Who will the Cowboys pick at No. 18?

Rafael Vela runs Cowboys Nation and just released his new mock draft here. David Newbury serves a number of roles at Sportsradio 1310 The Ticket and can be followed on Twitter here.

Time to get serious here with that NFL Draft now just 35 days away. It is a chance for the Cowboys to really add some pieces that can make a difference. Of course, this will require some special selections in their top 3 chances, and I wanted to assemble a couple of my Cowboys friends to take a look at which way the wind is blowing – especially on pick #18.

Gentlemen, at this particular juncture in mid-March, given what you know and how you see the roster, let’s get your thoughts about the realistic hopes and dreams in Round 1 for the Cowboys. Who will be available and where the real decision lies. Walk us through a scenario and conclusion for the Cowboys 1st Round situation, please:

Rafael Vela:
The good news as I see things is that the draft breakdown may put the best interior offensive line prospects and the best pure right tackle in Dallas’ reach when the 18th overall picks rolls around. The question, as it has been for quite some time, is whether Jerry Jones will green light such a pick?

I have a feeling he might just do so, if my breakdowns are correct. Two years ago we heard that the Cowboys would not take an offensive tackle with the 9th overall pick, and that the team would not spend such a high pick on a player slated to be a right tackle. Yet, the Cowboys selected Tyron Smith and he’s now the anchor of their line.

We’ve all heard the Cowboys covet 3-technique defensive tackles to spark the interior rush in their new Monte Kiffin-run 4-3. This draft offers a trio of intriging prospects at that spot. It appears, however, that Sharrif Floyd, Star Lotulelei and Sheldon Richardson will be gone well before Dallas’ pick. To my eyes, this makes the draw a four-player race. Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro heads the list of realistic defensive targets. If Dallas can land him, and he’s anywhere close to his fellow Longhorn Earl Thomas has been for Seattle, the Cowboys will finally suture the gaping wound at free safety which opened when Darren Woodson retired.

The other three options — guards Chance Warmack and Jonathan Cooper and right tackle D.J. Fluker would upgrade one of the offensive line spots. The question is how those four stack up?

In many ways, this draft resembles 2010, when the Cowboys had a short list of guard Mike Iupati, the safety Thomas and eventual pick Dez Bryant. Dallas’ draft board leaked that season and those three ranked 10th, 11th and 12th respectively. On draft day, I learned Dallas was trying hard to get Thomas, whom they felt would go highest. Why not Iupati, who was rated one spot higher? I’ve been told that when players are cheek to jowl on the board, having near identical grades, the Cowboys will go for the bigger need or the higher impact position, and safety is a priority position over guard.

I think we could see similar thinking here. If Vaccaro is anywhere close to the others, I think he’s the one Dallas will covet the most. If he’s gone, if a team like the Rams or the Steelers take him just ahead of the Cowboys, how do the offensive linemen rate? Again position will dictate the pick. If Fluker is close in grade to the guards I think he’ll get the nod. If a Warmack and Fluker are there, and the guard is much higher, say Warmack is 10th and Fluker 18th, Dallas won’t push it’s board. Warmack would get the nod. What would be the choice of Warmack and Cooper? Again, the board will tell, and on March 21st, I’m not sure the Cowboys know. I doubt they’re put their final board together yet.

Bob Sturm: I like these scenarios, although Vaccaro has not passed all of my tests. I want to study more Texas games and really zero in on his role, but what I have watched so far is a mixture of high-end plays and missed tackles. Of course, when you are on a poor tackling defense, it is easy to see where one might over-commit to attempting to cover for others and we know at safety this can cause more and more issues. I don’t deny that they desperately need a high-end safety, but my two responses on that front are back to my belief that the Cowboys need to invest in their big boys (OL and DL) again and again to compensate for years of neglect and also my uncertainty of Vaccaro being elite. Earl Thomas jumped off the screen and seemed elite from his college film. Vaccaro doesn’t seem on that level, but he would instantly be the best thing the Cowboys have had in here in years.


David Newbury:If the 2012 injury plagued season didn’t teach Jerry Jones that the NFL is a battle of attrition then nothing will. I fully expect Dallas to address their depth problem and strongly consider trading down this April. The Cowboys have holes at offensive line, defensive line, safety, running back, tight end, and wide receiver. You could argue that they need two offensive linemen and defensive linemen. Unfortunately, the Cowboys have more holes than draft picks.

There have been 16 different playoff teams over the last two years. Since 2007 those playoff teams haveaveraged20 picks in the first 3 rounds of the draft. That’s 20 first, second and third round picks. Since 2007 the Cowboys have drafted 14 players in the first, second, and third round. Let me put it a different way. Playoff teams add 3.3 players drafted in the top 100 to their roster each year. Dallas adds 2.3. The Cowboys have hit on a lot of their draft picks since 2010. The problem is they haven’t had enough draft picks. Dallas has added Dez Bryant, Sean Lee, Tyron Smith, Bruce Carter, DeMarco Murray, Dwayne Harris, Tyrone Crawford and Morris Claiborne since 2010. That’s a very solid core! Unfortunately, Dallas sacrificed a 2nd, 3rd, and a 4thround pick to put that core together.

