Recent Comments from Jason and Jerry May Shed Light on Cowboys First Pick in 2013 Draft.

The NFL combine is a wrap with some Pro Days still ahead. It’s still early in the process but some comments from Jerry and Jason supply hints to where the Dallas Cowboys may be looking to take with their first pick. They probably haven’t decided who they will pick yet but as information comes in, it becomes more clear what their needs will be.

Jay Ratliff Staying: After getting into some trouble recently and struggling through injuries last season, some speculated that Ratliff may be cut from the team. However Jason recently indicated that Ratliff will be back next season. When asked about Ratliff’s status as a Cowboy in 2013, Jason used the word “absolutely”.

Draft Impact: I think it makes it less likely that Dallas will use their first pick on a defensive tackle. Dallas is going to a 4-3 defense next season and they could use some help at DT but with Ratliff on the roster, I imagine they will look for DT help later in the draft. I also think that makes sense because the 2013 draft is well stocked with defensive linemen. That’s not to assume that if a Shariff Floyd (Florida) fell to them at 18, they would pass on him. But at this point , I don’t see them selecting a DT in the first.

Not Able to Sign Anthony Spencer: As far as signing Spencer after his huge contract season, Jerry Jones pretty much said Dallas would make an offer that would likely be too low.
“The number I have in mind is much less than he is going to take. And with what he is likely going to make we can take that and really help our team with him or a couple of other players. It’s either or. And you can’t have it all.”
Sorry Spencer, but when the billionaire owner talks about not being able to have it all, it’s not a good sign that you will be with Dallas next season. Spencer will probably get a nice offer from another team and it’s possible that fired defensive coordinator Rob Ryan may want to bring Spencer to the Saints.

Draft Impact: The way I see it, Dallas will need to draft a defensive end. As they transition to the 4-3, they have Ware on one side but will need to replace Spencer with a true 4-3 DE. The sooner they pick one in the draft, the less they will miss Spencer I believe. The odds of them drafting a DE in the first are pretty high in my view.

Ezekiel Ansah (BYU)- Described as raw but wow, what an athlete. He impressed at the combine and in the Senior Bowl too so his stock is likely on the rise. The secret is out on this big dude (6-5, 274) who runs a 4.63/40. In fact it’s starting to look like he will be gone ahead of the Cowboy’s pick at 18. If he is available, then they could really use this guy next season to pressure QBs. If Ansah gets gone early, then Dallas should consider Alex Okafor (Texas) who could fill in nicely for the departed Spencer.

Free staying:
Jerry and Stephen sound like they can find something for Doug Free to do next season which can’t be good news for fans. Because of his over blown contract, Dallas is pretty much stuck with him next year after his poor performance at right tackle last season.

For now they appear content to have Free and Parnell rotate at right tackle with Jerry even saying, “The bottom line is we have two guys who make me sleep at night at right tackle”. Maybe Jerry is getting sleep but most fans consider it a nightmare! Not to mention Romo who is the one running for his life.

Draft Impact: These depressing comments cause me to conclude that Dallas will not draft an offensive tackle in the first round. And maybe not even in the whole draft. Now there are some outstanding tackles expected to go early in the draft like Eric Fisher and Lance Johnson. And if one of them should somehow fall to Dallas, they would be crazy to not pick them. It’s just not likely to happen.

Could Safety Kenny Vaccaro (Texas) fall to the Cowboys?
Vaccaro is the top rated safety in the draft however he didn’t have a great 40 time at the combine with a 4.63/40. (Note that Ansah the big DE ran a 4.63) Vaccaro was expected to go before 18 but now perhaps he becomes available for Dallas? Vaccaro has a pro day coming to improve on his time. Also I have read that Vaccaro is visiting Valley Ranch for an interview. The new Tampa 2 defense will require exceptional play at safety.

On film, Vaccaro offers outstanding pass coverage for a safety even in the slot, which is desperately needed by the Dallas secondary. If Vaccaro is there at 18, I like the odds that Dallas will select a safety with their first pick.

Dallas must address the interior offensive line: List this one as a “no brainer” for Cowboy fans who watched last season, but the Cowboys need a guard. Even Jerry is sounding like he thinks they need one too. While speaking of supporting his center Costa, Jones said, “If we can get in better shape at guard, then Costa can be a good center for us.”

I’m not convinced that a good guard solves the center issue but these are “baby steps” for Jerry who is looking to improve at guard either in FA or the draft.

