Friday, May 09, 2014

Big Board Day 2: Zack Martin, OL, Notre Dame

The morning after a significant sports move in this market, we have found that most people want a short, declarative opinion on one's feelings about the move.

Generally, the masses would really enjoy one of the following reviews: "I loved it! This is the best move ever!" or "Horrible move, Jerry needs to sell the team before he destroys it."

The truth is that most moves don't measure as either extreme, and that nuance is required to sift through the move, the process, and most importantly, the resulted effects that will be felt.

And that is why some were frustrated with my instant feedback about the pick of Zack Martin, the versatile and impressive offensive guard/tackle from Notre Dame, when the Cowboys picked #16 last night in the first round.  They wanted quick, decisive takes that were extreme in nature.  I, of course, think we have to look at this from a number of angles - so, let me begin:

Here is what I wrote yesterday about Dallas at #16:
Hey Bob, who are the Cowboys going to take at #16? 
The fact is that I am not dying to grab any of the likely candidates at #16.  Will there be a good player there, yes.  Will there be a steal?  I don't think so.  Aaron Donald and Anthony Barr are likely long gone.  Mike Evans is not sliding that far.  Johnny Manziel will tempt, but hopefully that is what Cleveland is antsy about. 
But, realistically, if the Cowboys are looking at Zack Martin, Kony Ealy, CJ Mosely, and Calvin Pryor (as well as the top corners), I would love to pull the parachute and get out of there.  Unfortunately, that likely won't happen, either. 
So, if you ask me to marry my best guess of who will be there and then who will the Cowboys grab, I must confess that I imagine they will take Martin while I would highly recommend Pryor.  Ealy is a fall-back spot.  I don't like Martin that much and prefer the UCLA guard Su'a-Filo over him, but if you read the signs, they seem to lock in on Martin being solid value right there.
So, like many other people, I read all of the signs pointed to them taking Zack Martin.  They often telegraph where they were headed weeks ahead of the draft, and this one is no exception.  They had a board that rated Martin very highly.  I didn't like him as much as they did, but that is not that big of a deal since they have a group of very smart football men and I am merely a guy with a laptop.

In fact, it played out almost exactly as I imagined.  They would have a choice of Calvin Pryor or Zack Martin, and I would prefer Pryor - but, knowing that for a number of reasons, they would prefer Martin.

Now, let me briefly detail why this is a bigger deal to me than most people want to hear:  Precisely, I think Pryor is both a better player and at a bigger position of need.  I had Pryor ranked in front of Martin, but I also am coming off a season of watching Cowboys football.  In that season, we saw free safety Will Allen become JJ Wilcox, then Jakar Hamilton, then Jeff Heath.  We saw fantastically poor centerfield play and really it has been a theme for several years running.  It costs them the game in Detroit for sure, and countless other scores and issues in a season that statistically was the worst season in defensive Cowboys' history.

The Cowboys had their choice of Calvin Pryor (Jets #18), Haha Clinton-Dix (Packers #21), and Jimmie Ward (49ers #30) to evaluate and select the best centerfield safety in the draft.  Now, admittedly, there doesn't appear to be an Ed Reed or Earl Thomas in this draft, but that is purely speculative.  The idea that the draft allowed them this solution to a problem since Darren Woodson walked the turf of Texas Stadium does cause me indigestion, especially feeling like the safety ranks are thin and it appears that Wilcox and Matt Johnson must be their internal solutions to what I consider to be a very bad weakness at a very important spot in today's NFL.

Meanwhile, other observations from 2013 tell me that the Cowboys offensive line was actually satisfactory in practically all regards.  They pass protected quite well (only 6 teams were sacked less than Dallas) and once Brian Waters went down and was replaced by Mackenzy Bernadeau, the zone running scheme took off and the Cowboys were actually a superb running team after the New Orleans game all the way until the end of the season.  In those final 6 games, the Cowboys showed a running ability that we had not seen for years, with 5.36 yards per carry for the 177 rushes they attempted in those games - including dominating and destructive efforts against Green Bay and Chicago where they averaged 7.3 yards per carry.

