Offseason | 2021

Spagnola: How About Drafting Best Defensive Dude

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FRISCO, Texas – This is not going to be a referendum on cornerbacks as we motor closer and closer to the draft.

And nothing against cornerbacks. And no problem with the Cowboys selecting one at No. 10 come April 29. Wouldn't be mad at 'em.

But thought we should expand our thinking since like eight of 10 mock drafts have the Cowboys selecting a corner, mostly pinpointing Alabama's Patrick Surtain II. And again, no problem with that.

Yet, what about at No. 10 taking the very best defensive player in this draft?

And from the looks of things, the Cowboys just might have their pick of that litter, with the possibility of five quarterbacks, two wide receivers, maybe two offensive linemen and a tight end projected to go over the first nine picks as I've previously pointed out.

Like, come on, take an offensive tackle with a first-round pick? Don't you think that's an embarrassment of riches at one spot?

Take the tight end? Not exactly the reason they went 6-10 last year.

And at least at cornerback, if the Cowboys had to play Sunday, they could trot out Anthony Brown, Jourdan Lewis and Trevon Diggs as their top three guys. Now after that, well, OK, a corner is needed, but looking at one top-100 board, found 11 cornerbacks ranked among the top 61 players, with the fifth ranked corner, Asante Samuel Jr., coming in at 42.

The Cowboys have the 44th pick in the second round. So there is a very good chance, if this is a fair barometer, that they could grab something other than a corner in the first round but still land a top five or six cornerback in the second. After all, the Cowboys did find Alabama corner Trevon Diggs last year in the second round, the 51st selection, and he was pretty darn good during his rookie season and expect him to be even better in his second year.

The point being, what if the very best defensive player in this draft happens to be a linebacker? Sure not turning up my nose on one.

Think about it. With Sean Lee, the unrestricted free agent and 11-year veteran, about to turn 35 this summer, an unknown at this point is does he want to re-sign or do the Cowboys want to re-sign him? Given that, the linebacker position is Nilla Wafer thin. There is Leighton Vander Esch entering his fourth season, with the Cowboys having to decide by May 3 if they want to pick up next year's fifth-year option. There is fifth-year linebacker Jaylon Smith, who was just signed to a five-year extension in 2019, but comes with some limited ability, even though he was the team's leading tackler the past two seasons.

And then there is …

What?

OK, they have agreed to terms with free-agent Keanu Neal, but on just the one-year deal he is expected to soon sign, a guy who can play some weakside linebacker in maybe changeup defenses. But again, after that?

See what I mean?

And there just so happens to be those thinking that the absolute best defensive player in this draft is not a corner, not a defensive end, not a tackle or safety but …

Yep, a linebacker.

That being Micah Parsons of Penn State.

This guy is an absolute baller. Size, speed and instincts the likes of Lee. Appears to play with an edge, something this defense sorely needs more of.

Don't just take my word for it on Parsons. Here is what former NFL general manager Charley Casserly has to say about the 6-3, 246-pound versatile backer who ran a 4.39 at Penn State's Pro Day:

"No. 1 thing, he finds the football. Instincts just jump off the tape." In fact, in Casserly's mock draft, he had Parsons going to the Lions at No. 7, with this analysis: "The Lions are in desperate need of talent throughout the roster. They take the best defensive player in the draft here – if they don't trade back."

And as for Cowboys former head personnel guy Gil Brandt, he says of Parsons: "Currently in line to be the first linebacker drafted. Parsons should play many years at a high level."

Intriguing, no?

Not only all that, but he is versatile. Could play middle. Could play weak. Likely a three-down guy. Which means take this guy and play Vander Esch where you want. Smith could play the strongside, and become a move-around pass rusher. Gotta love chess pieces.

Now, if not Parsons, then there is this guy: Notre Dame linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, considered a bona-fide top-15 pick at 6-1, 221, but easily could play at 230. Talk about a bundle of dynamite.

Listen to what former NFL head coach Jim Mora Jr. had to say about the guy he calls a Swiss Army Knife: "A dynamic defensive player in this draft as there is. What I see is a superstar in today's NFL.

"The teams that pass on him will regret it."

Then there is this guy, considered by many the third-best linebacker in the draft: Zaven Collins of Tulsa, a three-year starter and this past season's winner of the Bronko Nagurski Award that goes to the top defensive collegiate defensive player and the Chuck Bednarik Award that goes to the best linebacker.

Consider this: Collins is 6-5, 259, and at this size runs a 4.65 in the 40. To me, sounds like a Rolando McClain starter kit. Now, this is a guy likely still available the second half of that first round. Again, on that one top-100 list, six linebackers are listed among the top 77. Not quite as plentiful as those corners.

But with these three players, don't minimize the linebacker position as not as important as a defensive end or corner or defensive tackle. These guys seem to be more than just a linebacker. They are special players, ones who don't come around every year. They are versatile, and the fact they all can run, especially Parsons and Owusu-Koramoah, sets them apart.

They just appear to be rare finds, and if not for so many quarterback-needy teams, either could possibly be a top-5 pick. Think maybe Darius Leonard.

Again, this is nothing against taking a corner at No. 10. Just saying, there is a very good possibility the Cowboys will have the opportunity to select the first defensive player in the draft, that is if someone like Detroit or Denver doesn't take a Parsons or Surtain ahead of them.

But if both are there at No. 10, and the Cowboys decide to go defense, then it seems they can't go wrong selecting either guy. Heck, at some point over that three-day draft, they'll need at least one of each, corner and linebacker.

My point being, nothing against corners, but don't discount snagging a linebacker with that first pick.

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