It is now NFL combine week, which can mean whatever you want it to mean, to be honest. I think it is a perfectly reasonable position for a hardcore NFL fan to ignore it altogether or to watch every minute. I choose to watch quite a bit of it - although it does become repetitious each day after about 2 hours - because it helps me continue to gather information about this year's draft class.
But, for you, I am curious how much it should actually be followed given the fact that most likely 100 players in this combine will not be selected anywhere at all in the NFL Draft. This is casting an extremely broad net over a huge number of players. 5-7 of them might be part of your training camp roster, and a much bigger number will never be heard from again.
On the other hand, the sports choices are rather weak at the present, so knock yourself out. The NFL Network will have live coverage of the combine from Friday March 3 to Monday March 6 beginning at 8 a.m. each day. Enjoy.
Now, on to some reality. I am guilty of this as much as anyone, so I wanted to take you on a trip to reality-land for some thoughts about fixing the Cowboys defense by throwing another draft pick at the problem at #28 or #60 or both to get someone who can go get Aaron Rodgers when the need presents itself in January (in the event history repeats itself a third time).
We do this by talking about the idea of going out to find a "10-sack" guy. Sounds easy, right? We aren't talking about 20 sacks (a number DeMarcus Ware reached once and hit 19.5 another time) or even 16 sacks (1 a game shouldn't be a problem, right?) In an age where there are 40-50 passes a game per team, you can't get there once? The league had 16 "10-sack" guys in 2016, so the Cowboys just need one of those.
Well, the reality is that it is very difficult to find these guys. Especially if you want to find them in the draft.
I went back through the last seven drafts to look for players who get you 10 sacks a year. And, man, was that ever a short list.
PLAYERS WHO AVERAGE 10 SACKS A YEAR (From 2010-2016 drafts):
JJ Watt - 2011 - 6 seasons - 76 Sacks - 12.6 per
Von Miller - 2011 - 6 seasons - 73.5 Sacks - 12.3 per
And that is the entire list. You could argue that this group is rarer than a franchise QB.
Watt was the 11th pick in 2011. Miller was the second pick in that same draft. Mack was picked fifth in 2014. Bosa was picked third in 2016. Beasley was picked eighth in 2015 and Jones went 21st in the 2012 draft.
So, let's just be clear - if you want a huge sack guy by these parameters, you better pick really early and get the right dude.
But, let's be reasonable. Perhaps 10 sacks is too high of a threshold, right? So, let's back off a bit.
In the 2016 draft, there were 20 players taken in the top two rounds who were either defensive linemen and linebackers. Now, of course, not all of these are picked to be sack guys, but for the sake of the study, let's just look at guys who traditionally are defensive front seven players and how they produced in their rookie seasons.
So, 20 players were taken in 2016 for the purposes of fixing a defense (since they were all taken in Round 1 and Round 2). How many produced more than six sacks in their 2016 season?
Again, 2 of the 3 taken were top 10 picks. The other, Ngakoue was about the 25th player taken from this group. He was very impressive, but maybe the Dak Prescott of his office.
Guys taken in the first round - Kenny Clark (Green Bay) and Robert Nkemdiche (Arizona) both had zero sacks. Cowboys third-rounder Maliek Collins actually had a huge year with 5. That is tough to do for a rookie. Very tough.
Let's look at the 2015 draft. I set the search to this: Must have totaled 12 sacks in 2 seasons (6 per year). 21 players from DL and LB in the top 2 rounds.
5 hits. Vic Beasley, Danielle Hunter, Markus Golden, Frank Clark, and Preston Smith.
Several promising prospects have been good, but not enough production to get in that group for a myriad of reasons: Shane Ray, Leonard Williams, Bud Dupree, Grady Jarrett, Eli Harold, Dante Fowler, and, of course, Randy Gregory.
2014 draft: The search will require 16 sacks in 3 seasons. 18 players taken that fit the profile from Rounds 1 and 2 in this draft
Khalil Mack (pick 5) and Aaron Donald (pick 13).