Prospects: Three guards in the draft could likely help the Cowboys improve their line immediately. Warmack, Cooper and Warford are the top available guards. Warmack didn’t have an outstanding combine by any means but is still expected to go in the draft prior to Dallas first pick. Cooper was rated about where Dallas picks however he helped himself at the combine with an impressive 40 time for a guard and 35 reps on the bench. Cooper just may move up ahead of Dallas pick too. Getting Warford in the 2nd round would still be a good move and allows Dallas to address other needs in the first like a DE for example.

I’m not sure where Jerry plans to find a guard but if he gets an opportunity to pick any of these three, he better do it!

RECAP: It’s still early in the process but in light of recent comments, I like the chances of Dallas drafting either a guard, defensive end, or safety. Exactly which one they pick may depend on the best available at these positions when 18 rolls around.

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NFL Combine Day One: These Three Guards May Impress the Cowboys

cooper

On Saturday, the offensive linemen had their day on the field in Indy. There are three guards that I think Dallas must have an eye on selecting in the draft.

Chance Warmack, Jonathon Cooper and Larry Warford are all solid guards that could start in Dallas on day one. What they displayed on Saturday was pretty much expected.

40 yards: To me, this is the most useless information for an offensive guard. How many plays does a guard run down the field for 40 yards? That ability may be useful when chasing down a defender after Romo throws an interception, but that’s about it.

Cooper as expected, was the most impressive guard running around in shorts and t-shirt. He had the better 40 time of the three lineman with a solid 5.07 time. He is the quickest and represents the best option for moving outside on screens and sweeps. Cooper did nothing to take away from his reputation as an athletic guard.

Warmack and Warford were not impressive running the 40 but it would be foolish to hold that against either one of these large mauler type linemen.

Bench Press: This means more than the 40 time when it comes to linemen. Scouts want to think they are investing in a strong offensive lineman that can handle the beast at the NFL level.

Cooper really did himself some good here by benching 225 pounds for 35 reps which was one of the very best performances of the day. I can’t say that I expected to see him do that well on the bench but he brought his A game Saturday.

Meanwhile, Warford did 28 reps which wasn’t bad but perhaps a little disappointing.

Drills: In the more realistic drills where the offensive lineman are asked to block in short space including pass blocking, and trap blocking, both Warmack and Warford were much more impressive.

My Take: All three of these guards should be on the Cowboys radar screen. Warmack is expected to get drafted in the top 10 while Cooper should go pretty close to where Dallas picks at 18 in the first round. Cooper had an outstanding combine and showed that he may be the most athletic guard in the draft. Cooper’s ability to move out in space should be an asset to the Cowboys offense.

Warford is expected to go in the second round and I don’t think anything happened at the combine to change that projection. However I still think that Warford represents outstanding value as a guard in the second round who is very impressive in video I watched. His physical style is not going to show up at the shorts and t-shirt olympics.

Any of these three guards can come in and start for Dallas right away and prove to be a nice upgrade over last season.

Want to make it into the NFL post season? DON’T THROW INTERCEPTIONS

As I comb through NFL stats, I often look for something that winning teams have in common and something that losing teams have in common. A quest, if you will, for the supreme stat that is the sure predictor of NFL success. I think I may have discovered it. And it’s not good news for the Dallas Cowboys with Tony Romo as their quarterback.

Teams who throw the most interceptions, tend NOT to make the playoffs and teams that protect the ball, tend to make the post season. That may not sound all that profound or surprising but it is interesting. It really doesn’t take anything else into account.

LEAST in INTs= playoffs
9 of 10 NFL teams ranked as throwing the LEAST interceptions in the 2012 season, made the post season.
The one exception was the Carolina Panthers who failed to make the playoffs, even after not throwing a lot of INTs.

MOST in INTs = NO PLAYOFFS
11 of 12 teams ranked in throwing the MOST interceptions in the 2012 season, failed to make the post season.
The one exception was rookie QB Andrew Luck and the Colts who managed to make the playoffs while throwing a high number of INTs.

Romo and the Cowboys finished with 19 INTs ranking as the 3rd most in the entire NFL. Only the Cards and Chiefs threw more. The two teams in the super bowl combined for a total of 19 INTs as the 49ers only had 8 and the Ravens had 11.

Since the season ended, Jerry Jones has been on a mission firing defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and changing the defense to a 4-3. But it appears that Garrett and Romo are getting a bit of a free pass in all the changes. As long as Romo continues to throw the ball to the other team frequently, Dallas will likely be at home watching the playoffs.

