Wednesday, February 12, 2014

2014 Cowboys Draft Weekly Notebook: Episode 4 - Defensive Tackles

Now we are in the phase of player evaluations by position.  I am not sure how far into the positions we will go, but I definitely want to hit defensive tackles, defensive ends, safeties, offensive tackles, offensive interior, and quarterbacks.

That will hold me for 6 weeks and at that point we may discuss a few at other spots or just start stacking our board.  Let's sort this out as we get through March.

However, the exercise for me is as follows.  I want to know each player in the Top 100 at these positions, so just like the last several years I spent January building a consensus on who the Top 100 players are by using my normal sources of public lists from respected minds, opinions from scouts, and my own best deductions.  Obviously, there is no true Top 100, so we have to remain flexible that many who are in the mix in December may not be in May and the opposite is also true.

This week, we are going to tackle the top several DT candidates and analyze them by looking at no fewer than 3 of their games (sometimes as many as 5).  I try to pick 1-2 a day until I get through those I think will be in at least the Top 2 rounds.  It is ideal to watch All-22s, but that is not possible for everyone so I end up watching a lot of TV copies and sometimes resort to the many available games and cut-ups that are online.  If you look around, you might be surprised how much tape of a player is available to anyone who cares to look.

I want to analyze the positives and negatives of each player and then discuss how he might fit in Dallas and whether he is a pick that is attractive to me.  Not rocket science, but it does require a little bit of effort and imagination to sort whether a player is ideal for the next level.

Let's get started:

Aaron Donald - Pittsburgh - 6'1 - 288

Donald was up for a number of awards this year and won the Outland Trophy.  He is a spectacular player who does so many things for his defense and you can see as the year went on he was clearly in a spot where teams were terrified of him and therefore focusing their game plan on not letting him ruin it.

Donald's production checks out at absurdly high levels and in 51 college games he had a crazy 95.5 explosive plays for a defensive tackle.  In the ACC, no less, Donald was a man amongst boys.

Stats Sacks TFLs
2013 11 28.5
2012 5.5 18.5
2011 11 16
2010 2 3
Totals 29.5 66

The questions about Donald are whether he is a strong run anchor and I can see those concerns, but he is not a run speed bump.  He does a great job stopping run plays, but his specialty is the ability to get around offensive linemen with almost no effort.  He is as close as this draft has to the ideal 3-technique that could grow into your version of Warren Sapp or Tommie Harris.  He spends time in the backfield on a regular basis and just looks like a player that must be doubled.  Of course, if you start doubling a 3-tech, that leaves your DE on his side with a TE or RB and that should be a great thing for a defense.  

He has long arms, a quick "get off" that wins many battles at the snap, and appears to not have much quit from the games I watched - Florida State, Miami, and Notre Dame.  He moves to DE on 3rd Down and appears to have solid moves as a pass rusher on the outside.  He can show versatility and can dominate any single teams.  

I promised to find negatives, and I know people don't want their tackles to be 6'1 if they can help it, but he wins with leverage so much that I am fine with his stature.  If you want to know who the dream target should be for the Dallas Cowboys when they get to the clock, it is Pitt's Aaron Donald.  And, it appears he might have a chance due to his height and run stopping warts that some have seen. But, a guy who averages almost 2 destructive plays per game over 4 years in school?  Sign me up.

Timmy Jernigan - Florida State - 6'2 - 298

Jernigan is in everyone's 1st Round and he is part of a very talented Florida State defense that will have several players drafted.  He is the exact opposite of Donald in his skill set from what I can tell as he is all about stuffing the run and not too great at getting to the QB.  He played the 1-technique and projects to the very same spot, so right there you might get memories of how Rod Marinelli fells about taking him at Pick 16/17 because just last season we all remember the war-room story of how Marinelli said you don't take a 1-tech in the 1st round.  It just isn't the type of game changing value that you are looking for because while he is a load to deal with, much of his damage is done at the line of scrimmage rather than behind the line of scrimmage.


I watched Boston College, Florida, and Auburn for Jernigan and saw some very impressive things.  He looks like a great athlete with his ability to stand his ground with his muscle and he sure hustles well.  There was a play in the Boston College game where he helped run down a running back 40 yards downfield and looked like a LB running in the open field.  