There were many pass rushers from that draft that we studied who don't have 16 sacks from their first 3 seasons from that group (or in some cases are not even in pro football anymore): Jadeveon Clowney, Timmy Jernigan, Dee Ford, Trent Murphy, Kony Ealy, Anthony Barr, DeMarcus Lawrence, Dominique Easley, Rasheed Hageman, Ego Ferguson, Louis Nix, Michael Sam, Will Sutton.
The 2013 draft is even more of the same. 21 potential sack guys taken in Top 2 rounds. So, how many, in 4 seasons of football (potentially 64 games) have totaled 20 sacks?
Two. Ezekiel Ansah (fifth pick) and Kawaan Short (44th). And the threshold for making this list is just five sacks a season. Something that would not interest many fans to pay top dollar to get a guy who gets you a sack every three games.
Other pass rushers we looked at from the 2013 draft who are still chasing their 20th sack (or in some cases their fifth): Shariff Floyd, Star Lotulelei, Damontre Moore, John Simon, Datone Jones, Barkevious Mingo, Bjorn Werner, Jarvis Jones, Dion Jordan, Sylvester Williams, Margus Hunt. Again, some are already out of football.
I think this is a pretty important study here to realize that the guys who get sacks are part of ensembles of players who work together to put up big numbers. It also says that you can be a great pass rusher, but maybe not the raw sack totals by attracting attention and perhaps helping someone else get home. But, mostly, it just shows you how hard it is to get to the QB in the NFL. And it explains why Von Miller and JJ Watt can be paid starting QB money.
Finally, today, I wanted to group up the 15 pass rush guys that I have looked at. I will look at more, but since I likely will only evaluate 50-60 players, I simply have to move on to corners this week. But, of the 15 players we have looked at, let's put them in 3 categories: 1) guys who have no chance of getting to No. 28. 2) guys I would definitely be happy with at pick No. 28. 3) guys who look like a reach in Round 1.
GUYS WHO HAVE NO CHANCE OF GETTING TO 28 OR CLOSE:
Myles Garrett, Texas A&M
Solomon Thomas, Stanford
Jonathan Allen, Alabama
GUYS WHO I WOULD TAKE AT 28 (or perhaps jump up 10 spots to grab them):
Derek Barnett, Tennessee
Tak McKinley, UCLA
Carl Lawson, Auburn - I have some scheme fit questions
Charles Harris, Missouri
Tim Williams, Alabama - Cowboys won't take him with his red flags.
GUYS WHO LOOK LIKE A REACH AT 28 (second- or third-round talents)
In no particular order:
Haason Reddick, Temple - he will go in first round, scheme fit with Dallas
DeMarcus Walker, Florida State
Taco Charlton, Michigan
Duwaune Smoot, Illinois
Tarell Basham, Ohio - Combine could push him up
Malik McDowell, Michigan State - likely first round, but scheme fit with Dallas
Ryan Anderson, Alabama
That is where I am right now. Seeing heights, weights, and test results this week may help me get more clarity. All have profiles written already in the archives if you wish to see more.
I realize I am going rather heavy on defensive players this season, but that is the fun thing about my exercise each spring; I can tailor my search to what I perceive to be the Cowboys' main focuses. I have deduced that Dallas is search for sacks, cornerbacks, and selected skill position players on offense in the first two days of the draft. And, I have modified my search accordingly. That means that for the 3rd straight week, I am looking for big fellas who can get to Aaron Rodgers in a playoff game and help this team continue down the road.
Now, I want to make one simple point this week that seems obvious, but often gets lost in the shuffle. There is no point in taking a player who you already have (at least in Round 1). So, every time I look at this board, I am trying to ask myself, "Do the Cowboys already have someone who can do this?" And, if they do, is that player in the fold for a while? Because, I do want depth and a rotation, but this Cowboys front is definitely missing some elements -- and I would sure love to find players who fill the void, rather than players who simply provide redundancy. Redundancy is useful. It helps you sustain injuries and fatigue. But, it doesn't help you get to the QB on that one play in that one playoff situation. And that is the guy I am looking for. Of course, picking at #28 complicates the matter, too.
