The Cowboys (almost) always show their hand in their pre-draft visits.
In the past 13 drafts, the Cowboys’ first-round choice has made a pre-draft visit except for Morris Claiborne in 2012. So it’s a safe assumption that Dallas’ first-round pick will come from one of the prospects it hosts at The Star.
Alabama receiver Calvin Ridley, Boise State linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, Alabama linebacker Rashaan Evans, Washington defensive tackle Vita Vea and Alabama defensive tackle Da’Ron Payne are among the names on the list to watch because of the positions they play. (It’s no wonder the Cowboys sent a large contingent, including head coach Jason Garrett, to Alabama’s Pro Day.)
The Cowboys have made no secret of the fact that they could draft a receiver despite the depth they seemingly have at the position, and executive vice president Stephen Jones reiterated that again Tuesday.
“We’re always trying to get the very best players,” Jones said on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas, via Kate Hairopoulos of the Dallas Morning News. “Obviously, we have internal decisions to make in terms of our roster and who’s going to be on it, who’s not going to be on it. And we just want to give ourselves options. We want that receiver position to be competitive. We felt like we needed to improve upon last year.”
Linebacker is an obvious need with the departure of Anthony Hitchens in free agency.
The Cowboys, though, have not drafted a defensive tackle in the first round since using the overall top choice on Russell Maryland in 1991. In Rod Marinelli’s Tampa 2 scheme, a nose tackle is not worthy of a first-round pick because he’s only a two-down player.
But the Cowboys view Payne and Vea as three techniques, which is one of the most important positions in Marinelli’s defense. It’s the position Warren Sapp played during his Hall of Fame career with Marinelli as his position coach in Tampa.
Since the Cowboys switched to the Tampa 2 in 2013, Jason Hatcher has come the closest to being a dominant three technique for them. He had 11 sacks — the most for a Cowboys’ defensive tackle since Randy White had 12.5 in 1984 — as well as 33 quarterback pressures. Hatcher left for Washington in free agency in 2014.
The Cowboys would love to find a three technique to disrupt things inside, and Vea and Payne could be just that.