Monday, May 04, 2015

Breaking Down the 2015 Cowboys Draft

Dallas Cowboys executive vice president/COO Stephen Jones, owner Jerry Jones, and head coach Jason Garrett discuss their picks in the second and third rounds of the 2015 NFL Draft at their Valley Ranch training facility on Friday, May 1, 2015, in Irving. (Smiley N. Pool/The Dallas Morning News)
Dallas Cowboys executive vice president/COO Stephen Jones, owner Jerry Jones, and head coach Jason Garrett discuss their picks in the second and third rounds of the 2015 NFL Draft at their Valley Ranch training facility on Friday, May 1, 2015, in Irving. (Smiley N. Pool/The Dallas Morning News)
It is all over.  The biggest event of the NFL offseason - the draft -  is in the rearview mirror and the Cowboys made some interesting decisions that for once seemed like simply following their board and taking the best player early, and then crossing off the list of replenishing spots on their roster that required depth.
They suspiciously did not address that one glaring issue on everyone's mind, that little issue of replacing the NFL's leading rusher who now plays for that rival in Philadelphia, but the decision makers shrugged and proclaimed that everything is fine.  Are they sincerely confident that they can replace him from within (or with the help of the veteran Razorback Darren McFadden)?  Or do they have something up their sleeve that we are unaware of?  Time will tell.
But, for now, it is pretty clear that after the top 2 picks - which have already been extensively written about on Friday and Saturday - the Cowboys were pretty set on making sure they had enough NFL-caliber players up and down their roster to replenish that which went away in the last few months in free agency.  Based on snap-count information from Pro Football Focus, here are the downs that went away in March to free agency:
DeMarco Murray800
Sterling Moore752
Bruce Carter527
George Selvie515
Henry Melton433
Jermey Parnell388
Anthony Spencer384
Justin Durant336
Tyler Clutts*163
Dwayne Harris160
Team Total4,458
* denotes player who is currently unsigned
So, despite are attention at the very top of this list with Murray, the Cowboys took a wiser, global view of all 4500 of those snaps and asked when they came on the clock "how can we best chip into that?"  They also did not spend much time chipping into that number in free agency, with McFadden and Corey White as the only two to have significant work loads with Jasper Brinkley and Andrew Gachkar also part-timers.  They wanted to preserve their cap room for big moves (Greg Hardy, Dez Bryant, RB?) and also not mess up the chance at grabbing a handful of compensatory picks for the 2016 draft.
So, let's reconstruct the draft from a depth chart perspective - using the excellent chart at as our visual aid.  Screen_Shot_2015-05-04_at_7_56_47_AM
Green type are the new draft picks and notice that they elect to put Tyrone Crawford at end (which must be a typo because he hardly plays a snap at end anymore).  We know he is a full-time DT and a very good one.
Round 1, Pick 24: Byron Jones, CB, UConn
I have written about this plenty, but here is where the Cowboys took the approach that in the next few years, Jones can be their best corner and join Scandrick as sure things and deal with Claiborne and Carr as "maybes" moving forward.  We knew going in this was a priority, it was always going to be a matter of whether they should use their 1st round pick to do so.  But, when they did and got one of the two they really wanted - Kevin Johnson or Jones - nobody was going to have a real issue with it.  The top 2 RBs were gone, and the only pass rushers left were not perfect fits at #27.
Round 2, Pick 60: Randy Gregory, DE, Nebraska
Also, written about extensively here, this for me was a real easy call.  Yes, I would have been fine with Duke Johnson or one of the top RBs, but they took the "best player available" at a position where this team needed blue-chip upgrades.  They got it.  It is interesting that they were targeting DE and had 3 names that have been linked with them at this spot.  Seattle was 3 picks later and you wonder if they saw it the same way.  Gregory, Frank Clark of Michigan, and UCLA's Owa Odighizuwa were right there and the Cowboys took Gregory, Seattle grabbed Clark, and the Giants now have O-Diggy.  Even Eli Harold from Virginia was here, but again, not the high ceiling of Gregory or scheme fit of the other two.
Round 3, Pick 91: Chaz Green, OT, Florida
