The Dallas Cowboys will be watching the East-West Shrine Game in preparation for the NFL Draft
By Matthew Postins
The major college All-Star games begin this weekend with the East-West Shrine Game in St. Petersburg, Fla. The game is important, but so is the week of scouting, player meetings and extended exposure to NFL-level coaching for these college seniors.
The Dallas Cowboys, like every other NFL team, will have a presence at the game as their scouting efforts for the 2014 NFL Draft take on a new level of preparation. This is the first time that Cowboys scouts will have the opportunity to meet and talk with prospective draft selections.
So which players will the Cowboys be interested in? Well, it’s a bit of a stretch to know that with any certainty right now. In fact, chances are the Cowboys will be watching everyone. Contests like the Shrine Game are a great chance to see players who have received less exposure, usually because they play at a non-BCS school or even in a lower division.
Based upon what RattleandHumSports.com believes are the Cowboys’ primary draft needs, here are a list of players that might be worth keeping an eye on this week:
QB Jimmy Garoppolo, Eastern Illinois (backup quarterback)
In spite of what Jerry Jones will tell you, this team is in need of a young quarterback that it can draft, groom and prepare for the day that Tony Romo won’t be the starter. Who better than the guy who basically re-wrote all of Romo’s records at EIU? Garoppolo is coming off a season in which he claimed the Walter Payton Award (given to FCS’s top offensive player and the same award Romo won his senior year). Garoppolo threw for 3,823 yards and 31 touchdowns in 2013 as the Panthers reached the quarterfinals of the FCS playoffs. Garoppolo threw for nearly 13,000 yards and 86 touchdowns in his career. He’s hoping he’s this year’s Joe Flacco, who matriculated at FCS power Delaware before joining the Baltimore Ravens. Flacco ended up being a first-round pick. Right now Garoppolo is projected as a third-round pick. If the Cowboys like what they see, they need to hope he stays that way. This week Garoppolo has to prove he can make all the NFL throws and that he can grasp NFL schemes.
DE Ethan Westbrooks, West Texas A&M (defensive line)
This guy is a beast. At 6-foot-4, 275 pounds, he can play inside and outside. In 2012 he flat-out scared opposing quarterbacks with 19.5 quarterbacks sacks, a school record, and set a Lone Star Conference record with 28 tackles for loss. He was also an All-American and the National Division II Defensive Player of the Year. In 2013, with everyone tossing double teams at Westbrooks, his numbers took a dive (4 sacks, 19.5 tackles for loss). But that’s what happens when you’re “the man” at a Division II school. He was still named a Division II second-team All-American. What Westbrooks has to prove this week is that he can hold his own with Division I talent. Right now Westbrooks projects as a defensive end and a seventh-round pick. Even if he picks up a couple of rounds in the scouting process, that’s great value for a Cowboys team that needs talent at that position.
DT Demonte McAllister, Florida State (back-up defensive tackle)
The Cowboys like to take a hard look at players from power conferences, and they should give this recently-minted national champion a look. At 6-foot-2, 290 pounds, he came on at the end of the 2012 season and carried that into 2013. But he only had 22 tackles and 1 tackle for loss. McAllister had the misfortune of playing behind one of the best sets of tackles in the college game, anchored by Timmy Jernigan, who will be in this draft. Right now McAllister is one of those scout-and-watch type player who may become available as an undrafted free agent. If so, he’s worth a flier for the Cowboys, who need depth inside as much as they need starters.
OG Ryan Groy, offensive guard (potential starting guard)
You can’t go wrong giving Wisconsin offensive linemen a good, hard look during the scouting process. The Badger the Cowboys drafted last year, Travis Frederick, worked out pretty well. Groy, at 6-foot-5, 320 pounds, is in the mold of the road-grading offensive lineman the Cowboys could use on the right side to push current starter Mackenzy Bernadeau. A full-time starter for the Badgers the past two seasons, clearing the path for 1,000-yard seasons for Montee Ball, James White and Melvin Gordon. He earned First Team All-Big Ten honors in 2013. Pass protection is where scouts will want to see whether Groy is NFL ready. The good news for the Cowboys is that guards tend to be undervalued and right now Groy is a sixth-round value. The Cowboys could actually reach to the fifth round to get him and it wouldn’t feel like a reach.
CB Marcus Williams, North Dakota State (backup or potential starting corner)
This is guy is going to zoom up draft boards once scouts get a real look at him. We know about him because we’ve covered the FCS National Championship game the past three seasons. Williams was a vital part of the Bison’s three-peat. Williams has been a fixture on FCS All-America teams and, as a sophomore, was named the nation’s top defensive back by CollegeFootballPerformance.com. By the end of his junior year he had already broken the NDSU record for career interceptions and he finished his career with 21, four of which went for touchdowns. The Cowboys are looking for cover corners that can create turnovers. Williams have proven he can do it. At 5-foor-11, you might want him to be one inch taller. But he possesses everything you need to cover the field. CBSSports.com values Williams as a sixth- or seventh-round pick, so his task this week is to prove he can cover FBS-level receivers.
LB Max Bullough, Michigan State (backup linebacker)
Injuries to both Sean Lee and Justin Durant proved that, at some point in this 2014 Draft, the Cowboys have to find someone who can be a swing backup linebacker. Bullough, at 6-foot-3, 245 pounds, might do the trick. He started three seasons as Michigan State’s middle linebacker and made plays all over the field. He was a First-Team All-Big Ten selection and Third-Team All-America selection in 2013. There are two things he has to prove this week. First, he needs to prove he’s more than just a middle linebacker if he wants to improve his draft stock. Second, he has to do some damage control after his suspension for the Rose Bowl, which ended his college career. Right now CBSSports.com values Bullough as a fourth- or fifth-round pick. That’s about right for a backup linebacker who could start in a couple of years.