It is Tuesday. On Thursday night, all of the work we have put in for months will be put to the test as we try to evaluate the talent available that will hopefully populate the roster for the next several years of football glory. A misstep can be devastating, but finding that one player at that one fit could launch a January run that will never be forgotten.
So, today, the exercise is to lay-out the plan for the first 3 rounds and see if we can find the right combination that will accomplish the needs for the Cowboys. Unfortunately, when you are a team that has a great year, your analysis of the draft gets exponentially more impossible to predict because instead of picking 12th or 15th, Dallas is down at 27th. This makes the preparations next to impossible. You simply cannot predict what will be available, so we spend the last few days with one thought-exercise after another. One scenario to the next. No quandary is too far-fetched to consider. So, let's try to narrow it down for easy ready.
PICK #27 -
Ok. Here is where we have spent a large majority of our time since the season ended. The Cowboys have 5 potential positions to consider at 27 - RB, DT, DE, LB, and CB. I would not rank those needs because in the draft we have to rank prospects, not positions, or we get into big trouble with reaching if we were to say that I need the best RB or CB available. That is a bad plan.
A better plan is to build a board with about 12 names and take the best available player that falls to you. Let me try:
1. RB Todd Gurley, 2. CB Kevin Johnson, 3. DE Bud Dupree, 4. RB Melvin Gordon, 5. DT Malcom Brown, 6. DE Shane Ray, 7. DE Randy Gregory, 8. CB Byron Jones, 9. LB Eric Kendricks, 10. DT Eddie Goldman, 11. DE Owa Odighizuwa, 12. CB Eric Rowe.
That is my player pool and I am reasonably certain that I would take them in this particular order that I have listed. Of course, if Leonard Williams and Vic Beasley fall to #27, you alter these ideas, but I am trying to be reasonable here in zooming in on 12.
Gurley is one of the very best prospects in this draft at any position. I think Johnson might be the 2nd best corner. Both of those would be no-brainers. Then, it gets a bit tricky. Dupree won't be there (we assume) and that leaves the first real possibility - Gordon. If Gordon and Brown are gone, then I have to start considering the red flag pass rushers - Ray and Gregory. I think they are both too talented to ignore at #27 if those in front are gone and I value Ray higher. Then, Jones is good, but he is the first of the "settle for" picks. Those final 5 names are marginal 1st rounders and therefore, that is what you get at that pick - low 1st rounders and high 2nd rounders.
With that list in mind, here is what I am thinking -
1) My first priority is to get one from the group of 5, Gurley-Johnson-Dupree-Gordon-Brown. This is the Grade A beef. I am very pleased with this haul. I am not trading up for anybody but maybe Gurley. But, even with him, I can't spend a 2nd to do it. So, hold your water and let the draft come to you.
2) Then, if they are all gone, I want to try to trade back out of the 1st round and pick up a high 2nd and a high 3rd. If I can get into the top 10 picks of both rounds, I will trade back out of #27. I think this might be the best option of all, but I see those 5 players above which might fall under the "they got too cute" heading if you trade back with those available.
3) Now, my big 5 are gone and I can't trade back? Now, I have to look hard at Shane Ray and Randy Gregory. Yes, they both failed drug tests, but there are fewer than 10 players in this draft that will ever have a chance to get 10 sacks in a season and they are easily in that group. I don't know every detail of their investigations, but from what I know, I would roll the dice because this league is all about getting to the passer.
4) Lastly, the 5 of Jones-Kendrick-Goldman-Odighizuwa-Rowe. Jones is likely better than I am saying here, but I list him here because I believe that unless you are getting Johnson or Trae Waynes, there are simply too many corners in this draft to take one in Round 1. Round 2 and Round 3 will both have good corners at the Cowboys pick. But, there will not be pass rush prospects of great quality there. We have to recognize that with CB, LB, and RB, #60 and #91 will have options. DE and DT will be picked over and the high ceiling guys will be gone.
Pick #60 -
If you think figuring out pick #27 is tough, then pick #60 is just silly. We will revisit this on Friday, but for now, let's look at who we think will be there. Also, let's understand that if we don't get our RB or CB in Round 1, we need to give this a much harder look. I would not hesitate to go DL in Rd 1 and Rd 2, but then I am thin at CB, hoping Sean Lee and Rolando McClain stay healthy, and start to come to grips with a McFadden/Randle RB duo at training camp. None of those situations would destroy the season, but we better have a long and frank conversation about what we are doing before we just grab another DT.
At RB at #60, I think you would consider 4 guys (after the 1st round guys). I really like Duke Johnson and Jay Ajayi and I am also of the view that Ajayi's knee is a blessing, not a curse. If he had a fully perfect knee, he doesn't get to #60. Now, I think he does. There is real value there and he is not hurt. If he was hurt, he would not have had the season he just had. It is not injured, it is a degenerative situation that could be 10 games or 10 years from now. There is risk, but at RB, where this team has already demonstrated they could draft the NFL's leading rusher and still not re-sign him, it sure seems like we are looking at 2015-2018 for a RB. Therefore, I am betting on Ajayi.
Tevin Coleman and Ameer Abdullah are the other 2 RBs I would look hard at there, but Coleman might be long gone and it might be too early for Abdullah. So, in both cases, I need to know what are my other choices.
I expect that a DT/DE who gets to 60 is more of a lower-ceiling type, but that is ok. I need those guys, too, and Tyrone Crawford should have us all believing that guys develop at different paces.
Corner should be pretty stacked as well and one of those LBs at #60 - especially the non-pass rushers should be there. This is where one of Paul Dawson, Stephone Anthony, Shaq Thompson, or Benardrick McKinney could be available. If that is the case, that should be a big conversation piece.
Pick #91 -
This is more of the same. In the first 100 picks, I want to get a RB, DL help, and a DB most likely, but I can't marry those ideas because we just don't know what is there. But, know that the DL players available at this point now are the red flag types, those without a true positional fit, and the low-ceiling grunts for the most part. That doesn't mean there isn't gold, but it is harder to find.
Also, know that this is where the interior OL generally goes - explaining the feeling that it is tough to take a guard in Round 1 - and if the Cowboys found a premium guard in Round 3 or even a future tackle, we should be open to that idea.
Oh, and I need another weapon with speed who can hopefully return punts. That is why in Rounds 3 and 4, don't be shocked if they target a player like Tyler Lockett or Jamison Crowder if those slot WR weapons fall at all.
They key to the whole operation is to be ready for everything and in the Top 100 picks, the Cowboys are going to have many options. These are the days before the draft where you talk to your trade partners about hypotheticals to know where to look when you are on the clock. Have arrangements in place and see how this thing breaks.
Tomorrow, we will list our Top 80 and then it is time to go.