Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Chat with Rafael Vela

Bob Sturm: OK, Well, a few days until go time and we have plenty of items to chew on with the rumors of moving up, moving down, and staying put. A wonderful time of the year, Mr Vela

Rafael Vela: Just looking at the news Christian Ballard and Justin Houston failed tests at Indy -- for pot. Yes, this is Christmas on Earth for NFL fans

Bob Sturm: No doubt about it. OK. Let's operate in the realm of "what we know". And this year, that seems to be a shorter list than usual. Usually, we have a team at #1 negotiating with its pick and dominoes start to fall. I feel like we are still pretty much guessing with regards to the top of Round 1. Agree?

Rafael Vela: Yeah. Have you ever seen at top 10-15 so crazy? We know some players are going in an area -- Von Miller, A.J. Green, those guys are going high, but it's bizarre that so many people say Patrick Peterson is likely the 1st or 2nd rated player overall and we see him perhaps sliding to 7th? Strange year, Bob.

Bob Sturm: Well, let's place some percentages on the following. Cowboys trade up, Cowboys stay at #9, Cowboys trade down. I will start at 20%, 50%, 30% from my end. I think trading up is a real possibility, but I am weighing that against my desire that they don't. Fill in those percentages from your spot.

Rafael Vela: You know, that's tough. I'm gonna copy your odds. I think they want to deal down and get that extra 2nd or 3rd, but who knows if anybody will be dying to move up. The rumors are all over the place. Over the weekend it was 5 QBs in the 1st round, and yesterday Blaine Gabbert is falling all the way down to 15th. I think that uncertainty may make a team like Dallas just sit and pick if it has a player it really likes.

Rafael Vela:: On that point, which top players are ''clean?'' Newton and Gabbert have question marks. Nick Fairley's character is taking some shots. Robert Quinn has the questions about his brain tumor. Tyron Smith has doubters about his weight gain

Bob Sturm: So, players that I feel are automatic studs?

Rafael Vela: Yes. That I feel or you feel?

Bob Sturm: Well, I guess my position would be the following: Peterson. Dareus. Miller (10 sacks a year). I am willing to go with Quinn. Green. Jones. So, I have 6.

Bob Sturm: Quinn does have a brain tumor and some questions of character, but the tape doesn't lie. And his tape may be more spectacular than anyone in the draft. And that brain tumor was discovered in high school.

Rafael Vela: As rookies? I think Dareus will be solid. Peterson? Depends on the team drafting him. If he can press and play his game, sure. We saw that with Mike Jenkins. The simpler the assignments, the easier the transition. I'm not sure on Green and Jones, just cause rookie WRs don't blow up. It's year two when most of them take off. I think the pass rushers and the O-linemen are the safest bets for fast get offs. And of course, Mark Ingram and Mikael Leshoure will be drafted low and probably produce right away, cause running backs do, and they'll be seen as ''steals.''

Bob Sturm: If we say that Peterson is worthy of being a top pick in the draft, and then we suggest he may be in play with a deal with Cleveland (#9 and #71 for #6) then we better say what he is and what he isn't. What is Peterson long term if he wears the Star?

Rafael Vela:: Peterson? If he can run, you leave him at corner. That's his calling card, right? A 219 lb. corner with 4.32 speed? Ronnie Lott moved to safety because he struggled as a corner his rookie year. I can't see spending that much on a guy to move him to safety. And again, Dallas hasn't transitioned a player to safety since Darren Woodson in 1992.

Bob Sturm: The issue with Peterson remains the following: he is 20 years old and weighs 219 pounds. Evolution says he will be 225 or 230 by his 24th or 25th birthday. At corner long term? That is my only question on an otherwise shockingly strong player. And as you have stated, there is too much money and too much at stake to just say, "oh, well we will just pop him to safety". And how many 225 pound corners can you name?

Rafael Vela: If he can run, I'd leave him alone. Otherwise, you're using that ''players in jeans'' mentality that Billy Beane ripped apart in the beginning of moneyball. If he can play on the outside, leave him there. That's what I think.

Bob Sturm: So, you don't care that there isn't a comparable? I like the guts, I just don't know if that is a wise move. Remember Bobby Taylor? he only weighed 216 for the Eagles. And he was a huge corner.

Rafael Vela: You have years of tape that says he can do it. Do you deny your eyes because nobody else that big has ever done it? That's a bonus, in my mind. Receivers keep getting bigger. You have a guy as big as Hakeem Nicks or Dez Bryant chasing him around, why not?

Bob Sturm: Point, Rafael.

Rafael Vela: Well, that's why you would go to the trouble to trade up, if you can, right?

