By Zach Walker
Take a minute to think back on the season that just was. Don’t think too hard, because it’ll probably just bring you down. It was another 8-8 season, another loss against a division opponent in the NFC East Championship game, and another pick in the teens for the draft. How bad was the season, really? Do these 8-8’s even resonate anymore? To be honest, these seasons blow, but they don’t sting. The Green Bay game stings, but overall this is where the Cowboys are at. But now, a day into the new league year, the Cowboys now have to look forward to replacing DeMarcus Ware. It hurts to know that Ware was moving on. Kind of like getting an arm caught in a set of elevator doors, but by freeing up the money he was going to make is the correct move. That’s if the Cowboys can abstain from blowing the new found money on someone in the free agent market. My wish is that they do what’s right by Dez Bryant and Tyron Smith. Give those two guys some cash to stick around before even getting close to seeing the free agent pool. I do know that those deals are usually made during the season, but that is the number one priority in this approaching season.
On to a more serious topic, Jason Garrett. He didn’t get the axe, but man is it sharp, and impending. With Garrett moving into the final year of his contract, it makes me very damn nervous. There are two ways this season can go: the Cowboys can make the playoffs, or they continue to miss. First, just let me say, how dismal it is to just look at making the playoffs, keyword making, not doing damage, not a championship round, just get in. If the Cowboys miss the playoffs then it’s an obvious change in head coach. The more I think about this, if the Cowboys make the playoffs, and win one game, then get booted, what’s the move? Do you reward Garrett who in four years, made the playoffs once? It’s kind of odd, but completely an earned outcome to make the coaching change at the end of next season. Really no matter what happens could a different record even be attributed to Garrett? After three seasons, an improvement is inevitable (and would be a season too late). I just question if Jerry Jones would actually let Jason Garrett go, even if the team does make the playoffs. If it were me making a decision (take a breath that I’m not), I’d try and pull David Shaw away from Stanford.
Now onto the draft, May 8th through the 10th, where all of the Cowboys’ focus should be aimed at. This draft is a pretty deep chest of talent. It’s obvious what positions the Cowboys need to go after, and its the group that was ignored in last year’s draft and was ravaged by injuries, and is now a bare shelf, the defensive line. With the releasing of Ware, and hopefully, not bringing back Spencer or Hatcher, the Cowboys might have to spend three of their first four selections in the draft on the defensive line, and in this draft, I’d have no problem with that. Like I did a year ago, I will give two possible picks for the first two selections then my choices after that.
Round 1 (Pick 16)
DT – Aaron Donald – Remember how disruptive Jay Ratliff was, that’s basically who Aaron Donald can be. He’s under-sized, aggressive, and powerful. Snappy first step, with a cabinet full of awards from his excellent career at Pittsburgh. His size is what people look at and wish that he was a hair taller, but he’s high rev motor, with an ironically tall ceiling.
DT – Ra’Shede Hageman – Where Donald could use some size, Hageman is a tower, and looks like he could take over right where Jason Hatcher left off. Unlike Donald, Hageman didn’t have huge numbers, but a player of his size, in college, would occupy a double team on pretty much every snap.
Round 2 (Pick 47)
DT – Will Sutton – He’s Donald only with 25 more pounds, but still manages to stay quick. You’ll catch glimpses of his quickness, in plays where he’s in a stunt with a line mate. The thing to remember is that Sutton is going to be teamed with another draft pick and with him and one of the two choices from the first round, and with the two of them working in tandem, you have the makings of a dynamic-duo for, at least, the next half-decade.
CB – Jason Verrett – Verrett is an undersized corner, 5’9″, but he plays a fundamentally water-tight game. For the Cowboys, Verrett’s off-man game would be absolutely perfect with the current Cowboys scheme. Like a comedian, he’s got great timing, unlike a comedian, he’s confident, tough, and can tackle. There is literally one downside to Verrett, it’s that he’s giving up a lot size if he works on the outside, but his play won’t yield an advantage to the receiver.
Round 3 (Pick 78)
DE – Jackson Jeffcoat – Here’s a two-for-one pick. One, the Cowboys grab a very solid pass rusher. Second, they’re getting a player with pedigree, Cowboy pedigree. There’s no way that a person reading this doesn’t know that Jackson Jeffcoat’s father is former Cowboys first round pick Jim Jeffcoat, He had 102.5 career sacks over his 15 seasons. Jackson played the end in Texas’ 4-3 scheme; he lost the 2012 season after 6 games to a torn pectoral muscle after a pretty good 7.5 sack 2011 season. In 2013, Jeffcoat came back with a 13 sack season and earned team MVP honors. He has strong hands, and takes smart angles to attack plays rather than speed. If you don’t think Jerry Jones wouldn’t pull the trigger on a need position who has a link to the Cowboys, not saying he will, but I’m saying there’s a good chance, and this is my wish list.
The 4th through 7th round, subject to shuffle with dealing of compensatory picks.
OT – Billy Turner – We all know the Cowboys love to take FCS prospects: B.W. Webb, JJ Wilcox, and Matt Johnson. The North Dakota State Bison football team is the reigning FCS champions three years straight, and protecting the blindside for every snap of the Bison’s stampede was Billy Turner. A four-year starter who loves to get to the second level and abuse players in the open field. Being from the FCS, as a lineman, the Cowboys can either brew Turner for a season, and then let him take over after Doug Free. Possibly make him a road grading guard to plug between Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick then move Ron Leary to right guard.
QB – Logan Thomas – Thomas is the biggest quarterback in this draft, and if you’re going off of the measureables, Thomas is the king of the draft. He stands at a 6’5″ 250 pound quarterback with running ability and sounds like a great platform to build off of. But like a 3000 piece Lego set, Logan Thomas is doing time to put it all together to match what the box looks like. If the Cowboys want to groom a successor, rather than flop around in a desperate search post Romo, Logan Thomas could take major strides in the two years before it gets to serious playing time. Thomas’ footwork and pocket presence needs serious coaching but his arm is golden, and could be Nick Foles with wheels if coached to full potential.
1st Pick: CB – Phillip Gaines – Has the trending size that teams are going to be looking for, and in this draft, corners with length are aplenty. Gaines has a history of injuries, but, and I sort of hate to say this, he absolutely shined at the combine, and showed serious flashes during the East-West Shrine game.
2nd Pick: RB – Antonio Andrews – Phillip Tanner might not return, and if not for fumbling, Andrews would be a much higher draft pick, 1700 yards rushing in back-to-back seasons, 2100 all-purpose yards in back-to-back seasons. He was amazing in pass-protection as well.
3rd Pick: WR – Erik Lora – Look, I’m pretty sure we all love Cole Beasley, but Erik Lora is a size upgrade as a slot receiver. The underground quarterback of this draft, Jimmy Garoppolo, had to throw to someone on his way to 5000 plus yards. Erik Lora caught 123 passes for 1544 yards and 19 touchdowns this past season, which was a down year from the previous season’s totals. Lora had a massive East-West Shrine Game when his quarterback stepped in.