It is finally draft day 2013. No more study time on players who might be on the Cowboys radar and no more time for long debates as to what they need or what they should do. Those of us who want to know these players before the bias of ownership kicks in have done all that we can do, and tonight, the landscape of the NFL can be altered yet again.
From a Cowboys perspective, there are a few things we just don't really have a feel for that is required to fully know the team's plans. For instance, there is that issue of using the cap space that was generated from the restructure of Tony Romo' contract to sign a veteran offensive lineman who might instantly be in their plans. Eric Winston and Tyson Clabo have both been long time starters at right tackle in the league and both are on the street today, with links to the Cowboys in the media.
I believe that Tyson Clabo is the player they like better but he might have more leverage to get a multi-year deal elsewhere, and that is something Dallas would not be willing to do, most likely. But, since we have no idea whether there is certainty in their interest in Clabo, we cannot take tackle off their board of needs as tonight approaches. DJ Fluker would be a very strong right tackle prospect if they went the young route, but again, we don't know how things are going in free agency for the team now that the league has really quieted down in that department.
But, as we look at the needs on draft day: Guard, Tackle, Defensive Tackle, Safety are the major ones, with depth needed at Wide Receiver, Running Back, Tight End, and Defensive End later on - we can see tackle is about the only one that they might be able to find a veteran on a 1-year deal if they are against bringing Doug Free back at a reduced rate. And I suppose we shouldn't rule out the idea that Free at $3m in 2013 is something they would consider if he would agree to a pay cut from $7m. His leverage is minimal given that finding a starting job or a reasonable pay day after June 1 is nearly impossible for a guy with low stock. I imagine staying here for lowered cash and only having to defeat Jeremy Parnell for RT in camp is his best option. Whether the Cowboys think so remains to be seen.
But, if we take tackle off the board, then we look at the remaining 3 spots of need: Guard (M Bernadeau appears to be a backup), DT (Ratliff aging and Josh Brent gone), and Safety (always need that) are the 3 real ideas at pick #18. If you build your board around that, then you are not saying you only consider players from those same positions, but rather, if there is a similar grade on players, you use that to break any close calls. Of course, if the best player on your board by a mile is someone like Tavon Austin, then you have to use your brain. But, you are looking to fill long-time needs, too. And that is why Guard, Defensive Tackle, and Safety are high on my plans for the early picks.
Now, of those 3, you ask where the best prospects are and what can be accomplished in the 2nd or 3rd round. That is where we consider that there is major depth at safety, with 8 or 9 reasonable options there, albeit the quality does drop after Kenny Vaccaro, Jonathan Cyprien, and Eric Reid. But, with another 5 or so good looking safeties, I am not interested in one at #18. One exception would be dropping in the 1st round to pick up an additional 2nd or 3rd round. If I sit at #25 or so, I might think safety there.
That leaves Guard and DT for #18. It will come down to what falls to you. I think the Cowboys love both guards with Cooper being their preference. His mobility and perfect form for a zone blocking scheme gives him the edge on Warmack, but I really believe they would be delighted either way. Personally, I prefer Warmack and his brute strength more, but I do wonder if he fits that scheme to perfection. On the other hand, I don't like the idea of forcing a scheme without considering your personnel. I think you have to look at your group and design around that. But that conversation is for a different day.
As for Defensive tackle, I think the Cowboys think 4 are worth #18. That includes Star Lotulelei, Sharrif Floyd, Sheldon Richardson, and Sylvester Williams. Rumors exist that they like Floyd the most, which I will admit is a bit peculiar to me. I actually like him about the 4th most of the 4, with Lotulelei, Richardson, and Williams (in that order) in front of him. But, clearly, I am just a guy with a blog and a DVD player. They have visited with the players, investigated their lives, done medicals, and talked to coaches. Always trust personnel departments over bloggers.
Based on the 9 players we tried to break down on this blog, here is my "board" for #18:
1. Chance Warmack - Report Here
2. Jonathan Cooper - Report Here
3. Star Lotulelei - Report Here
4. Sheldon Richardson - Report Here
5. Sylvester Williams - Report Here
6. Tavon Austin - Report Here
7. Sharrif Floyd - Report Here
8. Kenny Vaccaro - Report Here
9. DJ Fluker - Report Here
I do think that is how I would stack them and if they follow this perfectly, I would be fine with even Fluker at #18. They will get a solid contributor and an instant starter from all 9 of these players, I believe. But, as I said before, if Austin, Vaccaro, or Fluker are their best options, I hope they would try to figure out a way to move back and pick up another top #100 pick to add to their haul. Top #100 picks traditionally should contribute in a big way right off the bus and that is what the Cowboys really need. If they can leave the draft with 4 of the top #100 instead of 3, they should effort to do so.
I should also point out that there has been plenty of talk this week about the TE from Notre Dame, Tyler Eifert. I concede that he is the best tight end in this draft, but I don't care for that selection here. I would rank him behind all 9 of the players above and hope that this is smoke the Cowboys are generating to get someone to snag him above them, allowing their actual targets to fall to them. He is a prospect that is certainly better than James Hanna, but, his strengths and weaknesses seem similar to Hanna, aside from speed. Hanna ran 4.45 last year, Eifert is a 4.66 this year. Jason Witten has taught us that 40-time isn't everything, but I don't see Eifert to be a generational tight end that I would drop everything to address. But, they don't ask me.
Here are their current draft positions:
Tonight is Round 1. Let's get to it already.