2013 NFL Draft: Dallas Cowboys spotlight

This is the 18th of a team-by-team series, analyzing five prospects each team should consider in the 2013 NFL Draft.

The Cowboys haven’t had a winning season since 2009, finishing third in the NFC East each of the past three years. Nonetheless, they have a talented roster and could be a player or two away from re-gaining control of the division.

Dallas signed quarterback Tony Romo to a lucrative extension, and with him locked up for the foreseeable future, the Cowboys should focus their attention on protecting him. Former first-round pick Tyron Smith has settled in at the left tackle position, but Doug Free was a huge liability at right tackle, and the interior offensive line is anything but set in stone. This is a good year to need an offensive guard in the first round, with Alabama’s Chance Warmack and North Carolina’s Jonathan Cooper both projecting as impact NFL linemen, but will they be available with the 18th pick? It’s looking more and more like they won’t. Alabama’s D.J. Fluker could also be an option and can’t be ruled out for Dallas in the first round.

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2013 NFL Draft

If the Cowboys don’t go offensive line, then look for safety or defensive line early. Dallas strengthened its cornerback position last offseason with Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr and could go defensive back again in the first round with a need at safety. Texas’ Kenny Vaccaro is the top all-around safety in the draft, but in a strong safety class, the Cowboys might decide to pass on him in favor of LSU’s Eric Reid in the second round or South Carolina’s D.J. Swearinger in the third round.

But the ideal scenario for the Cowboys in the first round, besides a trade down to pick up more draft picks, might be if one of the top-three defensive tackles falls to them. Florida’s Sharrif Floyd, Utah’s Star Lotulelei and Missouri’s Sheldon Richardson are all good fits in the Cowboys new four-man front under defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. While all three could go top-10, there is a chance one of them, likely Richardson, could fall to the 18th pick. And if so, that makes the pick a fairly easy decision.

Dallas Cowboys 2013 draft picks: 18, 47, 80, 114, 151, 185

Primary needs: DT, OG, S, DE, RB

General manager: Jerry Jones, 25th season

Five draft picks that clicked:
-- OT Tyron Smith, 9th overall, 2011
-- RB DeMarco Murray, 71st overall, 2011
-- WR Dez Bryant, 24th overall, 2010
-- LB Sean Lee, 55th overall, 2010
-- DE/LB Demarcus Ware, 11th overall, 2005

Five players who should be on the Dallas Cowboys’ draft radar:
Player, school (overall rating, position rating)

DT Sheldon Richardson, Missouri (18, 3)
A player with the tools to be a potential top-10 pick. If Richardson slips to the Cowboys at No. 18, this should be a no-brainer as he would fit a substantial need and be among the top players left on the draft board. He looked out of shape in 2011 but played inspired in 2012, showing off his gifted athleticism and movement skills to fire off the snap and be a problem for blockers all season. Richardson still has some room to mature and needs some development but is scheme-diverse -- with the NFL motor to be an impact upfield penetrator in the Cowboys new 4-3 scheme.

OG Larry Warford, Kentucky (48, 3)
Although he doesn’t have elite range or natural burst, Warford moves far better than most 330-pounders, playing light on his feet to mirror and get to the second level. He is comfortable pulling with smooth hips and body flexibility, but also showing the stout anchor at the point of attack to sink his hips. Warford has the bad habit of ending up on the ground, but he loves to finish and can be dominant in small areas. He started 37 straight games at right guard, but can play on either side in the NFL and projects as a plug-and-play type who should win a starting job in training camp.

S D.J. Swearinger, South Carolina (97, 5)
A rangy, versatile defensive back, Swearinger needs to clean up his aggressive playing style, but he has experience at cornerback, free safety and strong safety and would fight for immediate playing time in the Cowboys secondary. He is extremely physical and enjoys contact, arriving to plays with violent intentions, but needs to be more consistent wrapping up to finish. Swearinger has room to improve his awareness vs. the pass, but he has the athleticism and foot quickness to hold up in the back half of the field. Although his lack of discipline scares some, he has the tools to be a consistent NFL starter.

RB Stepfan Taylor, Stanford (109, 8)
With Andrew Luck in the NFL last season, Taylor was the star and workhorse of the Stanford offense, finishing with 1,530 rushing yards. While Cowboys starter DeMarco Murray is more of a home-run back, Taylor would give Dallas a grinder, someone who gets the most out of every yard and doesn’t leave production on the field. He runs like his feet are on fire with sharp cuts and stutter steps to elude in space. Although he won’t impress athletically, his reliability and determination as a runner, receiver and blocker makes him a borderline top-100 pick.

DE Stansly Maponga, TCU (302, 22)
After leading the team with nine sacks in 2011, Maponga took a slight step back with only four this past season, but he still showed intriguing pass-rush skills off the edge. Despite some tweener skills, he is stronger than he looks against the run, with a quick first step rushing the pocket. Maponga doesn’t have the height NFL teams seek, but he has more than enough length to fight off blocks and win with leverage. Maponga needs time to develop but would give the Cowboys a potential project behind Anthony Spencer in the event he’s not in Dallas after next season.

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