Is it Romo or the coaching that’s the problem? This blogger doesn’t know for sure but with Dallas not changing either one, shouldn’t we expect the same results?

Dallas Cowboys Draft Needs Analysis: Safety

Sensabaugh

Sensabaugh

My previous analysis was on the defensive line HERE. Now I want to look at another area of the defense that needs to get better next season. The safety position.

Last season the Cowboys were weak at coming up with interceptions as they only had 7 which was tied for last with the lowly Chiefs. That number matches a franchise low that has occurred in 1997 and 1989. That must be improved next season and a ball hawking safety could do the trick.

The Cowboys struggled with injuries at the safety position losing Barry Church early in the season. Church appeared ready for a breakout season before suffering a torn Achilles in the third game of the season against the Bucs. Next season, a healthy Barry Church should serve as a very dependable strong safety.

Gerald Sensabaugh played the free safety position and had 0 INTs last season. It was the first season since when he was a rookie in 2005, that he has played a full season with no INTs. The Cowboys would be wise to look for a free safety for the future. I get the impression Sensabaugh doesn’t have a lot of tire tread left.

With the injuries, Danny McCray was forced to play safety and his performance was poor. PFF pointed out that McCray allowed 22 first downs and TDs when the ball was thrown his way. That was the worst among safeties in the NFL. However he did come up with one of their 7 INTs. McCray is a free agent this year and it is expected that Dallas will probably bring him back for his special team play. But they still will need more depth at safety.

Last year, Dallas drafted safety Matt Johnson but the rookie injured a hamstring in preseason and was not able to contribute. Matt played at Eastern Washington so it is not yet known how he will handle the adjustment from sub division football to the NFL. In video at Eastern, he appeared very physical and didn’t hesitate to blow up WRs that came in his area looking to make a catch. May be more of a strong safety than free safety but perhaps can play both. How much Matt can help remains to be seen, but it’s clear that the Dallas coaches see something in him they like.

TAMPA 2
The Cowboys are going to the 4-3 Tampa 2 defense under Kiffin which safeties play a major role. Safeties will be asked to blitz and need to cover deep too. Also the Tampa 2 is designed to force turnovers. At USC, Kiffin’s defense was effective at getting interceptions ranking high in that category. I think Dallas will be looking for a ball hawking free safety to help in the Tampa 2 next season.

A look at safeties available in the draft.

1. Kenny Vaccaro, Texas: Kenny is the top ranked safety in the draft and is expected to be drafted between 10 and 15 of the 1st round. That’s a little earlier than Dallas picks at 18, but it’s possible that he could fall to them and if he does, I don’t see how Dallas can pass him up.

Vaccaro is capable of playing both safety positions in the NFL. Outstanding speed with a 4.49/40. Vaccaro is all over the field coming up with sacks, interceptions, and he lead his team in tackles too. He also was a big contributor on special teams. An able in the box safety and good in pass coverage as well.

My Take: Vaccaro is clearly the best safety in the draft and Dallas should cross their fingers that he falls down to them.

2. Eric Reid, LSU: Reid is ranked as a 2nd round pick and in 2011, Reid played along with current Cowboys CB, and last year’s top pick Morris Claiborne.

Reid is very active and moves all over the field. I like the way he keeps things in front of him like a safety should but I have concerns too. His tackling leaves a lot to be desired as he often fails to wrap his arms around the receiver. I observed him spying the QB and when the QB ran, Reid missed the tackle. And the QB was no RG3 either. Also I saw pass cover skills that looked inconsistent to me. Reid is slow to back pedal when asked to cover.

My Take: A good prospect but based on my observations, I wouldn’t feel good about giving him 2nd round status. Reminds me of current Cowboy safety McCray who came from LSU. Should be more like a 4th round pick.

3. Bacarri Rambo, Georgia: Rambo definitely is a ball hawk safety with 16 career interceptions. Watching video of Rambo, he doesn’t mind coming up in run support and can be a big hitter too. Rambo reads the QB well and is the type that will make plays creating turnovers but occasionally he will guess wrong, and get burned. I like the way he breaks on the ball in pass coverage.

Rambo fits the part for a Tampa 2 defense however the Cowboys will need to be aware that he comes with off field issues. Which means, he will fit right in with the Cowboys. But seriously, he served a four game suspension for violation of Georgia’s drug policy.

My Take: He is expected to be drafted in the 3rd round. I think he represents value in the third round if he can get the issues straightened out.

