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Tuesday, April 16, 2013
Is defensive tackle in Cowboys' draft plans?

By Calvin Watkins

As of now, the starting inside defensive linemen for the Cowboys will be Jason Hatcher and Jay Ratliff.

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The Cowboys have several needs on defense, including safety, but selecting a defensive tackle in the draft is also a possibility.

ESPN NFL draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. projects the Cowboys to select North Carolina's Sylvester Williams with the 18th pick. Rob Rang of NFL Draft Scout also has the Cowboys picking Williams at No. 18. However, ESPN's Todd McShay has Dallas grabbing Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro. He's got Williams going to St. Louis at No. 22.

Drafting a defensive lineman could impact the current tackles on the roster.

Hatcher is entering the final year of his contract and was one of the Cowboys' better players in 2012.

Ratliff's status becomes sketchy if the team drafts a defensive tackle who is able to push the pocket. His spat with owner/general manager Jerry Jones, his declining play -- attributed to double-teams -- and his DWI arrest, doesn't give him much cushion with the front office. While the coaching staff values Ratliff, he played only six games in 2012 and it has to be frustrating to deal with his mood swings.

When healthy, Ratliff can be a dominant force. The Cowboys need to keep him on the roster because they know what he means to the defense as a whole. But that doesn't mean the Cowboys can't draft a defensive tackle for more depth or to replace Ratliff or Hatcher in the future.

But are the top defensive tackles worthy of an early pick?

Here's what Kiper said regarding the defensive tackle draft class: "A really deep group at the top. (Sharrif) Floyd has been the breakthrough. There's no scheme you can put him in where he won't make an impact. (Star) Lotulelei is back in there as a possible top-10 pick now that his heart issue appears to be over with. I've changed my mind on Williams and (Sheldon) Richardson several times."