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2015 NFL Draft: Who Are The Cowboys' Top Three First-Round Targets?

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I asked my fellow BTB writers for their assessment: Who are their top three picks, in order of preference, for the Cowboys at No. 27?

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Does signing Greg Hardy change the Cowboys' draft plans, especially in the first round? Some say it would, some say it wouldn't, some say that plugging holes in free agency allows teams to follow an even purer Best-Player-Available approach.

But as much as yesterday's signing is dominating the headlines, one of the most divisive questions about the Cowboys' draft strategy is about an entirely different position: Should the Cowboys consider drafting a running back in the first round or not?

A large part of the answer to that question naturally revolves around which players will be available when it comes time for the Cowboys to pick, so I asked my fellow BTB writers for their assessment: Who are their top three picks, in order of preference, for the Cowboys at No. 27?

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. You'll find that the running back topic is just as divisive an issue in our virtual BTB offices as it is among other Cowboys fans.

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OCC
1. Bud Dupree, DE
2. Marcus Peters, CB
3. Owamagwe Odighizuwa, DE

OCC: For me, this draft is all about the defense, and if the Cowboys go BPA on defense with their first three picks, I'll consider this a successful draft.

The likelihood of Dupree falling all the way to 27 is small, but if he falls into the early 20s, I'd consider pulling a Dez Bryant and trading up to get him. Marcus Peters is a top ten talent who's seen his draft stock drop due to the current hypersensitivity about personal conduct issues. I'm not convinced NFL teams share that concern, and I could easily see him go in the top 15. If he's still around at 27, this is a no-brainer. Odighizuwa finally is my strongside DE. His college stats may not be overly impressive, but if "disruption is production", then Odighizuwa is one of the most impressive edge rushers available in the draft. And there's also this, courtesy of Zach Whitman at 3sigmaathlete.com:

David Halprin
1. Malcolm Brown, DT
2. Owamagwe Odighizuwa, DE 3. Kevin Johnson, CB

Dave: Let's clear the elephant from the room, the Cowboys should wait until the 2nd-4th round to pick up a running back. There is plenty of talent in this year's draft at the position, using a first-round pick on a RB is really not necessary. Instead, the Cowboys should look to improve their defense. If Brown is available at #27, I take him. He might go higher than that, but he is a disruptive penetrator from the inside, could be the 1-tech Dallas is searching for. Next up is Diggy from UCLA, he is a versatile end who could mainly play the strongside. Finally, cornerback Johnson is a fluid cover man. He's a little lanky in body type, but is a pure cover corner.

Dawn Macelli
1. Marcus Peters, CB
2. Owamagbe Odighizuwa, DE
3. Preston Smith, DE

Dawn: There is little doubt in my mind that everyone in the war room would be on board with getting Peters to strengthen the secondary. Odighizuwa would go a long way toward achieving the goal of improving the pass rush in the long term. Alternatively, there's also Preston Smith, a relentless pass rusher who will appeal to Rod Marinelli. He will not be as high on the priority list as Odighizuwa, but he will be a strong fallback position.

Even with Dallas securing Hardy's signature on a contract, I can still see them pulling the trigger on Odighizuwa, but I'd probably insert CB Kevin Johnson as my third priority. Johnson does not have all the physical attributes that you would prefer to have in a corner, but he makes up for that with his style of play and athletic ability.

And if Gurley is there at 27, I'd shop the pick around and see what Dallas can get for it.

rabblerousr
1. Bud Dupree, DE
2. Trae Waynes, CB
3. Shaq Thompson, LB

Rabble: Much as they did last year, I think the Cowboys first priority will be to add a dynamic defensive player; accepting this, I've chosen one at each level. Dupree is a dynamic edge rusher who could play either left or right end, but would probably fit best on the strong side. Waynes is thin, but has terrific length (6'0") and speed (4.31), and plays a physical game. Thompson is active, aggressive and instinctive.

You'll notice the absence of any RBs on my list. This is intentional; I don't believe that spending a first-round pick on a running back is a sensible expenditure of resources, even if a player like Todd Gurley should happen to be there at #27. There are simply too many talented runners that can be had in the later rounds to spend a first-round pick on a guy who will be part of a committee.

Gary Morris
1. Malcolm Brown, DT
2. Eddie Goldman, DT
3. Marcus Peters, CB

Gary: The only reason to consider a running back in the first two rounds is if there is a transcendent one available. That would be Gurley, and even then I would have to think long and hard about it and I think I would trade down or pick the next best that fills a need. I think we can do very well with the talent that should still be there in the later rounds. Replacing Nick Hayden with more talent than we currently have should be the focus.