So every week we grab five more prospects and really give them the eyeball -- 200 snaps -- and try to look at what they do and don't do well, with a projection as to how they would fit A) in the NFL, and B) in the Cowboys' defense. Some, obviously, look like terrific pros, but not a scheme fit.
So, now, let's move on to Week 3: Here we have: Alabama's Jonathan Allen, Alabama's Ryan Anderson, Michigan State's Malik McDowell, Temple's Haason Reddick, and Ohio's Tarell Basham. All of these players seem quite qualified to rank in the Top 50 (or so) prospects in this draft.
Allen has been considered one of the top names in this draft for quite a while and is perhaps the top defensive tackle in the entire group (Stanford's Solomon Thomas has something to say about that, too). Allen is a freakish athlete and can provide fabulous results against the run or pass.
POSITIVES: Allen is a very impressive athlete for a man his size which qualifies him for the rare title of being a "dancing bear" in the middle. These players possess size, but also the ability with their quickness and balance to seem unblockable for large parts of the game. He fights to beat double teams and can live in the backfield. He has great wrestler leverage which is important for defensive tackles. Perhaps one of his best traits is he appears highly intelligent in realizing what play is coming and knows what to do next to bring it to a stop. He certainly can play many spots, but I see him as a fantastic force inside. He is productive and he lives in the backfield where run plays go to tide. He seems a lot like Geno Atkins to me. You can't zone block him very well. Really has great hands and uses them to control the blocker in front of him easily. He is a destroyer at DT.
CONCERNS: Very few concerns to be honest. He seems like he can do whatever you ask him to do. Perhaps the closest thing to a concern is that he has already played a lot of football with 56 college games under his belt at a position where that means something. Otherwise, this is a true talent.
--- Has every quality you look for in a Top 5-10 selection.
Anderson is another key piece in this Alabama defense that will soon populate the NFL. There is a reason offenses felt hopeless trying to account for each of these studs.
POSITIVES: He can do a lot of things and Alabama asked him to prove that. Sometimes, he is a DE and is rushing the passer. Other times, he is clearly a stand-up OLB in a 3-4 and is dropping in coverage mostly into zones. In man, he seems a bit uncertain about his ability to stay with and thus can get too hand-on. He can really shed and tackle against the run. He is not afraid to go inside. He can dip around the edge, but I would be careful about expectations as a pure pass rusher.
CONCERNS: It is really difficult to analyze Alabama players who are a bit lower in the pecking order. When you feel like they are surrounded by 1st round picks, you have to be careful not to evaluate based on proximity. At Alabama, players get favorable matchups and sometime are left unaccounted for because of the scheme where Nick Saban will design a blitz and get a free rusher. We cannot assume a player like Anderson would shine as the top threat, and from what I have seen, there is some of that to consider with him. He is a very nice player, but I find him a bit of a tweener who causes me some real uncertainty when trying to picture him as a key component on a Sunday. I think I like him, but I don't love him. He isn't quite strong enough to win at the edge all day, but when he does, it is great. I have issues with his positional fit and quality projections.
--- Very serviceable Piece. Just have to Value correctly.
Basham is a real solid mid-major prospect that looks right at home when Ohio would step up in competition and seems to have all of the qualities to make it at the next level.
POSITIVES: Basham is a very impressive edge player who can turn the corner in a convincing manner with both speed and power. He is incredibly explosive and battles with real conviction. In one of his biggest tests of the season - at Tennessee - he put on a real show of terrorizing the entire Volunteer front. Just a defensive menace who can do many things. He sets the edge and prevents anyone from running outside zones to his side by walking his guy into traffic. He has a wonderful motor. He rallies to the ball. I love his combination of twitch and raw and functional power. I like him much more than most in this group.
CONCERNS: We need to see his weight at the combine because he ranges between 249 and 275. He looks like he has good size, but that is an awful big discrepancy. He has some technique rawness that seems plenty able to be developed, but does need to go through that process. He may be best as a 3-4 OLB and frankly, because of his abilities, he might be wasted as just a DE in a 4-3. The production does not completely match the tape. If he has been this good, we should likely have more than 41 explosives in 26 games at this MAC level.