4. T.J. McDonald, USC: McDonald played for Monte Kiffin at USC who is the new defensive coordinator at Dallas. That experience in the Tampa 2 defense must be viewed as an asset. On video, McDonald was moved around a lot and was asked to blitz frequently. His blitzing and run support were solid however his pass covering skills need developing. In the senior bowl, McDonald was beat for a TD when covering a TE. That’s just one game, but most experts agree that he will need to get better at pass coverage.

My Take: McDonald should come off the board in the 3rd or 4th round. I like the fact that he is familiar with the Cowboys new defense, has ideal size for safety at 6-2, 211, and he is also a good special teams contributor. However I’m not convinced that he will be able to help right away in pass coverage.

5. D.J. Swearinger, South Carolina: Swearinger moved from strong safety to free safety in 2011 and played well. He is a little small for the position at 5′ 11, but he brings a big hit on RBs and WRs that have the misfortune of coming his way. He is known for delivering a big hit. VIDEO of one he put on Clemson’s Ellington.

My Take: Aggressive but can get flagged with some of the hits. But I like the physical, nasty attitude he can bring to a defense. As a 4th round prospect, I think he is a pick to consider at safety.

Conclusion: To have success in the 4-3 Tampa 2, the Cowboys will need help at safety. If Vaccaro should fall to them, they can’t afford to pass on the best safety in the draft. If they can’t get Vaccaro, then I like the play of Rambo but his off field issues will need to be looked into a little closer before investing a pick in him. In the middle rounds, McDonald presents good value but will need to develop pass coverage skills. Swearinger is under rated and an intriguing pick that may prove to be a sleeper pick in the draft.

Dallas Cowboys Free Agents: Resign These or Just Move On?

Jenkins rolling into Valley Ranch rockin' that WAVY shirt.

Jenkins rolling into Valley Ranch rockin’ that WAVY shirt.

A look at the Dallas Cowboys free agents and whether the Cowboys should resign or just move on?

Anthony Spencer, OLB (6 years): Let’s start with the biggest name on the list of free agents. Spencer certainly had the best year of his career in 2012 with 11 sacks and a trip to the pro bowl. The Cowboys are transitioning to a 4-3 defense under new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin so Spencer would have to play defensive end. Spencer played DE at Purdue and is probably capable of successfully making the change and he seems open to that change too.

Dallas certainly seems interested in keeping Spencer if possible. If they franchise him again this year, he will be due $10.6 million. Spencer had a monster season last year but was that a one hit wonder? Is he worth what it will take to sign him as a free agent?

My Take: This one is a tough call. But I would not resign Spencer because,
a) I tend to think Spencer played for a contract in 2012, and will go back to the old, unproductive Spencer after getting paid.
b) With a new 4-3 defense, there is no guarantee that you are putting money in a guy that can make that transition.
c) I think Dallas can land a very good 4-3 DE in the draft that will cost far less money to a team with enough cap issues.
The all pro season Spencer had just made him too expensive to keep for Dallas, so I’m afraid it’s time to….

MOVE ON

Kevin Ogletree, WR (4 years): Ogletree in Dallas can probably be summed up in one word. “Disappointing”. Last year he became the starting WR and had a break out game in the opener against the Giants (114 yards, 2 TDs). After that, not so much with only 2 TDs the rest of the season. Dwayne Harris has come on strong and brings special teams skills that Ogletree doesn’t display. Last year I felt Harris should have been given more opportunities and less play time for Ogletree.

My Take: For me, I have seen enough of Ogletree and feel that he has been given more chances to prove he can be a WR with Dallas than a cat with nine lives. With Harris and the emergence of Cole Beasley last year, it’s time to…

MOVE ON

Felix Jones, RB (5 years): Felix was a player to get excited about when he entered the league but he his productivity has fallen off with injuries. By far his best game last year was 92 yards against the Ravens in relief of an injured Murray. He finished the season with a 3.6 average per run. That’s the lowest average of his career and down from 4.5 last season. Once known as a break away threat, this season Felix’s longest run was just 22 yards.

My Take: In the 2012 preseason, Jones failed his conditioning test which to me, could be a major red flag that this horse has run all he can run. Last season, undrafted rookie Lance Dunbar showed he can provide depth at RB and he has explosiveness. Considering the declining productivity and the history of injuries for Felix Jones, it’s time for Dallas to just…

MOVE ON

Mike Jenkins, CB (5 years): Last season Jenkins wanted his new contract done before the season started which was after he had shoulder surgery in the off season. (Hey Mike, Jerry is crazy but he isn’t that crazy.) Jerry Jones wanted Mike to play out the last year of his contract which Jenkins reluctantly did. However Jenkins chose not to attend rehab in Dallas or workouts before the season began. Jenkins seemed to feel a little dissed after Jerry signed CB Brandon Carr in free agency then traded up to get CB Morris Claiborne in the draft. As expected, by me at least, Jenkins was not very good last season as he earned an unimpressive (-7.0) grade from PFF.