Bob Sturm: I would say so, but I still want to sit at #9 instead. OK, so sell me for or against the decision if he is there at #6. Is he special enough to drop everything and do it?

Rafael Vela: And yes, on Bobby Taylor. What was his calling card? He could go toe-to-toe with Michael Irvin. Big negates big. I think Dallas might think he's special enough to move up. I just don't want to burn another 3rd round pick making that move. That's a good player you're passing up. Dallas did this last year and that catches up to you.

Bob Sturm: Of course, the downside is that your OL is still un-fixed if we do that.

Rafael Vela: Exactly. Sooner or later, Dallas has to fix that line. They owe Tony Romo a good, young line at some point in his career.

Bob Sturm: Ok. So, although I hear signs that the Cowboys are not as excited about Tyron Smith as I am, I am still going to operate under the theory that his choice at #9 appeals to me more than anyone else there. I feel value meets need rarely, but this seems to be a spot where best player available is exactly the same as your biggest need on your roster.

Rafael Vela: I agree. And I wonder if the Cowboys are throwing up a lot of smoke to obscure their real plans? Ten days ago Smith was a cinch. Now? Maybe it's J.J. Watt. Maybe it's Castonzo. Maybe they move for Peterson. Maybe they still like Prince. I don't know how the league insiders feel, but it has worked on me. I'm fatigued trying to parse every rumor. I'm ready for them to draft.

Rafael Vela: I have to commend them, though. This is more Jimmy Johnson's M.O. that team has leaked information in recent years, and it has hurt them. Think the Tony Gonzalez mess in '96. I like their duplicity and secrecy. It makes it tougher to read them but that's the point, I think.

Bob Sturm: Let's visit about Castonzo versus Smith. The discussion seems to center around 2011 ability which bothers me. But, if you believe what you hear, they like 50 starts at Boston College over the development time Smith may require. Give me your run down on this. Maybe it is just smoke?

Rafael Vela: I wonder if it is smoke? You draft for anticipated career performance. If you draft based on which player is going to be better in September and October 2011, you're nuts. If they feel Tyron Smith is going to be the better player in a year or two, that's who you should take. If they're not convinced, take Castonzo. The idea that you draft a guy on 2011 readyness makes no sense, even in the 1st round. Time won't end in 2011.

Bob Sturm: And, I do want to be clear. I am fine with Castonzo or Carimi if it means I get another pick in the 2nd round. But, I just cannot study all 3 players and suggest that they are equal to Smith in upside and potential to be a superstar at the position in 4 years. I think he has special qualities and I think they are solid players. The Cowboys could use any of the 3 right now. But, Castonzo and Carimi are more trade down targets. Of course, I talk on the radio and blog. They are NFL personnel experts, so I do leave open the possibility that their findings may not agree with mine. :)

Rafael Vela: I see these names as representing tiers. If they move up, they get Peterson. If they stay at 9, I think they're taking Smith. If they move down a bit, that's where Watt and Castonzo come into play. I think they like all of them and the player they take will come down to who is available and the types of offers they get on draft day. They may love Tyron Smith at 9, but love Watt and the extra pick they get better. They won't know until they get called. Stephen Jones is right about that.

Bob Sturm: Yes. Great intrigue there. In the trade down category. we have 2 tiers as well, right? Tier 1 is Minnesota at #12, Detroit at #13 and St Louis at #14 jockeying for a particular player. That drop may just get you an additional 3rd which may not be enough to convince you. But, New England and San Diego require a bigger drop, but an additional 2nd. This is where your hopes should lie I think. New England at #17, San Diego at #18

Rafael Vela:: I'm not that convinced New England moves up. I saw a report yesterday they have a pending offer for a 2nd this year and a 1st next year if the right guy is there at 28. That's Bill Belichick's preferred way of trading. I've heard the Chargers have talked to them about the 33rd pick. If they're already working out deals for futures picks, where is the ammo for the big move up? If San Diego is working to move into the late 1st, and they have the 50th pick as their springboard, then that pick won't be part of a move up to 9. And I've said it before, the Rams and Lions still have a lot of holes. Will they burn a 3rd to move up, when they're assured of filling a need at 13 or 14? I don' t know. I think there may be fewer deals than we've considered. But hey, I've been wrong before.

Bob Sturm: So, you seem to be lacking conviction that a trade down offer will even be available. That of course is highly possible and should be strongly considered. However, with Washington at #10 needing QB and WR so badly, the slipping of either position to #9 should make the phone ring in my humble estimation.

Bob Sturm: Teams do strange things at the moment of truth. That is why we should all stay out of casinos unless we are planning to play with the rush of blood to our head.