--- I think he belongs with the group in the Top 2 Rounds. It is a bit of a projection and we want to see his testing results, but I am very bullish on Basham.
This very large inside player has unique traits that make him a rare prospect on the inside, but also comes with a number of interesting questions.
POSITIVES: McDowell is an athletic cut big man that makes you think of all of those special attributes of Calais Campbell and more recently, the big prospects from Oregon, Arik Amstead and Deforest Buckner. That means, initially, that he is a 5-technique in a 3-4, where he would take up double teams and drop anchor on plays to his side, with the athleticism to close plays down that go the other way. He is long and lean, but has freakishly long arms and on his day can really dominate inside against lesser athletes. He seems pretty smart at sniffing out plays meant to deceive the defense and is just a massive handful to contain. He has all sorts of ability and looks like a real high-end talent if everything falls right. He is very young and after watching his tape, I feel quite strongly about his ceiling.
CONCERNS: His production never approached his promise at Michigan State. He even got a tag of being lazy (which I dispute from my 200 snaps) and was hurt periodically. He will always have a leverage disadvantage in the trenches, but he battles and sneaks in creases very well. He seems to be cut like a Defensive End, but Michigan State liked him against guards inside. He had 7.5 college sacks in 37 games. That says quite a bit.
--- 1st Round talent, but it might take a few years to figure it all out.
Reddick is a fast-riser in this draft season as a jack of all trades defensive player that is simply a "baller" in scout's jargon. Not sure his best fit, just know he will be seen.
POSITIVES: He is a joker on the field in that it appears he is a safety playing up, but has the tenacity to bring the wood like a Linebacker and even rushes the passer at times like a DE. He is very small, but has electricity to his game where you try to find guys who get to the ball. He is very active and runs so well. He makes blockers miss and sheds traffic to make the stop. He may be undersized, but it seldom prevents him from getting in your backfield and getting the man down. Honestly, the way the NFL is going, where safeties play linebacker and linebackers play up, he seems to be this year's best example of that. At times, he appears to be literally everywhere.
CONCERNS: Clearly, the key will be to get a good fit with a defensive coach that will be willing to use him in a spot where it might not follow "the book". He is small. very small. And yet, at Temple, he would take over games and had an amazing ability to cause trouble all over. Finding the best fit and not asking him to do too much in coverage are both issues, but his upside and overall body of work tells you to let him play and enjoy the results.
--- Seemingly a 1st Round talent who fits in Today's NFL Quite Well.
On Monday, now that 15 defensive front prospects have been eyed, I will try to rank them against each other to get a good view on where we currently stand. And then, we will move over to defensive backs for a few weeks.
I have now said enough on this topic that I am absolutely repeating myself, but let's do it again on this Monday morning. I don't believe Romo will be traded at all. I don't think any team is going to pay a real asset to get him. A conditional fifth-rounder? Maybe. But, you are not getting anything great for Romo.
The cap doesn't really allow for it and Tony Romo doesn't need to do anything but wait. The Cowboys are going to feel the crunch of the cap very soon. They have the ability to make room, but they also need it all, because right now, they have almost no cornerbacks on their roster. They also have almost no safeties. So, yes, they can restructure some deals to make room, but with this many defensive backs as free agents (and they need a starting WR), you can see there is a need for every dollar.
The Cowboys could attempt to hold on to Romo and set up the Hail Mary possibility that someone will lose their QB on Labor Day like the Vikings did last year that set up their goofy deal with the Eagles for Sam Bradford. I mean, they could. But, they would not be smart to do that because of about five reasons. Maybe the biggest one is that the rest of the league confirmed that the Vikings were insane to do that and likely could have accomplished most of the exact same from 2016 with Shaun Hill or you name the waiver-wire QB. They panicked. That actually makes it less likely someone else would do the same.
