2014 NFL Draft Picks That Could Be Opening Game Starters for Dallas Cowboys
The Dallas Cowboys’ opening game starting lineup could look quite different than how we’re projecting it to look right now, as the 2014 NFL draft will be a potential source of multiple upgrades for Dallas. The team has 11 picks this year, although realistically we probably won’t see any more than three players become immediate starters, and probably even fewer.
The Cowboys’ first- and second-round picks in particular will be the players likely to become day-one starters. For that reason, this slideshow will focus on players who will likely interest Dallas in that range and, through a combination of their own talent and team needs, would have a really good chance of starting in Big D right out of the gate.
Note that this isn’t meant to list the most talented players or even the ones most likely to come to Dallas, but rather the realistic options who could contribute immediately.
Aaron Donald, DT, Pitt
This one is pretty much a no-brainer. Even after the signing of free agent Henry Melton, the Cowboys still need another defensive tackle to play inside. Pitt’s Aaron Donald is a 3-technique—the same position as Melton—but he was so dominant in college that he has to be on Dallas’ radar.
With 11 sacks and 28.5 tackles for loss in 2013, Donald had greater bulk production in one year than some defensive ends in this class had in their entire college careers. It wasn’t a fluke, either; Donald had 16.5 sacks and 34.5 tackles for loss combined in the two years before.
Donald is the type of talent you grab regardless of fit and figure out how to use him properly later. The undersized defensive tackle has Geno Atkins-esque ability.
Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Offensive tackle is perhaps the most overlooked need for Dallas. It has Tyron Smith on the left side and, within the next year, will lock him up long-term. The future of the right tackle position is uncertain, however, as Doug Free doesn’t seem to be the answer.
The Cowboys have entertained the thought of moving Free to right guard, according to Bryan Broaddus of DallasCowboys.com. He’d take over for Mackenzy Bernadeau with a rookie filling in at right tackle.
In that way, the selection of a player like Michigan’s Taylor Lewan in the first round would really upgrade two positions: Free would be a small upgrade inside and Lewan would be an immediate improvement at right tackle.
Lewan has all the physical traits you’d like to see in an offensive tackle, the most important of them being his length. At 6’7” with nearly 34-inch arms, Lewan is prepared to handle rushers at the next level.
Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
Everyone thinks that stat geeks care solely about measurables, but that’s simply not the case and Missouri’s Kony Ealy is the perfect example of it. At 6’4”, 273 pounds and with 34.25-inch arms, Ealy is designed to be a No. 1 edge-rusher in the NFL from a purely physical standpoint.
Physical measurables matter, and they’re predictive of NFL success, but only because the prospects are basically pre-selected as guys who can play football. We can’t just go out on the street and find someone with long arms to play defensive end, but we can emphasize arm length among NFL prospects because they’re pre-selected as a pool of players who have already proven they can excel on the field.
The problem with Ealy, though, is that if he’s truly a first-round talent, where’s the production? In three years at Missouri, he averaged just over four sacks and nine tackles for loss per year, with his best season coming in at eight sacks and 14 tackles for loss. Remember that Donald, a defensive tackle, had 28.5 tackles for loss in 2013—more than Ealy in his entire career.
It’s one thing if Ealy were dominant at some point in his career and just had one down season, but we never really witnessed consistent production. For that reason, he seems overvalued in the first round.
Nonetheless, if Ealy’s physical tools interest Dallas and it selects him, it would be in the first round, in which case he’d likely start on the outside as a rookie.
Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
Like at right tackle, a wide receiver upgrade would help the Cowboys in two areas, as Terrance Williams could move into the slot and become an immediate improvement over Cole Beasley. As much as Williams showed in his rookie year, he’s not necessarily going to take a ton of pressure off of Dez Bryant in the same way that Alshon Jeffery does in Chicago for Brandon Marshall.
Penn State’s Allen Robinson has that potential. The bad news for the Cowboys is that Robinson just tore up his pro day. According to NFL.com’s Gil Brandt, Robinson ran a sub-4.50 40-yard dash and jumped 42 inches vertically at 212 pounds.
Why is that bad? We already knew Robinson was explosive, but there was a chance that his 4.60 40-yard dash at the combine would scare some teams away. That won’t happen now, meaning Robinson probably won't fall to Dallas in the second round. If he does, he’s an automatic choice.
Demarcus Lawrence, DE, Boise State
One of the reasons drafting a defensive end in the first round isn’t a necessity for Dallas, even though the team is thin at the position, is because there are a few underrated pass-rushers set to get selected in the second- to third-round area. One of them is Boise State’s Demarcus Lawrence.
All of the signs of big-time success are there for Lawrence.
Explosiveness? Check (34.5-inch vertical and 4.31 short shuttle).
Long arms? Check (33.75 inches).
Elite college production? Check (20 sacks and 24 tackles for loss in two seasons).
Lawrence could slip into the third round, although it seems more likely Dallas will need to burn its second-rounder to grab him. Either way, he’s one of the few non-first-round players who has a very high probability to contribute in Dallas right from the start.