Rafael Vela is one of my favorite Cowboys Bloggers and he runs Cowboysnation.com and focuses plenty on the same topics I love to talk about: X's and O's during the season and breaking down the roster all the way to man #53 in the offseason. His work on the draft is exhaustive and quite strong and I wanted to chat with him on these topics:
Bob Sturm: Thanks for doing this, Rafa. Let's start with how you feel about the Cowboys roster at this point. How much do they need to put the proper roster on the field - very general question, I know, but...
Rafael Vela: Sure. I've pointed out in the past I think the team is really two drafts away from being a serious contender. Given that, I'm wary of the team thinking it can fix everything in one offseason and going crazy in the draft.
Bob Sturm: Let's zero in on the most gaping concerns then. Where do you feel this team is the poorest?
Rafael Vela: I think the needs are obvious on the lines. I'd start on offensive line. No sure right tackle, a right guard whose game could fall off a cliff at any minute and nothing certain in depth. Phil Costa and Sam Young get good comments from the team but what do we know about them? They need a quality DE. They may need two safeties and another young corner is necessary. another ILB wouldn't hurt either. At least four immediate starters and eight players total.
Bob Sturm: 4 starters. Right Tackle. Free Safety. Strong Safety. And Defensive End?
Rafael Vela:: Yep. Add ILB, CB young OL in the pipelines and they could also use a fullback desperately.
Bob Sturm: I do wonder if Sensabaugh could survive - although I would want to replace him if possible - if the right solution doesn't come along elsewhere.
Rafael Vela: Sensabaugh could get by for a year as a default guy, but the S's are so bad on assignments. You can't do that in any defense but it will kill Rob Ryan's scheme.
Bob Sturm:: And isn't the worst part of Sensabaugh's game is that he seems to be a "finesse" strong safety? Not many of those in the NFL.
Rafael Vela:: I think the worst thing is he can cover really well some of the time and then will whiff on a tackle or on coverage. There's that old Parcells' adage -- you need to know what you have. You don't know from series to series or even play to play what you have with either S.
Rafael Vela:I'm sure Jason Garrett wants a stronger run game and they need a quality lead blocker
Bob Sturm: OK. We see eye to eye then on this topic. I was curious about where you saw both Guard spots and various other spots, too.
Rafael Vela: Ah, guard. I like Kyle Kosier, don't like Leonard Davis. Bad feet and getting worse. They may get by with Kosier for another year but he's on short time. Add TWO guards to the shopping list. Plus, they're mismatched. Kosier is a speed guard, good pulling, getting on screens, needs help on double teams inside. BIgg is a sluggo, straight ahead; they really need to make up their minds on the type of line they want.
Bob Sturm: Yes. Young guards is a priority. I find the most disconcerting thing about the Cowboys OL and DL is the real lack of depth. You are talking yourself into guys based on "who is behind them?" which is never preferred.
Rafael Vela:Right on the lines. But you need to get the starters before the depth. That's why I say two drafts. You could hit on every pick and still have lots of needs going to 2012
Bob Sturm: OK. So, here is the reason to talk to you today (among others). I know you have been awful fixated on the April Draft for a while. Let's talk about the Cowboys strategy moving forward to fill these 4 holes in particular. #9. First, why is everyone in the world putting Prince with the Cowboys, when I think we both believe the Cowboys are not interested?
Rafael Vela: Laughs. I don't know. I'm pretty confident, and I think you are, that he's not the guy at 9. He's not a top 10 pick in my book. I think a lot of these folks go on Prince before the season and don't want to back off. If Dallas gets Patrick Peterson sliding to them at maybe pick 8, they'll deal up for him but that's the only way I see corner at pick 9.
Bob Sturm: Do you agree that the play at #9 is to attempt to trade back and pick up picks. Otherwise, I need OT or DE if possible?
Rafael Vela: Absolutely. Look, the strength of this draft in the 1st round is DE and OT. It lines up perfectly for Dallas. The CB spot is very deep, and there will be good ones to choose from in the 3rd and maybe even the 4th. It almost makes too much sense. You have the talent at DE and OT lining up with your needs in the first two rounds. Now, do you trust Jerry to pick to the talent? That's a whole other story
Bob Sturm: Well, that is one weakness on this team that we likely can't address this offseason. Ok. Trade down candidates? I know you have looked into this.
Rafael Vela: People say New England, but I don't think so. BIll Belichick has moved up once, to get Jerrod Mayo. The rest of the time he deals down, and tries to deal late 1sts for next year's 1st. I think San Diego could be an option
Bob Sturm: Is there a position of strength assuming that teams might look at #10 - Washington as a place for a QB. So, those teams need a QB might want to sneak in front of them at #9?
