Today, it is time for another chat with Rafael Vela of Cowboysnation.com and his large brain on all things Cowboys and Cowboys draft. Hope you enjoy our sparring session:
Bob Sturm: Let's start with a topic we have touched on in the past, and it appears to be one we may disagree on. Give me the official Vela view on Ratliff and his position discussion
Rafael Vela: I think he's a nose. I've written on this before and get a lot of disagreement but rush noses are rare. Only two in the past 28 years have produced at his level of sacks -- Bill Maas and Michael Carter, both in the '80s. I'm not opposed to getting more help for him inside, to rotate him on 1st and 2nd downs and keep him fresh on rush downs, but he's a power and technique guy, not a speed, edge guy. I think you diminish what makes him great moving him to the 5-technique. He's got to beat OTs out there and he's doesn't have the edge speed of a Demarcus Ware or a Bruce Smith.
Bob Sturm: I guess my view is that like moving my shortstop to 3rd, this is largely an odometer issue with me. I move him to DE partly to preserve him from the constant double teams. Is he Jared Allen or Ware on the edge? No. Is he a much better DE pass rusher than anything the Cowboys have seen since they flipped to a 3-4? You have to concede that point. I think his anchor against the run has diminished steadily until it became a rather large issue in 2010. Why should we believe that will improve when he is past age 30? Further, if every 3-4 team of note uses a 330 NT who is a 2-gapper, what are we trying to prove by trying to go against the grain?
Rafael Vela: Who knows? He's never played there. People think he will be, but he'll get double teamed as much on the edge as he will inside. It will be with TE and OTs rather than Cs and Gs, but I don't see it as an odometer issue. OTs are generally bigger than Cs. I looked at this. Only four or five Cs in the entire league outweigh him by 10 or more pounds. The OTs he'll face are on average 20 lbs. heavier than him. I don't want to mess with something that works. I'd rather find a good DE to put next to him. I think he needs a sidekick more than a replacement.
Rafael Vela: Ah, but there's a major misconception. Teams DON"T 2-gap with their NTs. Rob Ryan's brother Rex claims he uses his NT in a 2-gap front at most 15% of the time.
Bob Sturm: Whether they 2 gap or not in principle, you can bet there is a C-G double on his NT on every single 1st and 10 and 2nd and normal situation. That is what requires Hampton, Wilfork, Raji, etc..
Rafael Vela: But I think we're splitting hairs here. Would a bit NT type like a Phil Taylor or Kendrick Ellis help him? Yes. Because they let Jay line up as a 3-technique and get single blocked on Gs. He''s still working inside but with a lot less pressure. I think we're thinking towards the same goal, but getting caught up in nomenclature.
Rafael Vela: Ratliff's problem isn't his size, but that he has not rotation player. I played NT once up a time in high school. Those double teams wear you down. And he's getting what, 700 snaps a season? He needs a sidekick and his sacks go back up. Remember, ALL of the front 7 guys dropped down last year, not just Ratliff. I think this team really missed Todd Grantham, who left to be the DC at Georgia.
Bob Sturm: Fair enough. I guess the issue is whether or not to target a NT to allow options. And how to best utilize the assets and assess the needs. I guess NT would be rather high on my list. Getting Ratliff against a G the way GB does with Jenkins next to Raji or Pickett is ideal. In all, the Cowboys are giving up 100 pounds to the Packers in their front 3. I see that and wonder if we have the right idea.
Bob Sturm: no doubt, the depth issues are the biggest. Blaming Ratliff for the drop off at the line of scrimmage is silly. I am just looking for deployment solutions.
Rafael Vela: Again, we're moving to the same goal. I have NT high on my list. I've been pushing Kendrick Ellis in my mocks for the last few weeks. A big guy like that, who can line up inside or out, makes the whole line better.
Bob Sturm: let's talk about him. Give us your report on Ellis.
Rafael Vela: Kind of the poor man's Phil Taylor. Those are the two top NTs in this bunch. I liked Taylor, but have been hearing for weeks that he may drift into the late 1st round. I like him, but not that much. Dallas can't fool around and pass on an OT in the 1st, in my opinion. Ellis is the next guy. He was around 340 at his All Star game, where he dominated the week and was 333 at his Pro Day. He's quick, powerful and can play across the line. Dallas was scouting him in 'San Antonio and was at his pro day. I was hoping to look at him in the 3rd, but he's another late riser who may get snagged in the late 2nd. If Dallas trades down and gets a second 2nd round pick, he's on the radar, in my opinion.
