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Cowboys' Late First Round Pick Prompts Debate About Need Vs. Best Available

INDIANAPOLIS – It's much harder to prognosticate, and therefore much harder to generate buzz around the No. 27 pick – not that the Cowboys are complaining.

They pick five spots from the end of the draft in 2015 as a result of their wildly successful trip to the second round of the playoffs. As much fun as it can be to speculate on a high draft pick, it typically means the team making that pick isn't a good one.

Not accounting for draft-day trades, this is as late a first-round pick as the Cowboys have held since 2008, when they were originally slotted for the 28th overall pick after a 13-3 season.

It's not overly exciting for draft prognostication, because the truly high-profile picks at the Cowboys' positions of need – Leonard Williams, Randy Gregory, Shane Ray, Dante Fowler, for instance – look to be long gone by the tail end of the draft.

That makes the concept of drafting for need a bit tricky, as Cowboys coach Jason Garrett pointed out on Wednesday.

"I think one of the best thing we have done over the last few years is we have taken the best players," Garrett said. "Last year was a good example. You can make an argument that we really needed to address the defense in the first round last year. And some of the players we targeted were gone."

He isn't wrong. Within just a handful of picks of the Cowboys' No. 16 spot last spring, Garrett saw highly-coveted defenders like Aaron Donald, Anthony Barr and Ryan Shazier go off the board. The guy the

Cowboys selected wasn't exactly a big need, though he turned out to be an All-Pro.

"We had a chance to draft Zack Martin. His impact was significant on our team," Garrett said. "So we have to have discipline to do that. We are still early on in the process, putting the board together. Once we get there we have to make the best decision for our team."

At No. 27, there's no guarantee of a "sure thing" at a position of need. But that might actually be a good thing, given the names on hand at the NFL Combine. Specifically in terms of defensive linemen, there might not be a can't-miss pass rusher within the Cowboys' range this year, but there won't be a shortage of options.

Familiarize yourself with the wide spectrum of names – Nate Orchard, Bud Dupree, Eli Harold, Preston Smith. There's a veritable who's-who of pass rushers that are universally regarded as good players, though without as much agreement about where they should be selected – or what position they should be playing.

All of the guys listed above, not to mention several others, fall into the all-too-familiar conversation about "tweeners." As is often the case, so many pass rushers entering the NFL draft in recent years could be molded into either a 4-3 defensive end or a 3-4 rushing linebacker – depending entirely on the team taking the chance. "I've had my hand on the ground for the last 10 years, so I think that's probably where I'm most comfortable," Orchard said on Friday. "But a transition to outside linebacker wouldn't be a problem just because I've been dropping into coverage a lot. It's something I'm used to."
It almost seems like anything is on the table in that regard. Arkansas defensive end Trey Flowers, who is general regarded as about a third-round pick, said he'd feel comfortable bulking up into a larger 4-3 end, or slimming down into a 3-4 scheme. "A couple of teams that play 3-4 was talking to me," he said. "I said I'm open to standing up, 3-4 outside linebacker or 4-3 end."

Is this worth investing a top 30 pick? It's hard to say. As usual, the option of trading the pick is always there – as the Cowboys have often proven. Barring something unforeseen, though, it's a reasonable guess they could once again be taking the best player available – even it's at a puzzling position.

There's no telling what the Cowboys' end game is – especially since their draft board isn't finalized, as Garrett pointed out himself. Odds are it won't be the same high-profile kind of pick they've made in recent years.

Given the options available to them, however, there should be no shortage of interesting routes to take.


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