Every year, the draft-enthusiasts put forth so much effort to talk about hundreds of draft prospects and determine where they are going to fall. Every year, we scour through thousands of scouting reports and tape on tons of players and every year, we are wrong. You simply cannot match the amount of work the various scouting departments go through all year round.
How do you explain Ryan Russell in the fifth round? The Cowboys spent many seasons looking at him and watching his growth. They decided that he was goof enough to bring him to Valley Ranch for a visit. Then they decided he would make a solid addition to their rotation. Of course, the jury is still out on Russell, but who knows.
Scouting and player acquisitions are a 365-day business. With that said it's time to throw a few names out there that we haven't heard much about. The Cowboys are no strangers to taking players that us fans are less privy to, in fact, just about every team has a few of those each year.
DE Ronald Blair III, 6'3, 272 lbs, Appalachian State
If you tuned in to The Draft Show with Bryan Broaddus, Dane Brugler, and Dave Helman, you'll know Blair was mentioned in their latest episode. Blair has good size and length which is exactly what he uses when penetrating the pocket. He's not the tallest lineman, but his limbs and hands are perfect for the position. He's versatile and can play both inside and outside in a 4-3 alignment. Blair has been mentioned by Brugler as a potential top 50 prospect before, even if that's not (yet) where most people see Blair. At this point, CBS has a fourth-fifth round grade on Blair but that could change rapidly.
He was pulled from the Shrine Game due to a minor injury he suffered in practice but was outstanding in a game against Clemson this year. What you see is his power and vision to lock eyes with the quarterback or ball carrier and track him down. He is smart and knows how to get off his blocks and into the backfield. As an edge rusher, he can make himself small and get around the corner and to the passer. He also shows good speed and quickness for a guy who looks similar to Greg Hardy in build.
He's got a great attitude and has been consistently improving each season, winning the Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year in 2015. As for Appalachian State, they finished the season 11-2, losing to only Clemson and Arkansas State. This is not going to be a draft where there are great pass rushers throughout, which makes Blair a commodity that could rise up the charts on the second day.
*Current 4-5th Round Prospect, Potentially 2nd-3rd Round Prospect
ILB Antonio Morrison, 6'1, 232 lbs, Florida
Morrison is a very intriguing talent because he set the tone each Saturday for the Gators and was the heartbeat of their stifling defense. It's no question that he plays with a ton of intensity, sometimes a little too much. However, Morrison can be explosive as a middle linebacker. For what he lacks in prototypical size, he makes up for with intelligence and an extreme feel for the game.
He suffered a scary knee injury in the 2014 bowl game and was supposed to be out 10-12 months into 2015. Morrison came back in six months and had a stellar senior year. He's very light on his feet and has an innate sense to react even before the ball carrier can. Morrison will undergo some extensive medical checks after working so hard to come back early. If he passes all those tests, there is no question that he will be one of the higher sought after linebackers in a stacked class. Brugler has gone as far as to state that if Morrison is healthy, we're looking at a top 40 prospect. Morrison led the Gators with 97 tackles, 56 for loss, and a forced fumble. He also was named to the 2015 All-SEC Second Team.
*Current 4th Round Prospect, Potentially 2nd-3rd Round Prospect
WR Bralon Addison, 5'10, 190 lbs, Oregon
Addison is a prospect that should excite those who believe the Cowboys need a speedy option that can take the top off a defense. Addison has a similar build to Brandin Cooks and Rob Rang calls him a big play waiting to happen. He's got great vision and soft hands that allow for him to make terrific catches. He's compact but has terrific agility to get to his top-end speed almost immediately.
He reminds you of a younger DeSean Jackson but without the mental mistakes. He led all receivers at Oregon this season with 63 receptions, 804 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns after missing the entire 2014 season due to ACL surgery. The only true knock on his game has been his height, but Brugler has stated that doesn't change his ability to compete for jump balls. With the emphasis on the uptempo offenses in the NFL, it wouldn't be surprising to see Addison crack the top 60 in this year's draft. He's speedy but has great hands too. Usually, you get one and have to develop the other.
*Currently Late 3rd, Early 4th Round Prospect
DT Matt Ioannidis, 6'4, 303 lbs, Temple
Ioannidis started every game at defensive tackle for the Owls in his senior season. And he didn't disappoint, with 11.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, 42 tackles, and two fumble recoveries. After being named to the AAC First Team, he received an invite to the Senior Bowl where he stood out again.
Watching those televised practices myself, you see a guy with tremendous effort and strength at the point of attack. He straight attacks blockers with relentless effort and forces his way into making the play. He's tenacious and can be downright nasty in the trenches. He creates great momentum as a pass rusher with the heavy hand ability to grip and rip at blockers. His vision is outstanding and he used every ounce of effort to disrupt in his time in Mobile. Scouts are certainly circling his name to go back over before late-April.
He's got a stout build and can hold his own against double teams. He only knows one speed and never slows down. You'll get a consistent effort from start to finish with a great knowledge of the game. His intangibles mixed with his intelligence will make him a starter in the NFL.
*Currently Projected 5th Round Prospect
RB Jordan Howard, 6'1, 225 lbs, Indiana
Following in Tevin Coleman's footsteps, Howard will be the second Hoosier back to be drafted in the top 100 come springtime. He's powerfully built with the frame of an NFL workhorse back and uses great pad level to finish his runs and get every single yard. He's got good vision, is a lot faster as a runner than he looks, and makes defenders miss with regularity.
He's arguably one of the best overall running back prospects in the draft but has some injury concerns and missed four games this season. However, he tallied 1,200+ rushing yards and nine rushing touchdowns. Howard also averaged 134.8 yards per game and six times had 180+ yards per game performances. He wrecked Michigan's top five ranked defense with 238 yards rushing in 2015.
There are concerns about his reckless style at times, but there is no question that he has the talent to succeed in the NFL. If he clears all his medical checks, he's going to go higher than expected.
*Currently Projected 3rd Round Prospect, Potentially a 2nd Round Prospect
CB Harlan Miller, 6'0, 182 lbs, Southeastern Louisiana
Miller is a very long athlete with the ability to mirror receiver's movement all over the field. He's quick and you can see that he plays that way consistently. He's fantastic when asked to help in run support and can even surprise you on blitz packages. Miller is very skilled in press coverage but shows no true weakness in zone and his feet and hips are outstanding. He's a very fluid athlete and uses his frame well though he could stand to put on some more weight.
He's an accomplished tackler and knows how to wrap up receivers to get them down. He's not too grabby but does need to work on his aggression. He's very good at running with the receiver and knows how to change direction with the best of them. He's a very hard-nosed competitor with unmatched energy and athleticism.
He has been receiving pro-comparisons to Kevin Johnson, who was another cornerback the Cowboys liked last year. Though there are concerns about his frame, he's likely to find himself a good home in the NFL and become a starter.
*Currently 3rd Round Prospect