Five picks to put Dallas Cowboys over the edge in 2014
The Dallas Cowboys have it all to prove this off-season, and free agency appears to have left more questions than it answered.
One would naturally assume that with a defense ranked dead last in the league (415.3-yards-per-game) the emphasis come draft time would centre on surgical repair to a unit that became a running joke throughout the NFL in 2014.
Washington, New York, and Philadelphia all made serious noise on both sides of the ball in free agency, while there are salary-cap restraints, and the departure of the injury-prone but talented Miles Austin to deal with.
Veteran free agent receivers in the form of Nate Burleson and Jason Avant opted to sign for the Cleveland Browns and Carolina Panthers respectively, in addition to Sidney Rice opting to either stay in Seattle or sign with the Saints, the Cowboys would be equally advised to strongly consider looking at drafting a high-impact dynamic play-maker to assume the number three slot; one that would seriously enhance the capacity to stretch any defense.
The Cowboys have one draft pick in each of the first five rounds, including the 16th overall pick in the first round, giving them plenty of options to bolster depth on both sides of the ball, options that may well increase still further in the wake of the league awarding three compensatory picks (although it must be noted that these picks cannot be traded) - all in the seventh round (a sixth round pick is off the table following a trade with the Chiefs for defensive end Edgar Jones) - off the back of free-agent losses in the form of Kenyon Coleman, Mike Jenkins, Victor Butler, and John Phillips.
When factoring in all of the aforementioned, I wanted to take a close look at five receiving talents in the draft that could give Dallas the edge, and finally end that unwanted sequences of 8-8 finishes in 2014-15.
Kelvin Benjamin, Florida State
Benjamin may answer the question once and for all of how much emphasis NFL teams put on having size at wide receiver. The ex-Seminole boasts a colossal 6-ft-5, 240 (about 10 pounds heavier than Evans) pound frame.
He plays a tight end-style game (another hybrid tight-end in the Jimmy Graham mould perhaps?) to match that bulk, too, doing some of his best work in the red zone - he scored 10 touchdowns last season - and up the seam.
That being said, Benjamin is far from a finished product, and with questions concerning work ethic in the wake of a missed work out due to being “too tired.” Drafting Benjamin would be a roll of the dice, but may well be worth the gamble given his outstanding physical traits.
Projected: Late 1st round
Brandin Cooks, Oregon State
Pretty much the complete antithesis of Benjamin, Cooks stands barely 5-10 and weighs less than 190 pounds, but must surely represent a better option in the number three slot than Cole Beasley.
He doesn’t possess the raw physical power run over more defenders of a more physical nature, but he will make just about every other catch, and then threaten to turn those plays into home runs. Cooks ran an eye-watering 4.33 40 at the combine, solidifying himself as a valuable after-the-catch weapon; especially on screens and when operating out of the slot.
Cooks, who chalked up an impressive 1,730-yards and sixteen scores from 128 receptions in 2013-14 reckons himself to be an even more explosive variant of the man many scouts compare him too - DeSean Jackson. "Maybe (Eagles head coach) Chip Kelly is looking to take another speedy receiver in that first round, and that could be me. Who knows? And if that's the case, a lot of people will wonder 'Can he do it like DeSean Jackson?' In my opinion, I can do it like him and do it better."
We shall see…
Projected: 1st round
Tevin Reese, Baylor
Reese possesses tremendous straight line acceleration and is always a threat to get behind the defense if the cornerback takes a misstep and there's no help over the top.
Reese also possesses great positional sense in tracking the ball over the shoulder, not to mention an impressive leaping ability which provides adequate compensation for lack of height help make up for his lack of height in certain situations.
Reese ranks as the third most productive receiver in Bears history in terms of receiving yards and catches with a grand total of 3,102-yards from 187 receptions, scoring 24 touchdowns in the process.
Despite the evident upsides, there are of course limitations, as though not necessarily an abject route runner, Reese is quite restricted by the technique he showed in college. He also appears overly reliant on speed out of the trap, seldom attempts double moves,
Projected: 5th round
Marqise Lee, USC
Had Lee been eligible to enter the 2013 draft, the common consensus would suggest Lee may well have been first receiver off the board, ahead of Tavon Austin, DeAndre Hopkins and Cordarrelle Patterson, drafted by the Rams, Vikings, and Texans respectively.
A year later, and he’s become very much the forgotten man, especially with all the eulogy surrounding the likes of Mike Evans and Sammy Watkins above Lee. Lee’s dazzling 118-catch 2012 season and the skills he has that helped produce it - have slipped under the radar.
However, though it’s often said that silence is deafening, do not mistake this as a sign of disinterest as far as University of Southern California, as the athletic Lee, a savvy receiver, is now fully healed again after struggling en route to 57 receptions in 2013. He could be dropped into a starting line-up from Day 1 and challenge for Rookie of the Year honours. When all is said and done, the spotlight will find its way back here.
Projected: 1st round
Sammy Watkins, Clemson
The case for Watkins is growing by the day. At 6-ft-1, 211 pounds and with 4.4 speed, Watkins represents the perfect amalgam of size and speed to match in an already NFL-ready game, and looks more capable of stepping in as a No. 1 receiver, even as a rookie, or pairing with an established option to form a dominant unit.
“To be that dominant receiver I need to have that total package,” said Watkins whilst addressing scouts and coaches during the combine. “Everyone knows all wide receivers can catch balls and score, but for me I’m focusing on the little things: blocking, getting off the press and being a physical, dominant receiver.”
Watkins averaged more than 1,100-yards receiving during his three seasons at Clemson, finding the end-zone 27 times. The Tigers offense took full advantage of Watkins’ ability to catch and go, though he and quarterback Tajh Boyd also demonstrated a decent understanding when it came to connecting on deep balls.
Watkins’ next offense may be more structured, requiring greater improvement in route-running, but that’s just about the only thing standing between him and a stellar pro career.
Projected: Top 10