Last week I broke down the two first round talents at OG – Cooper and Warmack. They are still my preference, because I think you’re able to take one of the top guards in the draft at 18, and then address the defensive line in the second. Cooper’s athleticism wins that battle for me if I’m GM of the Cowboys.
The defensive line also clearly needs to be addressed. I have said it before, and I will say it again — the Cowboys must do the un-sexy thing in this draft and come out of the first two rounds with an offensive and defensive lineman. I cannot think of another draft scenario that makes any sense. Football is won in the trenches, and the greatest absence of talent and depth is in those personnel groups for the Cowboys.
Focusing on the defensive line, there are a great many concerns. Anthony Spencer is unlikely to be within the price range of the Cowboys, who are an estimated $20 million over the cap, and Spencer likely asking for a yearly salary in the range of $10-12 million. The Cowboys always have creative ways of using their cap space, but I find it to be an unlikely and even irresponsible endeavor to bring him back, no matter how well he played last year. I think he would likely succeed as a strong-side defensive end in the 4-3, but the price tag is just too much. So the Cowboys probably need to find a defensive end in the draft, as it’s already been established they probably don’t have enough money to go get one in free agency.
Defensive tackle is in even greater flux after the legal incidents of Josh Brent and Jay Ratliff. If I had to guess, Josh Brent is done for awhile, if not forever. Jay Ratliff is probably going to face a minimal amount of punishment, if any, due to this being his first offense, but that still leaves a personnel gap, particularly with the change of defensive scheme to a 4-3. The uncertainty of the situation certainly leads to questions about who is going to be around to play both the 1 and 3 technique defensive tackles.
So let’s assume that the Cowboys think they need to address their defensive line in the first round, and that there is enough depth at offensive line that they can wait until the next round to address that group. The consensus is that at least eight defensive linemen (depending on how you view Barkevious Mingo and Dion Jordan’s suitability to the 4-3 vs. 3-4) will be drafted in the first round – maybe analysts think it will be even more than that. While it is still very early in the process, and we haven’t been wow’ed by any workout warriors in the NFL Combine yet, let’s take a look at some mock drafts.
The consensus is that four of the first ten picks in the draft will be defensive linemen. Since the consensus is that those four will be Moore, Werner, Lotulelei, and Mingo – I am not going to talk about them much, since they are likely out of the Cowboys reach, unless they choose to move up from 18. Though they made a serious move for Morris Claiborne last year, the financial situation the Cowboys find themselves in leave them needing to come away from the draft with two starters minimum, which would be compromised by the loss of the picks they would need to give up.
Sheldon Richardson | Missouri | DT | 6-3 295 lbs
Richardson is a disruptive player who had a prolific 2012 season for Missouri. While he only had 4 sacks, he added 10.5 tackles for loss, 7 QB hits, 3 passes broken up and 75 tackles in 11 games played. When watching his highlights his athleticism and knack for sniffing out plays is on full display. While it’s important to take highlights reels with a grain of salt, they do show what he is at his best. If you look at his overall profile and projection into the NFL, you see that he does have a few question marks. Most players do, after all.
There are times that he can display poor gap discipline, which sometimes leads him to over-pursue and run himself out of a play. There have also been times where poor technique has caused him to be overwhelmed by stronger offensive lineman. He has had various issues with his academics and discipline in the past.
Generally he is considered to be a very talented prospect, who should project well into the NFL, particularly if he can maintain discipline and motivation. He is extremely talented and a physically gifted specimen.
Dion Jordan | Oregon | OLB/DE | 6-6 243 lbs
Dion Jordan is a tall, lean athlete with excellent speed and quickness. He is a very diverse player who can fill a lot of roles in a variety of schemes. He has played both with his hand in the dirt and as a stand up linebacker. To me, he seems to project more as a ‘tweener’ and a good fit for a 3-4 team looking for a pass rusher. At 245 lbs he would have to add a significant amount of weight in order to be an effective defensive end, opposite of DeMarcus Ware in the Cowboys’ defense. His highlights show that he is extremely athletic and excellent in pursuit, but when you look at his larger profile, you can see that he lacks some upper body strength and gets pushed around easily by upper-tier linemen – a problem that will be amplified in the NFL. Overall, I don’t think that it’s likely that the Cowboys would pursue adding a player like Jordan, particularly in the first round.
Sharrif Floyd | Florida | DT | 6-3 303 lbs
Sharrif Floyd is a talented young defensive lineman with a hard luck story. He played at just about every position on the defensive line at Florida, even occasionally playing standing up. Floyd has tremendous upside and athleticism, showing impressive burst and acceleration through the gap. He uses his hands well to fight off blocks and get into the backfield. He projects well into either a 3-4 or 4-3 scheme, most likely playing the 3 technique in a 4-3 system. He is a versatile player who could become outstanding in the right system.
Floyd is also an extremely raw player, who may have been hindered by Florida’s propensity for moving him to various positions in his college career, with some theorizing that these moves stunted his growth by not focusing on one specific position. Another concern is that, while he has tremendous burst through the gap, he may not have the sustained quickness to pursue the play or get to the quarterback. While he had 13 tackles for a loss in 2012, he only had 3 sacks.
While he is a very talented young player, and a virtual lock to go in the first round, there has been some debate over where he actually lies in the pecking order. Some think that he might be the second or third best defensive lineman in the draft, while others have him further down the pecking order. A lot of one’s evaluation must focus on what he potentially could be and less what he has already done.
Ezekiel Ansah | BYU | DE | 6-5 274 lbs
Ezekial Ansah has become quite a hot topic for the upcoming NFL Draft. Ansah is a former track star who didn’t play football until 2010. He has elite athleticism and has drawn starry-eyed comparisons to Jason Pierre-Paul. Ansah’s highlight reel is pretty impressive, and is clearly a top tier athlete with unlimited potential. To go with his athleticism, he has an excellent frame at 6-5 274 and should have enough strength to be effective in the NFL. In 2012, Ansah had 62 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 6 QB hits, broke up 9 passes, and an interception. With the right coaching and system, Ansah could very well be a superstar.
On the other hand, we don’t know what he really is at this point. His technique is very raw and has struggled against the run, often getting pushed out of the play, particularly when double teamed. His pad level is often too high and has difficulty anchoring at times. All of his weaknesses seem to come from inexperience and poor technique, which can be built upon with good coaching. The concern comes into play when you talk about using a 1st round pick on a guy this inexperienced, who is going to face an incredible upgrade in talent and system sophistication in the NFL. This is the kind of guy you take when your eye is on the long term, and I’m not certain that’s where the Cowboys are right now. This could very well be the kind of pick Jerry Jones makes because it would be among the most exciting when it comes to a generally ‘unsexy’ pick for a player in the trenches.
Ultimately, I am torn between two conflicting concepts. One is that the Cowboys should take the best overall offensive lineman available at 18, because you are likely to get one of the best two guards in the draft there. It’s an almost-certainty that neither of the top two prospects at either DT or DE are going to be there, with a projected 7-8 defensive linemen coming off the board before the Cowboys pick.
The second school of thought is that you had better get the best defensive lineman available for that very same reason – how steep is the talent drop off in the second round vs. the drop off with offensive linemen in the second round. We have a lot of time left before the draft, so it will be interesting to see how this situation develops.