If a team wants Romo, they want him with a full offseason. But, that team also knows the Cowboys need the space so they can do business at the spots on the roster that are actually going to play in 2017. Romo is under no obligation to do anything but sit for now. I suspect Houston makes the most sense, but I also suspect Houston will not have to pay to get him -- other than the market value salary and the chance to start. Denver has a chance to get involved, although I expect they will go with Paxton Lynch rather than basically destroy his future after all the trouble they went through to get him (and to beat Dallas to him, ironically). Kansas City has been mentioned on the periphery. There are some less attractive options -- including a few in the NFC.
But, back to the ultimate question: Why would anyone trade for him when they don't have to? I guess it only takes one team to panic, but the cap implications for the Cowboys are clearly more beneficial to simply waive him as a June 1 designation.
In the end, I believe you will see what we expected months ago. You will wake up one March morning, grab the paper, and see the Cowboys have bluffed as far as they can go. Now, they want to participate in free agency and therefore are cutting Tony Romo loose.
It was a good run. But, it ends in the next 30 days.
This week, we grab another set of prospects who appeal to the strength of the 2017 NFL draft. So, if you happen to be a team that needs a "war daddy," as Jerry Jones likes to refer to the dominant defensive linemen, then this is a good draft for you.
There are many very good defensive line prospects, and since we follow the Dallas Cowboys here, we need to examine all of them at the top of the draft. Now, before you help us out with a very important detail we all know, I am ignoring the fact that many of these players will be off the board when the Cowboys pick at No. 28. We made the mistake back in 2012 of assuming there was no way Morris Claiborne would be available when the Cowboys picked then, so we didn't examine him too closely. Then the Cowboys traded up to get him and I was scrambling. So since it is February, I have the time to give each prospect at these key positions a morning of attention (the 200-snap treatment), and I am not too concerned about their chances of falling to No. 28 just yet. I want to watch Myles Garrett play football either way -- regardless of his future in Cleveland.
So, what is a "war daddy?" Well, it probably would help to have Jerry Jones define it, so here is what he told KESN-FM 103.3 (ESPN Radio) this week: "We need more pressure. And we can get that. But we've got to come to grips with how we're going to get it. You can get it by compromising the fundamentals of other places on your defense by, in effect, blitzing. But those are not our style. We really want a player to stay in there that defends the run, can hold the gap, as well as when called for crash the gap. So, we've got to make sure that we've got the personnel skills. We've really got it on campus, so to speak, in [DeMarcus] Lawrence and we've got it in [Randy] Gregory. They both are compromised as we sit here and speak, but they're both the type of players that we need out there.
"If I have a chance to bring one of these premier pass rushers, one of these war daddies that takes two to block, if I have a chance to get a player like that -- I would...it's not a question of that. It's a question of where is he? And who gives him up if he's a veteran, or where is he in the draft, or where is he anywhere? So, yeah we do need pressure. We're going to try to do something about it."
He calls them "war daddies." We can call them anything you want. I think if we were to define where the Cowboys need it most, it would be more on the outside. They seem to have some pretty solid talent on the inside at defensive tackle, so, although there are some generational defensive tackles in this draft -- one from Coppell -- I am thinking this team needs some edge pass rush that can really bring 10 sacks back into play.
So every week we grab five more prospects and really give them the eyeball -- 200 snaps -- and try to look at what they do and don't do well, with a projection as to how they would fit A) in the NFL, and B) in the Cowboys' defense. Some, obviously, look like terrific pros, but not a scheme fit.
Last week, we grabbed our first five (not ranked, just random top-50 prospects) in Missouri's Charles Harris, Tennessee's Derek Barnett, Auburn's Carl Lawson, Michigan's Taco Charlton and UCLA's Takkarist McKinley.
This week, I want to stay in the same general area of the draft and grab five more. So this week, it is Texas A&M's Myles Garrett, Illinois' Dawuane Smoot, Florida State's DeMarcus Walker, Alabama's Tim Williams and Stanford's Solomon Thomas.
