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Cowboys 2015 Draft Targets: Two Late-Round Linebacker Possibilities

Because there has been such a high correlation in recent years between the top collegians invited to Valley Ranch for pre-draft visits and who the Cowboys end up drafting, it's important to know as much as possible about these players. As a service to you, BTB offers a series of detailed scouting reports on these players, compiled from the work of top draft analysts. Today, we look at two late-round linebacker possibilities.

Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

The vast majority of the players invited the ranch for pre-draft visits are expected to be selected in the first two days. This should not surprise; the Cowboys typically extend the bulk of their invites to the more highly-regarded players,  which makes sense when you figure that its precisely those player about whom they must do the utmost due diligence - make a mistake on a sixth-rounder, and its an inconvenience; make a mistake on a first-rounder, and a franchise can be set back several years.

As a result, whenever the name of an unknown pops up on the list of pre-draft invites, we take notice. Last year, for example, Anthony Barr and Aaron Donald were joined on Dallas' list by an unknown: Arizona State's Devon Coleman, sending us all running to our draft guides. This year, there are only three names not ranked in the top 100 on CBS' Big Board, and two of those, Michigan DE Frank Clark and Florida OT Chaz Green, are likely to be drafted much higher than they are ranked. The exception here is Bowling Green linebacker Gabe Martin, who sits at 336 on CBS Board and will be picked late on day three, if at all.

There is interest in him on the Cowboys' part, as well as in a couple of other late-round linebacker types, CSU-Pueblo's Darius Allen and Wyoming's Mark Neocha. So, I thought it would be useful to ferret out as much information as is available on these guys, just in case we hear their names called late Saturday afternoon on draft weekend.Here, I'll look at Martin and Allen; later today, in a separate post, I'll see what scouts have to say about Nzeocha.

And away we go...

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Gabe Martin:

Overview:

After a redshirt year in 2010, Martin played in eleven games the following year, registering 25 tackles and a sack, earning Academic All-MAC Honorable Mention laurels in the process. The following season, he played in all of Bowling Green's thirteen games, starting nine of them and recording a team-high 70 tackles (8.5 tackles for loss), 4.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception, earning First-Team All-MAC honors.

In 2013, he suffered a season-ending knee injury that caused him to miss the final seven games, but still managed to record 36 (3.5 TFLs) and two sacks before his injury. In spite of missing so much time, he was named second team All-MAC. In the subsequent campaign, Martin started all fourteen games for the Falcons, recording a team-high 115 tackles (18 for loss), adding one forced fumble, a fumble recovery, and two interceptions - he added three quarterback hurries, four pass breakups, and a blocked field goal for good measure.  At season's end, he was named second team All-MAC and Academic All-MAC.

At 6'1" and 226 pounds, Martin is undersized for a linebacker; indeed, at Bowling Green, he was often thought of as a safety because he played a hybrid "rover" role in the Falcons' defense, dropping back as an extra defensive back in passing situations. In those instances, he typically peeled off and picked up a tight end, a slot receiver, or played a roaming zone in the middle of the field somewhat similar to that of a Tampa-2 "Mike" ‘backer.

Scouting Reports:

Gil Brandt on Martin's pro day:

Gabriel Martin (6-foot-2 1/4, 234 pounds) had an excellent workout. He's a great competitor on the field, and he ran well and showed good athletic ability. He ran the 40 in 4.63 and 4.66 seconds. He had a 35 1/2-inch vertical jump and a 10-1 broad jump. He ran the short shuttle in 4.37 seconds and the 3-cone drill in 7.29 seconds. He had 23 reps in the bench press. Martin will be a seventh-round pick or priority free agent.

Mike and Matt Vahey (Optimum Scouting):

Versus Wisconsin Martin, like many of his teammates, was outmatched....Martin was primarily tasked with covering up the Tight End against both the pass and run.   He seemed to be routinely a step behind in man coverage, continually letting Tight Ends get behind him.  He also struggled mightily in run defense, finding it difficult to get off his blocks and making tackles in open space.  His change of direction abilities still look to be lacking from where he was prior to his knee injury, but his biggest challenge was taking on the larger blockers of Wisconsin and not having the strength to stack and shed to make plays.

Tony Pauline (Draftinsider.net) 46th-ranked OLB:

Positive: Fierce, run-defending linebacker with underrated physical skills. Displays a good change of direction, plays faster than his 40 time and is fast in pursuit. Easily changes direction, covers a lot of ground and collapses down the line of scrimmage to make the play. Wraps up when tackling.

Negative: Played in seven games as a junior before suffering a season-ending knee injury. Average production in coverage.

Analysis: Martin possesses the size, speed and run-defending instincts to back up in a variety of systems at the next level.

