At no time during the year is there more speculation and guessing among football fans. Fans from the casual to the maniacal discuss at length what their team should do in the upcoming meat market known as the NFL Draft.
Fortunately for Cowboys' fans, their team isin the enviable position of having two first-round selections in this year's draft. And because of that, the list of options for the Dallas braintrust is even longer than usual.
With that said, the consensus opinion about what the Cowboys need centers around the team's primary needs: a safety, an outside
linebacker, a wide receiver, a defensive end and an offensive tackle.
Secondary needs include another cornerback, another defensive tackle and perhaps a running back to back up Julius Jones.
So who should the Cowboys target?
• DERRICK JOHNSON
Among Texas-based Cowboys fans, the ex-Longhorn is the popular choice.
At 6-4 and 230 pounds, and with 4.5 speed in the 40-yard dash, Johnson
has extraordinary athleticism, which some feel makes Johnson the most
talented player at any position in the draft. He's been compared to
numerous linebackers, all of them great: Chip Banks, Derrick Thomas and
yes, even Lawrence Taylor. Such comparisons are never accurate or fair,
but they speak to the seemingly limitless talent Johnson possesses.
Johnson can rush the passer very effectively, he's a punishing tackler
and he can drop into coverage, calling on his speed to run with most
receivers. He always is around the ball, and excels at stripping the
ball. He certainly won't be available at No. 20, and likely won't be
there at No. 11. If he is, Dallas would be hard-pressed to pass him up.
• SHAWNE MERRIMAN
The Maryland star is perhaps the biggest mystery among defensive
players in this year's draft. (Arkansas quarterback-turned-receiver
Matt Jones takes the honors on the offensive side.) If Johnson isn't
the most athletic defensive player in the draft, this guy might be.
It's normal before the draft for various media outlets to fluctuate in
the sizes they report for some players, but the 6-4 Merriman has been
listed everywhere from 245 pounds to 270. He runs a sub-4.7 in the 40,
leaped a LeBron-esque 41 years in the vertical jump and was among the
top pass rushers in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Merriman also likely
will be gone before Dallas makes its first selection -- some think
there's even an outside chance that San Francisco will take him first
overall -- but if he's still on the board when the Cowboys get to
choose, he could be as close to a can't-miss prospect as there is in
the draft. If by some miracle he and Johnson both are available when
the 11th choice rolls around, Bill Parcells and Jerry Jones might burst
into flames. Merriman played defensive end in college, but most project
him as an outside linebacker at the next level, and the general
consensus is that in the right (3-4) system, he could be a major star.
Some have even compared him to Washington star LaVar Arrington.
Merriman's offseason workout partner? Arrington.
• DARRYL BLACKSTOCK
The Virginia star is an excellent pas rusher with good size (6-4, 230)
and strength. Before he can be an every-down player in a Parcells
defense, he needs to get better against the run. But as a pass-rushing
linebacker, Blackstock could contribute right away. His speed, size and
athleticism will make him a valuable contributor on special teams while
he polishes his run defense. No. 20 might be a little early, but if
Parcells and Jones decide that outside linebacker is an absolute must,
then Blackstock might well be their guy.
When Darren Woodson's back forced him first to the sideline and eventually into retirement, the entire defense was affected. Roy Williams was forced to play back further in the secondary, to help with
pass coverage, a move that greatly reduced his effectiveness. Williams
is most effective at strong safety, where he has the freedom to play
near the line of scrimmage and wreak havoc with safety blitzes and
chasing the ball carrier. The Cowboys desperately need a safety to
solidify the secondary, allowing Williams to roam free and make plays.
However, most feel that the top-rated free safety in this year's draft
is Nebraska's Josh Bullocks (6-0, 195, 4.5), and he's not worth either
of the Cowboys' first-round picks. He's a decent player, but not a
game-changer. He's decent in pass coverage, but not exceptional. His
speed is rather run-of-the-mill for a high-end safety, and needs to get
stronger. If he's available a few round later, then the Cowboys might
get a player of real value. But there's not a free safety in the draft
who should get chosen in the first round.
This was a position of need when Bradie James struggled to claim the starting job, and became even more important when Dexter Coakley bolted
Valley Ranch for the St. Louis Rams. If the Cowboys switch -- even partially -- to the 3-4 defense, the team will give serious thought to
choosing an athletic, play-making linebacker on the Draft's first day.