Now, I will just tell you here, even though I am watching three complete games for each of these players, I also am biased. We all are. But I am looking for certain characteristics. The fact is, all of these guys will be in the NFL. They are all talented. But only some fit the very exact specifications of what fits a 4-3 scheme, what fits with what the Cowboys already have (there is no point in spending a top pick on someone who is "as good" as what you already have. We want improvements). I am looking for electric players who have great power and quickness and are a massive problem to block. I am not looking for guys who are "speed bumps" and have big anchors. Those guys are not generally at the top of the draft. Guys who hold their ground are important, but they also are in great supply. We need guys who live in the opponent's backfield. That is why college production on explosive plays (sacks and tackles for loss) are very important. If you average two "explosives" per game, you are a dynamite producer. Less than one explosive per game is a real concern.
OK, let's get started:
Myles Garrett - DE - Texas A&M
-- 6-foot-5, 270 pounds - 2016 first-team AP All-American
-- Stats from the past two seasons: 24 games; 21 sacks, 34.5 tackles for loss = 55.5 explosive plays
Garrett seems to have the type of total package that will get him off the board in the first few minutes of the draft. For about 24 months, it has been said he will be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 NFL draft, and he has done nothing to change that perception.
POSITIVES: He has an incredibly rare combination of size and twitch. This is very rare in that most players his size are a bit more plodding and use strength as their key positive attribute. But when you get a guy his size who also has his electric "get-off" and flexibility, as well as a motor that runs hot and is highly competitive, you see that you have another Jadeveon Clowney-level prospect. Clowney was a No. 1 pick and we expect Garrett will be, too. He bends so well around the corner but is at his best when he shows his quickness and just destroys a play in the blink of an eye. They can't stay in front of him, but they also can't get to him in time. He had unreal production from the moment he first stepped on campus. He has violence in his game and is a big, lean and menacing presence. You literally can't say enough about him.
CONCERNS: I really don't have much for you here. His production in 2016 was down, but he sustained an injury in late September that caused issues all season. He had only 8.5 sacks and 4.5 of them came in one game against UTSA, so that isn't great. But throughout three years of being a marked man, he averaged just under a sack per game and had 81 explosives in 36 games. That is insane. He did look like he played a bit "carefully" late in the season, to both protect his injury and draft spot, but even then he wanted to stay on the field and help his team, so there is little to be alarmed about. Your only concern is blocking him.
-- TOP TALENT IN THE DRAFT.
DeMarcus Walker - DT/DE - Florida State
-- 6-4, 280 - 2016 second-team AP All-American, ACC Defensive Player of the Year
-- Stats from the past two seasons - 26 games; 26.5 sacks, 37 TFLs = 63.5 explosives
Once again, the production is off the charts for another player who possesses many of the attributes teams are looking for. He has been a force in the past few years as Florida State's talent factory turns out another stud.
POSITIVES: Walker is an interesting player in that he has plenty of utility. He is an early-down defensive end for me, and far more explosive when Florida State would push him inside on passing downs to feast on guards. His interior quickness is unquestioned, and he can go with speed or power to maul players, which tells you he seems far more like a 3-technique than a defensive end/edge rusher. He also has a very uncanny ability to sense what is happening around him, and this is indicative of high intelligence and the ability to study well all week to have the big picture sorted out by gameday. He will hold his anchor against the run and squeeze through cracks at times, getting into the backfield.
CONCERNS: He is not really a candidate on the edge for me. There is just not a lot of edge-level twitch to his game, and I am a bit slowed by how often he gets stoned in his spot by a tackle. He also seems to have long droughts in impact, but there is no questioning his overall production. You would have to call his overall pass rushing "ordinary" and wonder what his future in the NFL would be at defensive end. If you need inside guys, I like him a lot, but the Cowboys just took Maliek Collins and I think they are very similar players. I was hoping for a little more "high-end" flash.
-- Very solid prospect at defensive tackle. Likely a second-rounder.
Tim Williams - EDGE - Alabama
-- 6-4, 252 - 2012 high school All-American
-- Stats from the past two seasons: 28 games; 19.5 sacks, 28.5 TFLs = 48 explosives
Williams is going to be one of the most debated names on draft day as he comes with very unique skills, a host of red flags and cautionary whispers about investing in him too highly.
