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Alabama’s Chance Warmack ranks #1 amongst interior lineman, an area of desperate need for the Dallas Cowboys.
Last year, Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys shocked everyone in the first round of the NFL draft. The Cowboys gave up their 45th pick swapping first rounders with the St. Louis Rams, moving up to the 6th pick to select standout cornerback Morris Claiborne out of LSU. Prior to the draft, the Cowboys had no contact with Claiborne. No LSU pro day visit, no pre-draft visit, no scheduled visit for Claiborne on Campus, no nothing but an announcement from Commissioner Goodell to tell the world that he was going to be a Dallas Cowboy. Claiborne was stunned himself when he found out he was heading to Dallas. “I never heard from them, not one time, ever,” Claiborne said at the 2012 draft.
The move to get Claiborne was an area of need and trading up to get the best cornerback of the 2012 draft could be the same route Jerry Jones takes in 2013, but at a different position. Now that Jerry Jones has locked up Tony Romo by extending him, he needs to start looking into the area of protection for his quarterback that’s aging. Clearly, Romo is one of the best at escaping pressure, but you have to wonder how long he’ll be able to do it at the level he’s been doing it, considering the fact of the older you get, the slower you get. According to Stats & Info, 8 of Romo’s 19-interception’s last season came from being under pressure, the most in the league. If that doesn’t ring a bell in Jerry’s head, then I don’t know what will?
Pass protection isn’t the only concern for the Cowboys offensive line. Run-blocking didn’t help the running game that was absolutely putrid in 2012, averaging 2.1-yards per carry after first contact, 5th lowest in the league. The interior part of the Cowboys offensive line needs a major face-lift. Blitzes up the middle from Washington’s defense proved to be the decisive ending to Dallas’ playoff hopes in the NFC East title game. Ok, maybe Tony Romo should’ve taken the sack, but he was hurried that forced him to thread the needle and Dallas paid the price of another sad ending to a season. Bad offensive lines create opportunities for opposing defenses period. You can’t have major weaknesses upfront for defenses to be able to break down your protection schemes.
One of the more notable players that standout as a problem on the offensive line is right tackle Doug Free. On the 1st of June, the Cowboys would free up $7 million if they release him. Jerry Jones signed Free to a 4-year $32 million contract after he displayed one good season. Since Free got paid, his play has taken a major step downward. Adding guards Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau via free agency a year ago didn’t help the cause on the interior part of the line, it made it worse. Offensive line is the clear-cut need for the Cowboys heading into the 2013 draft. With that being said, it’s time for me to take an inside look at who the Cowboys should be looking at to improve the offensive line, ranking them from top to bottom and other areas of need.
1 – Chance Warmack – guard, Alabama – This would be the best pick Jerry Jones could pull off. But Jerry will need to dig deep down into his bag of tricks to get him. Warmack is an absolute power-house that’ll have an immediate impact on the Cowboys interior line and running game. Most likely, Jerry will have to trade up to get him, something in the works he did last year to get Morris Claiborne. He’ll have to sacrifice something good to get him period.
2 – Jonathan Cooper – guard, North Carolina – Another top guard Jerry may need to wheel and deal to get. Cooper is versatile with not only the ability to help in the running game, but pass-protection as well. Hopefully, he’ll be sitting around the 14th pick, a much better spot for Jerry Jones to move up to get him.
3 – Lane Johnson – tackle, Oklahoma – With Texas A&M’s Luke Joekel and Central Michigan’s top rated tackle Eric Fisher likely to go in the top ten, Johnson could possibly fall and if someway, somehow, he’s sitting past the top 10 with the team not being able to grab a top guard, Johnson could be someone the Cowboys may try to trade up and get that could solidify the opposite side of Tyron Smith at tackle. But the interior part of the line is far more important for them to look at. So don’t bet on this to happen.
4 – D.J. Fluker – tackle, Alabama – Fluker will more likely be available at 18 without the need to trade up. He’s a mauler that could help the running game and fits the need of having a man-on-man blocker in pass-protection.
5 – Justin Pugh – guard/tackle, Syracuse/Kyle Long – guard, Oregon – Pugh and Long could be available in the 2nd round and the Cowboy also have needs on the defensive line in new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin’s scheme. Say the first four I mentioned above are gone by the 18th pick, defensive line should be the alternative, not safety. Defensive tackles, Sylvester Williams, North Carolina and Sheldon Richardson, Missouri, both players that could replace Jay Ratliff at the position long-term will be a better route to take instead of safety.
Why not Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro at 18? They can get one in the 2nd and 3rd round. The team has youngsters Barry Church and Matt Johnson that have potential to be a good tandem, but injuries are a concern. LSU safety Eric Reid could be available in the 2nd round along with USC safety T.J. McDonald. McDonald would be a good pick considering he’s spent the last few seasons at USC playing with Monte Kiffin’s Tampa Cover 2 scheme. The Cowboys have already made a move at safety this offseason by signing veteran safety Will Allen to add depth at the position, but drafting a potential future star isn’t something they should ignore.
What about running back? They’ll need to find a backup or someone that can potentially battle with the injured prone DeMarco Murray now that Felix Jones is out of the picture. Murray will clearly be the starter heading into the 2013 season and is still a big part of the plan, but you have to take consideration of his health. And we don’t live in a league that uses only one running back. You need someone that can spell the starter as a change-of-pace player at the position. Rumor has it that the Cowboys may make a stunning pick at 18 and draft top running back Eddie Lacy, Alabama. I say why? You can get a running back in the 3rd or 4th round. Besides, running backs aren’t expected to get picked until the 2nd round this year. South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore could fall into the 3rd or 4th round and Dallas may take a chance on him even with his health concerns of battling back from injury.
You have a few other running backs that could fall deep into the later rounds. Mainly, Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys need to focus on building from the inside come the 25th of April. Offensive and defensive line first. Then they could look at the other areas of need. Jerry, do what’s most important, get protection for your quarterback and then we just might see playoff appearances and possibly a trip to the super bowl?