Cowboys Draft 2014: Man the Trade-Down Stations
We’re only three days away from the 2014 NFL draft’s opening round and a sad truth appears to be emerging. The 2014 first round is starting to look a lot like the 2013 first round.
Last year, if you’ll recall, the Cowboys had a short list of targets that included Sheldon Richardson, Star Lotulelei, and Kenny Vaccaro. The team felt pretty good about its odds when all three were on the board after twelve selections, then watched the three go in sequence to the Jets at 13, the Panthers at 14 and the Saints at 15. When Dallas came on the board at 18, a trade down had the most appeal.
This year’s draft visits show a 1st round wish list with a decided D-line flavor. Four names stand out: UCLA DE/OLB Anthony Barr, Pitt DT Aaron Donald, Florida St. DT Timmy Jernigan and Notre Dame OT/OG Zach Martin. Odds are that at least one of them would slide to Dallas, especially since the team picks two spots higher than it did last year. Late rumors, however, suggest that the Cowboys will see these short-listers snapped just before the Cowboys come on the clock.
Let’s start with Donald, whom has been linked with the Bears at 14, the Giants at 12 and even the Lions at 10. In today’s “Monday Morning Quarterback,” Sports Illustrated’s Peter King floats the idea that Donald could go as high as eighth to the Vikings. As the draft nears, Donald appears to be drifting farther out of Dallas’ grasp.
The same may be true for Martin. He’s long been considered the fall-back if the D-linemen go high. Martin has been considered the 4th O-lineman on the board, after the bigger OTs Greg Robinson, Jake Matthews and Taylor Lewan. It now appears that Martin may leapfrog Lewan, with the same King piece reporting that a team in the top 10 is strongly considering Martin. The unnamed source describes the lineman in the same way our guy TD has labeled him for weeks, as one of the “safest” picks in the entire draft. For a front office in a make-or-break season, safety may trump performance ceiling.
Which gets us to Barr. He’s talented, and he would fill a huge need for a Cowboys team needing an edge rusher to groom. But in a draft which is thin in elite edge rushers once Jadeveon Clowney leaves the board, there are probably too many teams to pass. Those same Vikings could take him at eight. Lovie Smith’s Bucs could view him the same way the Tampa-2 Cowboys do and select him in the seven slot. The Titans, picking 11th, could use a top young OLB for new defensive coordinator Ray Horton’s 3-4. Barr looks like a natural fit there. Finally, if Barr somehow makes it to 15, might the rebuilding Steelers see him as the perfect new rush end to replace the recently departed Lamarr Woodley?
Jernigan looks like the short-lister most likely to drop, but there’s the chance that the Bears could select him at 14.
What then for the Cowboys?
The trade-down partners don’t seem to invisible anymore. The Niners have been rumored to want to move up for a top-tier receiver for a while. The Eagles, who pick 22nd, are also rumored to be eyeing a jump into the ‘teens to select a wideout like Odell Beckham or Marquise Lee.
Meanwhile, ESPN’s John Clayton quotes Fresno State QB Derek Carr, who says several teams have told him they are willing to trade into the 20s to select him. If the market is that strong, and there’s also a Cardinals team sitting right at the beginning of the 20s who wants a young QB to groom, might the market for Carr start a little earlier?
The Cowboys may again have to trash Plan A mid-way through Thursday’s draft. Their success could depend on how well they’re prepared to execute Plan B.