Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Draft Profile: Rd 7 - Caleb McSurdy - LB - Montana

The following is the 6th in a series of draft profiles for the Dallas Cowboys selected players from April's draft. These profiles are put together after watching significant amounts of tape from each player, and is an attempt to examine their resumes and play to get an idea of how they might fit in best with Dallas come training camp.

Caleb McSurdy
6'1, 245
40 time: 4.86, Bench Press: 26
Feb 24, 1990 (22)

There was a definite sea change in the way the Cowboys have done their drafts since Jason Garrett has taken over as head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. Whether he is the main reason for this adjustment is up for debate, but since he preaches the value of such virtues that the Cowboys have targeted, I am tempted to credit him with these changes. Only time will tell if this sort of adjustment has a real impact on the quality of the Dallas Cowboys overall, but let's discuss the premise.

On draft weekend, as each player goes off the board, the players that remain begin to show certain aspects of their game that caused the slide in the first place. This player doesn't respond well to coaching. That player does not have ideal height. This player did not test well at the chalk board. This player made poor football decisions. As the draft goes from Day 1 to Day 3, now every candidate on the board has warts. And sometimes, lots of warts.

So, organizations have to have an overall draft philosophy. And while this is an over-simplification, it is often a case of choosing raw tools-based projects or football players who do not have ideal measurables for the next level but still make plays. And to me, this is where the Cowboys are making a subtle change to the way they are picking players.

Not a gigantic adjustment, nor one that is one that can be proven with each pick, but Garrett and the front office seem determined to bring in the "right kind of guy". The days of taking players because they run fast or jump high and the team dreams of converting them into football players has been put on hold. Garrett spoke about passion, emotion, and enthusiasm. High Character players who love the game.

And Caleb McSurdy is an example of what Central Casting would think was the perfect player for that role. McSurdy would be the linebacker on Friday Night Lights, who lives for football and is ready to run through a wall to win that game. Of the 7 players the Cowboys drafted, 6 of them were captains on their teams in college. They took leaders this season and will hope that pays dividends down the road.

Now, before we get too carried away about his upside, we should acknowledge a few simple truths. Of the 33 linebackers at the NFL Combine, only 1 ran a slower 40-time than McSurdy's 4.86. His speed certainly put him in a spot where in today's NFL, some teams would not even consider him as a candidate for the position or a pick. His arm length, vertical jump, and wing span are also very close to the bottom of all of the candidates at his position. As far as measureables, he has strength (26 reps on the bench). And that is about the extent of it.

He was the 222nd pick in the draft, in the middle of the 7th and final round. This is interesting because the 223rd pick was Travis Lewis from Oklahoma. The 224th pick was Alfonzo Dennard, the corner from Nebraska. The 226th pick was David Molk, the center from Michigan. Any of those picks would have been graded well from the media, given our familiarity with their body of work. And yet, the Cowboys targeted and grabbed an inside linebacker from Montana that almost seemed cliche to play in Texas. What did they see?

Well, thankfully, I had access to his game film at Montana and was able to pop in some considerable tape to evaluate his skills. And, I must admit that there was a lot to like, given my cynicism when studying his combine performance. Playing in the same Big Sky Conference as Matt Johnson (the safety from Eastern Washington the Cowboys selected in the 4th Round), McSurdy was a tackling machine.

If there was one game I would draw your attention to, it would be Montana's trip into Knoxville, Tennessee, to play the Volunteers back in September of last season. Pop in that tape and #40 for Montana is all over the field. Sideline to Sideline and shooting through gaps in the line to make a tackle. And another tackle. And another tackle. He was awesome at shedding and tackling. He would find the ball. When it was all said and done and Tennessee had a comfortable victory, McSurdy had 13 tackles and even a sack and was a real impressive piece of an undermanned team.

In another game, he was playing the short zone in coverage when the corner stumbled off the line. The receiver was in a slant-and-go and McSurdy recognized that the DB was out of the play, so he picked up the receiver and chased him all the way down the middle of the field in a way that you see middle LBs do so in the Cover 2 on Sunday. Despite running nearly a 4.9, he was stride for stride with a wide receiver and was on the scene to save a touchdown.

He has obvious limitations to his game. And he does struggle with being over-aggressive, at least at Montana. But, if you would watch one Montana game, you would see that the Cowboys have targeted a football player who always is burying his RPM needle in the red. He goes full throttle in every scenario, and that is the type of player that Jason Garrett wants on this team. You must have speed and talent on your squad, but further down the roster, would you concede a sliver of ability for a dose of effort and instinct?

It is a complicated recipe, but Garrett has his beliefs.

I would love to show you cut-ups of McSurdy, but I don't believe they exist on youtube.

Caleb McSurdy Pro Day

Summary: Odds are very good that McSurdy was drafted with the complete and total plan to make him a special teams regular. In the 7th round, it is not uncommon to pick a player who is only here for the special teams and not really in the plans for regular duty on the base defense unless many injuries occur or he over performs his projections. I was told by one person I trust that he fully expects McSurdy to lead the special teams in tackles as a rookie. If that happens, the pick at #222 will be celebrated and from there he can carve his path in the NFL where many teams took a look at him in shorts and decided he wasn't talented enough to play in this league. I think McSurdy was a very useful idea in the 7th round and a guy I fully expect to make the team. I also expect that he will do every thing in his power to force his way into the mix by making plays that matter whenever he gets the chance. He has instincts and a motor, and the Cowboys are betting on those two characteristics more and more on draft day.

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