Frankly I’m not one who subscribes to the “best available player” approach to drafting. Who is to say who the best player available is anyway, Mel Kiper? The experts often don’t agree and have been proven wrong time and time again in past drafts. The NFL is a win right now league and a GM best draft players who can come in and make an impact very soon. That means determining who may best fit into your system on offense and defense. For example, what good is it to draft a best available player who is a OLB for a 3-4 defense if you really need a DE for your 4-3 defense?
In this my final 2014 mock draft for the Cowboys, I’ve carefully selected players that can uniquely fit into the current schemes particularly on defense, where upgrades in 4-3 personnel are greatly needed. I’ve tried to be realistic about when players can be picked based on their current rankings which in some cases, have shifted a lot in recent months.
In my previous mock draft, I had DT Aaron Donald going to Dallas in the first round and I still think he is the best pick for that Dallas defense. But as Donald continues to climb up the board (currently 14 over all), I must consider a first round plan B if Donald is drafted before 16.
If Donald is off the Board before Dallas is on the clock? I’m sticking with filling the need of getting a defensive tackle.
1st Round: DT Timmy Jernigan- Florida State
I actually think Jernigan could be a very effective one technique for the Cowboys defensive line and compliment the play of former Bear Henry Melton at the three technique. Provided Melton returns to his old form, he can provide the pass pressure up the middle getting after QBs while Jernigan can stuff the run inside. An effective 1-2 punch. Both Donald and Jernigan have visited valley Ranch and would appear to be on the Cowboys radar.
Here is what I said about Jernigan in my analysis on defensive tackle prospects:
Strengths– Quick feet-Not great straight line speed but surprisingly very good quickness moving laterally.
Hands- I really like how Jernigan uses his hands to control the blocker and disengage form the blocker to pursue the ball.
Run defender– Jernigan is an excellent defender against the run. He gets off blockers, slides down the line to collapse the hole and stuff the runner. Appears more like a LB when he pursues the ball.
Weakness-Just an average pass rusher. Not very productive in sacks last season with just 4.5.
Fit for Dallas-
Very Good- I think Jernigan would improve the Cowboys run defense significantly right away. He is probably more of a 1 tech. than 3 tech. but I think he can handle both. Jernigan will be excellent on run plays but on 3rd down may not be a great help against the pass.
Draft: Third ranked DT and expected to go in the first round. Some mocks who think Donald will be off the board, have Dallas picking Jernigan instead.
Conditioning? A lot has been made of the National Championship game when Jernigan appeared to run out of gas against Auburn. Jernigan is not a large appliance type DT that kills grass like you see in some larger DTs. Jernigan plays with tremendous effort and energy which is a good fit in the Cowboys 4-3 defense. He flies around to the ball and it’s important to have him part of a rotation on the defensive line that keeps him ready to go late in the game. Don’t keep him out there every snap.
With this first selection of a DT, Dallas forms a defensive line that is younger, quicker, more athletic, and presents a lot for offensive lines to deal with.
2nd Round: DE Kareem Martin- UNC
Martin was previously my 3rd round pick but now it’s official that Ware will not be with Dallas next year so I think it becomes more critical that Dallas add a defensive end. Kareem Martin’s ranking has been on the rise (now 46 overall CBS sports) so I think Dallas will need to take him with their 2nd pick since Martin won’t likely be around by their 3rd pick.
At 6-6, 272 Martin has ideal size for a 4-3 defensive end which he played at North Carolina. In fact, Martin was recruited by former UNC coach Butch Davis who coached the defensive line for Dallas during their super bowl wins of the 90s. Martin has the longest arms of any DE prospects in the draft which help him control offensive linemen. He is excellent against the run.
Last season Martin had 11 sacks and 21 tackles for loss. While his strength is defending the run, he has tremendous potential to develop as a pass rusher. He needs to be coached up a bit in that area and Coach Marinelli can provide that teaching.
Last season Martin had flashes of outstanding play and then disappeared at times too but he played his best football down the final stretch of the season. I think Coach Marinelli is the kind of coach that can get the most out of a high ceiling talent like Martin.
With this selection, Dallas replaces Ware by picking up a true “plug and play” 4-3 defensive end with tremendous upside potential.
3rd Round: OG Cyril Richardson: Baylor or Guard Gabe Jackson Miss. State
Previously I had Dallas taking guard Gabe Jackson of Miss. St. in the 2nd round but with Dallas getting a much needed DE in the 2nd, now they pick up a guard in the 3rd round to solidify their improved offensive line. Currently, there are no guards listed on the roster behind Leary and Bernadeau who both have a history of injuries.
