Cowboys fans with an eye toward the future should pay especially close attention to the defenses during Monday night’s BCS championship game.
According to Scouts Inc., LSU and Alabama feature a total of six defensive players that grade as first-round prospects in this draft class. With the Cowboys expected to focus primarily on defense – interior offensive line is the other glaring need – that makes it pretty likely that the name of an LSU or Alabama player will be called when the Cowboys go on the clock in the first round.
A look at those prospects, in order of their Scouts Inc. ranking:
LSU CB Morris Claiborne (third overall): The Thorpe Award winner is expected to be long gone by the time the Cowboys get on the clock with the 14th overall pick, if they don’t trade out of that spot. The former wide receiver has phenomenal ball skills, picking off 11 passes in the last two seasons, including six this year. The 6-foot, 185-pound Claiborne is considered the same caliber of prospect that Arizona’s Patrick Peterson was coming out of LSU last year.
Alabama CB Dre Kirkpatrick (eighth overall): The 6-foot-3, 192-pound Kirkpatrick is a big, tough, physical cornerback. He didn’t have an interception this season, but opponents rarely threw the ball in his direction. He’s a hard hitter who tied for the team lead with two forced fumbles and is an impact player in run support as well as pass coverage. He’s considered the No. 2 cornerback in the draft class, so the Cowboys would likely have to trade up to get Kirkpatrick.
Alabama S Mark Barron (14th overall): A senior with 38 career starts for the Crimson Tide, Barron is the only safety Scouts Inc. ranks among the top 32 prospects. However, the 6-foot-2, 218-pound Barron isn’t the rangy free safety the Cowboys would like. He has some ball skills (12 career interceptions, including seven as a sophomore), but Barron is really a prototypical strong safety. Ideally, the Cowboys can get a free safety and move Gerald Sensabaugh back to strong safety.
Alabama OLB Courtney Upshaw (16th overall): At a shade under 6-foot-2 and 265 pounds, the stocky Upshaw has drawn comparisons to Steelers outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley. Upshaw would likely be an immediate upgrade if the Cowboys allow 2007 first-round pick Anthony Spencer to leave in free agency. Upshaw is a dominant run defender with pass-rush skills. He had 17.5 tackles for losses and 8.5 sacks this season.
LSU DE Sam Montgomery (17th overall): Montgomery is a redshirt sophomore who could opt to stay at LSU. He’s an explosive 6-foot-4, 245-pounder who would make the transition to outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. He ranked third in the SEC with nine sacks and seventh in the conference with 13 tackles for losses this season.
LSU DT Michael Brockers (19th overall): He’s another draft-eligible sophomore who could opt to stay in school and improve his stock. He’s a disruptive defensive tackle for the Tigers (9.5 tackles for losses this season). His 6-foot-6, 306-pound frame is ideal for a 3-4 defensive end.