The one thing Dallas can’t do this year is trade up. I still hate the Mo Claiborne trade. I love the player, but hate the trade. The 2013 draft lacks the elite players that the 2012 draft had. The 2013 draft does have incredible depth. This could be the deepest draft the NFL’s had in 10 years. Dallas must take advantage of this opportunity. Jerry must resist the temptation to trade up. This is the year that Dallas can find a starter in the 3rdor 4thround.

So what is Dallas going to do with the 18thpick? I think there are 8 “special players” in this draft that Dallas can’t trade away from. These 8 players also fill a need for Dallas. They are Luke Joeckel, Eric Fisher, Lane Johnson, Jonathan Cooper, Chance Warmack, Sharrif Floyd, Star Lotulelei and Sheldon Richardson. I think the 3 left tackles will be long gone before Dallas’ selection. Dallas would love for OU’s Lane Johnson to fall to them, but I don’t think he gets passed San Diego at 11. They would love to have 1 of the 3 defensive tackles. Shariff Floyd, and Star Lotulelei are top 10 picks. Sheldon Richardson has the best chance of the 3 to make it to Dallas, but I have him going 14 to Carolina. That leaves the 2 guards.

I like Cooper more than Warmack. Either would be a day one starter. I like Cooper because he is more versatile. He can play center in addition to guard. Warmack is a guard only. Cooper is also more athletic and will allow the offense to do more. Remember last year when we were all screaming for Dallas to run more screen passes? Dallas couldn’t because their offensive line wasn’t athletic enough. Drafting Cooper would add a nice wrinkle to the Cowboys offense. Warmack would bring an element of toughness that the Cowboys offensive line hasn’t seen since Larry Allen. He is battled tested. He is the guy you run behind on 3rdand1 with the game on the line. Dallas passed on David DeCastro last year because they thought they solved their offensive line problem in free agency. Dallas can’t make the same mistake twice. Dallas needs to sprint to the podium if one of these two special players fall to them at 18.

What happens if all 8 of the “special players” are gone? Kenny Vaccaro is an option. He is a great safety! Like guard, Dallas has ignored the safety position for year. I am a big fan of Vaccaro’s. I would have no problem if Dallas drafted him at 18. However, I wouldn’t take him at 18. Some draft analyst are saying that this is the deepest safety class they’ve ever seen. I would much rather take my chances with Matt Elam, Jonathan Cyprien, Eric Reid, Phillip Thomas, D.J. Swearinger, Shamarko Thomas or J.J. Wilcox. I would trade back and collect an extra top 100 pick.

We all get scared when we think about Jerry Jones trading down. It’s the right thing to do this year. This team needs depth. I leave you with this note about the Cowboys’ drafts from 2006-2009, a span of 4 drafts. Dallas made 34 selections from 06-09: 16 are out of the NFL, 14 are on other teams, and 4 remain on the roster.

Bob Sturm: Fantastic thoughts there, David. For the sake of important emphasis, let’s make sure everyone saw Newbury’s key paragraph:

There have been 16 different playoff teams over the last two years. Since 2007 those playoff teams haveaveraged20 picks in the first 3 rounds of the draft. That’s 20 first, second and third round picks. Since 2007 the Cowboys have drafted 14 players in the first, second, and third round. Let me put it a different way. Playoff teams add 3.3 players drafted in the top 100 to their roster each year. Dallas adds 2.3.

That is a staggering number.  It shows the price and the penalty of constantly trading up to get what you want. This isn’t fantasy sports where you mortgage your farm to get the player you want. The best franchises almost always have attributes of patience and restraint when they are doing business in free agency or the draft. They don’t fall in love with one particular player, because you cannot control what the other 31 teams might do. You simply nod and take your next guy and trust your process.

But, in Dallas, especially in the cases of Felix Jones, Mike Jenkins, Dez Bryant, Sean Lee, and Morris Claiborne, it appears they fell in love with a particular player and had to get him. In 4 of those 5 cases, they traded up to get them. If you hit, then you say it is worth it. But, if they never are offered a 2nd contract, you multiply your problems.

Meanwhile, this Jonathan Cooper vs Chance Warmack discussion is interesting to me. Both look sensational and would instantly upgrade things. But, position versatility to me is not as important as it is to David, I think. I want a guy who can plug other holes if possible, but when I am taking my cornerstone players (and 1st rounder should be a plug-and-play) then I am not worried about his ability as a utility tool.

I do concede that Cooper is a force in space, but I really like Warmack’s build that although a bit “belly-heavy” appears to make him nearly immovable. When you have a center next to him who appears to be quite movable in Phil Costa, then I think they compliment each-other well. On the other hand, perhaps I am contradicting myself when I consider Costa’s ability to break my tie if I am going to discount position versatility from David’s evaluation.

Overall, I am just tired of the Cowboys being pushed around. Neither looks like a candidate for that, but Warmack looks most like a San Francisco 49ers guard who might push people around without mercy for 3 hours. I want to draft a bully. And that is why Warmack appeals to me more than Cooper.

But, trust me, if Cooper or Warmack are selected in the 1st round, it will get a virtual fist pump from this space – where we have been asking them to attend to their needy offensive line for years and years.

Thanks, guys, for your thoughts. We will do this again soon.