They had every reason to believe that the 5 OL starters from 2013 were going to be fine in 2014 as well.  Tyron Smith-Ron Leary-Travis Frederick-Bernadeau-Doug Free had observers feeling ok about the line.  Was there any depth?  No.  But, there were no glaring needs at the top and they could simply target depth in a deep OL draft to cover for the catastrophe.

Is Zack Martin better than Bernadeau?  Of course, he is.  Should the Cowboys be a better OL this year than last?  Yes.  And the youth and ability could actually make this a power line for the first time in years and a laughable upgrade from the rubbish of 2011 and 2012 that nearly got Tony Romo killed.  Now, with Parnell and Bernadeau as your reserves, your "game day 7" looks formidable for sure.

But, as I said before the draft, I don't need to feel like guard was a position that screamed for an upgrade.  If you have strong tackle and center play, you can survive pretty well with replacement-level guards, especially just one of them.  I thought Bernadeau was fine, and replacing him would be fine if you can do it in the 3rd or 4th, but to spend a 1st on a guard is an aggressive move that you might do if you have no other glaring holes.  But, man, were are my sacks and safeties?

I have heard from many of you who have been bothered by my long time philosophy of building of the lines being followed, only to hear I am still complaining.  All I can tell you is I did not consider guard a real target in Round 1.  I think DT, DE, LB, and S were all bigger places to look.  If Martin turns out to be a generational talent at that spot and Pryor is just a guy, I will look silly provided that the Cowboys can fix their secondary.  But, 2013 tells us that it is a massive hole that they ignored to solidify a spot that in my view did not require this expenditure.

So, is Martin a good player?  Sure!  Is it a good pick?  It is solid - a pure base hit.  But, yes, in looking at the macro view and the potential effects of the move, in which they spent their biggest resource to get it done, I might differ with the logic.



Now, the Manziel thing is different altogether.  I have spent plenty of time writing about the QB issue here which for me is all about Tony Romo's future more than it is about knowing what the future holds for Manziel, Bridgewater, Bortles, or Carr.  Nobody knows about any of these guys, but that is the sport.  You evaluate as well as you can and then you trust your work.

The Cowboys clearly knew that this was a bigger deal than "best player available".  I don't believe for a second that the front office truly believes that Zack Martin, a player who we are not even drafting to play his college position, is a better football investment than a potential QB1 at the prices they will both play at.  Personally, I think Manziel is a significant step-up in the rankings from Martin (and Pryor) at a position where you may already have a vacancy, even if you haven't admitted it to yourself.

But, Jerry, to his credit, knew this wasn't comparing 2 players.  This was potentially a franchise-altering decision if he brought in a new QB.  Especially, that one.  He knew that the second he did it he would be affecting chemistry, locker-room chains of command, and effectively starting the exit clock on his beloved Romo.

That is why I wonder if Blake Bortles would have been there if the outcome might have been different.  It seems that Bortles did not pack near the poisonous potential that Johnny Manziel would have.  Likely it would have been the same outcome, I suppose.

The fact is that the contract and investment in Tony Romo is what this franchise has bet heavily on for the near future.  I think they have already lost that bet and the sunk costs should be considered, but not worshipped.  To cover yourself because of the disturbing health developments would have been the prudent play, but unlike buying an insurance policy, this would have brought too much baggage and too much chaos to what they have tried to build.  Say what you want about the structure built here over the last few seasons (and I do), but you likely can understand how this would have rocked all of that to its core.  The locker-room would have been split down the middle, the front office would have looked silly, and your head coach might have been a dead man walking.  Maybe, the results would have ultimately been upgraded from the present, but the gamble would have been tremendous.

