As the Dallas Cowboys approach the 2016 draft they simultaneously find themselves in unfamiliar territory (the 4th overall pick needing a quarterback) and on the same old turf (having a team with no glaring holes, but in need of improvement almost everywhere). While fans everywhere are discussing what to do with that top pick, let's take a look at what else Dallas might want to grab in this draft.
Contrary to popular opinion, running back may not be a high priority, with Darren McFadden the lone high point in an anemic offense and plenty of cap space to go after the talented and underutilized Lamar Miller if necessary. Undoubtedly, however, having the Heisman trophy winner available in the second round would be tempting and Derrick Henry is a strong player with a complete game that I really like.
Nonetheless I'm going to go away from the obvious for a bit and drop some names that are probably quite familiar to draftnicks but have been off the radar of amateurs like me, who are just now beginning to take a look at what the near future might hold.
Some may boggle at his location on this list. NFLdraftscout.com has him listed as their 8th overall player. But Walterfootball.com has him going 40th overall to the Giants (after his line compatriot Kevin Dodd) and he's 35th on Fanspeak's big board. I suppose there are some worried about his height (6'3") and arm length as an edge rusher in the NFL. But if he somehow survives until round two Dallas must grab this guy. He has a nice spin move and I've seen him use other pass rush techniques (rip and swim, specifically) but he doesn't use any of them often enough. Despite this he gave Notre Dame LT Ronnie Stanley (consensus first-rounder and top 10 on some draft boards) fits. He has amazing lateral agility and short area quickness and I saw him successfully drop into coverage on tight ends and running backs. In fact, if he weren't listed at 275, I'd suggest him as a 3-4OLB (and he might make a beast of one anyhow). He is extremely good against the run and his 12.5 sacks and 25.5 tackles for loss on the season speak towards the consistent productivity of his play.
The Notre Dame middle linebacker is a fast and instinctive playmaker. However he tore two ligaments (ACL and MCL) in the Fiesta bowl and is dropping down draft boards as a result, though he is still likely to go at the end of the first round (which says a lot about how good he is). He was all over the field and also showed a lot of coverage ability. Notre Dame even had him man up on slot receivers. He's a solid tackler and shows up all over the place. If he's there in round two Dallas could snag him to bolster their linebacking corps as a potential replacement for Rolando McClain.
In a defense that is woefully short of playmakers, Darian Thompson makes a lot of sense. With even more interceptions than a certain Unicorn of years past (Matt Johnson), Thomspon's college tape is eerily reminiscent of his, though at Boise State, Thompson played stiffer competition. Fast and decisive with very good instincts for the game, Thompson, like any safety, makes an overaggressive error or two. But he's extremely good at all aspects of the game and with 19 interceptions, broke Eric Weddle's conference record. Ballhawk is an appropriate label. I am not sure why folks don't have him rated as a first-round prospect, but I assume it's level of competition. This actually might be my favorite pick for the Cowboys in round two.
A hybrid linebacker/safety who has speed, coverage ability, and playmaking skills, he's a little reminiscent of another USC alumni, Troy Polamalu. At 6'1", 225 lbs, he might be considered a bit small as a linebacker, but in the film I watched he was very strong at the point and did an excellent job keeping contain on outside runs. He seems that rare combination of a hard hitter who is a consistent tackler. He plays forward very well with 32.5 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks evenly distributed over his last two seasons. When tested in pass defense he responds well, with five picks (3 and 2) and 15 passes defensed (9 and 6) over his last two seasons as well. Again, as people will compare him to USC alum Polamalu, it seems worth remembering that Dallas did well with drafting a hybrid linebacker/safety some time ago as well.
A highlight film I saw proclaimed him "the next Desean Jackson". I disagree. I think he may be better than that. He's a little bigger, for one. He uses his speed well, but also has remarkable agility and change of direction skills. There's a lot of wide receiver talent in this draft and maybe I'm too fond of Fuller, but I think he's going to be a strong pro. His impressive stats (1,097 yds and 15 TD season followed by 1,258 yds and 14 TD) might have been even more so if his quarterback had better vision as I saw several plays on his tape where he was open for a good gain and the Notre Dame quarterback never saw him.
A player who tends to be ranked near the 100-110 range, look for him to climb up the boards and listen for comparisons to Aaron Donald. He's a very similar player, though not as good. At 6'1", 285 lbs, he's going to be considered undersized, but he's very quick and plays stronger than his size indicates. I saw several comments that he couldn't anchor well and that his arms were too short, just as I did about Donald before him. Also like Donald before him, when I looked at his play I found these to be untrue. He's not the demonic player that Donald is, but is absolutely a poor man's version and gives Dallas nice interior depth in the line. It'll be interesting to see if his Senior Bowl performance and combine numbers raise his stock as they did Donald's.
I said I wasn't really considering running back here, but this young man intrigues. He''s a little undersized at 5'11" 198, but he has amazing balance, excellent vision, and much more power than you would think. He's both a tough runner and a good receiver out of the backfield with a lot of wiggle. People will think of him as a 3rd down back (this might be a mistake, as he's willing, but a little weak, in pass protection) but he's absolutely a complete back and one whose patience and vision would really do well behind this line. As an underclassman, he has a little less mileage, too.
These are some players who have impressed me as I look for possible picks for Dallas day two. Many of them may well not be there, but some of them ought to and could make lovely additions to the star, whether or not Dallas picks a quarterback at #4.