Draft Nuggets 2013: Entry #11
By Jeff Bowers of www.thesportsnarrative.com
Addressing the Cowboys Needs:
One of the most interesting and maddening aspects of following the NFL off-season and draft process is how much it changes and morphs almost daily. Whether it be a workout against air that vaults a quarterback into the top 5 or a ridiculous spending spree in free agency, the evaluation process of both draft prospects and team needs can swing wildly during the weeks and months prior to the NFL Draft in April. Add to that the unpredictability of certain GMs and scouting departments and you have a volatility that makes the NFL a year-round news making sport. Against that backdrop, let’s look at how the needs of the Dallas Cowboys have changed since the season ended just a few weeks ago.
The Need at Safety:
When the off-season began, the Cowboys needs in order seemed to be as follows:
1. Offensive Guard
2. Defensive Tackle
3. Defensive End
5. Offensive Tackle
As the process has gone on though, many of these needs have been addressed by the Cowboys front office with varying degrees of success. With the restructuring of Mackenzy Bernadeau for salary cap space, the Cowboys seem to indicate they will retain his services and perhaps try to bring in competition in the draft. By retaining and restructuring Jay Ratliff, at least part of the defensive tackle spot has been filled, though more talent is needed there. Defensive end appears to be answered with the very expensive franchise tag placed on Anthony Spencer. And, though the fate of Doug Free still remains uncertain, comments from Jerry indicate that the offensive line is not on the top of his needs list. However, with the cutting of Gerald Sensabaugh just prior to the start of free agency, the safety position has become a vital need and a clear focus of the Cowboys scouting department this off-season. The newest needs list of Dallas looks as follows:
2. Defensive Tackle
3. Offensive Line (Tackle or Guard)
4. Running Back
4A. Outside Linebacker
5. Tight End
With very little in salary cap money to spend until the Romo extension is completed, the free agency market is largely inconsequential to the Cowboys plans. However once the Romo cap number is reduced, perhaps added a bargain veteran is a possibility. Here are a few targets that fit that bill for Dallas:
1. Quintin Mikell, St. Louis Rams, Age 33 – Though age is clearly a factor here, Mikell is still a solid starter in the NFL and might be had at a cheaper price on a 1 to 2 year deal.
2. Michael Huff, Oakland Raiders, Age 30 – The Cowboys had a lot of interest in Huff as a free agent 2 years ago until he re-signed with the Raiders to a large deal. A cap casualty this year, Huff might be had on a 1 year “retrenching” deal to help build his value again after a poor showing in Oakland the last few years.
3. Ronde Barber, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Age 38 – No one knows the Monte Kiffin’s Tampa-2 defense better than Barber, who was an elite level CB under Kiffin in Tampa. Now with age his has moved to FS, but might be a great mentor to a team making the transition.
Though all of these options have age on them, each could provide some quality veteran depth and leadership. Especially interesting is Huff, whose speed and ability to cover would be ideal in the Tampa-2. Given that the Cowboys appear to be looking to the oft-injured Matt Johnson to fill the void at FS currently, having a veteran backup would be a great and hopefully cheap insurance policy.
With the free safety position being so vital in the new defensive scheme, the Cowboys are very likely to add some talent in the draft at that position. Fortunately, the safety position in this year’s draft is one of the deepest available, with quality talent found well into the 3rdand 4th rounds. Here’s a look at what is available in the draft on April 25-27:
1. Kenny Vaccaro, Texas, 6’1” 215lbs – Vaccaro has separated himself as the best safety in this year’s draft by far. With the speed to play corner and the physicality to play the run, Vaccaro has the full skill set. The only question for Dallas may be if he lasts until pick #18 or if Dallas would need to move up to get him. Projection: Mid 1st
2. Matt Elam, Florida, 5’10” 208lbs – Elam is an instinctual playmaker who jumps off the tape in games. His only downsize is his height, as he can get out jumped at times against the new generation of giant wide receivers in today’s NFL. Probably plays strong safety at the next level. Projection: Late 1st – Early 2nd
3. Jonathan Cyprien, Florida International, 6’0” 209lbs – Cyprien made his name at the Senior Bowl, showing skills against the run and in coverage. His only question mark is in level of competition, but that should not hurt his draft stock too much at all. Projection: Early 2nd
4. Eric Reid, LSU, 6’2” 212lbs – Part of the mass exodus of LSU players to declare early, Reid’s career in Baton Rouge was a mixed bag. In 2011, he was an amazing playmaker and an all-American. But 2012, with less talent (namely the Honey Badger) around him, Reid was maddeningly inconsistent. But with great size and speed, the Cowboys have shown some strong interest in Reid in the 2ndround. Projection: 2nd-3rd
5. T.J. McDonald, USC, 6’3” 219lbs – McDonald’s most intriguing aspect may be his familiarity with Monte Kiffin, as Kiffin was his defensive coordinator at USC last year. McDonald’s skill set is very versatile, but his coverage skills might limit him in the NFL. Projection: Late 2nd-Early 3rd
6. Baccari Rambo, Georgia, 6’0” 218lbs – Rambo was a dynamic playmaker in the Bulldogs secondary. However, he was also a dynamic knucklehead with a mouth that gets him in trouble. Off-field issues including a number of suspensions at Georgia will have him still sitting around on Day 2. Projection 3rd-4th
7. DJ Swearinger, South Carolina, 5’11” 208lbs – Swearinger is a bit of a sleeper prospect who battled some foot problems in college. When healthy he is a very solid safety prospect, but durability issues could have him slip a bit in the draft. Projection: 3rd-4th
8. Phillip Thomas, Syracuse, 6’1” 208lbs – Thomas led the nation in 2012 with 8 INTs and played very well at the Senior Bowl. But an underwhelming Combine and some medical red flags could have him available on Day 3. Projection: late 3rd - early 4th
Other players of interest:
Shamarko Thomasof Syracuse, Duke Williams of Nevada, Robert Lester of Alabama, Tony Jefferson of Oklahoma, J.J. Wilcox of Georgia Southern, Shawn Williams of Georgia, Josh Evans of Florida and Rashard Hall of Clemson
The Cowboys have already had interviews had interviews with Vaccaro and Reid, so clearly safety is a target of the Cowboys in this year’s draft. Moving up for Vaccaro seems like a bad idea with so many other needs to fill, though his talent is certainly alluring. But with such incredible depth at the safety position, the Cowboys should be able to sit and take a player who could start well into round 3 or maybe even later.
I believe Dallas WILL draft a safety and that selection may be the most pivotal of the draft because that player MUST start or must be good enough to start whether it’s a first, second, third or fourth rounder. Dallas simply cannot afford to blow this pick. And I think Vaccaro may be gone at #18.