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Projecting Dallas Cowboys' Starting Lineup Before the 2014 NFL Draft

Jonathan BalesAnalyst IMay 1, 2014

Projecting Dallas Cowboys' Starting Lineup Before the 2014 NFL Draft

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Projecting the Dallas Cowboys starting lineup as it stands right now is more or less a straightforward task if we aren’t considering their path in the 2014 NFL Draft. Once we throw rookies into the mix, however, projecting starters naturally turns into a sort of mock draft. To accurately predict the starting lineup, we need to project which direction the team will head in the draft.

    That’s easier said than done, of course, as predicting player choices is next to impossible. We should have some idea of the positions the Cowboys want to target most, though—defensive end, defensive tackle, safety, offensive tackle, etc.—so the goal here is not only to project rookies to the team, but mainly to see which spots are most open to competition and could see a fresh face in 2014.

    At the end of each slide in this slideshow, you’ll find extra analysis detailing which player currently listed as a starter is the most likely to be the odd man out if things unfold a little differently.

Skill Positions

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    Tim Sharp/Associated Press
    • QB Tony Romo
    • RB DeMarco Murray
    • TE Jason Witten
    • TE Gavin Escobar
    • WR Dez Bryant
    • WR Terrance Williams
    • WR Davante Adams **ROOKIE**

     

    Obviously the Cowboys can’t start a running back, three receivers and two tight ends at once, but these are all of the players who should provide meaningful offensive contributions this year.

    Most of the Cowboys’ skill-position players are set in stone; Romo, Murray, Witten and Bryant are all sure things. If the Cowboys are really looking to start the best players, they should leave the tight end position open to competition; Escobar (and even James Hanna) should be getting more playing time.

    The position that’s really up in the air is the No. 2/3 receiver spot. Currently, Williams and Cole Beasley are slotted in as the Cowboys’ second and third options. However, there’s a decent chance the ‘Boys upgrade the position as early as the second round this year. If that happens, we’d almost certainly see Beasley pushed down the depth chart.

    The question is who will be available for Dallas in the second round. Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews and Penn State’s Allen Robinson are two favorites of mine, but they’ve both risen up boards after their impressive combine and pro day showings, respectfully.

    Fresno State's Davante Adams hasn’t gotten as much hype, but he’s a 6’1”, 212-pound receiver with explosiveness (39.5-inch vertical) and a history of production; he had 233 catches, 3,031 yards and 38 touchdowns in only two college seasons.

     

    Who Could Be Out: Terrance Williams

    If the Cowboys do indeed draft a player like Adams, it will be interesting to see what happens with Williams; he’d probably at least need to compete to retain the No. 2 job.

Offensive Line

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    Tim Sharp/Associated Press
    • LT Tyron Smith
    • LG Ronald Leary
    • C Travis Frederick
    • RG Mackenzy Bernadeau
    • RT Doug Free

     

    The offensive line is a unique situation because, although we could legitimately see two new starters here in 2014, we could also see no changes at all. I think there’s a really good chance that the Cowboys miss out on both Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald and UCLA defensive end Anthony Barr and end up taking Notre Dame offensive tackle Zack Martin in the first round.

    If that happens, he could compete with Free at right tackle. Another less-discussed possibility is Martin taking over for Bernadeau at right guard until the Cowboys are ready to unload Free, then moving Martin to right tackle.

    However, I also think there’s an even better chance that the Cowboys will trade down if they can’t land Donald or Barr, which is what’s projected here. In that case, there would be no change at right tackle. We could also see some mid-round guards like Baylor’s Cyril Richardson or Stanford’s David Yankey take over for Bernadeau.

     

    Who Could Be Out: Doug Free

    As mentioned, a player like Martin (or Michigan’s Taylor Lewan) could very well be on Dallas' radar in the first round. Actually, I’d go as far as to call one of them the most likely current option at No. 16 (there’s just a higher probability that Dallas moves down in the first).

Defensive Line

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    Lenny Ignelzi/Associated Press
    • DE Anthony Spencer/Demarcus Lawrence **ROOKIE**
    • DE George Selvie
    • DT Henry Melton
    • DT Dominique Easley **ROOKIE**

     

    Even after signing Melton and re-signing Spencer, the Cowboys have the most to gain along the defensive line. They don’t really have a guy they can count on long-term at either position, so both are in play right out of the gate.

    Again, chances are the Cowboys will need to trade up if they want Donald or Barr, which I don’t see them doing. If they trade down, Boise State defensive end Demarcus Lawrence is very much in play as early as the end of the first round.

    Moving down in the first round would allow the Cowboys to acquire Lawrence, Davante Adams and a player like Florida defensive tackle Dominique Easley, all in the first two rounds.

     

    Who Could Be Out: Anthony Spencer

    Spencer should be a starter if he’s healthy, but who really knows what’s up with his knee? There’s a reason he wasn’t signed quickly on the open market.

Linebackers

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press
    • MLB Sean Lee
    • OLB Bruce Carter
    • OLB DeVonte Holloman

     

    The only way I can see Dallas drafting a linebacker early is if they consider Barr to be a hybrid player who can play outside linebacker on first and second down and then move to defensive end in passing situations. Otherwise, no changes here.

     

    Who Could Be Out: DeVonte Holloman

    Even if the Cowboys don’t draft a rookie linebacker, Holloman isn’t guaranteed the starting gig. The Cowboys could easily play Kyle Wilber “out of position” here on run downs.

Secondary

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press
    • CB Brandon Carr
    • CB Orlando Scandrick
    • CB Morris Claiborne
    • S Barry Church
    • S Matt Johnson

     

    Quietly, the Cowboys have a problem at cornerback. Yes, things should get better if they can get to the passer more frequently, but Carr, Scandrick and Claiborne are all undersized cornerbacks who can get outmuscled. There’s a good chance that the Cowboys address the position at some point because B.W. Webb isn’t the answer. Still, there’s about a 0.001 percent probability of anyone outside of the main trio starting, barring an injury.

    Barry Church is entrenched as the starting strong safety, but no one really knows who will start at free safety. Will it be J.J. Wilcox? Jeff Heath? A rookie like Louisville’s Calvin Pryor?

    My money is on Matt Johnson, who is arguably the most athletic of the bunch. He needs to stay on the field, clearly, but the ability is there.

     

    Who Could Be Out: Matt Johnson

    If the Cowboys don’t feel comfortable riding their young guns at free safety, they should have their choice of Pryor or Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. I don’t think a first-round free safety is as much of an option as some believe, though.

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