As the 2011 Scouting Combine comes to a close in Indy, prospects are getting rearranged and reshuffled on countless draft boards, mock drafts are getting retooled, value charts and “big boards” are getting redone. It’s getting to be that time of year when we start the wild speculation about the 2011 NFL draft and start coming up with the names that we could see on the backs of those famous white Cowboys jerseys.
Since defensive line is undoubtedly the deepest position in the 2011 draft, and maybe even the best defensive line class we’ve seen in several decades, it is only fitting to start with them. Defensive line is also very much a need in Dallas this year and what a great year it is to be in the market for a stud on the defensive line. So with that, let’s take a look:
Nick Fairley – Defensive Tackle, Auburn
Nick Fairley is without a doubt the most impressive prospect of this very talented bunch. Anyone who watched SEC football in 2010 saw Fairley completely take over games against elite competition all season. At 6’4″ and 291 pounds, he is a player that can be plugged in at any position on the defensive line, in any defensive scheme, for the next ten years. In Dallas’ case, Fairley would probably project as a 3-4 defensive end. He ran a 4.87 40-yard dash at the combine, which is amazingly fast for a man his size. With 11.5 sacks in 2010 and a staggering 24 tackles for loss, Fairley has the skill to get into the backfield and disrupt plays and get to the quarterback. He has a non-stop motor and a nasty streak that I personally have not seen since Warren Sapp was in his prime in Tampa Bay. You can bet your bottom dollar that this guy is at the top of the wishlist in Jerry’s war room come draft day, though he is almost certain to be gone by pick #9.
Marcell Dareus – Defensive Tackle, Alabama
Another SEC player who turned heads in 2010 was Marcell Dareus. Though he didn’t have the eye-popping numbers that Nick Fairley did, he still produced solidly for the Crimson Tide. In the Capital One Bowl against Michigan State, Dareus was virtually unblockable the entire game. His skills are very similar to Fairley’s and the two have been compared non-stop for months. Though Dareus is a tad shorter (6’3″), and a bit heavier (319) than Fairley, I think he still projects nicely to the 3-4 defensive end spot. Though heavier than Fairley, Dareus still ran a moderately fast 40-yard dash at 4.93. I don’t know that Dareus’ pass-rushing skills are as refined as Fairley’s, but his skill set is definitely better than what the Cowboys got out of Igor Olshansky last year. I’ve heard several reports that Dareus reminds some people of Marcus Spears when he came out of LSU. While that is somewhat worrisome, I think Dareus showed at the combine that he is worthy of a top ten pick. Unlike Fairley, I think Dareus could be on the board when Dallas goes on the clock and if that’s the case, he may just become a Cowboy.
Cameron Jordan – Defensive End, Cal
Not many people get to watch the Pac-10 as much as the SEC during football season, and for that reason, Cam Jordan may be the best kept secret in the entire draft. Like Dareus, Jordan produced solid numbers all season. He is another guy that can easily be plugged in at a 3-4 defensive end and contribute immediately. Since he played in a 3-4 scheme at Cal, he may have a leg up on guys who have not worked in a traditional 3-4 previously. Jordan is a freakish athlete at 6’4″, 287 pounds, and ran an impressive 4.78 40-yard dash at the combine. He also has NFL bloodlines as his father Steve was a 6-time Pro Bowl tight end for the Minnesota Vikings. While I think Jordan may be a reach at #9, I could see him being a real possibility for the Cowboys if they decide to trade back to the middle of the first round.
Cameron Heyward – Defensive End, Ohio State
Heyward is a guy who has had the “underachiever” and “lazy” tags attached to his name throughout his college career, but anyone who watched him in the Sugar Bowl knows what kind of potential he has. Against the #8 Arkansas Razorbacks and potential first day offensive tackle prospect Demarcus Love, Heyward was completely dominant and had his name called throughout the entire game. He has a non-stop motor and like Cameron Jordan, has the skills to be a dominating force in the NFL. He has ideal 3-4 defensive end size at 6’5″, 294. He didn’t run the 40 at the combine, but look for him to post a time similar to Nick Fairley’s during Ohio State’s pro day. He is a relentless competitor when motivated and also has NFL bloodlines as the son of “Ironhead” Heyward. I can only see Heyward getting picked by Dallas if they trade down to the late first round, or if he is still available in the early second round by some amazing stroke of luck.
J.J. Watt – Defensive End, Wisconsin
J.J. Watt is another guy who’s stock has been soaring since the Rose Bowl against TCU. Like Dareus, Fairley, and Heyward, he looked simply unstoppable against a very talented Horned Frogs offense. Watt is extremely athletic as a converted tight end and also has the impressive measurables at almost 6’6″ and 290 pounds. He is another 3-4 defensive end that ran the 40-yard dash stunningly fast at 4.84 seconds. He posted tremendous stats for the Badgers last year with seven sacks and 21 tackles for loss, and both numbers are a tribute to his pass-rushing skills and quickness. He is a instinctive player with great intangibles who would be a fantastic fit in Dallas. Like Jordan, I can only see Dallas drafting Watt if they trade back into the middle of the first round, but I certainly don’t expect him to be available in the second round.
De’Quan Bowers – Defensive End, Clemson
Bowers had a superb year for the Clemson Tigers with 25 tackles for loss and 15.5 sacks. Unfortunately he projects to be a defensive end in the 4-3 and is probably too small to be a defensive end in the 3-4. Will likely be gone in the first five picks.
Robert Quinn – Defensive End, North Carolina
Like Bowers, Quinn is a smaller defensive end at only 6’4″, 265 and projects better as a 4-3 defensive end or possibly a 3-4 outside linebacker. Didn’t play in 2010 and has a bust factor about him. Nevertheless, he is still a top 15 pick.
Stephen Paea – Defensive Tackle, Oregon State
Paea set the record for most bench press reps ever at the combine with 49. He’s a bit on the short side at 6’1″ and is also fairly light for a defensive tackle at 303 pounds. Regardless of size, Paea has great versatility and strength and if he lasts into the second round, Dallas may be interested in him as a player to move around and utilize along the defensive line.
Muhammad Wilkerson – Defensive End, Temple
Wilkerson is an enormous athlete at 6’4″ 315 who ran a fast 40 at the combine at 4.96. Was very productive in college and projects well as a 3-4 defensive end. He could be a possibility for Dallas in the 2nd or 3rd rounds.