So, do I think passing on a potential star QB when you likely will need your next QB in the next 24 months is a great idea?  No, I don't.  But, I do understand why they thought it was too hot to handle - especially with a team that is not a QB away.  With the overhaul process happening as we speak, it is tough to argue that they did anything but act responsibly yesterday.

I think they dreamed that if Manziel fell to them they would be able to use their image as an advantage to find a king's ransom in a trade bounty, but the trade market for Manziel seemed to be limited to Cleveland versus Minnesota, with the Vikings interest very limited.  You need bidders to have an auction and the Cowboys could not get anything worth passing on Martin.

It is over.  It shows they were never taking him.  Is that smart?  Well, if they are continuing to bet on Tony Romo and only Tony Romo as their QB for the next several years, then let's all hope that they get it right.  And from that standpoint, strengthening his protection seems plenty logical.  But, every line in football, no matter the quality, still get their QB hit a few times a game.  Let's hope he can handle it moving forward, and as you know, I am now very concerned about that.



I took the liberty of moving everyone up on my board to show you what I have left.  As you can see, there are a dozen or so defensive front guys in the next wave that should allow Dallas some great choices at #47.

In particular, if they were to snag one of the several DTs left - Nix, Jernigan, Sutton, or Hageman, then I think you would have to be delighted.  At DE, they actually have a chance to still get Scott Crichton or Demarcus Lawrence, who I think they like both more than Ealy.  Both have a better burst around the edge where guys like Ealy and Kareem Martin are more stout, but with perhaps a lesser pass rush upside.

We also should prepare ourselves for a WR or QB in round 3, if the defensive options are not to their liking.  I would love to get LaMarcus Joyner here, but the thinness at this position makes it unlikely.

Also, after hearing their intentions for Ryan Shazier, we should not lose sight of Kyle Van Noy or Telvin Smith (warts, included) on Day 2.  I assume OL is out of play now for a few rounds, but clearly, what do I know?

Rank Player
#1 Xavier Sua Filo, G, UCLA
#2 Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
#3 Louis Nix, DT, Notre Dame
#4 Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State
#5 Demarcus Lawrence, DE, Boise St
#6 Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida St
#7 Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
#8 Stephen Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
#9 Morgan Moses, T, Virginia
#10 LaMarcus Joyner, S, Florida St
#11 Billy Turner, T, ND State
#12 Marqise Lee, WR, USC
#13 Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State
#14 David Yankey, G, Stanford
#15 Gabe Jackson, G, Mississippi St
#16        Rashede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
#17 Jeremiah Attaochu, LB, Ga Tech
#18 Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt
#19 David Fales, QB, San Jose State
#20 Trai Turner, G, LSU
#21 Zach Mettenberger, QB, LSU
#22 Chris Smith, DE, Arkansas
#23 Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
#24 Dakota Dozier, G, Furman
#25 Kareem Martin, DE, North Carolina
#26 Trent Murphy, DE/LB, Stanford
#27 Davante Adams, WR, Fresno State
#28 Cameron Fleming, T, Stanford
#29 Chris Borland, LB, Wisconsin
#30 Kyle Van Noy, LB, BYU
#31 Cyrus Kouandijo, T, Alabama
#32 Terrence Brooks, S, Florida State
#33 Troy Niklas, TE, Notre Dame
#34 Brandon Thomas, G/T, Clemson
#35 Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas
#36 Marcus Robertson, CB, Florida
#37 Telvin Smith, LB, Florida State
#38 Carl Bradford, LB, Arizona State
#39 Joel Bitonio, T, Nevada
#40 Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
#41 DaQuan Jones, DT, Penn State
#42 Ahmad Dixon, S, Baylor
#43 Jack Mewhort, T, Ohio State
#44 Stanley Jean-Baptiste, CB, Nebraska
#45 Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, Eastern Illinois
#46 Antonio Richardson, T, Tennessee

In conclusion, there is nothing wrong with Zack Martin.  Here is what I wrote about him back in March when I originally took a look at his Notre Dame work for the breakdowns:

Zack Martin - Notre Dame

PlayerHt   Wt   40/10        Arm    Hand    BP 
Zack Martin 6'4305
32 7/89 1/229

There has been plenty of buzz about Zack Martin for a number of solid reasons.  He appears to be the type of guy who everyone loves on campus and a candidate to be a team leader type in a pro locker-room as a captain and that is something that this Cowboys leadership group has seemed to target.

