In a matter of hours the Dallas Cowboys will be on the clock for the No. 27 overall selection in the 2015 NFL Draft, and it remains unclear just which position owner and general manager Jerry Jones will address first.
The Cowboys are coming off a stellar 12-4 campaign, during which they re-claimed the NFC East title and won their first playoff game in five years, but there are glaring holes on the current roster especially at running back, cornerback and on the defensive line.
Though Jones has been criticized for his selections in previous drafts, the last two year’s he’s picked offensive lineman in the first round, Zack Martin last year and Travis Frederick in 2013, with both making major contributions to one of the better lines in the league last season.
Thus, fans maybe shouldn’t expect Dallas to make some sort of splashy trade like they did for cornerback Morris Claiborne in 2012, and instead make a decision based on need rather than the talent available late in the first round.
The most exciting position Dallas could fill is running back, following the departure of last season’s top rusher DeMarco Murray to the rival Philadelphia Eagles during free agency last month.
The Cowboys have been linked to both of the top ranked running backs in this year’s class, Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon and Georgia’s Todd Gurley. Gordon is coming off a Heisman Trophy-nominated season of 2,587 yards and 29 touchdowns, and he’s a hulk of rusher at 6-foot-1 and 215 lbs.
Gordon’s also healthy, something Gurley can’t completely claim. The powerful Bulldogs speedster was projected to be the first running back off the board before he tore up his knee last season. Gurley racked up 911 yards and nine touchdowns, and returned four kicks for 179 yards and a touchdown in only six games last year, and when healthy there’s no questioning his talent.
Recent reports indicate Gurley should be healed up by the time training camp rolls around this summer, which might indicate he won’t be around when Dallas picks. Same goes for Gordon with such running back-needy teams like the San Diego Chargers at No. 17, the Cleveland Browns at No. 12 and No. 19, and the Arizona Cardinals at No. 24 all head of the Cowboys.
Returning to Claiborne, a source told the Dallas Morning-News the Cowboys don’t intend to pick up the former LSU star’s fifth-year option and that they are focused solely on this weekend’s draft. Claiborne’s missed 18 games the last two seasons, including 14 in 2014 and he’s failed to live up to expectations since Dallas moved up to No. 6 to draft him.
The news comes only hours before the draft and Dallas could be trying to veil their intentions from other teams. Cornerback is a major need for a Cowboys defense that ranked No. 26 against the pass last season, and with veteran corner Brandon Carr’s ongoing contract dispute with squad.
This year’s draft class is actually loaded at corner, especially in the first two rounds. There’s Connecticut’s Byron Jones, Wake Forest’s Kevin Johnson, and Florida State’s Ronald Darby, among several others, who could all get a look from Dallas at No. 27. Marcus Peters of Washington, who received many positive reviews from scouts, is another corner who his expected to go in the first round.
Jones and Johnson climbed draft boards with their excellent numbers at the scouting combine in February, and Darby was part of a stellar Seminoles defense that nearly claimed back-to-back college titles.
The safety position is a little weaker this year, but Dallas could use some more depth behind last year’s tackle-leader Barry Church, J.J. Wilcox and 2016 restricted free agent Jeff Heath. Enter Alabama’s Landon Collins, who NFL Network’s Mike Mayock predicted would head to Dallas in his latest mock draft.
Mayock characterized the pick of Collins as “not sexy,” but the 6-foot, 222-pound former Tide star recorded five interceptions and 13 passes defensed his last two years in Tuscaloosa and should be able to contribute right away.
All along the defensive line there are significant questions the Cowboys could also answer. Dallas seemingly covered its pass-rushing bases when it signed former Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy to a one-year deal this offseason, but he’ll be suspended for the first 10 games of the season.
The Cowboys could capitalize on the presumably falling draft stocks of Missouri defensive end Shane Ray or Nebraska pass rusher Randy Gregory. Ray was cited for marijuana possession earlier this week, and Gregory tested positive for marijuana at the combine, and now the two sure-fire first-round talents are reportedly sliding.
However, there’s no denying each as considerable talent to aide a Cowboys pass rush that was No. 28 in the league last season.
Prediction: Peters. He should be available, and would be a safe pick. If Collins somehow drops, Jones will likely take him. Ray is a possibility, but he should be gone by the first 20 picks.