Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Morning Of: The 2012 NFL Draft

Congratulations on surviving the 2 or 3 most "speculation filled" months of the NFL calendar, otherwise known as the run-up to the NFL Draft. Day 1 has arrived, and by the time your head hits the pillow tonight, the Cowboys hopes and dreams will be renewed with the belief that they have acquired a franchise-altering talent to add to their squad.

Of course, so will every other team in the league, but let's just focus on this weekend from a Cowboys perspective. And right now, let's continue to zero in on pick #14.

Speculation is often what creates this dog chasing its tail feeling as we approach late April. In March, everything looked like it might break right for the Cowboys on draft day. Why? Because, the Top 10 picks seemed to be largely players that were not really on the Cowboys radar because of their position or because they did not fit the schemes in Dallas very well.

That left a bunch of players that were on the Cowboys wish list working their way down to Dallas and the immediate vicinity. This gave us the indication that like in 2011 when the Cowboys had to pick which stud they wanted as JJ Watt and Tyron Smith stood close by, the Cowboys might be able to have their pick of their two top wishes, Fletcher Cox and Mark Barron.

However, even though it could be largely speculation-based, there is a real feeling now that Cox and Barron could both be gone by the time the Cowboys take the clock sometime after 8:30 pm. If that happens, Dallas has to have considered all possibilities and scenarios so that they are not left to panic. This could all be smoke-screens. Nobody really knows until the bullets really start flying, but if Quinton Coples and Melvin Ingram are not taken in the Top 12 picks - like we thought was a sure thing a month ago - then, we face the real possibility that the Cowboys will be dropping down to their 4th or 5th favorite option when the pick happens. That might not necessarily be a horrible situation, but it could cause them to pick a guy that they are not completely sold on.

Ok. Let's get down to specifics. As a Cowboys fan, I think you should be pleased when any of the following names go off the board tonight after Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Trent Richardson, Matt Kalil, Justin Blackmon, and Morris Claiborne fill up the Top 6 picks most likely in some order: Ryan Tannehill, Riley Reiff, Luke Kuechly, Coples, Ingram, Michael Floyd, Stephon Gilmore, and maybe even someone like Dontari Poe. This would push the rest of the names down to you, and there you will find the Cowboys short list. These are names that are talented players but are either not really strong on the Cowboys wish list or not on at all.

So, based on those names going in the top 13, we are left with Cox, Barron, David DeCastro, Michael Brockers, Courtney Upshaw, and Dre Kirkpatrick.

I spent quite a bit of time breaking down each and every one of these players over the last few months, and about 2 weeks ago released my full analysis of what I would do at #14 and what the Cowboys would do at #14. You can read that by clicking on this link. By the way, if you follow that link, you will find profile breakdowns on every player on this list.

Here is what I thought the Cowboys board looked like on April 13:

1. Cox
2. Barron
3. Upshaw
4. Brockers
5. Kirkpatrick
6. Poe
7. DeCastro
8. Ingram
9. Coples

Now that we are 13 days later, I am not sure I would make any significant adjustments, except to drop Upshaw down behind Brockers and Kirkpatrick and maybe move DeCastro up.

But, overall, I think this is pretty close to right on. Fletcher Cox is their top priority. Then, Mark Barron. Personally, I would move David DeCastro behind Cox and perhaps in front of even Barron, but I have it on pretty strong authority that Jerry Jones just does not want to take a guard/center in the draft. In fact, I might argue that the whole reason they signed two guards last month (even though neither is regarded as a significant signing) was to avoid having to take an interior lineman that high in the draft. I think DeCastro is a safe and proper pick, but if we have learned anything about this regime at Valley Ranch, safe isn't something they are interested in.

Trust me, I would be delighted with DeCastro being selected at #14 if Cox is gone, but I think the Cowboys are more compelled to reach for Brockers if Cox and Barron are gone. And that frightens me.

Michael Brockers is a player I spent a lot of time on. I watched plenty of his last season at LSU and I just don't like what I saw. He was on a dominant defense with plenty of parts that scared people, and yet he merely blended in. He is not without intrigue, but I just cannot get too excited about a player who has two main traits of interest: 1) his arm length and wing span and 2) his ability to plug the run.

