Friday, May 01, 2015

The Morning After: Round 1 of the 2015 Draft

The morning after Round 1 and the Cowboys seem very pleased with Byron Jones their selection at #27.  And given how much they have buzzed about him all spring, this should not shock any of us who hoped they were leaning in a slightly different direction. Don't get me wrong.  They surely needed a corner and Jones appears to be one of the best.   He is that rare bird who is both extremely athletic/toolsy and willing to stick his nose in their physically and make a play.  I want to spend more time looking at his college games sometime soon, but from what I already looked at, here are some thoughts from the profile I wrote back in March when his name was flying around so much:
"he was not supposed to do anything at the combine besides the interviews, because of his recovery from shoulder surgery.  But his recovery was going so well that he did quite a few things, including setting a world record in the broad jump.  That’s right, a world record.  Then, he vertical jumped at 44.5″, which also made people marvel at his skills, since he is also a rare 6’1 corner who has these gifts.  So, without even having a 40-time on the record until his pro day, March 31, (4.36) you can see how everyone is now scrambling to know the player."

What I liked:  With Jones, he checks the boxes for just about everything you like for a NFL corner in this present generation.  He gets up on you in press coverage and tries to suffocate, knowing he can stay with you down the field.  He is best like this where his long arms and huge hands are used to direct you on a re-route.  He is right in the hip pocket not the fades and although he sees some action, he generally is able to handle what comes his way.  He is also surprisingly physical for a gifted athlete (usually it is one or the other) and is willing to get dirty to make a tackle on your bubble screens or runs around the corner.  His overall game is solid and he looks like he has the tools to develop into a #1 CB who is up for your best receiver and willing to travel side to side to stay with him.  Absolutely best in press coverage versus the zones Connecticut would run.  Nice ball skills over the top as well.

