Dallas Cowboys: Dont'a Hightower

W2W4: Cowboys' first round pick

April, 26, 2012
4/26/12
11:20
AM ET


IRVING, Texas – Finally the NFL draft is here and the Cowboys are scheduled to make the 14th pick overall in the first round.

Why 'scheduled to?' Because you can never rule out a trade from owner and general manager Jerry Jones, especially after he did not make one last year.

On Wednesday, Jones said the Cowboys have played through scenarios in which they would move up for a player or two. And he said the team has fielded and made calls about moving around in the first round.

The needs are clear: everywhere on defense and offensive line. Jones said the Cowboys are not held hostage by any position, which means they have set their board in a pure fashion based on a player’s ability and not on the team’s needs.

The key targets: Alabama safety Mark Barron, LSU defensive end Michael Brockers, Stanford guard David DeCastro, Alabama linebacker Donta Hightower, Alabama cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, Mississippi State defensive end Fletcher Cox.

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Which teams are likely to affect the Cowboys’ first-round pick: Buffalo (No. 10), Kansas City (No. 11), San Diego (No. 18).

Recent draft bluster has the Bills interested in Barron at No. 10 and possibly the Chiefs a pick later. The Chargers have needs at wide receiver, offensive line and safety, which could make them a trade-up possibility.

If key targets are gone: Look for the Cowboys to trade down. However, there has to be a team willing to trade up. Kirkpatrick could be a fall-back option at No. 14 if the team is unable to move down. Jones has a history of wanting to accumulate more picks but in the past he has gotten too cute and left the Cowboys with poor drafts (see 2009).

What about the other rounds? Rounds 2 and 3 will be held Friday, and Rounds 4-7 will be held Saturday. The Cowboys have picks Nos. 45, 81, 113, 135, 152, 186 and 222 entering the draft.

Look for the Cowboys to lean toward defense even if they use their first pick on a defender. They need defensive end, defensive tackle, outside linebacker and cornerback help. Offensively, they are in need of help at wide receiver and tight end in addition to the offensive line.


Jason Garrett’s attendance at Alabama’s pro day instantly increased speculation that the Cowboys would pick safety Mark Barron, outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw or cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick in the first round.

All indications are that the Cowboys would be extremely pleased if Barron is still on the board when they get on the clock with the 14th overall pick.

If Barron and other targets are gone, Jerry Jones could attempt to trade down, gaining extra picks to move toward the bottom of the first round. In that scenario, there is a strong possibility that the Cowboys could target the fourth potential first-round pick from the Crimson Tide’s top-ranked, national-title defense: linebacker Dont’a Hightower.

Hightower primarily played inside linebacker at Alabama, but he has the size (6-foot-2 , 265 pounds) and speed (4.65 40) to be a 3-4 outside linebacker in the NFL.

“No doubt,” Alabama coach Nick Saban told ESPN Dallas 103.3’s Ian Fitzsimmons in an interview that aired on “Galloway and Company” this week. “He can play outside. He’s been a designated pass rusher for us on third down for us. He’s also been a stand-up buck fourth rusher, drop. In X-package, when they put all the linebackers in there, he can play any one of those positions.

“He’s a very smart guy. He’s a signal caller that has really good leadership qualities and understands football really well and has a lot of diversity in terms of how you can use him. When you have guys that size, that speed and that athletic that can do that many things, those guys don’t come around that often.”
Jason Garrett’s planned pit stop in Tuscaloosa should be the first step in the Cowboys following the BAD-A plan in the first round of the draft.

That’s picking the Best Alabama Defender Available.

[+] EnlargeMark Barron
Randy Litzinger/Icon SMIAlabama safety Mark Barron could be a good fit for the Cowboys if they decide to trade down in the first round.
There are four potential first-rounders that played on the BCS champions’ dominant defense: cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw, safety Mark Barron and inside linebacker Dont'a Hightower. Garrett’s presence at the Crimson Tide’s pro day -- the only one he plans to attend -- is a pretty good sign that one of those guys will hear his name called when the Cowboys go on the clock in the first round.

One scenario for the Cowboys is trading down in the first round and selecting Barron, a hard-hitting safety with some range and ball skills who was widely recognized as the vocal leader of that Bama defense. That would fill a hole that has existed since Darren Woodson’s retirement last decade.

The best-case scenario? The Cowboys stay put at No. 14 and take Kirkpatrick or Upshaw.

You can argue that those players don’t address immediate needs, but that’s the kind of short-sighted thinking that caused the Cowboys to pay Pro Bowl money this offseason to non-Pro Bowlers Brandon Carr and Anthony Spencer.
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Mike Jenkins, who is heading into the last season of his rookie deal, wants a new contract. You think agent Drew Rosenhaus and Jenkins plan to give the Cowboys a hometown discount? It’s much more likely that they’ll note that Jenkins, unlike Carr, has made a Pro Bowl and use Carr’s fresh five-year, $50.1 contract as the starting point for negotiations.

If the Cowboys give Jenkins that kind of money, they’ll end up with the most overpaid cornerback corps in NFL history. They’re already overpaying – Jerry Jones prefers the term “paying retail” – for Carr and nickel corner Orlando Scandrick (five years, $27 million).

Kirkpatrick would give the Cowboys a much-needed physical presence in the secondary at an affordable price. Get him and the Cowboys can afford to let Jenkins go after this season.

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Or the Cowboys can pick Upshaw, putting themselves in a position where they don’t have to pay Anthony Spencer a franchise-tag rate to be slightly above average. With a salary of $8.8 million, Spencer is due to make about a million and a half bucks per sack.

Oh, and Spencer would love to negotiate a long-term deal. Why wouldn’t Spencer when he has all the leverage?

The reason Spencer has all the leverage against the Cowboys certainly isn’t his performance. It’s because the Cowboys, who have no faith in Victor Butler’s potential as a starter, have done such a poor job preparing to replace Spencer.

That all changes if the Cowboys select Upshaw, who could be described as Spencer with a serious mean streak.

That’s the kind of Bad A the Dallas defense desperately needs.

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