My Take: Mike Jenkins is going to want to be a starting CB in the NFL and want a starter’s contract too. That’s not happening in Dallas so it’s time for both sides to just…

MOVE ON

Phil Costa, center (3 years): Due to injuries, Costa played only about 6 quarters in all of the 2012 season. In 2011, he had a tough year. When he did play last year, he appeared to be the best option at center that Dallas currently has available.

MY Take: The Cowboys would be wise to upgrade at center either through the draft or free agency. The Cowboys do seem to like Costa and he represents their best option over Ryan Cook. Costa is not likely to be a long term solution at center but for now, he is the solution. I look for Jerry to resign him so in this case,…

RESIGN HIM *(only if agrees to less money and one year deal)

Danny McCray, safety (3 years): A backup, Danny was forced into action at safety last season when Barry Church went out with a season ending injury. How that go? According to my eyes, and Pro Football Focus who gave McCray a low (-5.9) rating, not too good. In fact, McCray allowed the most first downs and TDs passing (22 combined) than any other safety in the NFL according to PFF. Now McCray is thought to be a solid special teams performer but his performance at safety should tell Dallas they need to add depth at safety in the draft.

My Take: McCray may indeed be a special teams ace, but the PFF stat of first downs and TDs allowed in 2012 doesn’t lie, so McCray it’s time to just..

MOVE ON

Kenyon Coleman, DE (11 years): Coleman only played in 7 games last year after a torn triceps and a knee injury. In his two years with the Cowboys, he has just one sack. He was primarily brought in by Rob Ryan to help defend the run in a 3-4 defense. The Cowboys are in need of a youth movement on the defensive line as Coleman will turn 34 in April.

My Take: Coleman has seen his better years in the NFL and was brought in by Rob Ryan to play in a 3-4 defense. Since Ryan and the 3-4 defense are now gone, it’s time for Coleman to just…

MOVE ON

Victor Butler, OLB (4 years): Butler has been a very consistant player in his career providing about 3 sacks and 25 tackles per season. Moving to the 4-3 creates a dilemma because Butler is a prototype OLB in a 3-4 defense. I think it’s possible that Butler could learn to play the weak side LB known as “Will” LB in a 4-3 defense but I can’t see him as a DE.

My Take: I like Butler and think he has some good football in front of him but with the new 4-3 defense, it’s difficult to picture him staying with Dallas. Because of that, it would probably be best to let Butler see who needs a 3-4 OLB so he can thrive and I’m afraid that means, both sides have to…

MOVE ON

John Phillips, TE (4 years): In 2012 Phillips productivity was basically cut in half, compared to previous years, as it appears he shared time with talented rookie TE James Hanna. I look for Hanna to be used even more in the future in the passing game, but with Witten not quite as healthy, depth is needed at the TE position.

My Take: Phillips is a solid all around TE that doesn’t provide as much of a pass threat as Hanna but probably a more effective blocker. The Cowboys will need the depth Phillips provides so…

RESIGN HIM

Conclusion: The Cowboys need to get younger at several positions and they do have salary cap challenges. Jerry, the GM, must stop paying players who are past their prime and release players no longer productive. When it comes to these guys, just move on.

COWBOYS’ Draft Needs Analysis: THE DEFENSIVE LINE

Will Anthony Spencer be a Cowboy next season?

Will Anthony Spencer be a Cowboy next season?

Earlier, I blogged on the needs of the offensive line. HERE. Next I want to look at what I consider to be the next big need for the Cowboys in 2013, the defensive line.

The Cowboys had 34 sacks last year which was down from the previous season, and one of the least productive seasons in franchise history. At this point, it’s uncertain if Jay Ratliff and Anthony Spencer will return to the defense next year. Also new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin is transitioning the defense from a 3-4 to a 4-3 defense which will have an impact on the draft too.

DEFENSIVE ENDS: Anthony Spencer is a free agent now after having the most productive season of his career which was good enough to earn him a trip to the Pro Bowl. He had 11 sacks in 2012, which is almost twice as many as any other season as his previous best ever was only 6 sacks.

