The Dallas Cowboys are a needy football team. There are roster holes all over the field, positions begging to be taken by a reliable starter. Travis Frederick proved last season that the Cowboys can address some of these holes without the No. 1 (or No. 6, aka Morris Claiborne) overall pick.
There are arguments to be made for drafting first at almost every position. Here’s the case for Dallas spending their No. 16 first-round pick on:
1. 1. The Defensive Line
Dallas’s biggest need coming into this offseason was on the defensive line, and it’s only grown bigger since free agency began. Almost every notable offseason move has concerned this position group: DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher have departed, Anthony Spencer is still at large and the team has added Terrell McClain, Jeremy Mincey and Henry Melton. Even though the team has already made a significant investment in the line, the talent of this year’s draft class and the uncertainty surrounding both the new guys and returning linemen mean the Cowboys should still look here in the first round.
Because of Spencer and the addition of a 3-technique in Melton, conventional wisdom says that the Cowboys should shift their attention from the interior to the end. Kony Ealy is one player with a solid first-round grade on most boards that could start immediately and keep guys like George Selvie playing backup—where they belong.
On the other hand, the talent of Aaron Donald may render him too good to pass up. He could rotate in with Melton and then, should the team cut ties with Melton after the season, take the 3-technique role full-time. If nothing else, the Cowboys should take Donald because he might be the best guy on their board, if he’s still on the board, when 16 rolls around.
2. 2. Safety
There are two potential first-rounders at the free safety position in 2014: Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix out of Alabama and Calvin Pryor from Louisville. If either is left at pick 16, the Cowboys could spring. While they have several options at strong safety, Barry Church is the only center fielder in town and no one would complain to see him relegated to backup status by a ball-hawking athlete.
Many draft experts project Clinton-Dix to go before the Cowboys come up. If this is the case, they may choose to look elsewhere. But Clinton-Dix already shows the great awareness, instinct and ball skills necessary to start in the league, and a little professional instruction should make him even more intimidating. Clinton-Dix can deliver a hard hit and should be able to help the defense earn more turnovers.
Right now the Dallas safety competition is composed of marginal players looking to start, and either Clinton-Dix or Pryor could remedy the situation.
3. 3. The Offensive Line
The offensive line is one of Dallas’s (few) feel-good stories of the last several seasons. In classic cinematic style, they took a ragtag group of also-rans, kicked them out of town and rebuilt the group into one of the conference’s best. And then there’s Doug Free.
Tyron Smith anchors the left side, Frederick holds down the fort in the middle and Free gives up quarterback pressures and the occasional sack. That’s just how things went for the Cowboys last year. Fortunately, there appears to be a solution, and his name is Zack Martin.
Martin’s not the best tackle in this year’s draft by any stretch, but he might just be the best one left, and he could give Dallas the versatility to do what they please with Free, either moving him inside or shifting Martin to guard to give him some right-side support.
As one of the team’s strongest units, some may question the wisdom of using the No. 16 pick here. But the team is unlikely to land any world-beating talent no matter where it goes—its most impactful moves may come in the middle rounds, where hitting on a player or two could make a huge difference on game day. Martin would give Romo more time as age makes him less and less versatile, and he would give the Dallas offense the chance to return to elite form.
The Cowboys have need at all these positions—not until draft day will the picture finally become clear. Who knows? We might just end up with Johnny Manziel, which would be much more entertaining than any scenario here.
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