The Cowboys' Top Draft Priorities
As the countdown to the 2013 NFL draft approaches 48 hours, skill players, for once, aren’t the biggest stars of the opening act. Come Thursday — if only on Thursday — the panache and pizazz of the draft will stem heavily from the selections of linemen, offensive and defensive alike.
No question Dallas is eyeball-deep in the market for run blockers and stoppers, particularly the former — the Cowboys finished 31st in rushing offense last year. But do they have a prayer of landing a choice player at such a position? Numerous teams need quarterbacks, of which there are few. Scads of teams have salary cap concerns, for which offensive linemen, especially guards taken in later rounds, make attractive investments. The odds the Cowboys will find a premiere offensive lineman with their No. 18 pick are slim at best.
The draft is a test of a team’s ability to identify its true needs; to match direness of need to verifiable talent level. It’s about reconciling, in mere minutes, the club’s level of quality depth at a certain position with the best available resource at that instant. There’s no doubt that the Cowboys need offensive linemen badly. But realistically, there could very well be better options for bolstering the overall roster health with the No. 18 and No. 47 picks.
The following positions are specific priorities for higher picks. Their order is based on a current depth chart and what’s likely to be available when the Cowboys’ number is called — barring a rumored, last minute trade.
The Cowboys have two young, athletic backups in Sean Lissemore and Tyrone Crawford. Why add another? Because Jay Ratliff is on the back nine of his career, Jason Hatcher is a natural edge rusher and both are undersized for defensive tackles.
Adding a touted tackle who can contribute immediately would allow Hatcher some reps at his old position, minimizing the drop-off should DeMarcus Ware or Anthony Spencer miss any time. Sheldon Richardson and Sylvester Williams remain the primary candidates should Dallas pump the first-round brakes on a safety.
The report that San Francisco will trade up likely means Dallas can kiss FS Kenny Vaccaro — the Texas product and mainstay on their draft radar — goodbye. But even with Vaccaro off the board, the shortcomings at safety are too glaring and far reaching to overlook for long.
With FS Will Allen lacking starting experience and SS Barry Church rehabbing a serious injury, the rangy, hard-hitting Vaccaro could plausibly have lent depth to either spot. The untested Matt Johnson and under-tested Danny McCray round out the rotation.
There’s a new scheme in town, and it prioritizes physical cornerback play at the line, which in turn prioritizes safety help on deep routes. Given all this, Dallas really should take a safety in the first two rounds. Eric Reid, a speedster from defensive back-powerhouse LSU and former teammate of Morris Claiborne, could be the answer.
Look, if by some miracle neither Chance Warmack nor Jonathan Cooper is chosen in the first 17 picks, then Dallas should pounce. That just seems about as likely as Jerry Jones recusing himself as general manager.
The Cowboys need an offensive tackle to replace Doug Free, but his 2013 salary hit raises the short-term premium on finding suitable backups for Mackenzy Bernadeau and Nate Livings — both have restructured contracts and deserve another year to improve. But with Dallas set to rely heavily on Tony Romo’s arm, there’s no reason not to upgrade in the trenches immediately, even if it means waiting until Round 3.
DeMarco Murray really needs some help: preferably the kind that involves him absorbing fewer hits and facing smaller injury risks. Dallas knows it needs a balanced attack via a physical, line-bucking rusher. Just wait to acquire him until his blockers have been locked down.