Funny how that goes isn’t it? Guys play really hard in a contract year. After that, not so much. Just want to ask Spencer, “where has that been in the past big fella?” I think Dallas wants to sign him to a new contract but I have doubts that it will happen. Spencer played DE at Purdue so he should be able to convert to the new defense. That’s not the issue.

It remains to be seen if Dallas is able to sign Spencer, but it is this blogger’s humble opinion that they will not be able to keep Spencer. Similar to WR Laurent Robinson last year, who went to the Jags after a very productive season. In the open market, another team will likely make Spencer an offer that Dallas simply can’t or is not willing to match due to salary cap restrictions. The Cowboys could put the franchise label on Spencer again too.

I think there is a significant possibility that Dallas will select a defensive end with their first pick in the draft. They can find a player in the draft equal to Spencer who will cost a lot less under the new players agreement for rookies. Besides, if you resign Spencer, you are in essence paying him for what he has done in the past more so than what he will do for Dallas in the future.

There happens to be about 8 DEs that are expected to go in the first round and when Dallas picks at 18, there should be a good selection of DEs on the board. In other words, if you need a good DE, this is a good draft to get one.

Last year Dallas drafted DE Tyrone Crawford, Boise State in the 3rd round and his productivity last season was OK (20 tackles and 0 sacks). Crawford was drafted as a 3-4 defensive end which Dallas will not be playing, next year. By adding about 10-20 pounds, I think Crawford would make a better transition to a 4-3 defensive tackle than a pass rushing DE. The Cowboys are going to need a DE and they really need one that can get after the QB even better than what Spencer or Crawford offer. DeMarcus Ware is going to be at one DE in the 4-3 but the question is who will play the opposite DE?

THE DRAFT: Currently it appears the top three ranked DEs in the draft Werner, Moore, and Mingo will be off the board by the time Dallas picks so, I am going to focus on the ones that Dallas will have a good shot at drafting at the 18 spot.

Ezekiel Ansah, BYU– At first, I considered him a bit of a project but now after watching him in the Senior Bowl where he had a monster game, I think Ansah will be able to help an NFL team quickly. His athletic ability as a track star is obvious and he displays great quickness. What is surprising is that he has an effective bull rush and uses his arms well to get off blocks and move down the line to make tackles against the run. In video, I was impressed when I saw Ansah recognize screen passes quickly and pull out of his pass rush to pursue the screen. There are veterans in the NFL that don’t do that well.

BYU moved Ansah all over the place and even had him lined up as a NT at times. He was relentless as a pass rusher who even when double teamed, kept going after the QB. I like his motor a lot. Against the triple option of Georgia Tech, Ansah was able to make the QB pitch the ball back to the RB, and then quick enough to chase down the RB on the sideline. That kind of skill could be very helpful against RG3 and the Redskins.

Ansah basically has no ceiling and may become a very special pass rusher in the NFL. He is expected to go about 16 in the first round (CBS Sports rank of prospects) so there is no guarantee that he will be there when Dallas picks at 18. But if he is available, I think Ansah could be a real difference maker for the Cowboys pass rush that is in need of help.

Datone Jones, UCLA– Jones also had an impressive week at the Senior Bowl. Very solid frame and is quick and strong. In my opinion, Jones will be better as an OLB in a 3-4 defense at the next level than as a true pass rushing DE in a 4-3 defense. At UCLA he also played some DT and can provide depth at either spot. Jones is going to be a good one but I just don’t think he is the right fit for the Cowboys. He is expected to go around 21 in the draft.

Alex Okafor, Texas– Okafor had a good week at the Senior Bowl but was quiet during the game. If Dallas is looking for a DE in the draft in the same mold as Spencer, Okafor would be that guy. He plays the run real well like Spencer does, and yet offers a decent pass rush too. I think Okafor would compliment Ware nicely as the DE on the opposite side that stuffs the run. He displays nice quickness and is a true 4-3 type defensive end.

Okafor had an impressive 12 sacks at Texas last season and is expected to go at about 25 in the draft.

MY TAKE for defensive ends: If Dallas doesn’t sign Spencer, then it makes good sense to get one in the first round. Drafting Ezekiel Ansah could really provide the pass rush spark in a 4-3 that the Cowboys defense desperately needs. However, if Ansah is off the board by 18, I think Okafor represents a good option that could prove to be a solid replacement for Spencer.