Rafael Vela: A.J. Smith has a history of moving up and he is on a bit of a hot seat. He may be a GM who feels he's one or two players away and hence would pull the trigger. QB is interesting. If you're set on dealing down, hope Gabbert gets past Tennessee at 8. But I"m not sure that will happen. OTOH, we don't know who will fall and to me this is the interesting play in this draft.
Bob Sturm: Right. Also, I am interested in 3-4 teams moving in and out for those 3-4 edge players and DE's. It is surely a different pick list for teams from this DL crop based on scheme.
Rafael Vela: there are eight to nine guys likely to go first, in some order -- Fairley, Dareus, Bowers, Peterson, Newton, Gabbert, the two WRs Jones and Green and Von MIller. ONE of them is going to fall to pick 9
Bob Sturm:: So, you are looking for a falling player to entice a trade back unless it is Peterson or Dareus?
Rafael Vela:If it's a DE, Dallas may pick or Peterson. Otherwise, they hold an auction. And if the player is a DE like Bowers, who may be better at OLB in a 34, you hope the 43 DE teams start calling. That changes the matchup partners. Which of the teams in the 10-18 range want one of them? If one of the WRs drops, an AJ Green or Julio Jones, the Rams immediately come to mind.
Bob Sturm: Took the words right out of my mouth
Rafael Vela: Sam Bradford makes the playoffs if St. Louis can add a quality WR
Bob Sturm: OK. At #9. Staying put and eliminating long shots - your board of preference right this second. Top 5 names in order:
Rafael Vela:There should be conditions on dealing down. I think Dallas needs to get one of five players if they deal down. Okay, let me answer that question. Staying at 9?
Bob Sturm: Yes.
Rafael Vela: Sure -1. Peterson 2. Fairley 3. Dareus (though I think Dallas may be one team that likes Dareus more) I think Fairley looks like Leon Lett Jr. (the good Leon) 4. Cam Jordan 5. Tyron Smith, thought I swing back and forth between 4 and 5 maybe hourly. Those two could also be available if Dallas moves down 4-5 picks.
Bob Sturm: You don't need to talk me into Nick Fairley. You do need to talk me into Nick Fairley in a 3-4. I just am not sure he makes sense in this scheme.
Rafael Vela:What does Stephen Bowen weigh? Nick Fairley is the same weight, long arms, explosive.
Bob Sturm: 305? But, Stephen Bowen can't stay on the field because he cannot plug the run.
Rafael Vela:Well, in that case why are we talking about J.J. Watt or Cam Jordan? or Fairley? They're all in the 290s. I think they can do it. Rob Ryan is going to use a base 3-4 *package* on almost every down, but he's not going to give a straight 3-4 two-gap *look* on every play.
Bob Sturm: I have seen Jordan at California in a 5 Technique stack up a run play enough times to see that. Not sure on Watt. I keep going back to the current issue on the Cowboys DL is that none of those guys can do the full job. Some are pluggers and some are rushers. At #9 for that money, I need a guy who can do it all.
Rafael Vela:His brother Rex, who I'm using as a guard, uses a straight up two-gap about 15% of the time
Rafael Vela:On your point, that's why I think the Cowboys may like Dareus more than Fairley. I just think Fairley, Jordan and Watt give you more because they can rush the passer. I see Dareus as a bigger, better Marcus Spears.
Bob Sturm: Which is another argument for Dareus. I think he is a legit "do it all" prospect from what I see. Fairly looks like an awesome inside 4-3 guy, with Sapp/Tommie Harris qualities (the good Tommie) but in this scheme, I have some pause. of course, we differ on Ratliff, so I understand this conflict.
Rafael Vela: I just see Fairley as a playmaker more so than Dareus. But don't get me wrong, I won't complain if Dallas drafts Marcell Dareus
Bob Sturm: Me, too on Fairley. But, the Chiefs picked that LSU DT and then flipped schemes and they just haven't figured things out totally yet. A guy has to make sense with what you want to do.
Rafael Vela: Tyson Jackson is a lot like Dareus. Solid run player, but not a pass rusher. A better value at say, pick 15, but he was picked 3rd, so he's getting the Marcus Spears treatment in K.C.
Bob Sturm:: I meant Dorsey
Rafael Vela:Ah, okay
Rafael Vela: I think they're better off going OT in the first, however. If need be, they could rent Marcus Spears for another year. They need a RT desperately.
Bob Sturm: OK. Let's talk OT. I stay far away from Nate Solder. Where are you on the Colorado Tackle that is making people go crazy based on his youtube destruction of an intern?
