The Cowboys’ defensive line demands the most attention in the 2014 NFL Draft
By Matthew Postins
RattleandHumSports.com is breaking down the free agent needs at every position group for the 2014 Dallas Cowboys. Today it’s the defensive line.
Ends: Everette Brown, Tyron Crawford, George Selvie, DeMarcus Ware, Tristan Ikpalaugo (reserve/future), Caesar Rayford (reserve/future). Tackles: Ben Bass, Nick Hayden, Corey Irvin, Frank Kearse.
Free agents: Ends: Edgar Jones, Anthony Spencer, Jarius Wynn. Tackles: Jason Hatcher
Draft need?: 9 (out of 10, 10 being most pressing).
Why? The Cowboys used 20 different defensive linemen last year, thanks to injuries that sapped depth dry before the season even started. Now the Cowboys stand to lose both Jason Hatcher and Anthony Spencer in free agency. Plus, DeMarcus Ware just scheduled elbow surgery. There is no greater need on this team, and not just because there is plenty of age at the top of the depth chart. With Jerry Jones basically retaining the 2013 defensive staff, it means the Cowboys will employ the Cover 2 defense again in 2014. From what we saw last year, when the Cowboys did a good job rushing the passer the defense was effective. When they didn’t rush the passer well, the defense fell apart. The Cover 2 is predicated upon a tough front four, and the Cowboys don’t have anything resembling that right now.
Possible Targets – Tackles
Timmy Jernigan, Florida State
Some recent mock drafts have connected the recent national champion to the Cowboys in the middle of the first round. At 6-foot-2, 296 pounds, Jernigan fits the profile of the quick, physical under-tackle (three technique) that the Cover 2 absolutely must have in order to function properly. Scouts love the speed and instincts, but they’re a bit concerned that he still has some fundamentals to work out.
Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh
Donald won practically every piece of defensive award hardware he possibly could in 2013. He had a dominant Senior Bowl performance. And yet he’s considered a mid-first round pick. Why? Size. He’s only 6-feet tall. He’s only 288 pounds. But he has cat-like quickness off the snap and effective use of leverage will keep him in the first round.
Ra’Shede Hageman, Minnesota
Another potential first-round pick who could fall to Dallas and be a nice fit inside. Unlike Jernigan and Donald, his vitals are ridiculous – 6-fot-6, 318 pounds. The problem is Hageman isn’t quite as developed, in terms of skills, as Jernigan and Donald. Still, with that height and weight he could develop into a beastly interior tackle in the NFL. He could fall to the second round.
Caraun Reid, Princeton
Yep, Jason Garrett’s alma mater. I wonder if he’ll gravitate toward this intelligent interior tackle that dominated the Ivy League in 2013. The 6-foot-2, 301-pound senior used the Senior Bowl to get on the scouting map, as he’s now a fourth-round value. But he was a two-time All-American, had 40 tackles for loss and 20 sacks in college. He projects as a three-technique. The Cowboys need depth as well as starters. Reid looks like he could be quality depth.
Possible Targets: Ends
Kony Ealy, Missouri: He’s been an early favorite among mock drafters when it comes to the Cowboys, who certainly need pass-rush help on the edge. Ealy is a sure-fire first-rounder who sits at 6-foot-5, 275 pounds. That’s important because his size and speed allows him to play either end position in the Cover 2. He played left end in college and produced, earning praise from scouts for his quickness, ability to play the run and straight-line attacks.
Scott Crichton, Oregon State: Valued as a second-round pick right now, Crichton is a bit quicker than Ealy. Rob Rang of NFLDraftScout.com says he doesn’t possess elite upside, but Crichton has a well-rounded game that makes him a safe selection. Which is to say scouts expect Crichton to be productive, but not at an elite level.
Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas: Jeffcoat qualifies as a legacy pick for the Cowboys, as he did, Jim, played for Dallas in the 1980s. Jeffcoat was quite productive in college, averaging one sack per game and earning First-Team All-America honors last season. The problem is, for Dallas at least, is that Jeffcoat is 250 pounds. Scouts see him as a better fit for the 3-4.
Ethan Westbrooks, West Texas A&M: This guy was a beast at the Division II level and right now he would only cost the Cowboys a sixth-or seventh-round pick. A First-Team and Second-Team Little All American team member during his career, Westbrooks was the 2012 Division II Defensive Player of the Year after recording 19.5 sacks. In 2013 he had 19.5 tackles for loss. He’s 6-foot-4, 264 pounds, and he could become an immediate pass-rushing specialist on passing downs with the right team.
Next up: Linebackers