By Zach Walker
What an offseason! Genuinely, if one would team up how much the Cowboys have improved on the field, with the moves they’ve made acquiring Darren McFadden, Greg Hardy, and retaining Rolando McClain and Doug Free; you wouldn’t have to be a soothsayer to see that the Dallas Cowboys are a playoff team in 2015. Now, losing Murray to the Eagles might still be rubbing people the wrong way, but if the Cowboys have a plan that they know will work to replace him, then I’ll trust them blindly, because that’s pretty much the fan way. The Dez Bryant situation, where he still hasn’t signed his franchise tender is a bother, because just like I had wished for Murray, I want Bryant in Dallas for his career.
The Draft on April 30th is going to be an exciting night, with huge impact possibilities, and it’s all on one player: Marcus Mariota. Tampa Bay is going to take Jameis Winston at one, then it’s the wonderful live drama of “Where will Mariota land?” Tennessee is possible at two; Washington would make me smile from ear to ear for the length of the draft; the Jets could nab him at six; I’ve read rumors about Chicago potentially using Cutler to bait a trade up to guarantee him. I’ve seen loonier scenarios, trust me. Mariota to the Giants, him sliding to the Browns, falling into the Texan’s lap, San Diego grabbing him, it all coming down to the “dream” of free falling all the way to Philly at twenty. Mariota is a draft enigma, and likely the reason he won’t be attending the draft. And it all makes for must-watch television.
The Cowboys’ draft needs are exceptionally simple, as are with most of the playoff teams: fill holes with talent. I love where the Cowboys are drafting. They’re too far back to guarantee Todd Gurley, but it’s just as possible that he slides to them at twenty-seven. They are way too far back to even hope to land Danny Shelton, my favorite player in this draft, but Eddie Goldman could end up where we’re sitting. Then there’s the possibility of picking a corner at twenty-seven. The talented Marcus Peters could be there, if the Ravens don’t select him first, which would potentially leave the Cowboys with Kevin Johnson. There are plenty of excellent picks at twenty-seven, but for me, the second through the fifth round in this draft is going to be so important for the Cowboys in taking the next step in the playoffs. Finding players like Terrence Williams and Anthony Hitchens are mega boosts to a team, and there are those same players in this draft, just waiting to don the star.
Round One – Pick 27: UCLA LB Eric Kendricks – I refuse to abandon my mocking the Cowboys picking a linebacker in the first round, for multiple reasons. Rolando McClain, as excellent as he was last season, faded down the stretch. I realize that injuries played a factor, but that’s exactly my point. Sean Lee, as excellent as he has been, is on the shelf more than he is on the field. The chances of both of those players being healthy for the entire season and beyond is a huge leap of optimism; so I say stack the deck. Kendricks’ knock is that his size isn’t ideal for a first round pick, but I’ve also heard that Benardrick McKinney is too large. Well, make up your freaking mind, Goldilocks. Kendricks has all the important stuff in spades: instincts, tenacious-ness, and ability. And, that same size doesn’t seem to bother the Eagles, who have his brother Mychal, and he’s not even as good as his younger brother.
Round Two – Pick 60: Florida State DE Mario Edwards Jr. – The Cowboys need some heat along their defensive line, but signing Greg Hardy pushes that need back a little, but they will still need even more fire. Mario Edwards, like his Seminole teammate Cameron Erving, has that desirable position flex. Edwards can line up across a tackle or guard at either end, or inside as a defensive tackle much in the same way Tyrone Crawford played an attacking defensive tackle. With a player who has multiple tools in his trade and with the Cowboys coaching staff of Rod Marinelli, Leon Lett, and Charles Haley, Mario Edwards Jr. can become a star.
Round Three – Pick 91: Alabama RB T.J. Yeldon – Let me begin my explanation by saying I really don’t like ‘Bama running backs, but the last two, Yeldon and Eddie Lacy, have been much better than the two before them, Richardson and Mark Ingram. Yeldon is a healthy average back, and I mean that in a yards-per-carry way. Over a three year career, Yeldon has a 5.8 yards per carry mark, and that’s supremely impressive. His size is massive, six-foot-two, and 225 pounds, and behind the line of the Cowboys that could end up being like a hammer hitting the nail on the head, only after the sledge had its turn. But, I will say that there is plenty of late backs in this draft that can be amazing: Jeremy Langford, David Johnson, Zach Zenner, David Cobb, or even pick up B.J. Catalon after the draft to be a return man. There is no shortage of great backs in this draft.
Round Four – Pick 127: Texas CB Quandre Diggs – There are a ton of players in every draft that ended up having a great final season and improved their draft stock over just solid worker-bee style of playing, and that’s what happened to Diggs. Rather than taking a flier on some boom-or-bust prospect early in the draft, I’d much rather a player with a consistent head about him in his game. Diggs is a tackler with a good sense for the ball when it’s in the air, a smart player with understanding of the angles and who doesn’t swim too far from his zones, and a player with position flex. If he were to be drafted by the Cowboys, barring training camp injuries, he’d be a day one starter.
Round Five – Pick 163: Michigan State FS Kurtis Drummond – On the Spartans’ defense, being physical is just what they do, but the knock on Kurtis Drummond is that his physical skills aren’t his strongest traits. Not saying he won’t get dirty and tackle, but it’s not the main thing on his mind. Drummond’s coverage skills are fantastic. His instincts and anticipation are among the tops in this draft from the free safety position. J.J. Wilcox has been a solid safety for the Cowboys, but Drummond can be the instinctive safety needed to play the free safety position, and Wilcox’s skill set seems to leave him better suited playing a strong safety, given his willingness to attack from the sky.
Round Seven – Pick 237: Michigan DE Frank Clark – Not to say that the Cowboys should continue to roll the dice on morally questionable players, but in the seventh round, why not take a shot on Frank Clark. Clark has an ugly rap sheet: second-degree home invasion for swiping a laptop, then really putting his future behind the eight-ball with a domestic violence arrest that got him tossed from the Michigan squad. Clark has done good things on the field, however, that would justify a team, like the Cowboys, taking him in the final round. From the time he arrived, to the time he was dismissed from the Wolverines, he managed to pack on 60 pounds while staying just as swift. I would have no problem if a player like Clark went undrafted, and he probably should. But if the water starts to simmer in the seventh, the Cowboys could be looking at a straight day three diamond in the rough.
Round Seven – Pick 244: Florida OT Trenton Brown – For the final pick, I’m going with a player that I saw at the Senior Bowl and absolutely ached to know more about afterwards. Trenton Brown is 6 feet and 8 inches tall, and 375 pounds as an offensive lineman. Some might wonder if he’s just a statue; that his movement is like trying to move a fireplace. But Brown is sort of a creepy-quick athlete, and I mean that in a way like a vending machine can chase you down in a nightmare, because he’s way more athletic than first glance may suggest. In one-on-ones, he was holding his own quite nicely against the Senior Bowl better offerings. With a man of his stature and the fact that he was a part-time/rotation lineman for the Gators, getting his technique down, preventing him from over-extending, and lunging to cut off rushers is going to be the work he needs getting done. But with his size, power, and potential, he’s well worth a late choice.