NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock released his top five players per position last night. This is Mayock's first go at a top five this year, and the rankings are bound to change after the combine. But Mayock is one of the bigger names in the draft business, so his rankings carry some weight. You can find the full rankings here, and we'll only do a quick run-through of the priority positions the Cowboys may address in this year's draft.
First up, the top Edge Rushers:
1. Dante Fowler, Florida
2. Randy Gregory, Nebraska
3. Shane Ray, Missouri
4. Vic Beasley, Clemson
5. Bud Dupree, Kentucky
No big surprises here, these are the usual names we've gotten used to at the top of the prospect rankings. For now, all five prospects here would appear to be out of range for the Cowboys at No. 27. Keep in mind though that where a prospect is ranked in February means very little on draft day, as we'll see further below.
Interior Defensive Linemen
1. Leonard Williams, USC
2. Danny Shelton, Washington
3. Malcom Brown, Texas
4. Arik Armstead, Oregon
5. Jordan Phillips, Oklahoma
5. Eddie Goldman, Florida State
Unlike the edge rushers, the Cowboys could potentially be in play for any of the defensive tackles ranked 3-5. The Cowboys have been notoriously fickle about investing their first-round pick in a defensive tackle that can only play the 1-technique position, but Arik Armstead may have the athleticism to play both interior spots, even if he is nothing more than a fundamentally raw developmental prospect at this point. Still, he has developed somewhat of a cult following among sections of Cowboys fans.
Notably absent from this list is Carl Davis, who has been moving up the boards recently. Perhaps he'll make Mayock's list in its second iteration after the combine.
Mayock's rankings are an interesting data point as we continue to build up knowledge for the draft, but Mayock is far from infallible. Almost exactly a year ago, Mayock published his first top five ranking on February 17, 2014. Here's an overview of those rankings for defensive linemen, and where the players actually ended up getting drafted:
|2014 Defensive Tackles||2014 Defensive Ends|
|1. Louis Nix III
||83||1. Jadeveon Clowney
|2. Timmy Jernigan
||48||2. Kony Ealy
|3. Aaron Donald
||13||3. Dee Ford
|4. Ra'Shede Hageman||37||4. Scott Crichton||72|
|5. Dominique Easley
||29||5. Trent Murphy||47|
A lot can happen between now and draft day, and last year's rankings are a timely reminder of that. On to the remaining position groups.
1. Trae Waynes, Michigan State
2. Marcus Peters, Washington
3. Jalen Collins, LSU
4. P.J. Williams, Florida State
5. Kevin Johnson, Wake Forest
While these rankings provide a convenient positional overview, they do not tell us where the individual players are ranked on a big board of all prospects. On Mel Kiper's big board of the top 25 picks for example, Waynes and Peters are the top two corners as well, but Kiper has them ranked 22nd and 24th respectively, which would put both corners within reach of the Cowboys. In any case, these rankings are bound to change.
1. Paul Dawson, TCU
2. Benardrick McKinney, Mississippi State
3. Denzel Perryman, Miami (Fla.)
4. Eric Kendricks, UCLA
5. Stephone Anthony, Clemson
A lot of what the Cowboys will do in the draft will be predetermined by what they'll do in free agency. If they were to re-sign both Rolando McClain and Justin Durant (and possibly even Bruce Carter), the chances of drafting a linebacker high would fall significantly. If they don't resign their linebackers, they may try to get this year what they failed to get last year in Ryan Shazier.
Paul Dawson may be the biggest surprise on Mayock's list, as he has him ranked as the top linebacker in this year's class, not an assessment shared by many other draftniks who see Dawson as a second-round prospect - so far. Note that Mayock has Shaq Thomson listed as a safety and not as a linebacker.
Last year, the Cowboys had two picks on Mayock's final top five for the 2014 draft published in May: Zack Martin (#4 OT) and DeMarcus Lawrence (#4 OLB). Wouldn't it be nice to have at least two, or possibly even three names from the lists above end up playing for the Cowboys?