By Zach Walker
Everyone thinks they know the way to steer the Cowboys back onto the championship path, and I’m no different. I know it’s through the draft. The draft is like a team’s birthday, they know what day it’s on and when to be there. And just like a birthday, everyone feels that they know exactly what gift to give that will shine like the blissfully watery eyes of a nine year old getting his latest and greatest toy to date. The Cowboys just have to stand by and see what present is sitting there with the 18th pick.
The 18th pick is a spectacular position in the draft, the chance of catching slipping top-10 talent is a high percentage and the chance of over-reaching of a player is much lower. Drafting out of need leads to a higher chance of over-valuing players but sometimes that player who checks all your team’s boxes falls right into your lap and after an exchange of high-fives, thumbs ups, and fist bumps your team gets one step closer to that sweet silver trophy. That’s what team’s dream of; it’s what I been stewing around my head as athletes wrap up in Indy at the combine. Not all the players on the following list worked out at the combine but it’s a pretty good chance that did. This list is my suggestions to better the Cowboys, not with just the first round pick but with all of their picks with.
First Round 18th Overall
Kenny Vaccaro – Texas – I previously had Vaccaro going top-10 but with the Combine lighting up with a seeming endless pit of talented big men, I feel defensive backs will slide. Vaccaro’s trials in Indy weren’t eye-popping but his performances down in Austin justify him a top-20 pick. He is all-over the field in games against Kansas State and West Virginia, despite losses, his individual efforts are impressive; covering slot receivers, chasing down plays from behind, and sniffing the ball out of the backfield. The Longhorns let a ton of points get on the board in the last two years, but his play has earned him all-conference two years in a row. Barry Church’s injury was serious but could come back as strong as ever and Gerald Sensabaugh has been, perhaps, the most consistent player on the field for the ‘Boys. He’s only 29, but Vaccaro could give the Cowboys young attack against read-option game. It’d be a bold move by Dallas to continue to overhaul their secondary.
Margus Hunt – SMU – If Al Davis was still alive; I truly believe he would take Hunt with the third pick. Hunt is a perfect storm of athlete, he has the size, strength, and speed needed to play in the league; and he ran amok at the Combine, crushing every single test set in front of him. His production at SMU was outstanding, 17 blocked kicks and 14.5 sacks in 4 years of football. His disruption against Fresno State in the Hawaii Bowl sunk the Bulldogs early, he finished the first half with 3 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and a safety. The previous year’s bowl game also yielded 3 sacks, so it could be that he makes the most of big games, which the Cowboys could use. Hunt is still very raw, but defensive line coach Rod Marinelli coached Simeon Rice to unbelievably consistent levels while with Tampa Bay, so molding Margus Hunt into a high level player across from DeMarcus Ware is achievable.
Second Round 47th Overall
Larry Warford – Kentucky – Larry Warford isn’t like Chance Warmack or Jonathan Cooper, they used the draft to separate from the rest of the pack. Warford didn’t crush the Combine like Cooper and doesn’t have the skins on the wall like Warmack. Warford shows during games, when he’s got a back running behind him and a linebacker in his grasp, along for a ride. Warford is big, at 330 pounds and only 6 foot 3 inches, he doesn’t get out-leveraged easily and for such a big guy he moves in space. He’s a three time all-SEC second team at right guard, and he’s still projected to be a second round pick. If he’s there, the Cowboys should take him.
Barrett Jones – Alabama – Versatility is a serious weapon in pretty much anything; the more you can do, the better your chances of being successful. Barrett Jones takes that notion very strongly to heart. Jones has played every position on ‘Bama’s offensive line throughout his collegiate career, earning outstanding position awards for his play at center (’12) and guard (’11). The Cowboys have O-Line needs at four positions, and as a ‘Swiss Army Knife,’ Barrett Jones is fit to seal at least gap in a line struggling to keep the pocket clean or get a little push in the run game.
Third Round 80th Overall
Tyler Bray – Tennessee – Saving for the future is a great idea, especially looking back at the smooth transition period from Aikman to eventually Romo. Tyler Bray is a mid-ish round quarterback because he’s inconsistent and a tad over-excitable leading to incompletions. All of his flaws are completely coachable because his mechanics are sound. His motion is fluid and his arm is as strong as a shot of gin followed by a punch to the face. There’s a reason Tennessee has two potential first round wide receivers, they don’t throw the ball to themselves. A third round pick to secure a future starting quarterback is a sweet deal because if they wait until the end of next season, it’ll make a Romo contract extension based on a great year or they could just slot Bray in the lineup; besides I can’t remember if a player taken in the third round out of Tennessee ever worked out well for the Cowboys.
(Overall Picks not known yet for rounds 4-7, compensatory picks yet to be awarded)
Brandon Williams – Missouri Southern State – If you’re going to pick a Division 2 player, because the Cowboys always seem to, might as well make it a three time All-American. Brandon Williams is serious bulk at defensive tackle, 335 pounds, and he worked it to his advantage. 52.5 tackles for loss and 27 sacks in less than 30 games played, and at the Senior Bowl he showed that he’s a real presence, excelling in 1 on 1 drills, while pushing around D-1 players. He has great push and is a tank against guards. His level of competition will be questioned throughout the draft process, but his overwhelming performance will open big doors for him.
Conner Vernon – Duke – I’ll start by saying, I wouldn’t trade Dez Bryant any other wide receiver in the league. But outside of Dez, more consistent catches is needed and all-around crisper route running is needed from everyone. Conner Vernon is 6 foot slot receiver, because his straight line break-away speed isn’t going to turn a DB inside out. He uses clever footwork to create separation and precision route running to gain advantage in space. His career stat line doesn’t lie, 283 catches for 3749 yards and 21 touchdowns. Vernon is a low risk, high reward pick and a sneaky target on third downs.
Rex Burkhead – Nebraska – Of course, DeMarco Murray isn’t in danger of losing his job but he can’t handle the entire workload. His injuries really set the offense back when he’s not in the lineup. Lance Dunbar is a great change-of-pace back but with Felix Jones leaving in free agency, a replacement is needed. Rex Burkhead is a player who never really got to show his skill because, like Murray, has been off and on the injury report. He’s done great work when he’s the game, being highly productive in various roles. Rex is a local product (Plano HS) and is a serious off-field presence, doing various works of charity and visiting cancer patients and didn’t do it for kudos or to help his stock. He’s a smart player, using his eyes and feet to find then get through holes rather than lowering the boom on defenders.
Need to bring in
Zach Line – SMU – If draft stock was based on stats, Zach Line would be a hot commodity. His stats are comparable to Stepfan Taylor from Stanford, who in all likelihood will be a day 2 pick. Line has fullback size with better speed and hands.