TACKLE Their Needs or BACK To Basics? Nick Eatman DallasCowboys.com Staff Writer April 23, 2004, 6:15 p.m. (CST) IRVING, Texas - When the Cowboys finally get on the clock Saturday afternoon, most likely late in the first round with the 22nd pick, there will be plenty of quality players still available in the NFL Draft. There will be players just about every Cowboys position coach would say could immediately help this team. And while the ones calling the shots, owner Jerry Jones and head coach Bill Parcells, will probably be pulled in several directions, it's becoming clearer by the day just what the Cowboys must do come Saturday when this annual selection process kicks off at 11 a.m. (CDT) from The Theatre at Madison Square Garden in New York City. In any order, they must emerge from the first two rounds with a running back and offensive lineman, both capable of becoming immediate starters. It can be a running back in the first round and the lineman in the second, or it can be the lineman in the first round and the running back in the second. Either way, the Cowboys likely will address those two positions the first day of the draft if possible, making sure they get quality players at those spots of critical need. Now Jones has said this week the current class of offensive linemen is not as deep as in recent years. He also said there are as many as six running backs capable of contributing to the Cowboys as early as this year. If that's true, then it would seem more likely the Cowboys would rather address the offensive line position in the first round, knowing there appears to be more depth at the running back position. Jones is right on about the lack of depth at offensive tackle. Unless Arkansas offensive tackle Shawn Andrews is available at No. 22, there probably won't be another tackle worthy of going in the first round. Andrews (6-4, 345) has seen his projected stock drop here in the last few months, and most mock drafts have him going to the Dolphins at No. 20. But if Miami chooses to pass, it's likely he would be available for the Cowboys, who could certainly fill a huge need at right tackle. Ryan Young's chronic right knee limited him to just eight starts last season and then led to his release this March. Young is expected to retire after just five seasons in the NFL. And with Kurt Vollers (eight starts in 2003), second-year pro Torrin Tucker and little-used Javiar Collins as the only remaining alternatives to start at right tackle, the Cowboys need help at the position. Andrews, who is projected as the second-best tackle behind Iowa's Robert Gallery, not only would probably step right into the starting lineup on the right side, but has the potential to become a long-term answer at the position. And that potential is why Andrews isn't expected to fall all the way to the Cowboys with the 22nd pick. While the Cowboys have a pressing need at tackle, there could become as big a need at guard if they should pull the trigger trading Larry Allen on draft day. The eight-time Pro Bowler has had differences with Parcells and was even given permission by the Cowboys to visit other teams to help facilitate a possible trade. Allen met with the Raiders and Lions last week, with the Cowboys reportedly asking for nothing less than a third-round pick but hoping for a second. So if Allen is not on the roster, the Cowboys would need to address the guard position, too, and that could involve Miami standout Vernon Carey, who has played both guard and tackle for the Hurricanes the last three seasons. Carey then might be worth taking at No. 22 if the Cowboys are convinced he can possibly move outside. Ideally, though, if the top players on their wish list are no longer available, the Cowboys probably would rather trade down in the first round, maybe even to the top of the second, to pick up Carey or even the other top guards, including Alabama's Justin Smiley or Chris Snee from Boston College. No matter what, they still must address the need at running back, be that in the first round where most mock drafts project the Cowboys grabbing their runner, but certainly no later than the end of the first day. "There are probably six backs that can come in and make a contribution to the Cowboys in some manner," Jones said. "That's less likely to be on an every-down basis, but they can come in this year and make a contribution." Oregon State's Steven Jackson, considered the top back in the draft, would fit nicely into the Cowboys offense, but he would have to do some serious freefalling to land in their laps. Jackson is considered the draft's most complete running back, but is projected to go anywhere from picks six through 15. However, he tore his lateral meniscus in his final collegiate game, requiring a knee scope in January. The latest injury has raised questions about the long-term effects on his knee. Though medically cleared at the combine's recheck, the repair might cause him to fall further than previously projected - but unlikely far enough for the Cowboys to get involved at No. 22. Then there is Virginia Tech's Kevin Jones, the