This week, I was asked by a few different Cowboys fans about the significance of the visits before the draft and whether it is as big a deal as some claim it is. One guy in the conversation wasn't even aware of the procedures, so in this edition of the Monday Bag of Footballs, let's cover it the best we can.
Each team in the NFL gets 30 official NFL visits from prospective draftees prior to the draft itself. They also get more face-to-face interactions from the Senior Bowl to the combine to pro days and more all spring long. Prior to the spring, NFL scouts visit campuses the entire year to talk to coaches from the end of one draft until the next.
These visits have been overanalyzed and overrated across the league. These 32 outfits certainly are aware they are being watched and use the types of intelligence they can gather from each other to their advantages, which then was converted into throwing out smoke screens on each other. They would schedule visits to throw teams off and not schedule others to do the same. Nobody wants to show their cards, so sometimes when a visit is scheduled or not, it is with the intention of showing the wrong cards to the competition.
However, it does seem that our current power structure in Dallas -- Jerry Jones, Stephen Jones, Will McClay, and Jason Garrett -- are not worried about the information out there. In other words, if people are telling you the Cowboys give us a pretty good idea of who they like, it is because it is true.
Now, that doesn't mean that they aren't also throwing smoke screens out there. Sometimes, these visits are to get more medical information. Other times it is to inquire about a guy's personality or to see him work out again. They can be used for a number of reasons, but those of us who follow the Cowboys have been trained to carefully monitor who is in town on these visits.
Let's take a look at how the Cowboys have matched up their draft list to their visit list in recent years:
2012: Morris Claiborne, Tyrone Crawford, Kyle Wilber, Matt Johnson, Danny Coale, James Hanna, and Caleb McSurdy were the 7 picks. But, with Cole Beasley, Lance Dunbar, Kyle Wilber, Ron Leary and Matt Johnson all as visits, we will score that as 5 of the 10 new names were brought in. You may recall that there was quite a bit of stirring from internal sources about the idea that some worried they had not been properly prepared on Claiborne when the trade was made. That may be rumors, but it was out there at the time.
2013: Travis Frederick, Gavin Escobar, Terrance Williams, JJ Wilcox, BW Webb, Joseph Randle, and Devonte Holloman were the picks. Frederick, JJ Wilcox, BW Webb, and Joseph Randle all had private visits. Additionally, Jakar Hamilton was signed after the draft as a free agent and he was here on a private. Five of eight were here for one of the Cowboys' 30 private visits or other activites.
2014: Zack Martin, DeMarcus Lawrence, Anthony Hitchens, Devin Street, Ben Gardner, Will Smith, Ahmad Dixon, Ken Bishop, and Terrance Mitchell. Visits were given to Ken Bishop, Davon Coleman, DeMarcus Lawrence, and Zack Martin. In 2014, only 4 of the new Cowboys were here on visits. Four of 10.
2015: Byron Jones, Randy Gregory, Chaz Green, Damien Wilson, Ryan Russell, Mark Nzeocha, Laurence Gibson, and Geoff Swaim. Byron Jones, Randy Gregory, Ryan Russell, Damien Wilson, Mark Nzeocha, Chaz Green all visited! That means everyone pretty much visited Valley Ranch before the draft. Six of 8!
2016: Ezekiel Elliott, Jaylon Smith, Maliek Collins, Charles Tapper, Dak Prescott, Anthony Brown, Kavon Frazier, Darius Jackson, and Rico Gathers. This is the year that was curious, because according to the records, only Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott visited. So, only two of 9 this year, but I would also point out that they were on the Senior Bowl coaching staff this year, so the process may have been heavily altered.
Some years it matters, some it doesn't. But, if you add up that five-year snapshot of Cowboys and their visits, I believe the final score was 22 of the 45 players they brought (49%) in were already hinted at before the draft happened. They had every first-round pick in after Claiborne. That seems to indicate that the watch-list is something we should carefully track.
Demarcus Walker, DE/3-4OLB, Florida State (Combine)
Greg Ward Jr., QB/WR, Houston (Combine)
T.J. Watt^, 3-4OLB/OLB/ILB, Wisconsin (Combine, Official visit)
Dede Westbrook, WR, Oklahoma (Combine)
Chad Williams, WR, Grambling (Official visit)
Mike Williams, WR, Clemson (Combine)
Jordan Willis, DE/3-4OLB/OLB, Kansas State (Interested)
Again, it is not the final list and it is not something they won't deviate from, but it is good information to consider as you are looking at various players. These are the guys that the Cowboys don't mind you knowing they are eyeing as we approach the big weekend.
I hope that helps. I wouldn't call it definitive, but I would also not ignore it. They have shown us that they like to kick the tires before buying.