Too many teams covet receivers to think that the top prospect on most
boards -- Michigan's Braylon Edwards -- will be around when the Cowboys
make their first pick, much less their second. But make no mistake, the
Cowboys need a receiver. Keyshawn Johnson was the team's most reliable
receiver, playing through injuries that would have sent many players to
the offseason a little early. Terry Glenn was having a very strong
season, but yet another injury raised more questions about his
durability. Antonio Bryant was such a team player that he got shipped
to Cleveland. Quincy Morgan played in a limited role after arriving
from the Browns. Patrick Crayton and Terrance Copper showed great
improvement at the end of the season, but they still have a lot to
• MIKE WILLIAMS
Rumors are swirling that the former USC receiver, who sat out the 2004
season after trying to enter last year's draft, has become the object
of the Cowboys' desire. The easy parallel is to compare him Johnson,
another big former Trojan who lacks blinding speed. Like Johnson,
Williams will go over the middle and has exceptional hands. If he
shaved another couple of tenths of a second off his 40 time, he could
well be a top-three pick. His rising stock means he likely will be gone
before Dallas picks, but if he's still on the board, there's a very
good chance he'll be wearing silver and blue.
• MARK CLAYTON
The Oklahoma star doesn't have Williams' size, but he's faster and
plays bigger than his physique. He has tremendous hands, runs precise
routes and is a tremendous open-field runner. For a smaller, he's also
a surprisingly effective downfield blocker, and can return kicks. He
should be available at No. 11, and likely will still be there at No. 20. The Cowboys have already shown heavy interest with the former Sooner by conducting a private interview/workout.
• TROY WILLIAMSON
At 6-2, 200 and running a legitimate 4.4, the South Carolina star has
all the tools scouts seek in a receiver. He has serious play-making
ability, averaging nearly 20 yards per reception last year, but he
spent his college career in a run-first offense. Evoking images of
Irving Fryar, Williamson is a receiver who has all the physical tools
to be an annual Pro Bowler, but might well have a slightly longer
learning curve than Williams and Clayton. Williamson is another who
should be there when the Cowboys' second first-round pick comes up.
Dallas has gone through a slew of defensive ends chosen with their
first-round pick in recent years -- Shante Carver, Kavika Pittman, Greg Ellis, Ebenezer Ekuban -- of whom only Ellis lived up to his advanced
billing. Last year's solution produced free agent signee Marcellus Wiley, who didn't play up to his contract last year, so the team
remains interested in acquiring a legitimate pass-rushing defensive end
to complement Ellis.
• MARCUS SPEARS
What the LSU lacks in pure speed (4.8), he makes up for with size. Some
think he could go well before the Cowboys make their first pick
(although speculation that his college coach, Nick Saban, will draft
him for the Dolphins with the second pick is unlikely, because Miami
has way too many other needs.) Dallas might well decide to acquire a
speed defensive end to play opposite Ellis, in which case Spears isn't
a high priority. In addition, his great size (6-4, 300) and enormous
wingspan have some NFL coaches salivating at the possibilities. His
build evokes images of Jacksonville DT John Henderson, leading to
speculation that he might eventually move inside to DT.
• DAVID POLLACK
Pollack is the polar opposite of Spears. At 6-3 and generously listed
at 280, he's not physically overwhelming, but he's the living
definition of the kind of player "whose motor never stops running."
Would be a little high at No. 11, but might be a very good value at No.
• DAN CODY
The former Oklahoma star is lighter than either Spears or Pollack, but
at 6-foot-5 he has the frame to add more bulk. Like Pollack, Cody is a
high-motor guy, and he plays with a real ornery edge. WIth his
"fighter's mentality," Cody never takes a play off.
Dallas is set at left tackle with Flozell Adams, but last year's RT
platoon of Torrin Tucker and Kurt Vollers revealed the team's need for
• ALEX BARRON
Universally regarded as the best offensive tackle in this year's draft,
the 6-6, 315-pound Barron has drawn comparisons to another former
Florida State lineman: Seattle's Walter Jones. Barron has long arms and
very strong hands, and moves extraordinarily well for a man of his
size. He projects as a left tackle, but with Adams locked in on the
left side, Barron could step into the right tackle spot while he learns
the professional game. New Dallas QB Drew Bledsoe -- like the rest of
the human race -- is substantially younger than Vinny Testaverde, but
he's not exactly quick or elusive. For Bledsoe to survive, better
protection is needed. Taking Barron at No. 11 would be a good pick; at
No. 20, he'd be a steal.
Barron is the only tackle considered a lock to go in the first round.
Others who might sneak into the first round include Oklahoma's Jammal Brown (6-5, 310) or Washington's Khalif Barnes (6-5, 310).
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