Position: Defensive End
Height/weight: 6'4', 273 lbs.
The release of DeMarcus Ware leaves the Cowboys with $7.4 million in freed up cap space, but an even bigger question mark on the defensive side of the football. Defense needed to be a priority in the draft (see: draft profiles for Timmy Jernigan and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix) but in the wake of Ware's departure, defensive end is a greater position of need. This year's draft is not nearly as deep at defensive end as it is at other positions, so Day 1 of the draft may be the only time to find a high-impact player. And Missouri's Kony Ealy is widely regarded as the no. 2 end in the pool, after Jadeveon Clowney.
Ealy is the second-most-talked-about Missouri defensive end, as fellow Tiger Michael Sam has made more headlines by earning SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors, and with the likely possibility of becoming the first openly gay player in the NFL. But Ealy is the better NFL prospect - with a 6-foot-4, 273-pound frame and impressive athleticism, Ealy is cut out to be an effective pass rusher at the next level. Ealy burst onto the scene in his penultimate campaign at Mizzou, when he recorded 10 tackles for loss in 10 starts (12 appearances). He earned All-SEC honors in his junior year in 2013, recording 14.5 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks. Ealy also defended 13 passes during those final two seasons. In addition to his strong frame, Ealy has a 34.5-inch wingspan, making him one of the longest in the draft class.
Why he's a good fit for the Cowboys
DeMarcus Ware moved from an outside linebacker position to a stand-up defensive end in the 4-3 scheme. With Ware out, Ealy could be his replacement in the 4-3 defensive end position. Ealy's size, athleticism, and ability to affect the passer make him a versatile player in a 4-3 or 3-4 look. The 'hybrid' defensive end/linebacker is a valuable asset for an NFL front seven, and Ealy fits that mold.
In Missouri's game against Kentucky last season, Ealy saw time on the interior and exterior line, as well as in a 3-4 scheme:
Ealy showed his athleticism in Missouri's Cotton Bowl win over Oklahoma State, making an impact rushing to the inside and to the outside of the right tackle:
According to the Dallas Morning News, Mel Kiper listed Ealy as a good fit for the Cowboys' draft needs. Ealy is strong against the run, and Dallas ranked no. 27 in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game a year ago.
Likelihood he'll be a Cowboy
Well, not many people besides Jerry Jones know the real thought process - if any - behind a lot of the Cowboys' moves. But with Ware's departure, the likelihood of seeing Ealy wearing Blue and Silver has to be higher. CBS Sports projects Ealy to go no earlier than no. 20 overall to Arizona. However, NFL Network draft expert Mike Mayock told the Chicago Tribune that Ealy could go much earlier.
'I don't think (14) is too high,' Mayock said, referring to the possibility of the Bears drafting the Mizzou product. 'Because when you're looking at the pure 4-3 ends in this draft, they're few and far between.'
The 'Boys pick at no. 16, so if Ealy is the top guy on their draft board, there is the possibility of trading down a few spots and picking up extra picks. But based on Mayock's thinking, no. 16 may not be too early to grab one of the top pass rushers available...especially for a team that just cut its all-time sacks leader.
It's a thin draft at the defensive end position, and the Cowboys need one. Before Ware's departure, I would've said that interior line or safety should be much higher priorities, but now the defensive end position would be more justifiable in the first round. Ealy won't be the top prospect on the board at no. 16, but he will likely be the top pass rusher to fill Ware's shoes. So seeing Ealy put on a Dallas Cowboys cap on draft day shouldn't surprise anyone.