Neithan20000
1. Marcus Peters, CB
2. Eric Kendricks, LB
3. Andrus Peat, OT

Neithan: With the uncertainty surrounding both Carr and Claiborne, rebuilding the secondary is a vital concern for the Cowboys. There is a major asterisk regarding character concerns, but if his interviews and background checks pan out, Marcus Peters would be a great addition to the secondary. Concerns about his top line speed are valid, but with Dallas playing more zone coverage, top end speed isn't a major issue.

Linebacker Eric Kendricks is an interesting fallback. Although Dallas has signed three linebackers in free agency, those players are strictly stop-gaps. Green Bay killed Dallas by using Randall Cobb as a pass-catcher out of the backfield. Because Dallas had no linebackers who could cover, it forced the defense to warp all of their zone concepts. Kendricks is a true three-down linebacker, stout enough to play the run, but athletic enough to be a plus in coverage.

Finally, don't forget about the offensive line. Doug Free has been a stalwart along Dallas's line, but he's not the future. Andrus Peat has the pedigree and athletic tools to be a top offensive tackle in the NFL. There are questions about his nastiness and focus, but Garrett has said he targets players based on certain traits, not NFL readiness. "Don't be afraid to coach".

I already know people are asking "where is the defensive line"? Well the 2015 draft isn't about the 2015 season, but 2016 and beyond. I don't see Dallas drafting a premier RDE, after drafting DeMarcus Lawrence last year, or being in the market for a 3-tech. They have a massive stockpile of young or returning injured defensive linemen who will compete for the LDE and 1-tech spots. I wanted to concentrate on positions where we might be covered for 2015, but will have needs in 2016 and beyond.

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Tom Ryle
1. Todd Gurley, RB 2. Owamagwe Odighizuwa, DE 3a. Trade back / 3b. Preston Smith, DE

Tom: If Gurley falls to 27, he is at that point clearly the best player left, and at a position of need. I don't see how you pass that up. Odiggy at 27 would be an easy pick, and right now he is the only other player that would possibly be available that I really think is a good first-round choice. If both those are gone, my first choice would be to trade back into the second. Since that is not really an option here, I would go with Preston Smith by a narrow margin over CB Marcus Peters. Smith is starting to look more like a legitimate option here from what I am seeing.

Although many expect the Cowboys to go in a different direction than DE after signing Greg Hardy, it actually makes taking one more effective. You aren't going to rely on the rook to produce now, and it would allow the team to have Hardy's replacement for 2016 groomed.

DraftCowboys
1. Todd Gurley, RB
2. Owamagbe Odighizuwa, DE
3. Eric Kendricks, LB

DraftCowboys: There is no question that the Cowboys are in need of a running back and there isn't a better one than Gurley. Despite the knee injury, I believe he is still in play at 27. The combination of Gurley/McFadden/Dunbar is a good trip to go into the season with. This likely spells the end of the Jo Randle experience.

Odighizuwa is a plug-in starter at left defensive end and it is a smart pick at 27. He plays well against the run and with limited ends on the roster he would fit right in. Marinelli likes to rotate so there shouldn't be the issue of keeping him fresh. The Cowboys can't bank on Ben Gardner just yet but he should be a healthy backup. With the Hardy signing, the Cowboys may choose either running back or linebacker.

Eric Kendricks is the only linebacker I would take at 27. He fits the WILL role well and this would keep Sean Lee at the MIKE and likely Anthony Hitchens at SAM. This would make a formidable front seven with Demarcus Lawrence, Tyrone Crawford, Hardy and Terrell McClain getting pressure.

JSM8ith
1. Todd Gurley, RB
2. Marcus Peters, CB
3. Owamagbe Odighizuwa, DE

JSM: My thought process is essentially the same as Tom's. If Gurley is there at 27, he's the best player left and the Cowboys go that route. As a matter of fact, it's pretty likely that whichever of these three are available at this point will be the best available (in that order, IMO). I think Gurley is the type of RB that will dominate in Dallas for years to come. There is talent deep in this draft, which is why I wouldn't trade up for Gurley or go with any other back here, but I'm starting to really buy-in to this guy.

Peters would be a great second option, but I'm not sure he falls that far. It just takes one team to fall in love with a guy like Peters and I believe someone will. As for Odighizuwa, you just can't go wrong with this type of a pass-rusher and even though the Cowboys got an outstanding pass rusher in free agency, he'd still be a beautiful fit on the D-line.

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So there you have it folks. Seven of the nine writers have at least one defensive end on their list of top three first-round targets. A cornerback can also be found in seven of the nine lists. Three of nine have a running back on their list.

The three most popular names are DE Owamagbe Odighizuwa (6 out of 9 possible votes), CB Marcus Peters (5/9), and RB Todd Gurley (3/9). Interestingly, RB Melvin Gordon doesn't show up once.

Over to you: Who are your top three picks, in order of preference, for the Cowboys at No. 27?