What I did not like:  Two things jumped out at me, with the first one being that in zone or even “off” man, he doesn’t have great technique to pounce forward without being susceptible to the double move and you can get things done underneath him.  It is clear that he wants to keep his man within arms length to feel like he has the proximity to deal with action.  Then, he tends to border on “too physical” which is a real thing in this league where they are emphasizing illegal contact penalties on defensive backs.  He will draw some flags because he is not going to let you run free. 
"it would be absurd to accuse him of being a “combine creation” as his tape stands up impressively as a combination of both large build and impressive athletic traits.  On top of that he has very nice tape to back him up where he can really lock down on his man with aggressive man-cover traits you will want on Sunday.  There are many solid corners in this draft, but you don’t have to go very far down that list to find this guy."
So, as you can see, I liked him plenty. But, of course, in the NFL Draft, it is never a question of one guy.  It is a question of which guy would you take in a certain scenario, and did they take the one most advantageous to the cause?
First, a disclaimer: Let the record show that in 2012, 2013, and 2014, we had a similar conversation where I would have: in 2012, never in 1,000 years traded up to get Claiborne.  If there was a trade up, I said at the time, it had to be for Fletcher Cox.  In 2013, I was excited to take who the scouts wanted, Floyd the DT over trading back for a center.  In 2014, I was all on Calvin Pryor, the safety from Louisville, over a guard in Round 1.  So, as you can see, I had a different idea in the last 3 seasons (we agreed perfectly in 2011) and they aren't looking for a do-over with Frederick or Martin.  I say all that to say this - just because they went in a different direction, doesn't mean that they didn't do the right thing.  In fact, for now, because of the job they did in 2013 (ignore Gavin Escobar) and 2014, let's give them a pretty reasonably sized benefit-of-the-doubt.
Ok, now that that admission is out of the way, here is how the first round played out from my laptop. Any idea that Gordon/Gurley was going to fall onto their doorstep was snuffed out quickly as neither made it past #15.  If we had them on a pedestal, high above their contemporaries, then we were obviously not alone.  The Rams got Gurley at 10 and the Chargers jumped the Texans to snag Gordon at 15.  In both cases, the Cowboys #1 priority from my perspective vanished in short order.
Fine, on to fixing the defense. Then, 1st target at corner Kevin Johnson vanished to Houston at 16.  The board was appearing to disappear quickly of the big 5 I had mentioned on Tuesday: Gurley-Johnson-Dupree-Gordon-Brown. In fact, here was by "Board of 12" at #27 from that blog:
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.
So, then there is a short run of players not on the Cowboys' radar, before the Steelers take Dupree.  It sure seems like no team has thwarted the Cowboys picks more in the last decade quite like Pittsburgh.  Then, Denver trades up and gets one of the problem pass-rushers, Shane Ray at #23. That leaves this:
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.
So, the considerations for me are Malcom Brown, Randy Gregory, and Byron Jones.
You likely knew how I would see this.  I want pass rush help in the worst way, so the idea of having Malcom Brown and Randy Gregory on the board at #27 was very enticing.  I would have taken Brown, then Gregory, and then Jones in this scenario. Brown can cause a major disruption and the idea of having him and Tyrone Crawford inside on nickel down pass rushes was very exciting.  Of course, he is more of a 3-technique which Crawford already is.  And while there is nothing wrong with that, Byron Jones can step right in and give you 800 plays and Brown would be more of a depth and rotational play in 2015.
We also know about the Cowboys and DTs in Round 1.  A team that has found Jay Ratliff in Round 7, Jason Hatcher in Round 3, and Tyrone Crawford in Round 3 is not feeling a 1st round DT. Gregory, as I said a few months back, is not an ideal fit on the Cowboys due to his size (235) and you would have been trying to figure out how to play him without being attacked on the ground.  This is why I always liked Shane Ray more than Gregory for Dallas and see Gregory as an edge in a 3-4 more than a DE in 4-3.  Ray would have been fine at left defensive end and complimented DeMarcus Lawrence well with his stout frame.  Gregory was a bit redundant and I wonder if that chased them off the idea.
So, now, let's talk cornerback.  One of your corners is a disappointing player playing out his rookie deal.  Another you are trying to give a pay-cut or threatening to release him.  And another is upset about his deal.  So, your top 3 corners all have issues, and let's be honest, none of them get mentioned when people make a list of the best corners in the league.  If those were your 3 main choices and the RBs were gone, no trade back options were too enticing, and you walked through it just like that, then you are happy the Cowboys got their guy.
Jones, as you can see above, is a player I really like at a position that makes plenty of sense.  The arguments against it are that there were comparable players available up front and that there are going to be good corners available later.  But, taking a corner that they considered to be the 3rd best in the draft at #27 is a very solid and strong plan.  I don't think it is a home-run, but it is a very solid double into the corner.
===== Day 2:
Let's see how the board looks after Day 1.  I took everyone off who was selected (If you want to see the original board, hit this link).  23 players in the Top 32 were taken - with La'el Collins sitting there if any team has the guts with his legal problems.  But, many players of great quality remain as we know this draft is thick with talent all through Day 2. 2 teams (Cincinnati and Detroit) took offensive linemen I had in the 70s and the Packers took safety DeMarious Randall who I thought was not even in the Top 80.  I am sure many of you will enjoy the irony of that.
Here is what remains:
#2#42Carl Davis, DT, Iowa
#3#43Bryce Petty, QB, Baylor
#6#46Maxx Williams, TE, Minnesota
#7#47Paul Dawson, LB, TCU
#8#48Preston Smith, DE, Miss State
#9#49Nate Orchard, DE, Utah
#10#50Xavier Cooper, DT, Washington St
#11#51AJ Cann, OL, South Carolina
#12Lael Collins, OL, LSU#52
#13#53Jalen Collins, CB, LSU
#14#54Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska
#16#56TJ Clemmings, OL, Pittsburgh
#17  #57Michael Bennett, DT, Ohio St
#18#58Benardrick McKinney, LB, Miss St
#19#59Jordan Phillips, DT, Oklahoma
#20#60Devin Funchess, TE/WR, Michigan
#21Randy Gregory, DE, Nebraska#61
#22#62Steve Nelson, CB, Oregon State
#23#63Devin Smith, WR, Ohio State
#24Eric Kendricks, LB, UCLA#64Alex Carter, CB, Stanford
#25D Green-Beckham, WR, Missouri#65David Johnson, RB, Northern Iowa
#26Eddie Goldman, DT, FSU#66Ifo Ekpre Olomu, DB, Oregon
#27#67PJ Williams, DB, Florida State
#28#68Rashad Greene, WR, Florida State
#29Jake Fisher, OL, Oregon#69Henry Anderson, DE, Stanford
#30Owa Odighizuwa, DE, UCLA#70Clive Walford, TE, Miai
#31Denzel Perryman, LB, Miami#71Mario Edwards, DE, Florida State
#32Duke Johnson, RB, Miami#72TJ Yeldon, TB, Alabama
#33Grady Jarrett, DT, Clemson#73
#34Eric Rowe, DB, Utah#74Jamison Crowder, WR, Duke
#35Landon Collins, S, Alabama#75Lorenzo Mauldin, LB, Louisville
#36Eli Harold, DE, Virginia#76
#37Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona#77Hau'oli Kikaha, LB, Washington
#38Jay Ajayi, RB, Boise State#78Quintin Rollins, DB, Miami (Ohio)
#39Ronald Darby, CB, Florida St#79Rakeem Nunez-Roches, DT, S Miss
#40Tevin Coleman, RB, Indiana#80David Cobb, RB, Minnesota
I bolded the targets for pick #60 (many of them, but it is a long way down to that pick).
What now? Well, Round 2 we see if the Cowboys maneuver for a RB - Duke Johnson, Tevin Coleman, and Jay Ajayi or stay put and grab one and perhaps even consider Abdullah. Also, there should be a lot of help at DT and DE in both rounds. Maybe not much as far as edge rushers go (although there are some), but solid players for sure.
For sacks from the edge, keep an eye on Odighizuwa, Harold, Gregory, Preston Smith, and Orchard.
For DT, watch Goldman, Jarrett, Davis, Bennett, and my guy, Xavier Cooper. Some really good DT players here that might make us get over not taking Brown.
Beyond that at #60, we should consider LB as a viable idea as well. And there are plenty of those non-pass rush types.
Round 3 becomes much more of a wildcard where I think we should consider the entire board and grab the BPA regardless of need/fit because now after the Top 60 or so picks, you try to just improve the overall talent on your team.
The summary from Day 1 is that the Cowboys "got their guy". Now, the overall success depends on how Day 2 falls into their hands. Will they get aggressive and trade up or continue to see how the draft comes to them?
We will know soon enough.

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