POSITIVES: Turn on some Tim Williams tape and you are going to see all of the flash of some of the NFL's best edge rushers. He is scary off the edge and possesses a quickness and suddenness that is nothing short of elite. He looks very similar to Von Miller on his best plays, and there is no better compliment. He is lightning and also has impressive strength for his size. He can bully tackles, despite being a rather small edge player. He is going to be trouble at the next level in a 3-4 scheme as an outside edge rusher.
CONCERNS: There are many. Off-the-field conduct whispers have followed him throughout his time at Alabama, and it ranges from sources at Alabama claiming he has failed many drug tests to his overall view of how important football is to him. On the field, you also have the discussions about why he had such a limited role in college. For a team like Dallas, I don't really see a fit because situational pass rushers are just not ideal first-round picks for me. I think he can go either way in his pro career, but one important component will be to get to a 3-4 defense and feed off the end to stack those sacks up.
-- First-round talent, with a fair amount of baggage.
Dawuane Smoot - DE - Illinois
-- 6-3, 255 - 2016 third-team All-Big Ten
-- Stats from the past two seasons: 24 games; 13 sacks, 30 TFLs = 43 explosives
Smoot is another edge force in this draft who can combine an array of skills and help build a team's D-line group.
POSITIVES: Smoot is a very interesting player who has some incredibly impressive moments on tape when he can destroy plays and live in the backfield. It is sometimes tricky to evaluate players because of what is around him. If a guy plays for Florida State and Alabama, sometimes you are influenced by their plays only to find out they are feeding off favorable matchups that won't be available on Sundays because of the talent around them. Smoot is the opposite, playing on a side with limited talent and being keyed on quite a bit. To see him compete hard against Michigan while his team was down five touchdowns proves his competitiveness, and then to see him convert speed to power on sacks from the edge is equally impressive. He has limitations, but there is something there for sure.
CONCERNS: He has some moments of looking quite ordinary and not having a whole lot that would separate him from the rank and file at the next level. He can play big, but we don't always see that. Against the run, there are real questions as to whether he can stand his ground on runs at him. Moving to the edge is no issue, but standing his ground seems to be. Just not overly twitchy and explosive for the most part, and as the athletes continue to improve all around him, you wonder how that translates to Sundays. He also appeared to wear down as the game goes along, but that is to be expected at his size while trying to play defensive end. But he may not be athletic enough to move to linebacker.
-- Good talent, but not a high ceiling.
Solomon Thomas - DE/DT - Stanford
-- 6-3, 275 - 2016 first-team All-Pac-12
-- Stats from the past two seasons: 27 games; 11.5 sacks, 25.5 TFLs = 37 explosives
The best defensive tackle prospect in the draft.
POSITIVES: When I think war-daddy types, I think Fletcher Cox and Aaron Donald -- players from past drafts who were taken in years when the Cowboys needed help at defensive tackle and were unable to match up with the leaders from that season. This is that type of player. Absurd athleticism. Now, it is important to note that Thomas was a redshirt sophomore, so he has only played two years of college football, and thus his stats are not quite as mind-boggling as some of the others we look at, but from a tape standpoint of the jaw-dropping destruction of college guards in his path, he is off the charts. His power and short-area quickness are gifts that seem wasted at defensive end, but when he is lined up inside -- which I assume will be his home in the NFL -- he can absolutely humiliate big men in front of him. He can do whatever you want in short spaces, from beating a man at the snap to slicing through a double-team. His final college game, a bowl win vs. North Carolina, was a three-hour clinic on why this Coppell product appears he could be an NFL star for years to come. A tremendous motor and will to fight all day long make him a very enticing talent.
CONCERNS: While he can handle things on the outside, I think a big part of the NFL process is finding where a player can be special. I just believe that is to use his skill set like Cox and Donald do -- to probe his way to space inside. He is so good as a 3-technique candidate. You may be concerned about his numbers, but the way Stanford rotates guys and balances roles suggest that shouldn't slow you down. Otherwise, I see no real issues or concerns.
-- I assume we will see him taken in the top half of the first round.
Ten prospects down, five more next week. We will do one more batch of D-linemen, but I may move to cornerbacks for Week 3.