Rafael Vela: You don't play on YouTube. You play on the field. I probably like Solder the least of the OTs. I don't know where they are on Castonzo, but I would go after Smith, Carimi and Sherrod, in that order
Bob Sturm: Amen. I like it when we agree so much. But, boy, his projections from people I trust (the Goose) tell me he falls near #9
Rafael Vela: I think Tyron Smith's pro day will say a lot about what Dallas does. If he blows it up and has added a little weight and is up to 310, he may force their hand. but we don't know yet.
Bob Sturm: I don't need further selling, but I know you were on Tyron Smith before me. I looked at his tape and I love his upside and his current play is not bad at all. Sell the class on him if he is your top Tackle:
Rafael Vela: Geez, what's not to like? He was 307 at the Combine. He's a 307 lb. spider -- he has arms that are almost 37 inches long. Now, get a measuring tape out at home and measure out 37 inches, and put your arms next to that. It will depress you. But back to Smith. He's got great feet, can probably play both sides and there this: He just turned 20 in mid-December
Bob Sturm: Never played LT. Is that an issue?
Rafael Vela:From what I understand, he played RT because Charles Brown was there and USC wanted to get Smith on the field ASAP. They left him there last year.
Bob Sturm: I never hear people talk about his run blocking, but I was pretty impressed with his ability to get to the 2nd level in the tape I just watched against UCLA.
Rafael Vela: Plus, I don't get this NEED some people have to pass him over if he projects to RT. who was the more dominant OT in the pair? Ralph Neeley or Rayfield Wright? Mark Tuinei or Erik Williams? You think the HOF dinged Rayfield because he was ''only'' a RT?
Bob Sturm: The LT/RT issue is evolving. Now that Woodley, Clay Matthews, and many other players line up over RT, this LT issue is fading.
Rafael Vela:Right, pass rush today is all about matchups. The Cowboys flop Demarcus Ware too. If you have a weakness, the opposing DCs will find it. Dallas' biggest hole is at RT. So, does Dallas love him enough to take him at 9?
Bob Sturm: Solder and Smith both are projects on some level. I feel much better about Smith because Solder looks naturally stiff when it comes to pass protection. the California game exposed him badly (available on youtube) and the Senior Bowl showed more of the same. And his strength concerned me. Smith doesn't have these issues. And you are right. His arms are freakishly long. I would think the Cowboys do love him enough to take him at #9. And I would be thrilled with the purchase. Your opening Day RT. There will be some growing pains, but by the time he hits the old age of 23, you have a pro bowl RT, iMO.
Rafael Vela:I think it would be nutty if they liked him and passed on him. You draft for the career, not only for 2011. Who's got the best projected career? I love Gabe Carimi, but if he's a RT only, you'll get 5-7 years on him. If Smith is the real deal you could get a dozen years of Larry Allen like versatility, where he could play either side.
Bob Sturm: Let's talk Carimi, because again, I feel you and I like him more than other people do. He is not a freak at all. He is just solid and not a risk. Solder is a tremendous - Robert Gallery - type risk. Not a guy at #9, but if you trade down, I think Carimi could make sense, too.
Rafael Vela: Agreed. Here's one thing I love about Carimi. Wisconsin runs a pro style running attack and they have a crack toss, where they have a TE or motion WR block down on the end and pull Carimi out in space. He eats up LBs and DBs. It's fun to watch if you're pulling for U.W. That was Dallas' signature running play in '08, when Marc Colombo's legs were intact.
Bob Sturm: There seem to be some Doug Free qualities to Carimi in my mind.
Rafael Vela:That's missing and Felix Jones is suffering because the Cowboys can't spring him on the right perimeter right now. they're a one handed team
Bob Sturm:: I don't know as much about Sherrod right now. What do you like there?
Rafael Vela:He's flying under the radar, but he's a solid player, who can also play LT or RT. In some ways I wonder if he's a safer pick than Carimi for that reason. The reason to go Carimi is he's got a nasty run blocking disposition. You could get some Erik Williams like push and early from him. Not so sure the other guys are as good in the run game, but Sherrod will take the pass blocking headaches away. Tony Romo has bailed out this line so much the past four years with his legs we take it for granted. How good could he be if he got Tom Brady like protection? He's never had it, has he?
Bob Sturm: I think we should stop here, but we need to do this again soon to talk 2nd round and other positions. How about you plug your fine operation and we do this again...
Rafael Vela: Glad to. I'm at cowboysnation.com You can follow on Twitter at Cowboysnation1. We're doing our own weekly draft pieces today and tomorrow and every Wednesday and Thursday up to the actual draft. Look forward to round two. Thanks for the invite.
Bob Sturm: Thank you, Mr Vela.