Eatman: Five College Pro Days Cowboys Can’t Miss
DallasCowboys.com Staff Writer
IRVING, Texas - It had been 10 years since I made an appearance at either the Scouting Combine in Indianapolis or the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala.
For some reason, I attended both in 2001. I say that because the Cowboys had no first-round pick and didn’t take anyone until the 53rd overall selection when they grabbed Quincy Carter.
This year’s trips made more sense with the Cowboys holding the No. 9 overall pick. And while only Jason Garrett and Jerry Jones conducted interviews at either place, the strong contingent of scouts and coaches at both events makes it clear the team is serious about getting these early picks right. Remember, the Cowboys not only have No. 9, but the 40th selection as well.
So the next step now is the college Pro Days, where most schools hold individual workouts for all of their potential draft prospects. While all of the top players will have a Pro Day and the Cowboys should have a strong presence at most, if not all of them, there are some that might be more vital than others.
So let’s take a look at my five college Pro Days that seem to be the most important for the Cowboys to attend:
5. Colorado – The Buffaloes didn’t have the best of seasons last year, but do have a few players that could be first- and second-round picks. For starters, offensive tackle Nate Solder is one of the best at his position. He’s got ideal size for a tackle at 6-8, 315. He could still put on some weight and it wouldn’t be an issue because of his height. Solder is expected to be a first-round pick and could be a good fit at right tackle.
The Buffaloes have a couple of cornerbacks that could be interesting, including Jimmy Smith – a late-first round projection. Smith has perfect size for a cornerback at 6-2, 210. He’s in the next tier behind Patrick Peterson and Prince Amukamara, but not far behind.
Jalil Brown (6-1, 200) is another cornerback with good size. Makes you wonder how anyone threw the ball on Colorado last year.
While I still don’t think cornerback is a primary need in the first round – or the No. 9 pick – I’m with the mindset of always needing good, young cornerbacks.
4. Baylor – Like Colorado, not a team that traditionally produces top-notch players, but they did have the No. 2 overall pick in 2009 in Jason Smith. And this year, Baylor not only has two who could go in the top 40, but also players that fit the Cowboys’ needs.
Defensive tackle Phil Taylor is a menacing figure in the middle. At 6-3, 335 pounds, with some athletic ability mixed in as well, Taylor is an ideal 3-4 nose tackle. Obviously, the Cowboys have Jay Ratliff, but he’s not the same build as Taylor, who could probably play in either scheme. Just like cornerbacks, you can never have too many athletic defensive linemen with that kind of size.
Then there’s guard/tackle and maybe even center prospect Danny Watkins. You talk about versatility, something all offensive line coaches covet, Watkins seems to have it. He was an All-Big 12 selection at left tackle last year, and now he’s being projected to play guard, the position he manned rather nicely at the Senior Bowl. The Cowboys had some coaches and scouts on hand at Baylor’s workout last week and you can tell by the picture up there they were looking at him as a possible center. Don’t rule out Watkins somewhere in the second round.
3. UCLA – The Bruins have two defensive players who could fit the mold as catalytic playmakers.
One of them is a safety, as Rahim Moore might be the best at his position in this draft. While it’s not considered to be a strong class for safeties, Moore is the best of the bunch. At 6-1, 196, he actually played well closer to the line of scrimmage last year, making tackles for losses, and he has a knack for blitzing. But to make it a good fit for the Cowboys, or most NFL teams, Moore is going to have to prove he can cover. If he does that, he might sneak himself into the later stages of the first round.
Their best defensive player is OLB/DE Akeem Ayers, who is slated to go in the middle of the first round. Yes, DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer will be around, and there are some young unproven players behind them in Victor Butler and Brandon Williams. But don’t forget that Rob Ryan told us the biggest thing about his 3-4 defense is pressure players on the outside, so don’t expect him to overlook that position.
If the Cowboys were to possibly trade down in the first round to stockpile some picks, Ayers is the type of player who could be sitting there with a high grade.
2. Auburn – And this is where many in the Cowboys’ organization spent their Tuesday. While all eyes had to be fixed on Cam Newton, defensive tackle Nick Fairley would likely be the best option for the Cowboys. Now some might suggest that Fairley really doesn’t fit the 3-4 scheme. He does seem more of a 4-3 gap player, but with that kind of size, athleticism and overall talent, I would imagine Ryan knows how to tweak his defense around great players. There was a time when it appeared Fairley would go No. 1, so if he falls down to Dallas, he’d be the type of player the Cowboys could jump on. Remember this, Warren Sapp could always play, but he dropped in the first round for other reasons. And Fairley has the makings to be that type of player.
As for Newton, you have to watch. You have to do all of your homework, although it is sounding like he’ll go way higher than the Cowboys’ No. 9 pick. And even if he was there, it doesn’t appear that the Cowboys would be interested in a quarterback when Jones said the position was in “outstanding shape” just two weeks ago.
1. Alabama – While their in-state rivals might have two of the more recognized players, the Crimson Tide will have three players potentially drafted in the top 15 or 20 picks. And if Fairley isn’t on the board, that means there is a good chance Alabama DT Marcell Dareus will be there. Dareus is also a run-stopping, energy-boosting tackle that takes up space at 6-3, 306. But he might be one of the more athletic defensive linemen out there.
Then there’s WR Julio Jones, who to me seems like a freak in cleats. I do think Georgia’s A.J. Green is even better, but not by much. It surprises me that Jones isn’t considered even higher than the Top 15 or so. I think he’s going to be an outstanding receiver. As far the Cowboys are concerned, I think they might hope he keeps performing well and darts up ahead of them, which of course would slide other players down the list. With Dez Bryant and Miles Austin in the fold, and possibly Roy Williams, too, I don’t know if you can justify another wide receiver, unless you want to be called the Lions (and no one wants that).
And let’s not forget the 2009 Heisman Trophy winner in running back Mark Ingram. No, I don’t think the Cowboys should take this guy at No. 9, or really any running back in the first round. But if you have to make sure you’ve done every bit of research on him because running back could be a need on this team. They’ve got some options, but it’s not like anyone has rushed for 1,000 yards in a while around here. If the Cowboys really think he’s a special player, than you’d have to consider it, but I don’t think he’s worthy of No. 9 and won’t fall to No. 40
So there’re my five Pro Days that are really important to this year’s draft. That’s not to say the Cowboys will visit only five. They should try to see all of them.
But in terms of getting bang-for-your-buck, those are the spots where there are more than just one primary player who could help this team early in the draft.