DEFENSIVE TACKLES: Ratliff’s health kept him from playing in several games last year and recently we find he has off the field issues too after being arrested for a DUI accident. Many wonder if he will be kept on the team but for now, I am going to assume that he returns because this is Jerry Jones and the Cowboys and unless you are locked up in a jail, you get to play. Not saying I agree with it, but that’s just how it seems to go.

Ratliff will be expected to play the 1 technique in a 4-3 defense and he should be able to do that well if he is healthy and not locked up. Ratliff is better suited for a 4-3 than as a NT in a 3-4 anyway. Still Dallas needs depth at the position and I think they will draft a DT as a 3 technique but just not in the first round. The good news is, this draft is deep at the DT position and the Cowboys should be able to find good options even after the 2nd round or so.

In my view, most of the top rated defensive tackles in the draft are going to be better as NTs in a 3-4 defense. They are huge and will be effective run stuffers in the middle of the line however, the Cowboys really could use a DT with enough athletic ability and quickness to effectively pressure the QB as well.

Some mocks have Dallas selecting DT Sheldon Richardson and that would be a good pick however, I think he will be taken in the first 10 picks or so based on prospect rankings.

PROSPECTS at DT:

Shariff Floyd, Florida– If the Cowboys do decide to go DT in the first round, then I think Floyd could be the guy. Floyd was asked to play DE at Florida because of a lack of depth but he will be a DT in the NFL. He brings the ability to stuff the run and provide a pass rush. He will be a good fit in a 4-3 defense as the 1 or 3 technique defender. Floyd displays a good motor and uses his hands well against blockers.

Floyd is expected to go right about where Dallas is picking, at 18.

Kawaan Short, Purdue– Although projected as a 2nd round pick, there are mocks that have Dallas picking him in the first round. Short had a very good senior bowl week as he was difficult to block one on one. He even beat guard Walford, who I think is an excellent prospect for the Cowboys offensive line, to make a tackle for a loss. Short is quick and appears very strong. At times in video, I have seen him ease up a bit in effort. But over all he will be a very good DT prospect.

Sylvester Williams, UNC– Williams was impressive at the senior bowl and represents a nice mid draft option for the Cowboys. He displays quickness and is an ideal fit as a DT in a 4-3 defense. He was named all ACC and provides a good ability to stop the run and get to the QB on passing downs as well with 6 sacks last season.

Williams is expected to go in the 3rd round and represents nice value in my view.

MY TAKE Defensive Tackles: If the Cowboys don’t have Ratliff, then they should consider taking either Floyd or Short in the first round. However if they do have Ratliff next season, then Sylvester Williams will be an excellent pick in the third round as a solid DT in the 4-3 defense.

Cowboys Draft Needs Analysis: The Offensive Line

romo sacked
Last year too often it seemed the middle of the offensive line was playing like they were on skates instead of cleats as they would get pushed back into Romo’s lap and he then would scramble trying to salvage the play. So I have to start with the offensive line when looking at draft needs.

Pro Football Focus ranked the Cowboys 2012 offensive line 22nd down from 15 in 2011. They allowed 36 sacks which wasn’t even the weakest part of their game. The Cowboys rushed for only 79 yards a game which was 31st out of 32 teams. That was the weakest rushing performance in the history of the franchise.

To say the least. the Cowboys must get better at rushing the ball and protecting their QB Romo.

Guards:
Last season Jerry Jones plugged in Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernedeau who he got from the Bengals and Panthers. These two do not appear to be long term solutions at all. Jerry Jones liked the way undrafted guard Ron Leary moved in preseason camp HERE Leary spent 2012 on the practice squad. Leary will be expected to compete for a guard position next year however, he has yet to play in an NFL game and has knee issues.

I believe the Cowboys need to come out of the draft with a guard that can start on day one. There are three guards that meet that criteria but one of them, Chance Warmack of Alabama, is expected to be long gone off the board when Dallas picks, so I’m going to focus on the remaining two.

1. Jonathan Cooper, UNC- Expected to go off the board right about 18 (according to CBS Sports rankings) where the Cowboys happen to be making their first pick. Cooper is very athletic for a guard, and his strengths are pulling and moving out on screens. If you are running a finesse offense, Cooper is your guy.

I watched a lot of video of Cooper and his pass blocking looked solid but I think he gets a little too high upon contact and that could use some coaching at the NFL level where it’s not as easy to out muscle pass rushers. While Cooper does a nice job of pulling and getting out in front of the runner, occasionally I saw him run past defenders and not block anyone.

