BLACKSBURG, VIRGINIA - NOVEMBER 17: Quarterback Logan Thomas #3 of the Virginia Tech Hokies runs with the ball for a touchdown as defensive tackle Sylvester Williams #92 of the North Carolina Tar Heels chases at Lane Stadium on November 17, 2011 in Blacksburg, Virginia. (Photo by Geoff Burke/Getty Images)
Just hours away from the draft, the number of potential paths for the Cowboys seems endless. Sitting at No. 18, it’s difficult to project even the Cowboys’ first pick because this draft could unfold in so many different ways. I really believe Dallas will be targeting one of the two elite guards in this class, but I think the odds of one of them being available are just 50/50.
For the sake of this mock draft, I’m going to assume that both Chance Warmack and Jonathan Cooper are off of the board when the Cowboys are on the clock. I’m also going to assume that offensive tackle D.J. Fluker is gone, which seems like a legitimate possibility at this point.
Note that this mock draft is my best guess of what the Cowboys will do with their picks, not what I personally would do.
Round 1: Sylvester Williams, DT, UNC
With Kenny Vaccaro still on the board, I think the Cowboys will realize the safety position is so deep that drafting Vaccaro won’t maximize overall value. If that’s the case, Williams might be a major consideration. From my Williams scouting report:
Williams is a big, powerful defensive tackle who nonetheless can move with speed. He’s extremely quick off of the ball—consistently the first person off of the snap at UNC—despite his 6-3, 313-pound frame. Like Purdue’s Kawann Short, Williams is one of the few defensive tackles in this draft that I see being scheme versatile. He’s strong enough to hold up at the point, but he’s fast enough to penetrate as a one-gap defensive tackle. He was used as the latter sort of defensive tackle at UNC.
As a pass rusher, Williams parlays his quickness and strength into an excellent bull rush. When he gets a jump on the ball, he can quickly drive interior linemen into the backfield. He combines his bull rush with an outstanding swim move—probably the best in this draft class. Williams also has great play recognition; I saw about a half-dozen screens thrown against him and he wasn’t fooled by one.
Williams can play both defensive tackle positions and would eventually take over for one of the Cowboys’ two aging interior defensive linemen.
Round 2: Justin Pugh, G, Syracuse
I’m not very high on Pugh, but a lot of teams think he has guard/tackle versatility. The Cowboys have visited with Pugh.
Pugh is one of those “what if?” players, but we probably won’t get to uncover the answer to the question “what if Pugh stayed at offensive tackle in the NFL?” The reason is that, although he has 6-5 height, Pugh’s arms measure only 32 inches. That’s a death sentence for an offensive tackle in the NFL; arm length is strongly correlated with success because tackles need to be able to fend off tall defensive ends.
You can already see signs of Pugh’s potential struggles when you watch tape of him at Syracuse. While he generally did an admirable job in pass protection, he can be neutralized if a longer defender gets his hands into Pugh’s chest. At the next level, Pugh will face the best of the best—defensive ends and linebackers who all know how to use their length to control offensive tackles with short arms. On top of that, Pugh struggled at the Senior Bowl when he lined up outside.
Pugh would be a starting guard right off the bat.
Round 3: JJ Wilcox, S, Georgia Southern
As far as mid-round picks go, I think Wilcox is by far the most likely to come to Dallas. He’s a favorite of mine and the ‘Boys have shown a lot of interest.
Wilcox has excellent size at 6-0, 213 pounds. He turned in a solid 40 time at 4.51 and a remarkable 4.09 short shuttle, showing why he was used at receiver for three seasons. As you’d expect, Wilcox is an outstanding athlete; he moves fluidly and shows excellent lateral quickness. Despite little experience at safety, Wilcox is a good tackler. He doesn’t wait for ball-carriers to reach him, but instead attacks the line and breaks down well in space.
Wilcox didn’t play much from a single-high position at Georgia Southern, but he got time there at the Senior Bowl. He performed surprisingly well, and his measurables suggest he should be able to play deep. He showed good ball skills at the Senior Bowl—and during his time on offense in college—so he has the ability to make big plays in the secondary.
Wilcox has a higher ceiling than Vaccaro at a fraction of the price.
Round 4: Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina
I’m not a huge fan of Lattimore’s simply because I don’t think he was an elite running back even before he got injured. It’s difficult to say whether or not the Cowboys will target Lattimore; on one hand, they’ve had some success finding value on injured players, but on the other hand, Lattimore’s injury was potentially career-threatening and he might not be able to play this year. I’d much prefer Vanderbilt’s Zac Stacy or Texas A&M’s Christine Michael, but I have a feeling that Lattimore will drop far enough to at least entice Dallas.
Round 5: Stansly Maponga, DE, TCU
Maponga is a pass-rusher in whom the Cowboys have shown interest. He’s undersized at only 6-2, but he has 34-inch arms. While others emphasize height, the Cowboys could potentially find value on a player who actually has the physical tools to excel in the NFL but will drop because of a perceived weakness that doesn’t actually affect production.
Round 6: Chris Gragg, TE, Arkansas
One of the things I like about the Cowboys’ draft strategy under Jason Garrett is that, even when searching for the “right kind of guys,” they’ve still been able to find athletes. Gragg is an extraordinary athlete; at 244 pounds, he ran a sub-4.50 40-yard dash. He’s the exact type of high-upside player that teams should target in the late rounds and a potential future replacement for Jason Witten.
Jonathan Bales is the founder of The DC Times. He writes for DallasCowboys.com and the New York Times. He's also the author of Fantasy Football for Smart People: How to Dominate Your Draft.