And here he is in action against UMass:

Career projection:

Although his size limits him in the running game, Martin is an energetic and explosive player, with the range, quickness and wont-quit attitude that Rod Marinelli and his defensive staff value. In the most recent episode of The Draft Show on The Mothership, superscout Dane Brugler was asked about his list of this year's most draftable Combine snubs, which includes Martin, and offered the following:

You love the energy he shows. He's athletic. He runs all over the field. He can be blocked pretty easily and taken out of the play. But when he is able to have free space to operate, he has the range that you want. So I think he's a guy that you look for maybe on special teams. He can be an impact player there while he fights for a job in the linebacker corps.

Responding to this assessment, Bryan Broaddus, who gleans a lot of good information from Cowboys scouts, told listeners to "keep an eye" on the Bowling Green product.  We shall, indeed.

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Darius Allen:

Overview:

Allen was a three-year starter at CSU-Pueblo who, in 43 career games, recorded 180 tackles (an amazing 58 for loss), 34.5 sacks, nine forced fumbles, and six fumble recoveries for the ThunderWolves.  After totaling 72 tackles (an amazing 23 for loss) and 15.5 sacks as a senior, Allen was named to several All-America teams and also was awarded RMAC Defensive Player of the Year laurels.

But that wasn't the only trophy added to his case; in addition, Allen was the recipient of the Gene Upshaw Award winner as the best lineman in Division II, and the Cliff Harris Award, given annually to the top defensive player in the country was named to AP's Little All-America team.  In his final two seasons, he was named tot he All-Conference team; as a senior, he was awarded conference Defensive Player of the Year.

Allen is a fluid athlete with very good agility who exhibits a good first step and very good closing speed. He has smooth hips and a surprisingly good pass rush repertoire for a small-school prospect, displaying good hand usage and a nice array of counter-moves when initially blocked. He displays a great dip move that makes it extremely difficult for opposing linemen to get a handle on him.  And, to boot, he is a relentless player who never gives up on a play.

Scouting Reports:

Lance Zierlein (NFL.com) 32nd-ranked OLB:

Strengths: Extremely productive. Finished with 29.5 sacks over last two seasons. Won the 2014 Cliff Harris Award (presented to the top defensive player in the country representing Division II, III and NAIA colleges and universities). Quick upfield burst off snap. Has quick spin move and ability to bend the edge. Adequate hand usage as pass rusher. Has quickness to diagnose and chase to the sideline and constrict the corner.

Weaknesses: Very undersized. Doesn't carry much thickness in his lower half and lacks play strength. Struggles at point of attack and can be easily engulfed. Takes chances with hard slants inside to limit exposure to power. Raw pass rusher relying on athleticism vs. inferior competition over pure skill.

Bottom Line: Undersized, situational pass rusher with good quickness off the snap and some potential as a next-­level pass rusher. Allen lacks NFL-­caliber physicality and toughness for the position, but his ability to threaten the edge should get him into a camp.

Tony Pauline (Draftinsider.net) 46th-ranked DE:

Positive: Explosive small-school pass rusher with poor size/speed numbers for the next level. Fluid moving about the field, plays with excellent balance as well as body control. Rarely knocked off his feet, gets down the line of scrimmage in pursuit of the action and smooth moving to every direction. Effectively uses his hands to protect himself and easily changes direction or immediately alters his angle of attack.

Negative: Taken from the action by a single blocker or stood up by opposing tight ends. Possesses an average closing burst and poor long speed.

Analysis: Allen exploited lesser athletes on the small-school level but lacks the size for defensive end and speed for linebacker to play on Sunday. He should get consideration on a practice squad.

While Allen didn't receive an invitation to this year's NFL Combine, he did post some solid measurables at his recent pro day, including a 4.7 second forty-yard dash, 19 reps in the bench press; 31.5 inch vertical jump; a 9.6 broad jump; a 4.3 short shuttle; and a 7.06 three-cone drill.

Here's a nice compendium of highlights from Allen's 2014 season:

Career projection:

Even though he is probably a UDFA type with a small chance at being drafted, Allen's talent level is likely to be higher than that of major-conference players likely to be selected ahead of him. Most scouts believe that Allen projects best as a developmental 3-4 outside linebacker at the next level, while conceding that he could be a situational pass rusher in a 4-3 (indeed, the aforementioned Brugler described Allen as the D-II version of Randy Gregory, the deluxe pass rushing prospect from Nebraska). Given this profile, I can't help but wonder if the Cowboys see him as a candidate for the OTTO linebacker, which requires a combination of strongside linebacker and defensive end skills.

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The Cowboys have had some success in recent years taking linebackers on day three. In 2013, they spent a sixth-rounder on DeVonte Holloman, who enjoyed a strong rookie campaign before being forced to retire due to a neck injury. Last year, of course, they surprised us by taking Anthony Hitchens in the fourth round, and he turned out pretty well, too. I suspect they'll want to take another third-day stab at young linebacker depth, so if the Cowboys spend one of their two seventh-rounders on either of these gents, I'll support that choice.

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Next up: Wyoming OLB Mark Nzeocha