- Tim MacMahon, ESPN Staff Writer
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The film doesn’t lie, but NFL scouts and general managers want to know more.
That’s the purpose of the NFL scouting combine, which is held this week in Indianapolis. Scouts get a chance to see and hear things they couldn’t pick up from poring over watching every play of a prospect’s college career.
The Cowboys don’t have a need so glaring that they’ll have to reach in the early rounds, but there are three position groups their scouting contingent will pay particularly close attention to: safety, offensive guard and offensive tackle.
Here’s a look at how this week’s workouts and interviews could affect the Cowboys’ decisions in the April draft:
Safety: Texas’ Earl Thomas, who set a school record with eight interceptions as a redshirt sophomore last season, would be a good fit for a franchise searching for playmaking ability at safety.
However, Thomas can be found in the middle of the first round in most mock drafts. Unless the Cowboys are willing to trade up from No. 27, they’d need Thomas to have a flaw or two exposed at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Thomas’ size (5-10, 197) is already considered a concern. It would become more of one if his bench rep total is well below average.
Thomas’ coverage ability is his biggest strength, with some believing that he’s good enough to cover NFL slot receivers. He would likely have to be a tick slow in the 40 and/or the shuttle and three-cone drills to still be available when the Cowboys come on the clock.
USC’s Taylor Mays is a physical specimen who was projected as a top-five pick before his senior season, but his stock has steadily gone down. He’s now projected to go in the bottom third of the first round.
The concerns with Mays will sound familiar to Cowboys fans who watched Roy Williams: He’s a big hitter at his best close to the line of scrimmage and can be a liability in coverage.
At 6-3, 231 pounds with blazing speed, Mays is the type of player whose stock could soar after his combine workouts. If that’s the case, it might benefit the Cowboys by pushing Thomas toward the bottom of the first round.
Tennessee’s Eric Berry is the only other safety projected as a first-round pick, and he’ll be gone midway through the round. South Florida’s Nate Allen tops the list of second-round safety possibilities.
Offensive guard: It’d be tough for the Cowboys to pass on Idaho’s Mike Iupati if he’s available. He might have pushed himself into the middle of the first round with a phenomenal week at the Senior Bowl.
If his stock takes a dip, it would likely be because of medical evaluations or interview. He’s a chiseled 6-5, 325-pounder that should impress during workouts.
Doctors will poke and prod the shoulder that required surgery before the 2008 season. Teams will also test his football knowledge and intelligence during interviews. He’s a native of American Samoa who did not begin speaking English or playing football until he moved to California in high school. He went to Idaho because prominent programs passed on him due to academic concerns.
Iupati is the only guard expected to go in the first round.
Massachusetts’ Vladimir Ducasse, who played tackle in college, is an interesting second-round prospect. Like Iupati, Ducasse didn’t play football until moving to America in high school, although the Haitian native was a good student. There are questions about Ducasse’s technique. His performances in the quickness tests could help him rise to the top of the second round.
Offensive tackle: There will be at least a few offensive tackles off the board by the time the Cowboys get on the clock. Maryland’s Bruce Campbell is one who is projected to go somewhere in the neighborhood of No. 27.
The 6-7, 310-pound Campbell is a freakish athlete who should do well in workouts. Once again, the concerns with him will be addressed during medical evaluations and interviews.
Campbell missed three games last season with a sprained MCL and turf toe. He made only 17 career starts before declaring for the draft after his junior season. There are questions about his durability and football savvy. He’s also a work in progress as a run blocker, but the Cowboys can afford to be patient with Doug Free backing up Flozell Adams and Marc Colombo. They just can’t afford another early-round offensive line bust.
USC’s Charles Brown will surely remind Cowboys scouts of one of their worst busts, ex-Trojan tackle Jacob Rogers, who never played a down in Dallas despite being a second-round pick. Like Rogers, Brown is a relatively lean tackle (6-5, 292) who relies more on athleticism than muscle.
Brown, a converted tight end, would improve his stock with a respectable showing on the bench press. He’d still probably need a year or two of seasoning before being ready to start in the NFL, but the Cowboys are drafting for the future instead of filling an immediate need at tackle.