Wednesday, January 15, 2014

2014 Cowboys Draft Notebook Weekly - Episode #1

If you follow this blog or what I care about in the sports world, there is a very good chance you know what to expect by Jan 15th each year.  With the Cowboys out of the playoffs, the seasons are clear.  July-December is Cowboys' season and January-May is NFL Draft season.  And in June, we rest.

So, just to build habits, I will tell you that about mid-week of every week from now until May, you can expect this column which will consist of a number of components, but it will all relate back to what most of us who follow this sport think is the lifeblood of the sport.  Those teams who do well in the draft are at a distinct advantage over those who don't, and it is our goal to provide information from a Cowboys perspective, but also give opinions on players which will be available years down the road when we discuss what people thought before the draft on a particular player.

Like past years, I have no intention of going deeper than the Top 100 prospects, and even that will be difficult.  I try to do all my own homework and not simply read someone else's reviews, and honestly, the top 3 rounds is tough to get a handle on.  So, here I try to have opinions on players in the Top 100 and leave the rest to the people that apparently have more time than I do.

The best way to start is with some simple house-cleaning.  Here are the current spots for the Cowboys picks, of which they have 8.  The coin flip in February will determine where they slot with Baltimore, another 8-8 team with identical strength of schedule.

From that, we will know if they will pick #16 or #17 in every round, and they have their normal allotment of picks until Round 6.  That pick has disappeared to KC in the famous Edgar Jones trade, while they have 3 picks in the 7th from that same deal and the Dante Rosario deal with Chicago.  I am sure they will take that surplus and jump right back into the 6th because that is what NFL teams always seem determined to do.  They don't like not having a pick for an entire round, and they usually do whatever they can to fix that.

Rd 1#16/#17Coin Flip Will determine with Balt
Rd 2#16/#17
Rd 3#16/#17
Rd 4#16/#17
Rd 5#16/#17
Rd 6TradedEdgar Jones Trade with KC
Rd 7#14 (Chi)From Dante Rosario Trade
Rd 7#16/#17
Rd 7#23 (KC)From Edgar Jones Trade

Now, some over-riding views of the Cowboys as we enter draft season that I assume we can all find a near consensus on:

- The Cowboys must attempt to fix their defense in the draft at the expense of almost everything else on the agenda.

It has been said a number of times already in this short off-season from a number of people that although everyone seems to agree that the best player available is a great starting point, this team needs to really emphasize defense in its selections.  As one friend suggested, "I don't care who they take, as long as he tackles well."  I think that says it pretty well.  

I would never argue with this point, in fact, this is only a slight variation from last year at this point when the consensus was that this team needs to draft offensive and defensive lineman only when they had 4 picks in the top 80.  Of course, they did not, opting for a center, followed by tight end, wide receiver, and safety which in many regards did not really address positions of need after center and I suppose, another developmental safety.  Either way, you could argue that when they selected 3 offensive players with their first 3 picks and really did not seem terribly worried about their defense that we should just stop trying to figure out "what they need" and "what they should do on draft day." It seems that they do what they want and when they want and to try to sniff out what Jerry/Stephen are going to do next is not a way to look smart very often.

But, again, you have two very strong debate points at work here.  One is that the Cowboys have a historically bad defense that needs help at nearly every spot except the one that they overloaded on (cornerback), but the other is that they have had a historically bad defense for the last few years and in most off seasons have done almost nothing to fix it.  Think about it - with the exception of the 2012 offseason of Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne, they really have not done much of anything after the 2010, 2011, or 2012 seasons except coordinator changes and some very ill-fated scheme alterations.  They have never addressed safety with any conviction and it has certainly been said over and over that they haven't spent a top 80 pick on a defensive lineman since Marcus Spears in 2005.  Compare that with the New York Giants who take one up there almost every year, and you can see which franchise values which path.  

- There is also a real feeling that for the first time in a bit, the Cowboys are thought to be shopping for a QB in this draft if it falls properly.  

Now, this is a column of its own, and we have time to visit plenty of this topic before the time arrives, but you should at least have in the back of your mind the idea that things have happened in the past 12 months that would have the Cowboys thinking quarterback as early as their top pick in the draft.  Clearly, this would be a difficult pill for many to swallow, but there is no way that the Cowboys can feel great anymore about the long-term situation with Tony Romo.  They have to believe that he will recover and could be their QB until 2016, but the idea of pushing off the next young prospect at the position may be over.  They have to know with the back issue and the age and the contract, that the time is now to figure out what the plan may be in the next chapter of their franchise.  

I would never argue that this is a sure thing, but you can believe that when I look at QBs available in the first and second round, I am looking for the first time in years at their potential fits in Dallas.  Nobody wants to take a player that high in the draft who may not play for 2-3 years, but that is likely the best way to proceed because you will not have any clarity on Tony Romo in this offseason.  You will surely be fed reports of his fantastic recovery and workouts, but only when he is getting planted in the turf next September will we truly know if he is right or on his way to retirement.  

- The list of pressing, immediate needs is manageable, but the list of general needs is quite long.

Here is the overall theme of Cowboys football in the 7 seasons since Parcells.  They have a pretty strong and suitable roster from 1-20.  They are not bad in a lot of spots and presently, if the season started in April, you have a feeling that you would be ok at just about every starting position but Defensive Tackle, Defensive End, and Safety.  You might like another LB who can start and I am not willing to say that Ron Leary is my left guard or Mackenzy Bernadeau is my right guard if I have a better idea, but for now, they are not horrible.

But, from 21-53 on the roster, the issues are still not where they need to be.  I might argue that organizational depth is better in 2013 than it was in 2011 or 2012, but we are only talking shades of gray.  They need to continue to grow their depth so that injuries do not mean finding couches and looking on them for replacements.  Good teams have understudies in constant training for the injuries that are guaranteed to hit, and clearly from the fact that the Cowboys employed 20 different defensive linemen in 2013's regular season they are not a good team yet.  Sometimes the waiver wire can be helpful, but it cannot be your primary source of personnel.  That has to be your draft and development side and the Cowboys have been running to stand still for years.

All of this says that we should slant our research for the top 3 rounds to offensive line and defensive front 7 (unless a premium QB or safety drops), but after that, pick a guy at any position and add him to this team.  There are almost no spots on the squad that cannot be supplemented with a talent young college star who is ready to contribute.  


This coming weekend, we have the East-West Shrine Game (3pm, Saturday, NFL Network) and then the big week in Mobile that starts on Monday and the NFL Network provides fantastic coverage of the week each day.  If you want to start to get a feel for the players on the board that is being put together, you really need to spend sometime looking over the Senior Bowl activities and getting familiar with everyone who is there.  Each season the Senior Bowl roster is loaded with Top 100 prospects and we learn plenty from just watching who is there and who is performing well.  

I am starting to put a notebook together of what I like and don't like from various players and we will start diving into names and position groups next week.  Until then, know that there is never a better time to become a draft nerd as hundreds of college games in their entirety are loaded up on youtube.  Watch your targeted player carefully and get to know what he does well and not so well, and this can be one place to share thoughts on those players as we proceed.

Draft season!

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