The 1st Round of the NFL Draft is tonight at 7 p.m. on ESPN. Fittingly, the Dallas Cowboys, coming off a third consecutive 8-8 season, are picking right in the middle of the round at 16.
There's little dispute over the Cowboys biggest area of need going into the draft. The team needs defensive help and plenty of it. The Cowboys ranked dead last in the league last year in 'Total Defense', allowing a franchise-worst 415 yards and 27 points per game to opposing offense's.
Several mock drafts have Dallas picking a defensive player in tonight's first round and there are a few guys the Cowboys covet who are believed to still be around when the team picks at 16.
Aaron Donald - Defensive Tackle - Pittsburgh
Donald is considered to be the Cowboys ideal pick. He's a high motor guy with tremendous upside. Donald would fill a gaping hole in the interior of the defensive line and is thought to be a great fit in defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli's scheme. He's a pass-rushing tackle who can also plug the middle and stop the run. Dallas allowed over 5 yards-a-carry last season between the tackles, which ranked among the worst in the NFL. The knock on Donald is his size, standing at just 6-feet-tall, he's about five inches shorter than most prototypical defensive tackles and this factor alone is keeping him from being a top five pick. The Cowboys would be thrilled to select him at 16, but they may have to move up a few spots to get him.
Anthony Barr - Defensive End/Linebacker - UCLA
Barr is an intriguing player. He played running back in high school before switching to defense at UCLA where he became a dynamic pass rusher as an outside linebacker. With the Cowboys switching to a 4-3 scheme last season, Barr would play on the line as a defensive end. It's a bit of a gamble that he can make a smooth transition but he's already shown he's capable of a big adjustment by moving from offense to defense without a hiccup. Barr would be an athletic upgrade to the position that needs it after the departure of DeMarcus Ware.
Timmy Jernigan - Defensive Tackle - Florida State
Jernigan would be a fall back option for Dallas if Donald is off the board when it comes time to pick. He's a bit taller than Donald standing at 6-foot-2 and he'll certainly help plug the interior of the defensive line but his upside isn't considered to be as high as Donald's. Jernigan didn't help himself either by failing a drug test at the NFL Combine. That isn't expected to knock him out of the Cowboys considerations but it doesn't do him any favors either.
Other defensive players to keep an eye on:
Of course, with the Cowboys you can never be too sure. While defensive help is thought to be the no doubt area to improve in the first round, Jerry Jones could have other ideas up his sleeve. If the Cowboys choose to go offense with their first selection, these are the names that have been linked to Dallas.
Johnny Manziel - Quarterback - Texas A&M
In the last few weeks this possibility has picked up tremendous steam. In fact, ESPN top draft analyst, Todd McShay, has Manziel going to Dallas in his final mock draft revealed Thursday. This move screams Jerry Jones. The Cowboys don't need a quarterback bad enough to make a first round pick for one, but Jerry may not be able to help himself if Manziel is still there at 16. Manziel would fill Jerry World for years to come and would keep Dallas squarely in the media spotlight. Tony Romo is coming off one of his best seasons statistically, throwing for 31 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions, but he's also coming off his second back surgery in a calendar year. Manziel wouldn't start right away, but he'd be waiting in the wings when Romo's career winds down.
Zack Martin - Offensive Tackle - Notre Dame
This doesn't fill a pressing need for the Cowboys who had solid offensive line play last season but Martin is considered to be one of the 12 best players in this draft and in the event that none of the defensive players mentioned above are still around, this would make a lot of sense. You can never have too much offensive line depth and Martin can play the tackle and guard spots for a line that is old in a couple spots. Martin would give the Cowboys one of the best offensive line's in the league.
Odell Beckham Jr. - Wide Receiver - LSU
Beckham Jr. is one of several top flight wide receivers in this years loaded draft class among wide outs. He ran a 4.43 40-yard dash in the combine and is versatile enough to play all receiver positions for Dallas. Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams will enter the season as starters, but depth is a concern for the Cowboys if either of those two were injured. Beckham Jr., would be an immediate contributor, but there's believed to be several capable wide receivers available later in the draft as well.
Nothing is guaranteed with the Dallas Cowboys as long as Jerry Jones makes the final decision. The Cowboys have traded up or down in the 1st round 20 of the 25 years that Jones has been in charge so expect the unexpected. The 1st round begins Tuesday at 7 p.m. and rounds two and three begin Friday at 7 p.m. Rounds four through seven start Saturday at noon. All of it is televised on ESPN.
Copyright 2014 KCBD. All rights reserved.