Yes, he does have special physical traits, but so does Cowboys project Clifton Geathers. In fact, Geathers has better wing span, arm length, and height. Yet, the Cowboys are Geathers' 4th team and he was picked in the 6th round. Brockers is being touted as a top half of the 1st round guy. And the ability to plug the run? That is something you must have, but again, I shouldn't have to spend pick #14 to get a run plugger. Marcus Spears and Kenyon Coleman both plug the run, and that is why we are looking for defensive linemen in the first place. The Cowboys wanted more than that. They wanted a full-time defensive end who can play in every situation. At this point of his career, Brockers is not anywhere close to that guy. Here is what I wrote in his full profile last month:

Dallas doesn't need a project in their defensive line. They need a plug-and-play difference maker. When comparing him to Fletcher Cox, I see Brockers as part of an ensemble cast, where the opposition might pay more attention to Sam Montgomery or Barkevious Mingo -- the two defensive end pass rushers -- and yet Brockers seldom got home. Meanwhile, I saw Cox as the main focus of every game plan in the SEC to stop him, and yet he still accounted for 14.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks in just 12 games. That ratio tells me that Cox has upside, but his present status is just fine. Brockers, if he doesn't really come along, might join Tyson Jackson, Glenn Dorsey, and Marcus Spears as other 1st round talents at the position from LSU that never quite turned the NFL on its ear like some projected. Please don't get me wrong, Brockers is more interesting than many of the other names on the list, but when it comes to "front 7" help at pick #14, I think the Cowboys can do better than this. Let somebody else bet on his upside.

So, hopefully, that makes it clear how I feel about him at #14. If the Cowboys traded down to #25, picked up an additional 2nd rounder and then took Brockers, I might see the allure. But, to take him that high with more complete players elsewhere, I would not be too excited.

I feel so strongly about this that I actually toyed with the ideas of trading up. If your intelligence tells you that Cox and Barron are both gone before you pick - and many experts are saying that could very well be the case - then you might have to consider doing a deal with either #7 Jacksonville, #10 Buffalo, or #11 Kansas City to get your guy. That could cost you a 3rd and more, depending on how high you need to go, and keep in mind that last year's 3rd rounder might end up being your running back for the next generation, DeMarco Murray.

Here are the Cowboys picks (keep in mind they cannot deal their compensatory 4th, #135).

Rd 1#14#14
Rd 2#13#45
Rd 3#19#81
Rd 4#18#113
Rd 4#40#135
Rd 5#17#152
Rd 6#16#186
Rd 7#15#222

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The price to get to #7 is going to be very steep. As in, #14 and #45 for #7 and maybe a 5th back. Don't think that price can be paid. But, to get to #10 or #11 will likely be #14 and #81. #81 can be a very good player, and if things go right, a starter. But, I think you have to function under the idea that you must get a stud from this draft, and the only place to make sure that happens is up high. Then, later perhaps you could use your extra 4th to get back up into the 3rd if you needed to do so.

There is also the idea of trading out. If Cox and Barron are gone (and if you insist on not touching DeCastro), I would be enticed to let someone else reach for Brockers and to back up a bit and collect more picks. This team has many holes - despite what was said publicly yesterday - and an additional 2nd or 3rd rounder could be quite useful.

And then, of course, there is buyer's remorse. There are two teams that will be picking players in particular that seem to fit what the Cowboys are looking at. One team is right behind them at #15. Whether Cox, Barron, Brockers, or DeCastro, there is a good chance that whoever the Cowboys pass on at #14 will play for the Eagles for the next decade. It does seem that the Cowboys list of needs is in some ways a mirror of Philly. OL, DB, and interior DL. Then, there is also, Pittsburgh at #24. Pittsburgh needs a nose tackle for their 3-4 with Casey Hampton getting old and you know that Dontari Poe is high on their list. If he becomes what they dream at the nose (another Hampton), we might have great regret in Dallas for not following that thread.

Perfect scenario? Fletcher Cox falls to you at #14. But, if the Cowboys get Barron or DeCastro at #14, I think that is a big win, too.

Kirkpatrick and Gilmore are both reasonable ideas at corner. Brockers is a reach/project as is Poe (although I personally like Poe more). Upshaw seems out of their plans now with Spencer's tender signed, and Ingram doesn't fit the scheme as a strong-side OLB. I would like to be on record as someone who admires Coples a ton, and I honestly think he will be a beast in the NFL for years to come, but I cannot blame the Cowboys for being scared of his red flags and trying to get the right type of workers in here.

And if they take someone not on this list, then I obviously have misread this entire draft and will do something else next spring for 3 months.

Enjoy it. Tomorrow, we will discuss scenarios at #45 and #81, assuming those picks are still where the Cowboys will select.


mrichard04 said...

Good write up...but unfortunately all of your intelligent, logical thinking will be thrown out the window when Jerry makes a boneheaded trade and ends up selecting a guy that will just play some special teams. Kick to the nuts....year after year.

Rob Traeger said...

Sad to see ND's safety go in the first. What are the chances Dallas trades up to the 2nd? What do they need now/still? Can't wait to hear what you have to say about the Cowboys draft plans, even though its the season of the "DogTail."