Rafael Vela: The guy did have some trouble in college, was kicked off the South Carolina squad, but a bunch of teams are comfortable with him, from what I've seen and heard. Dallas appears to be one of them. You put Marcell Dareus, Taylor and Ellis in that big, power DL category, in that order.
Bob Sturm: It is tough to find Hampton tape, but that all-star game is floating around. I do like Taylor quite a bit. I wish he could get to the 2nd.
Bob Sturm: Dareus would be a real shock to get to #9, agree?
Rafael Vela: He might. He's all over the mocks. He could go in the 20s or he could go in the 40s. We won't know until draft day.
Bob Sturm: Dareus would be a real shock to get to #9, agree?
Rafael Vela: No, nobody will shock me. I did a piece last night. Lots of rumors that the QBs are rising; it seems pretty certain that two, Newton and Gabbert, go before Dallas. What would be amazing is seeing a 3rd, a Mallett or a Locker, jump up to say a Tennessee at eight. Then consider this eight man field -- Dareus, Fairley, A.J. Green, Julio Jones, Von Miller, Patrick Peterson, Quinn and Bowers. THREE of them will be on the board at 9 if three QBs go high. It could be any of them, though I'd be amazed if Miller and Peterson fell through. But any of those others could.
Bob Sturm: 3 QBs up high? Wow. That would be quite ideal
Rafael Vela: Yes, but I have to say, while I would welcome that, from a Cowboys perspective, I'm still skeptical that a third QB goes that high. But I am hearing it more.
Bob Sturm: I wanted to touch a piece you recently have posted at your site, www.cowboysnation.com about Cowboys drafting patterns. Could you share the premise and then we can talk it out a bit?
Rafael Vela: Yeah, I was noting that the biggest problem for Jerry in his first stint as the ''director'' of drafting was that no risk seemed too high. Look at all the high round busts who had red flags coming in, and who had trouble off the field in the league -- from Kareem Larrimore to Quincy Carter to Antonio Bryant to Derek Ross. Some painful picks, because they were 2nd and 3rd round guys mainly.
Bob Sturm: So, you see signs in this current era that we are back where we were?
Rafael Vela: I've noticed in the last three years, we're seeing more risk taking high that we didn't see in the Parcells years. Martellus Bennett, Jason Williams, Dez Bryant. Boom or bust guys. Bennett is still a headache, Williams is gone and Dez, well, you have to try hard to buy worse publicity.
Rafael Vela: that's why the Cam Newton rumors couldn't be dismissed out of hand last month. He's that shiny object.
Bob Sturm: Ouch. ok. Boom or bust - not just in character or off field, but also boom or bust in player projections. Felix?
Rafael Vela: You and I will disagree on him. I don't see him as a bust. I see a guy whose stuck behind a very bad and decaying line. None of the backs looked good behind it last year. He's still making 60-70 yard TD plays.
Rafael Vela: Newton I should say, is that shiny object Jerry likes to chase.
Bob Sturm: Felix? I don't think he is horrible. I just think the percentages said he was a real risk on draft day. He never carried the ball enough at Arkansas to feel like you knew all of the variables for a #1 in the NFL. Mendenhall was much, much safer. But, safe is not interesting on draft day to Jerry. I wrote this April 23, 2008: http://sturminator.blogspot.com/2008/04/case-against-felix-jones.html
Rafael Vela: No, safe isn't, and that concerns me. The needs of this team are meat and potatoes this year. Fix the lines, maybe add a corner or inside linebacker as well. 'that's never been Jerry's style.
Bob Sturm: What do you think of Cam Newton as a pro prospect?
Rafael Vela: Newton? Scares me as a pro. Not the most accurate pocket passer. Not a rhythm passer. You never know with athlete QBs. Steve Young made the transition, but it took him a while. Vince Young didn't do it. Didn't see enough of Tim Tebow to know how he's doing. I'd rather let another team deal with Newton, especially given his stage dad and Newton's "interesting'' past at Florida and Auburn.
