18. D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama (6-5, 339)
If Dallas was any other team, their general manager would be in big trouble. But in Cowboy-land, much to their fans' dismay, the GM and owner are one and the same, so the questionable decision-making on draft day (David LaFleur, Dwayne Goodrich, Quincy Carter, Bobby Carpenter, Felix Jones, the entire 2009 draft class) most likely will continue.
The Cowboys, squeezed by the salary cap, couldn't do much during free agency outside of re-signing QB Tony Romo and DE Anthony Spencer. They hired former Tampa Bay and USC defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin to come in to switch from the Rob Ryan 3-4 to the Tampa-2. This means moving Spencer and perennial All-Pro DeMarcus Ware from stand up OLBs to hands in the dirt DEs. It will be interesting to see whether both hold up to the increased pounding they're going to take in the trenches.
The 'Boys have some glaring needs on both sides of the ball. On offense, Dallas is still trying to find that true workhorse back it's lacked since Emmitt Smith. Jones is most likely gone as a free agent, and DeMarco Murray simply can't be relied on to stay healthy. Dallas also needs to address weaknesses up front, with only left tackle Tyron Smith a solid starter. With all the money they've invested in Romo, keeping him healthy is a top priority.
On defense, the Cowboys continue to look for an answer at safety. They signed ex-Steeler strong safety Will Allen this offseason to pair with free safety Barry Church, but neither are starter material and will hurt a team with two good corners in Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne. Depth on the defensive line is also a top priority.
At this juncture of the draft I see two good possibilities for Dallas. One on each side of the ball -- Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro and Alabama tackle D.J. Fluker.
I'm going with Fluker. Not because I necessarily think he's the better player, but I just think he's a better fit for what the Cowboys do. Vaccaro is the top safety in the draft, but he seems to struggle in zone and playing the deep half of the field, which is exactly what Kiffin's Tampa-2 is going to ask of him. Fluker is a huge (6-5/339) right tackle who can really maul -- a great fit for Dallas' man-power blocking scheme.
Fluker came to Alabama in 2009 as a much ballyhooed high school All-American, even after having to move multiple times and attend three separate high schools because of Hurricane Katrina. After a redshirt season, Fluker stepped into the starting lineup and earned a spot on the Freshman All-SEC team. He started 36 games through his junior season before declaring for the draft after the 2012 campaign.
Fluker's greatest attribute is his sheer size. He's one of the biggest human beings I've ever seen. And his strength is almost equal to his size. Once he gets his long arms on a defender, it's over. His run blocking is NFL-ready, and he should immediately make Dallas a more physical team.
A right tackle, Fluker needs to improve his pass protection. His feet could be quicker, and he'll struggle with elite speed rushers. His long arms and width will serve him well though, and good coaching will continue to help him grow. I see him as a better Phil Loadholt in two years.
The Cowboys have a checkered past on draft day since owner/GM Jerry Jones took the reigns. But unless they try to get cute here (with say, Eddie Lacy), they'll be getting solid, if not spectacular, contributor in Fluker to help turn around Jones' draft-day woes.
1. Chiefs: Luke Joeckel - OT, Texas A&M
2. Jaguars: Sharrif Floyd - DT, Florida
3. Raiders: Chance Warmack - G, Alabama
4. Eagles: Dee Milliner - CB, Alabama
5. Lions: Eric Fisher - OT, Central Michigan
6. Browns: Dion Jordan - DE, Oregon
7. Cardinals: Lane Johnson - OT, Oklahoma
8. Bills: Ziggy Ansah - LB/DE, BYU
9. Jets: Jarvis Jones - OLB, Georgia
10. Titans: Sheldon Richardson - DT, Missouri
11. Chargers: Cordarelle Patterson - WR, Tenn.
12. Dolphins: Xavier Rhodes - CB, FSU
13. Buccaneers: Star Lotulelei - DL, Utah
14. Panthers: Sylvester Williams - DT, UNC
15. Saints: Barkevious Mingo - LB, LSU
16. Rams: Jonathan Cooper - G, UNC
17. Steelers: Tyler Eifert - TE, Notre Dame
18. D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama (6-5, 339)