Rafael Vela: Yeah, but Washington is looking for a move down if they can't get a QB at 10. Who's moving up? The Vikings, I hear, won't deal up for Gabbert. The Dolphins don't have a 2nd, so their hands are tied.

Bob Sturm: Let's say they roll with JJ Watt. It seems pretty clear he is on their short list and if there is no trade down, maybe, just maybe, they grab him at #9. What are the backup plans on the OL? Wow me with your Plan B there, if you have worked this one over in your head.

Rafael Vela: We all want those deals to happen, but who's moving up? The QBs, last I heard were cooling down. And that may be the case. I remember a few years ago hearing Chad Henne was hot and Dallas could maybe deal down into the 2nd with a team looking to get him. Miami got him in the 2nd. Deep in the 2nd.

Rafael Vela: I don't know the Plan B. I like J.J. Watt. He would be a productive player for them. A bigger, stronger Tony Tolbert type. If they go that way, I don't really see an OT worth the 40, unless they got really lucky and a Derek Sherrod or Danny Watkins dropped into the early 2nd. Then you might see Dallas try moving up 5 or 6 spots for him. Otherwise, we're looking at the James Carpenters and Marcus Gilberts in the 3rd.

Bob Sturm:: These are disconcerting scenarios for those of us that believe the OL is the top priority and maybe the 2nd priority, too.

Rafael Vela: You can't push the board. That gets you into even more trouble. You're right -- the matchup for O-line and need will likely come in the 1st round. If you pass there? You may be chasing that OT all day. I don't need another Max Unger story.

Bob Sturm: OK. Before we wrap up this chat, let's visit about #40. The Top 5 realistic names for Mr Vela at #40 are....

Rafael Vela: 40 has mystified me all spring. I still don't have a feel for it. I think they like Aaron Williams there. I don't but I'm convinced they do. I think Rahim Moore enters their thinking there. I think Martez Wilson and maybe Mason Foster are in their thinking. Andy Dalton is all over the map, from 15 to 50 but I think they think about him there. Don't know why, but I dont' really see offense there. I'd be surprised if they took a Jon Baldwin there, but with Dallas? Who knows. How many people were stunned when they took Anthony Fasano and Martellus Bennett in the 2nd?

Bob Sturm: It still seems like there could be some manner of DL/OL depth there, but you don't want to reach. Also, I could see a CB falling to me if I am lucky. Projecting #40 seems terribly silly at this juncture, and yet I cannot resist.

Rafael Vela: Ah, corner. Thanks. I had a brain freeze there. Yes, if the QB rush happens in the late 20s, early 30s, put Brandon Harris in that mix. He's the DB I'd like the most from the guys they've met.

Bob Sturm: You can certainly sell me on Aaron Williams. We have mentioned your theory on Dalton, but let me bounce Ryan Mallett back at you. At #40, will Jerry's Hog Hat be too much to resist?

Rafael Vela: Yes. Ryan Mallett would be a disaster for this team. Remember the Drew Carey joke about Bernie Kosar avoiding the rush, where Carey took the mic stand and swung it like a metronome? Well, Mallett has even slower feet. Look at all the dancing Tony Romo has done to stay alive behind this line. You're telling me Dallas is going to avoid O-line early and then put that guy behind their protection? Yikes.

Bob Sturm: Not saying I like it at all. I am merely trying to anticipate my forehead slaps for the week ahead.

Rafael Vela: Don't look for trouble, Bob. It usually has no trouble finding you.

Bob Sturm: However, I do think Mallett has a chance to be ok. His arm is very delicious, and unlike Jeff George, at #40, it won't cost me an arm and a leg to find out. That being said, let someone else gamble.

Rafael Vela: Right. He needs a team with a good running back, so he can run play action off of that. Tennessee. Minnesota. Teams like that make sense for him.

Bob Sturm: Oh, back to a previous answer, you listed Foster and Wilson at #40. ILB options. Still a major priority for you?

Rafael Vela: No, actually. I was told yesterday by the NFP's Wes Bunting that linebacker is shaping up as a strength of the 2012 draft, at least among the seniors. WIth so many good D-linemen and corners likely to still be around in the 2nd, why not take from those deep talent pools and get your ILB next year? It's not like Bradie James is dead. His contract runs out after this season, not before.

Bob Sturm: forward thinking, indeed. Ok. Good stuff. Enjoy the draft, and maybe we can visit about the results early next week. Thank you, sir. and go visit Rafael at www.cowboysnation.com when you have a moment.

Rafael Vela: Thanks, Bob. I'll be talking draft with Bunting today and Wednesday and I may have some other draft surprises to announce. As always, Bob, thanks to you and to the DMN for the space. Much appreciated.

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