Rafael Vela: On Felix, I saw one game late in Garrett's audition that gave me a lot of encouragement. The Colts game. Tashard got a couple of big runs on the special play, that naked toss after an inside fake where Dwight Freeney got suckered. He got what, two 20 yard runs off it. Felix Jones was used like Marion Barber that game. 22 carries, every one inside the tackles. He finished with a 4.0 yard average, I think. Made the gritty runs and got to finish drives. If he had a better line, it would have been higher. I think that may give the team confidence to give him the ball more, thought a better right side of that O-line would help him a lot.
Bob Sturm: There is no doubt that the lines are the key. We both agree. I refuse to give up on Felix until we know for sure. But, my point is simply, I think he was too much of a question to take in the first place. I suppose I could move on in my life, but I just want to be clear that in a crop that deep at RB, there was no reason to reach for a guy because he was so darn interesting and I cannot forget - went to Arkansas.
Rafael Vela: Well, on Felix and Arkansas -- he remains the only Razorback the Cowboys have drafted in the 23 years Jerry has owned the club.
Bob Sturm: I submit that players on the local radar - Big 12 South and other regional locales have the tiebreaker in the war-room. But, your evidence is compelling.
Rafael Vela:2nd round. Who do you look for at 40? That's the most interesting question for me and maybe the key to this draft.
Bob Sturm: I agree. That is an amazingly solid discussion point. It makes my head spin, because we need about 39 names off the board to know for sure. But, odds are really strong that the two categories of greatest need - OL and DL - should allow the Cowboys to get somebody very solid there. I think this draft plays well for where the Cowboys are and what they need to take.
Bob Sturm: For instance, if you told me either Baylor kid is there - Watkins or Taylor - I would run to the podium. But, the DE/DT/OT/OG crop seems rather thick. I have to believe the Cowboys are in a great position if they stay put and do what needs to be done. 2 starters?
Rafael Vela: Well, I'm looking OL there, even if the Cowboys get one in the 1st somewhere. Last night I was working with two puzzle pieces. If the Cowboys go D-line in the 1st, they're gonna need a RT in the 2nd. Ironclad. And while Gabe Carimi is the name, Danny Watkins is the important one. I talk to Wes Bunting a lot on my site and he was on Watkins back in November, saying he would be a sure 1st rounder if he were 6'5'' instead of 6'3'' and 22 instead of 26.
Bob Sturm: Whoa. For Tackle?
Rafael Vela: His point was Watkins played LT last year as well as any other OT coming out this year. Now, get this. He did a piece last week on the National Football Post talking about arm length, how important that is for OTs. Watkins is not a short-armed guy. If the Cowboys need a quick plug-and-play RT, I think he could be a candidate, even if they go with a Tyron Smith in the 1st and especially if they leave it with a Dareus. Cause Ben Ijalana is a small school guys and like Solder, and perhaps Smith, looks like a guy who might be ready in game 10 or season two, but not in game one.
Bob Sturm: I don't remember one snap at tackle at the Senior Bowl. I think the NFL sees him as a guard. That would be a radical idea. Either way, if Watkins is available, I need no selling because he can play either Guard right now and do it well. If he can also do some tackle, then that is frosting. But, I need two starting guards real soon anyway.
Rafael Vela: As I said, if Dallas took a Smith or a Carimi in the 1st, Watkins would still be a high interest player in the 2nd, because he can play G right away. I've heard rumors some teams think he could also transition to guard, though I was told he didn't handle any snaps there at the Senior Bowl.
Bob Sturm: But, you are not going to make decisions on draft day based on the ability to start week 1, are you? That would seem short sighted to me. If Ijalana is the better prospect, I can wait a year for the payoff.
Rafael Vela: Yeah, I'm hoping the team won't base that 2nd round pick on instant impact, but these are the Cowboys. I'm afraid they will. Look at Sean Lee last year and how they were force feeding him to get him ready for week one. They fully expected Dez Bryant and Sean Lee to start in week one.
Rafael Vela: Same reason I like Stefan Wisniewski. Can play C and could give you some guard if needed.
Bob Sturm: I like his tape, too.
Bob Sturm: Is Stephen Paea a player of interest in this scheme at #40?
Rafael Vela:: I think that's gonna affect their thinking, regardless of what Stephen Jones said this past week about best player available. I've heard Paea project better to a 3 technique in a 4-3, rather than as a nose, despite the amazing bench at the Combine. I haven't looked at him too much.