2. Larry Warford, Kentucky– Expected to go in the 2nd round and his stock is on the rise after a strong Senior Bowl performance that really got him noticed. Russ Lande of National Football Post said of Warford, “After his display this week, there is no doubt that Warford will be a first round pick because he will be a day one starter.”

Warford was an all SEC guard in a conference that has some of the best defensive linemen in college football.

Warford is a smash mouth guard that demonstrated some of the best pass blocking I have seen of a prospect. In fact, he didn’t allow a sack last season. He’s the kind of guard you can get behind in short yardage situations and pick up that needed yard. That’s been a problem for Dallas.

Watching video of Warford, he displays a bit of a nasty streak as he runs down the field, looking for players to blow up in the open field. Cooper in comparison, was caught running down the field watching his running back, run. Against Florida, on one run play, I saw Warford block 4 defenders on the same play.

I don’t think Warford will be as good on screens as Cooper but he will be very good in the pass and run game. He is just more physical and delivers knee buckling hits on defenders.

Warford in my view, is the better selection particularly if you can get him in the 2nd round. Besides, the Cowboys could use a mauler on the line. My conclusion is that Cooper appears to be a “show horse” while Warford appears to be more of a “work horse.” Both would be a great pick and could immediately be the best guard Dallas currently has on the roster.

Tackles:
Tyron Smith moved to left tackle and had mixed results last season but he is not going anywhere. Doug Free on the other hand, had an awful season at right tackle. Pro Football Focus gave Free a very low rating of (-10.1) because defensive ends beat him on a regular basis.

So far, Free has proven he can’t hold down either side of the line, so the next logical spot for him would be the bench. But things in the NFL aren’t so simple. Free has a big contract and he may not be going anywhere just yet however, I think Dallas needs to get a tackle at some point in the draft. Serving up Free again will not get it done.

Eric Fisher and Lane Johnson would be great draft picks but they are not likely to be around at 18 when Dallas picks. So I will focus on picks within the Cowboys reach.

Offensive Tackle Prospects:
1. DJ Fluker, Alabama– Expected to go late in the first round. A pure right tackle prospect that is an excellent run blocker. Earlier, I pointed out Dallas had about the weakest rushing year ever. They could use a big maulin’ tackle (6-5, 355) leading the way for Murray, like Fluker.

Fluker will need some development at pass blocking but he will likely be a very good NFL lineman. I like this pick for Dallas who needs to move on from Free and get more physical in the run game.

2. David Quessenberry, San Jose State– An intriguing tackle that converted from TE. Moves very well and was a team captain in college. He performed well in the Senior Bowl and I noticed that he actually is moving up prospects ranking boards. David can also play guard which adds value to selecting him.

I’m not convinced he is ready to start day one but he looks like he could provide depth and develop into a starter after a season. A solid mid draft selection.

3. Justin Pugh, Syracuse Pugh also played well in the Senior Bowl and is expected to go around the 3rd round. He is a left tackle that some think may end up at guard but in the Senior Bowl, I think he actually proved he can play tackle in the NFL. If he can play the left tackle, then Dallas could consider moving Smith back to right tackle where he is at home.

Center:
The Cowboys found themselves auditioning centers during the season after injuries. They found Ryan Cook who was cut by Miami and he played decent but is not likely a long-term solution. Phil Costa had a very tough season in 2011 but when he returned from injuries in 2012, he played better than 2011. I think the Cowboys plan to keep Costa at center although he is an unrestricted free agent. It just makes sense for the Cowboys to get a center in the draft if possible.

To be honest, there aren’t many centers to get excited about in this draft but one did catch scouts attention at the Senior Bowl.

1. Brian Schwenke, California– Expected to be picked in the 4th round according to some rankings. Schwenke displayed an ability to block some good defensive linemen in the Senior Bowl. He held his ground nicely in pass blocking and in run blocking, he did a nice job of getting to the next level. Moves his feet real well.

Schwenke could provide Dallas depth at center while perhaps developing into the middle anchor, their offensive line desperately needs.

Conclusion: Back when the Cowboys were winning super bowls, they had a dominant physical offensive line that crushed opponents. If Dallas is ever going to get their swagger back and move into the post season again, it will likely come through a physical and dominating line.

I don’t think anyone could fault Dallas if they were to use their first two picks on offensive linemen in the draft. Not saying they will as there are other needs, but if they took OT Fluker in the first, then OG Warford in the second, and placed them on the right side of the line, I could picture Murray having an all pro season running behind those two big guys.