He also has great positional flexibility in that there are some that feel like he could play guard as a rookie and then move out to tackle when you want him to do so, and that basically he can play 4 or 5 different offensive line positions - which should improve anyone's value.

I just have a hard time selling myself on utility for a 1st round prospect.  Either I love him at his best possible position or I don't.  And for me, the drop off from Lewan may be somewhat made up because Lewan has red flags and Martin is scoring off the charts with intangibles, but the game tape doesn't care about that stuff.  It simply asks about his skills.

Martin can play tackle, but his arm length, size, and athleticism say that left tackle might be a stretch and that you might want him inside or on the right side to keep him from some less than desirable match ups on the edge.  His run blocking is where he is really good and he will battle with a nasty edge and he is up for 3 hours with anyone.  And Notre Dame's schedule had him against all sorts of Top 50 prospects this year.

He is not dominating.  He is solid.  He can lose on the edge, but not very often.  He is just a stiffer athlete who looks like he could go either way and honestly, at #16 in the first round, I don't want to invest in a prospect that seems to fall short of being a sure thing at his primary spot.

Again, I love utility and versatility in my linemen.  But, if that is one of your stronger traits, then I will wait to grab that type of player later on in the draft and Martin won't be around later.  In the first round, I have to have faith that you are plug and play, and while I admit he is a very fine prospect, I don't think I would love him where the Cowboys are.  If they chose to trade back and grab a pick plus Martin later in Round 1, that might swing the balances a bit.



So, there is the nuance that I wanted to express on this decision.  I am not screaming in disgust, nor cheering in delight.  It was a decision that wasn't made for twitter.  It required a more measured look.

Combine Martin with something nice on the defensive front in Round 2/3, and I think we have the makings of the start a very solid draft.  They did the smart, reasonable, conservative play in Round 1, and while I disagreed with their final choice, I accept it as playing the solid route.  And you know, around here, there is nothing wrong with solid.  Solid goes a long ways.

On to day 2.  


trying2notbestupid said...

I still think if they can get some dline help and manage to snag Lamarcus Joyner, you get someone who can play cover safety very well and another cornerback at the same time. Couple that with Martin and a receiver and we'll have a good chance at improving.

MM said...

Hey Bob,
Love your articles. Have to disagree with Pryor. He's the big hitting safety type which is becoming extinct due the nfl turning into flag football.
I also think the sacks stat is misleading because Romo does do an excellent job of avoiding sacks. Pressures/hurries would be a more accurate measure of an o-line.

Shelby R. Gray said...

Would you feel the same way today had they taken Xavier Sua Filo? I agree with you for the most part, but I think Pryor (or any RD1 safety) is a risk. They need to build depth right now and get a great team together. Taking risks is something well built teams can do, not teams that need sure things.

Shelby R. Gray said...

Would you feel the same way today had they taken Xavier Sua Filo? I agree with you for the most part, but I think Pryor (or any RD1 safety) is a risk. They need to build depth right now and get a great team together. Taking risks is something well built teams can do, not teams that need sure things.

K. Bowen said...

I keep hearing the Cowboys chose steak over sizzle. When did quarterbacks become sizzle and not steak? If those linemen are blocking for Brandon Weeden in the next however-many months, I suspect we'll be looking at it differently.

DKA said...

With the drafting of Martin, if they had the free pick of all of the players remaining on your list, who would you select at #47? Who do you expect would be the Cowboys top choice(s)? I assume you believe they need to go D-line at this spot given your prior analysis.