2014 NFL Draft primer: Dallas Cowboys
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This is the latest primer in our NFL Draft two-a-days that looks at each team and which potential first-round picks would be a good fit. The draft begins Thursday, May 8.
PICK NO. 16: DALLAS COWBOYS
2013 record: 8-8
Key offseason acquisitions: DT Henry Melton, DE Jeremy Mincey. DT Terrell McClain.
Key offseason departures: DT Jason Hatcher, DE/OLB DeMarcus Ware, C Phil Costa, WR Miles Austin, G Brian Waters.
Biggest holes: Defensive line, linebacker, safety
The Cowboys flirted with the wrong side of history in 2013.
Their defense allowed 6,645 yards last season -- the third worst in NFL history, trailing only the 2012 Saints (7,042) and 1981 Baltimore Colts (6,793). They gave up a league-worst 415.3 yards per game - 286.8 yards through the air (second-worst) and 128.5 on the ground (fifth-worst) - and allowed a league-worst 388 first downs.
It's not entirely fair to pin it all on bad play. Some of it was due to injuries (Sean Lee, Jay Ratliff, Anthony Spencer) and some of it was due to the team's transition to a 4-3 defense. But the Cowboys still need major talent upgrades on that side of the ball, especially after cutting DeMarcus Ware to clear cap space.
Missouri's Kony Ealy would be a good fit here. The 6-4, 273-pound defensive end is versatile. He played mostly on the right side of the line but also can play as a stand-up linebacker or slide inside on passing downs. His 6.83-second three-cone drill was the top time among all defensive linemen at the Combine, and he bends the corner with ease when rushing the passer. However, Ealy is very raw - he plays upright off the snap at times and still is developing his pass-rush arsenal aside from his spin move. He's a little bit of a project, but there's a lot of upside.
Auburn edge rusher Dee Ford would also work here. Ford looked great in the BCS title game with two sacks and had another two at the Senior Bowl. He anticipates the snap very well and has an incredible first step. He has great speed (unofficial 4.53 in the 40 at Auburn's Pro Day) and uses it to get around the corner and beat his blocker. At 6-2 and 252 pounds, Ford might be more of an outside linebacker at the NFL level, and there are questions about his ability to hold up in run defense. But, he could step in and fill Ware's role as a hybrid edge rusher from Week 1.
The same goes for Boise State's Demarcus Lawrence, who has picked up some steam as the draft draws closer. Lawrence is athletic, disruptive and uses his hands very well when rushing the passer. He does have some character issues that need to be investigated - three separate one-game suspensions - but he's otherwise a solid edge rusher. This still might be a little high for Lawrence, however. He's more likely to go later in the first round or early in the second round.
The Cowboys could also opt for an interior lineman even after signing Henry Melton and Terrell McClain. If that's the case, Florida State's Timmy Jernigan would be the name to watch. He's an athletic, stout run-stuffer who plays light on his feet and disrupts blockers with good hand use. He isn't a space eater at 6-2, 299 pounds, but that wasn't much of an issue for him in 2013 when he had 63 tackles, 4 1/2 sacks and 11 tackles for a loss.
It's unlikely that Ha Ha Clinton-Dix would still be available at 16, but he'd be the ideal pick if Dallas wanted a safety in the first round. The Alabama product brings good range, hands, timing and closing speed to the back end of the Cowboys' defense. He'd be a good playmaker out in centerfield, something the Cowboys haven't had for quite some time.
Calvin Pryor would also be an option here. The Louisville safety is known as more of a hard hitter, but Pryor also is a decent cover guy. He plays with an attitude and would help the Cowboys establish an imposing identity on defense.
Potential Day 2/Day 3 picks include Georgia Tech DE/OLB Jeremiah Attaochu, Louisville DE Marcus Smith, Tennessee DT Daniel McCullers, Penn State DT DaQuan Jones, Florida State safety Terrence Brooks and USC safety Dion Bailey.