Recently, Jackson has dropped a little so he may be available for Dallas as a third round pick. If so, I give Jackson a slight edge over Richardson but if Jackson is gone, then Richardson is a solid pick. Both represent depth and even an upgrade over their current guards for years to come.
Richardson was named to the All American Team as a guard last season. He also has experience playing offensive tackle too and was actually protecting RG3 at tackle a couple years ago. Not only can he help them at guard right away, Richardson could represent a replacement at right tackle for Free in 2015.
Without Costa, they have no back up center for Frederick and Bernadeau is the only one with some experience at center. Adding a guard in the draft becomes a must for Dallas.
Richardson is huge (6-5, 329) and his strength is power blocking straight ahead. Has the strength/power to be a real asset in short yardage particularly at the goal line. I noticed on video that Baylor preferred running behind Richardson at the goal line and he came through for them over and over again. Putting him next to center Travis Frederick, will give the Dallas run game a significant push up front particularly in 3rd or 4th and one.
It’s in pass protection where Richardson needs to improve and where he received criticism at the Senior Bowl practices early in the year. He certainly moves well when asked to pull and he can hold up to a bull rush for sure but I saw weakness on video when defensive lines ran stunts and Richardson was asked to adjust laterally. I believe offensive line coach Bill Callahan can help his game much like he helped young Pro Bowl OT Tyron Smith who had to learn left tackle.
Last season in my mock draft, I had Dallas selecting guard Larry Warford in the 2nd round but the Lions drafted him instead. Warford went on to have an outstanding rookie season and was even PFF’s offensive rookie of the year. I don’t think Dallas can afford to pass on drafting a guard this time.
With this selection, Dallas adds much needed quality depth at guard and finds one in either Jackson or Richardson, that has the potential to start very soon.
4th Round: LB Christian Jones- Florida State
Still working on that weak Dallas defense, I have them picking up some much needed depth at LB and a guy who offers an upgrade over Bruce Carter in pass coverage. Last season, too often Carter appeared a step slow in covering backs out of the backfield such as Danny Woodhead of the Chargers. Offenses exploited this weakness so Dallas needs a guy with the speed to play the “Will” LB.
Jones is a 2nd Team All ACC player in 2012 and 2013. He played middle LB last year and played the “Will” in 2012 which is where I think he can help Dallas the most. In the 2012 season, he led the team in tackles with 95. Jones ran a 4.74 time in the 40 and his speed really shows up big on video watching the FSU national championship season. Capable of covering TEs and RBs out of the backfield and also excellent at pursuing the run sideline to sideline.
At 6′-3 and 240, he has good size to fight though blocks to get to the ball. A very athletic LB that should fit in well in their 4-3 defense and he is described as a player that loves football. Jones is an excellent special teams player in covering kicks and can help right away in that area. Versatile enough to fill in at any of the LB spots when needed.
There has been speculation that Sean Lee may get moved to weak side LB next season to decrease his chance of injury. If so, Jones represents a very solid option at MLB. He can play any of the three LB positions and he likely will be needed at some point in the season.
With this pick, not only does Dallas add quality depth at LB, but a potential starter. Jones offers an option at LB that Dallas will be glad to have at some point in the season.
5th Round: WR Jeff Janis- Saginaw Valley State
Miles Austin is going to be cut and while rookie Terrance Williams developed into a solid replacement last season, it still will leave Dallas with a net loss at the WR position. They kept 5 WRs last season and without Austin, they will have four on the current roster.
Janis played at the same school that gave us safety Jeff Heath last season. Janis has good size for a WR at 6-3 219, and outstanding speed with a 4.42 time in the 40 at the combine. That’s even faster than top rated WR Sammy Watkins. Janis was also a top performer in the 3 cone drill and he had a strong performance on the bench press.
Janis has plenty of size/strength to get off pressing corners and also enough speed to get behind coverage as a deep threat.
Janis was productive at Saginaw Valley with 1,572 yards and 14 TDs. He averaged over 18 yards per catch so the former running back can provide yards after the catch, as Austin has over the years.
With this pick, Dallas adds a WR with impressive size and excellent speed representing good value in the 5th round. A very capable back up that can develop into a starter in the future.
No 6th round pick but now 6 Picks in the 7th round
Mock 2.0 comment- Dallas is not allowed to trade their three compensatory picks.
