The 2014 NFL Draft is still months away, but with the end of real football comes the beginning of speculation season. The Senior Bowl and Shrine Game have already provided glimpses into how these players look around NFL-quality competition, and this month’s scouting combine will be the last big chance for potential late-rounders to make their case.
That said, coaching staffs around the league are already getting a feel for the first few rounds, sizing up their biggest needs and the best available players. With a record number of underclassmen included in this year’s draft, teams will have no shortage of talent to choose from.
Here’s how the first three rounds might shake out for the Dallas Cowboys:
Round 1: Pick 16/17
Ra’Shede Hageman, DT—Minnesota
The general consensus is that Dallas will opt for a defensive lineman or safety with their first pick, lineman because of their need and safety because of the available talent. Personally I think their biggest priority has to be replacing Jason Hatcher- their only healthy, consistent defensive player in 2013. Letting him walk in free agency makes sense, but only if they draft well.
Hageman is a versatile and physically imposing player who, if coached well, could be the replacement the Cowboys need. He’s shown flashes of greatness throughout his college career, and has one of the highest ceilings in the D-line draft class. There are several players that could work for the Cowboys in round one, but Hageman would be a great way to fill a big need.
Also watch for: DT Timmy Jernigan, DE Kony Ealy, DT Aaron Donald, S Calvin Pryor, S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, DE Dee Ford
Round 2: Pick 47/48
Jimmie Ward, S—Northern Illinois
At this point it’s hard to say who’s still available and who’s off the board, though the combine should give us a better picture. Although Dallas’ glaring needs are mostly defensive, the team can’t afford to skip a top talent for a mediocre safety.
That said, there’s a good chance Ward will still be available, and he’s hardly mediocre. His detractors will say he’s undersized and untested, but the Dallas secondary needs some help, and Ward could easily start over an uninspiring Jeff Heath. Ward can corral opposing runners in the second level while also providing solid support in the passing game. He’s the center fielder the Cowboys need to get their defense back on track.
Also watch for: S Lamarcus Joyner, DE Scott Crichton, OLB Trevor Reilly, DE Chris Smith, DL Stephon Tuitt
Round 3: Pick 78/79
Jared Abbrederis, WR—Wisconsin
Only in Round 3 could I excuse the Cowboys for looking to their offense, as there will be a ton of potentially impactful talent still on the board.
I think taking a receiver would be understandable at this point. With Miles Austin gone, the team will be looking for a viable No. 3 behind Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams. For all his rookie success, Williams is still an unproven commodity. The Cowboys do not lack quality at receiver, but I would feel better knowing Dwayne Harris and Cole Beasley have some insurance should one or more injuries occur.
Jared Abbrederis is an exceptional route-runner and a big target for Tony Romo, and his strong Senior Bowl performance has likely made him a third-rounder. If the Cowboys don’t take him, someone else quickly will.
Also watch for: OLB Telvin Smith, QB Jimmy Garoppolo, DE Jackson Jeffcoat, DE Demarcus Lawrence, OG Gabe Jackson