I don’t think that I’ve ever been as excited for any professional sports draft to start as I am for the 2014 NFL Draft, and that’s because that will be the day when all of the “Will the Dallas Cowboys trade up to draft Johnny Manziel?” stories finally die, and I’ll never have to hear them again. That is a day that I cannot wait for.
If Manziel somehow slips and is still on the board when the Cowboys go on the clock with the 16th pick, then I’ll entertain a discussion about the pros and cons of drafting the former Heisman Trophy winner. But trading up for a quarterback makes no sense for this team right now.
There is, however, one player that fills a big enough need for Dallas that might be worth the cost of trading up: Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald.
Until recently, I have been of the opinion that the Cowboys would (and should) look for help at the safety position in the first round, and I spent a lot of time comparing Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Louisville’s Calvin Pryor. While I still think that both of those guys are possible picks for the Cowboys at 16, I’ve changed my tune on what I think the Cowboys should (and will) do with their first round pick.
When I talked to former Cowboy and current ESPN analyst Darren Woodson recently, he told me not only that the Cowboys are still very high on JJ Wilcox (much more so than the fans), but he also explained the type of defense that Rod Marinelli likes to run and how he loves to rotate guys in and out. While the Cowboys started free agency with a need at defensive tackle, I sort of put that to the side after Henry Melton agreed to terms in Dallas. Sure, they weren’t necessarily set at the position, but it was no longer such a priority, to me.
Although my friends (and family, and anyone who has ever met me) will tell you otherwise, I am someone who is willing to admit when I’m wrong, especially when I get new or updated information and even more so when that information comes from a person who is far more knowledgeable and informed on the subject (like, for example, Darren Woodson).
Given what Woodson told me about how Marinelli will run the defense, and the emphasis that he places on the defensive line and having as many able bodies ready to go as possible, I don’t believe that the Cowboys ever downgraded defensive tackle from their off-season priority list and I also don’t believe that they see the safety position being as much as a need as I did (and as most fans do).
That’s where we get to Donald. He is, now, considered the best defensive tackle prospect in this year’s Draft. He was seen as a possible target for Dallas at 16 at one time, but he has since shot up the boards following workouts and it would be considered somewhat of a shock if he made it all the way to them. The earliest likely landing spots for him (given the current Draft order) appears to be eighth overall to the Vikings and I don’t see him getting past Chicago at 14.
So, the question becomes: just how much do the Cowboys like Donald and would they be willing to give up the necessary picks to move into a position to select him? I have been pretty steadfastly against the idea of the Cowboys trading up, given all of the needs that they have. But, Donald would be such a great asset to the defense, and work in so well with the new defensive system, if Dallas can get a reasonable deal, that’s the type of player that is worth giving up a few picks for.
If the Cowboys don’t get Donald, the next best player at the position is Florida State’s Timmy Jernigan (Notre Dame’s Louis Nix is also a top defensive tackle, but should be taken by a 3-4 team that needs a gigantic nose tackle). Jernigan failed his drug test at the Combine in March, which could actually work in the Cowboys’ favor.
If the Cowboys believe that there isn’t too much of a gap between Donald and Jernigan, they might be willing to go in another direction at 16, and hope that Jernigan (otherwise a first round talent) falls to them in the second round (or, possibly, they actually trade back from 16 and try and grab Jernigan at the end of the first round).
The truth of the matter is, even the Cowboys themselves don’t know what they’re going to do on Thursday night. They have ideas, but as soon as one wrench gets thrown into the gears (and that will happen), their top plan could completely blow up and they will have to reevaluate.
That’s the fun of the NFL Draft: no one, especially not the media, has any idea what is actually going to happen. But man, is it fun to talk about and speculate!
I have to believe that Donald is on the Cowboys’ wish list, perhaps at the very top, and that they’ll be looking to see what it costs to move into a position to nab him.
And that would be the logical and sensible pick for the Cowboys, if they do in fact trade up.