7th Round: DT Jay Bromley -Syracuse
Another defensive tackle? Yes, I think Coach Rod Marinelli will be very intentional about fixing up his defensive line that lacked depth last season. Bromley represents good value here as a DT capable of getting in the rotation right away.
Bromley moves very well and is a natural fit in the 4-3 defense as a three technique. He is capable of playing any position across the 4-3 front line (even DE) which will be useful. A three year starter that was named All ACC Third Team after 10 sacks and 3 forced fumbles. Described as very coachable with good leadership ability and he was a team captain.
With this pick, Marinelli adds more depth to his defensive line rotation in DT Jason Bromley who represents nice value in the 7th round.
7th Round: RB DeAnthony Thomas- Oregon: Lance Dunbar is expected to recover from injury and play a large role in the Dallas offense as a receiver out of the backfield. Thomas can step into that role if Dunbar is not healed up, or gets injured again. Thomas ran a 4.50/40 time and can contribute as a kick returner right away. A very capable pass receiver and provides explosiveness similar to Dunbar in the open field. It would be wise for Dallas to think about a Dunbar replacement just in case and “Dat” (Thomas nickname) set records returning KOs and punts at Oregon.
HIGHLIGHTS of Thomas at Oregon.
7th Round: FB J.C. Copeland- LSU: I’m not usually big on drafting a fullback but when you have 6 picks in the 7th, why not? Good FBs and RBs can be found late in the draft.
Jason Garrett appears to want to get away from using a FB at all in the offense but every year they seem to search for a lead blocker for short yardage situations. Described as a 5-11, 271 pound human wrecking ball, Copeland is a converted defensive lineman who knows how to clear a path for a running back. Can catch the ball too, but mostly he is there to help get Murray in the endzone.
Three Compensatory Picks in the 7th
7th Round: FS Jonathan Dowling -Western Kentucky
Free agent Safety Danny McCray signed with the Bears leaving a spot open. The Cowboys have young safeties Jeff Heath and JJ Wilcox that they hope will develop next season but adding another guy in the mix doesn’t hurt just in case.
Dowling transferred from Florida to Western Kentucky and he comes with some questionable character issues related to his time at Florida. While his attitude may be questionable, his athletic ability certainly isn’t. He reminds me of CB Janoris Jenkins who transferred from Florida because of issues but was drafted by the Rams in 2012. Jenkins proved to be a pretty good player.
On film, Dowling displays outstanding free safety instincts. A true ball hawk which Dallas has been looking for at the position. He has ideal size for a safety at 6-3, 190 and also has long arms (33 1/8″) which help. He is one of the fastest safeties in the draft running a 4.52/40. Dowling covers a lot of ground in a short time and knows how to play over the top in a defense like a Tampa 2 requires.
The previous two seasons he had 9 INTs (3 in Kentucky game) and 8 forced fumbles. Represents a good special teams contributor in kick coverage as well.
Without the character red flags, Dowling would be projected to go much earlier. He has the potential to be a difference maker and that makes him worth investing a 7th round pick on. He does come with risks but with this pick, Dallas may find the ball hawk safety they have been looking for.
7th Round: OT Wesley Johnson- Vanderbilt: Like that he has played every position on the offensive line including center, so he is capable of providing depth across the entire Cowboys offensive line. Described as a high character guy and a two time team captain. A good pass protector and light on his feet as a top performer in the 3 cone drill at the combine, among linemen.
7th Round: QB Jeff Mathews- Cornell
Coming off back surgery, no one really knows how Romo will hold up during 16 games next season, although he appears to be recovering fine.
Backup QB Kyle Orton may retire and Dallas added QB Brandon Weeden from the Browns. They usually keep just two QBs on the roster. While drafting a QB is not a huge need, drafting a developmental QB in the 7th and parking him on the practice squad for a season, could pay off in 2015. He will at least help them get through preseason games while Romo recovers from surgery.
Make no mistake, Jeff Mathews is not currently NFL ready as he does represent a project. What I like are the traits he possesses that can’t be coached such as his 6-4 height and his strong NFL caliber arm. Also a team captain for 3 seasons which was a first at Cornell. Good addition to the locker room.
Very productive career as he rewrote the record books setting Ivy League records with 11,284 yards and 18- 300 yard games. Mathews reminds me of QB Alex Tanney who the Browns signed off the Cowboys practice squad last season.
Mathews needs to be coached up on throwing mechanics as he tends to hold the ball too long, and often doesn’t display proper foot work consistently. But an intelligent player for sure, who should be very coachable in those areas of weakness. An accurate passer and on film, his throws down the field are impressive. Makes deep throws effortlessly.