IRVING, Texas – The Cowboys’ first-round pick at No. 16 will come significantly after the likes of Sammy Watkins, Khalil Mack and, undoubtedly, Jadeveon Clowney are off the board.
It’d be a luxury to have any of those players, but the cost of moving up from 16 to inside the top five or six means sacrificing too many picks the Cowboys can’t afford to lose later in the draft and perhaps in future drafts.
It would, however, be an option to move up just a few spots for a specific player while sacrificing an early to mid-round pick to do so. But even that shouldn’t be done haphazardly. In this year’s draft, the only player the Cowboys should realistically consider doing this for is defensive tackle Aaron Donald.
Everyone’s been clamoring for Donald to don a Cowboys jersey ever since his dominant performance at the Senior Bowl, which was preceded by an illustrious career at Pittsburgh and followed by a breakout NFL Combine, during which Donald finished in the top five among all defensive linemen in the 40-yard dash (4.68 seconds), the bench press (35 reps) and the three-cone drill (7.11 seconds).
Let me repeat that – a defensive tackle finished in the top five in both strength and speed drills while competing among all of college football’s most athletic defensive tackles and ends.
This is the same player who was unblockable in Mobile, Ala., at the Senior Bowl and who had other defensive linemen looking up to him in a matter of days.
This is the same player who won the Bronko Nagurski Award and the Chuck Bednarik Award for the best defensive college football player, the Outland Trophy for the best interior lineman in the nation and the Rotary Lombardi Award for the best college football lineman or linebacker.
This is the same player who finished his final year at Pittsburgh as the NCAA leader in tackles for loss, earned unanimous All-America honors and was named the ACC Defensive Player of the Year by the league’s coaches and media members.
Donald had 28.5 tackles for loss and 11 sacks his senior year, bringing his total to 66 tackles for loss and 29.5 sacks during his monstrous career at Pittsburgh. This is a player who fits perfectly into defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli’s attacking 4-3 defense, and he’d be joining a team in Dallas in need of a much stouter defensive line presence.
What Marinelli asks of his linemen is to be rush men, and Donald fits that mold perfectly. Forget the question about drafting for need or best available. Barring the unseen or ridiculous, he would be the best available player and would fill a need if he’s still available after the first 10 picks, and he’s the only player who could realistically be available after the top 10 picks worth trading up for.
The only knock on Donald is his height at six feet tall, but that hasn’t stopped Marinelli from taking chances on disruptive defensive linemen in the past. Not to mention, the players remaining at No. 16 may not be in the same league as Donald in terms of making an immediate impact.
Other 4-3 teams will surely be interested prior to the Cowboys’ first-round pick. The Giants at No. 12 and the Bears at No. 14 could both be fits for Donald, so trading up to Tennessee’s pick at No. 11 or to St. Louis’ second pick at No. 13 are viable choices.
There are few trade-up moves that would make sense for the Cowboys given all their needs, but it would make perfect sense if they could move up three spots to land this disrupter without losing much in this year’s draft.