket and that edge rusher is taken out of the play. Today, a defense needs defensive tackles that are able to collapse the pocket and rush the passer. They can do this with brute strength and explosion to overpower their opponents (Jernigan) or they can do it using their quickness - both lateral and vertical - to get off the snap and squeeze through gaps (Donald). Either one is fine by me.

David Halprin
1. Aaron Donald, DT
2. Timmy Jernigan, DT
3. Ryan Shazier, LB

Dave: While I'd like a shot at Anthony Barr, I just don't think there's anyway he gets down to #16 for the Cowboys. So my top pick is Aaron Donald. We've discussed the idea that Donald is a perfect 3-tech for the Cowboys system under Rod Marinelli, and the fact that they signed Henry Melton shouldn't deter Dallas from taking Donald. He can play a rotational role with Melton and line up beside him in various packages. He's just too good a talent to pass up at a position that is critical to making this defense work. Next I'll take Timmy Jernigan, a player who could fit nicely as a 1-tech In Marinelli's system and has the power/agility combo to be a disruptive force in the backfield. Pressure up the middle is key in today's NFL and Donald or Jernigan should provide it.

My final choice would be to trade down for Ryan Shazier. He was highly productive in the Big 10 and everything about him says downhill player able to make plays in the opponent's backfield. He's a three-down linebacker who can cover running backs and tight ends. Bruce Carter's development regressed last season and he's no sure thing for Dallas at the Will. Shazier would be a great fit for Dallas and provide some pop and disruption from that position.

Tom Ryle
1. Aaron Donald, DT
2. C.J. Mosley, LB
3. Zack Martin, OT

Tom: Everybody knows about Donald. It is just looking like he is going to wind up with the Giants or the Bears. However, he is such a perfect fit for the Cowboys that you have to keep him on the list and hope he slips past the two 4-3 teams just ahead of the Cowboys in the draft order.

Mosley would allow Dallas to kick Sean Lee outside to the Will position, which should help keep him a bit healthier, while not losing any real ability up the middle. He brings good football smarts to go with his athletic ability, and more importantly, projections are showing that he is very likely to still be available when Dallas goes on the clock.

Martin would give the Cowboys a third top flight O line talent that should be around for another decade. Some project he would play a year at guard, but to me, he is Doug Free's immediate replacement, putting Free into backup status. The Cowboys' moves in free agency should free them from focusing on D line, and Martin is a player who is clearly worth their first round pick.

1. Zack Martin, OG/OT
2. Timmy Jernigan, DT
3. Ryan Shazier, OLB

Rabble: You'll notice that none of my three candidates are receiving many mid-first round grades. No, indeedy, most draftniks have them slotted in the 22-30 range--which is where I think the Cowboys will trade back to after the guys they really want--Kahlil Mack, Aaron Donald and Anthony Barr, go off the board lickety split.

After last year's successful trade back, I think the Cowboys braintrust likes the idea more than they have in the recent past (and, after the 2009 trade down, who can blame them). They understand the need to accumulate as many first and second day picks as possible, and would benefit from doing so in a draft rich in third and fourth round talent.

Can they find a trading partner? I think so, especially if a top receiver--Mike Evans, Marquise Lee--is there and a team feels that they need to jump over Baltimore to get him.

Dawn Macelli
1. Aaron Donald, DT
2. Timmy Jernigan, DT
3. Zack Martin, OG/OT

Dawn: Dallas needs to keep adding the beef up from and the priority must be on the defense, but if both Donald and Jernigan are gone the Martin pick or a trade back would be my choice.

Joey Ickes
1. Aaron Donald, DT
2. Zack Martin, OG/OT
3. Calvin Pryor, S

Joey: I had more trouble with this than I thought I would. There are a lot of players that I would be happy with at 16, but when I have to narrow it down to three it becomes much more difficult. The Donald selection is obvious, plug him in to play 15 snaps at a Base Under tackle behind Henry Melton, and play him another 15-20 in your Nickel packages, Martin really completes the OLine makeover at either OG or OT, and yes I do still believe Pryor is a very good player who would be the Center Fielder here, in spite of what a lot of guys I respect are saying re: him being better in the box.

KD Drummond
1. Aaron Donald, DT
2. Zack Martin, OG/OT
3. Timmy Jernigan

KD: You've got to go with my man Donald! Myself personally, I like the Melton signing, but it's by no means a long term answer for me at the position. I worry about his knee, I worry about his 2013 before the knee. More importantly, I think that Donald is one of the top talents in the draft, and he follows the team's mantra of drafting the best player at his position with the first round pick.

If he's not there, let's rebuild the Great Wall of Dallas! Martin can play multiple spots on the line and play them at a high level. That's what elite offensive lines need, the flexibility to have 5 of your top 6 linemen on the field when there's an injury. Bernadeau comes off the bench no matter the injury since Martin can move around. Finally, Jernigan is a destroyer of pect muscles; violent, violent hands. Put him at the one tech and slide him over to 3 tech on passing downs; he'll win.

So there you have it folks. It may look like Aaron Donald is the consensus favorite, and he does show up on six of the seven ballots cast, but there are lots of alternatives. Zack Martin and Timmy Jernigan both get five votes each, just one behind Donald; Ryan Shazier gets two votes; Calvin Pryor, C.J. Mosley and Anthony Barr all get one vote each. In the end, that may be a good thing because it probably means the Cowboys will have a lot of options once they are on the clock.

Over to you: Who are your top three picks, in order of preference, for the Cowboy at No. 16?

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