This is the first spot that I found pretty curious.  They want a swing tackle and I agree that they needed one quickly.  This is one of the real thin spots on the roster and losing Parnell meant that they had to buy insurance quickly.  Tackles can and do get hurt on a regular basis and even though the Cowboys have 2 tackles they feel really good about as starters, they have nothing to speak of behind them and absolutely had to do something here quick.  But, in the 3rd round?  I will write up Chaz Green later this week after a thorough viewing but that seemed pretty rich for that spot.  I have heard the pick might have been different if DT Carl Davis didn't go at #90 to Baltimore, but they just didn't like any RBs at that spot and decided, happily I might add, to grab a tackle prospect that they think can be solid.  Looking OL never seems to be a bad idea for this group and now it depends on whether the player is what they think is.  We will have more in-depth ideas later in the week.
Round 4, Pick 127: Damien Wilson, ILB, Minnesota
Those Ravens did it again here.  I truly believe after being chased off of Jay Ajayi by his medicals that they were thinking they would get RB Buck Allen in Round 4.  But those doggone Ravens, who picked 2 selections in front of Dallas all weekend snagged the USC runner right out from in front of them.  I am told that even if Allen was there, though, they might have still taken Wilson here - it would have been a good debate when they were on the clock. Then, Mike Davis from South Carolina went at 126.  I am not sure that was a priority for Dallas, but regardless, they grabbed a real interesting LB in the same spot where Anthony Hitchens came to them last year.  For a number of reasons, that is what they have been wanting to do for a while.  They have lost LBs to injuries and free agency enough to know that you seriously cannot have too many of these guys.  You almost always end up having 5 "regulars" over the course of a season, and Wilson will fit right in here after an impressive run at Minnesota.  Without breaking down the player before the work is done, let me just say that this was not a real surprising pick, but I assume this is where they thought they could get their guy.  Several Linebackers went shortly after this pick, including Jake Ryan from Michigan to Green Bay two picks later, but the Cowboys wanted Wilson more.
Round 5, Pick 163: Ryan Russell, DE, Purdue
This pick is also not much of a surprise by looking at the chart and seeing that George Selvie, Henry Melton, and Anthony Spencer all disappearing.  Here, in the 5th round, you are looking for depth and special teams help.  Russell is a player that should be able to compete with a guy like Ben Gardner for that 4th/5th DE spot behind Lawrence, Mincey, Gregory, and even Hardy.  There is a spot on the roster for both of these players if they can show well, and with a 5th round pick on him means they think he can.  For what it is worth, by now, the RB board was completely gone as Ajayi went at pick #149 so all the Cowboys had here at that spot was Cameron Artis-Payne from Auburn and nothing else even remotely interesting on the board.
Round 7, Pick 236: Mark Nzeocha, OLB, Wyoming
Here is the pick from the Sean Lissemore trade a few years back and they get a player who will also have that opportunity to make the team by special teams early.  I cannot swear I will be able to find 200 snaps of his work, so don't wait up for an upcoming profile before training camp.
Round 7, Pick 243: Laurence Gibson, T, Virginia Tech
Gibson is a 1-year starter at Virginia Tech who actually is exactly the kind of pick you look for at this spot in the draft.  Someone who can have a chance to show well and maybe get in the mix and at worst compete with Chaz Green for a back-up tackle spot and perhaps spend some time on the practice squad as depth.  There is never a bad time to take a shot on a tackle that you think has something.
Round 7, Pick 246: Geoff Swaim, TE, Texas
Isn't this interesting?  The Cowboys wanted this blocking tight end who seldom made a huge impression in Austin bad enough that they gave a 2016 6th round pick to get him.  Surely, the team doesn't plan on 4 tight ends on its roster, so it is possible this is a sign that blog-favorite James Hanna might have a target on his roster spot as he enters year #4 and his final year under contract.
So, the Cowboys keep chipping away and following their board.  In doing so, they chipped away at the 4500 snaps they lost.  Murray's spot continues to stick out, but the Cowboys are telling us that for now, they are comfortable with what they have.  We hope so, because that appears to be what they will have when we get to camp.
Starting this week, we will get to breaking down Chaz Green, Damien Wilson, and Ryan Russell.

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