Bob Sturm:: I can only remember Rob Ryan losing his mind in that weight room. Silly connection to make, but I am guilty.
Rafael Vela:: But Rob Ryan plays multiple fronts in his scheme. He'll take a good interior player with some versatility.
Bob Sturm: You know, the idea of the trade back from #9 and hope to pick up a pick in the #50-#60 range is so very interesting and perfect for the Cowboys. Of all of the names and scenarios, this is the one you have been focusing on and it should really be the focus of all involved.
Rafael Vela: If they really love Carimi, it makes sense to move down to 17 or 18. Hope the QB go high and a plus pass rusher gets to 9. That should get Dallas an extra 2nd rounder.
Bob Sturm: In that #50-#60 range should be players like Rahim Moore, Brooks Reed, and perhaps Rodney Hudson.
Bob Sturm:To snag an extra one of those types could turn this thing on a dime in their favor. Carimi, Watkins, and Moore? Wow. I love that before they are on the clock in the 3rd.
Rafael Vela: I don't like any of those guys, to be honest. Moore ran a 4.62 at Indy.
Reed is a workout warrior and Hudson is what, 292? Unless he's added 15 lbs. I don't know about, I don't see him as a Cowboys prospect. I don't like any safeties in the first 3 rounds. Lets face it, Dallas doesn't know how to draft them and this is a terrible year for safeties. If they take one in the first 3 rounds, I'm putting low odds on success.
Bob Sturm:Moore plays CF pretty well. But, I admit, he is only the best safety in a bad year. I might challenge you on Reed. His tape is quite impressive. I don't care about workouts like I do about college production and tape. I think Reed is a real solid 3-4 OLB prospect.
Rafael Vela: But in the 2nd round? Reed?
Bob Sturm: Reed in the 50's? yes. If I have an extra 2nd, I would think it through. But, not with #40.
Rafael Vela: I'm looking O-line, D-line and ILB in the 2nd. Maybe CB at the back end. But that's me.
Bob Sturm: I know. But, by #50, you better consider best player on your board a bit more. If Reed can cause havoc on passing downs from the edge, I would think is worthy, but we are spending way too much time on Brooks Reed.
Bob Sturm: Talk to me about JJ Watt.
Rafael Vela: I like J.J., but I have a lot of other guys I like more in that 1st. He's a very, very productive player, tested well. What impressed me watching him this year was how often he got his hands on the football as a DE. Caused a lot of fumbles, got into passing lanes when he was blocked. Knocked down a lot of passes. He's that ''football player'' teams talk a lot about. I just wonder if he'll be a good but not great pro and people will give him the Marcus Spears treatment. Because if he's drafted by Dallas, will will likely be in the same range where Spears was taken.
Bob Sturm: Compare with Cam Jordan?
Rafael Vela: Pretty similar players. I think Jordan is a better pass rusher, but they're gonna rate about the same, so the Cowboys may like Watt more. It's like Fairley and Dareus, but one click down. Which do you prefer?
Bob Sturm: I think I like Jordan more as a player, but I do fall for the "high motor" guy as a tie-breaker. I need to see more Cal tape. What I saw was not quite as awesome as I had hoped. Watt does always stand out, but what is he in a 3-4? A 5 technique may require a better anchor vs the run. I love him as a 4-3 end.
Rafael Vela:: I like both Jordan and Watt and think either would improve the defense. I think Jordan can play more spots on the 3-4 front. I've heard that a few teams think he could stand up on 3rd down and rush off the edge, a 290 lb. OLB. Think about that one.
Rafael Vela: If you're a RB you don't want to think about that one.
Bob Sturm: I wondered the same thing about Bowers. Big stand up OLB. Seems crazy, but in this hybrid NFL...
Bob Sturm: Do you have any indication what the Cowboys plan in FA? Is Huff really a priority, or did I make that up in my head?
Rafael Vela: There will be some S prospects out there. Huff concerns me, because I remember talk in his second year that he was a bust. He came on recently, but guys who blow up in their contract year scare me. I'd be a lot more interested in Eric Weddle, if he decides to test the market. But I have no idea what Dallas will do in free agency. Nobody knows what the cap will be. I think that's the biggest issue today.
Bob Sturm: I think this is a good spot to keep them wanting more for next time. www.cowboysnation.com is where Rafael is posting daily. Nice job, sir. Let's do it again soon!
Rafael Vela:Any time.