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.