odds-on favorite in these mock drafts to land with the Cowboys. But don't simply assume everyone in the Cowboys War Room is enamored with him as a first-round pick. The Cowboys just might have to make a tough decision on Kevin Jones. The knock on him is he doesn't like to run between the tackles, and that won't fly with Parcells, who has had success with tough, inside runners such as Otis Anderson, Joe Morris and Curtis Martin. Jones has the speed to break long runs, something the Cowboys lacked a year ago with Troy Hambrick, whose longest run was 42 yards, and veteran fullback Richie Anderson. But remember, the Cowboys have more options at running back than those two. Don't forget about Michigan's Chris Perry, who probably isn't worth taking at No. 22, but would be a better fit in the second round. Now, that would mean the Cowboys would have to trade down, but they had better not drop all the way out of the first round or below Detroit, which has the fifth pick in the second round. The Lions, with a need at running back, likely will not hesitate to draft the local University of Michigan product. But even if the Cowboys use their first-round pick on another position and simply wait for their current second-round pick to arrive (52nd overall), there still likely will be some value at running back still available. The Cowboys likely could choose from Florida State's Greg Jones, Notre Dame's Julius Jones and Oklahoma State's Tatum Bell. Bell and Julius Jones both were invited for a visit to Valley Ranch in the last few weeks, as well as Perry. Bell ran the fastest 40 time (4.37) at the scouting combine among the running backs, but Julius Jones has the speed, toughness and elusiveness reminiscent of a young Emmitt Smith. Now, no one is comparing Julius Jones to the NFL's all-time leading rusher just yet, but his ability to pick up tough yards, despite his near 5-10 frame, has impressed many teams. Other running backs who might peak the Cowboys' interest include Tulane's Mewelde Moore, Northern Illinois' Michael Turner and Arkansas' Cedric Cobbs. As you can see, the Cowboys have many routes they can take in this year's draft to fulfill their biggest needs, but must remain flexible since they have little control of their eventual fate. Chances are 21 teams will make a pick before the Cowboys jump on the clock at No. 22 So one last time, let's take a closer look at five possible scenarios the Cowboys could be facing when they get on the clock, and just what the final results might be. Scenario #1 Setup: Oregon State RB Steven Jackson and Arkansas OT Shawn Andrews are off the board: Result: The Cowboys have to make the decision on Virginia Tech RB Kevin Jones and figure out if he's worth the No. 22 pick. If so, they take him and worry about the offensive lineman in the second round. If not, they probably look to trade down, somewhere near the bottom of the first round and keep their eyes on either Miami guard/tackle Vernon Carey or Michigan RB Chris Perry. Scenario #2 Setup: Oregon State RB Steven Jackson, Virginia Tech RB Kevin Jones are both off the board: Result: This is an easy one for the Cowboys if Shawn Andrews still is available. They use only the time it takes to write Shawn Andrews' name on the card. He quickly fills their need at right tackle. Then they start looking at those second-round running backs. Scenario #3 Setup: Virginia Tech RB Kevin Jones, Arkansas OT Shawn Andrews have been taken off the board: Result: Again, this is probably an easy choice, with the Cowboys likely jumping at the chance to grab Oregon State RB Steven Jackson. But it's not a likely scenario, considering Jackson be among the top 15 picks. If he should fall this far, it's because teams might be wary of that knee. The Cowboys will have to calculate the risk/reward, a decision that no doubt already has been made. The guess here is if Jackson is on the board at No. 22, he won't be at No. 23. Scenario #4 Setup: Oregon State RB Steven Jackson, Arkansas OT Shawn Andrews and Virginia Tech RB Kevin Jones have been taken off the board: Result: This could very well happen, so look for the Cowboys to be on the phone trying to trade down. The only way the Cowboys are picking here is if another top player from a position of lesser need is still around or they can't find a trade partner and are forced to just make the pick. For example, there is a chance Southern Cal DE Kenechi Udeze or Miami linebackers D.J. Williams and Jonathan Vilma might fall some, which would cause the Cowboys to give them strong consideration. Scenario #5 Setup: Virginia Tech RB Kevin Jones, Arkansas OT Shawn Andrews and Oregon State running back Steven Jackson are all still on the board: Result: Only several surprise picks would create this scenario. Still, the Cowboys would have to look at needs and depth at each position, and while they certainly would be tempted to draft Jackson, there clearly would be more running backs available in the second round than starting-quality offensive linemen. Therefore, Andrews would seem be the pick, with the RB coming in the second round.