He is great against the run and demands a double team as he will make a 1-on-1 with a center look silly.  But his pass rush is pretty much based on being left alone.  He is not beating many interior guys and getting to the QB, in fact, when he pass rushes, he is often the 4th Seminole upfield to the QB.  He absolutely showed everyone in the Auburn game that he can take over, but my overall view of Jernigan at this point is that he will be a solid pro, but not a star.  I think he is a guy you would love to have on your team, but I am not sure I would build my defensive line around him.  For me, Jernigan vs Donald is not even close.    I like him, but don't love him.

I am sure he is a 1st rounder in May, and for some teams he might complete their front wall, but with Dallas having needs at pretty much all 4 spots across the line, this guy is frosting, not the cake.

Louis Nix - Notre Dame - 6'3 - 340

Nix is a real treat to watch a highlight film of, because he is the type of guy who is such a physical freak with his size and feet that his best 10 plays of the last 2 years have been jaw-dropping.  But, he is also a guy who has productivity issues, health concerns, and for Dallas, just doesn't seem to be much of a scheme fit.

First, he is a clear nose tackle for a 3-4, and if you squint you can certainly make him your 1-tech in a 4-3.  He is a guy who must be doubled by the center and guard and even that looks like a cumbersome load at times.  I have seen him forklift a center right back into the QB, but obviously, his production show that this isn't happening much.

My real issues with Nix is wondering where his conditioning is at because I saw a lot of plays where I wanted more battle out of him.  He comes and goes in that department which simply might mean he needs the chance to catch his breath and therefore is only as good as his conditioning.  He also had a chance to be at the very top of the draft, but his knee did not allow him to put much good tape out for 2013 and therefore I went back and spent time again with his 2012 work against Oklahoma and Alabama and then his Michigan game in 2013.

Now, before you get too worked up about his lack of production, Haloti Ngata and Dontari Poe would both be examples of why this type of player is not judged on stats.  This is a disruptive player who causes issues with anything you try to do between the tackles and his injury-marred 2013 will not help his case this spring, but in 2015 this past season won't matter to whoever owns his rights.  

He is a very promising talent and a bit of a tease.  He is too good to ignore, but not good enough to gamble upon if you are a team like the Cowboys.  Also, he is not an ideal scheme fit, so let's move on, but I do want the record to reflect my feelings that with the right coaching, he is going to make a nice living in this league once he gets his conditioning and health squared away.

Rashade Hageman - Minnesota - 6'6 - 318

In this position group, there is always a player who divides the opinion makers, and this year, it is a Golden Gopher.  He is an absolutely imposing figure who looks so much like the build of Julius Peppers that you can understand why people could confuse the two getting off the bus.

And, again, if highlight films were the only determining factor, Hageman would be ranked higher.  For he has some freakish moments where he destroys anyone in his path and then tackles a RB 4 yards deep.

He does make you wonder about what he would be like surrounded with players of his caliber because at Minnesota he sticks out like a sore thumb, so attention-wise the opponent knows to watch #99.  The rap on him is that he is too inconsistent and doesn't dominate enough, but I have seen enough guys who are double teamed all of the time to say that although I wish they never got discouraged, you see it happens and it shouldn't be the end of the world as a guy waits for his draft day.  

His biggest weakness for me is that he looks like a DE trying to play DT.  DTs are supposed to be well trained in leverage and winning in tight spaces, and he just doesn't do either of those really well. If "low man wins", in trench battles, then you can see that a guy who is 6'6 is going to have trouble getting under a guard.  Can he move to DE?  Well, he does on pass rushing downs and that is where I liked him the most, although with 2 sacks in 2013, I won't tell you that he is Deacon Jones.  

He has amazing tools and he can body slam guys and block kicks and bull rush and do plenty.  He also runs well and does look quick at times and at worst, attracts attention so others can eat against favorable match ups.   

Again, if I had a strong DL group, I would love to take a shot on this project player, but the Cowboys are not a candidate here for him to be their lead horse.  I just can't see that.  

That concludes the list of 4 DTs who I think could conceivable be picked in Round 1.  A few of them might drop to Round 2, but those 4 seem to have a chance at this point in time.

Now, 2 more who I would have to consider when the Cowboys pick at 48/49.

Will Sutton - Arizona State - 6'0 - 315

Here is a player who has not received any positive press in the last several months when it comes to his draft stock.  In fact, he is spending most of his time being called fat by those who watch his 2013 film.

Sutton was asked to gain lots of weight because his coaches at Arizona State wanted him to play more Defensive Tackle in 2013 and they projected him as a force in the middle that would be unstoppable.  However, as we saw so much at the Senior Bowl, the extra luggage he was carrying slowed down his cat-like speed in the trenches and actually made him a less appealing prospect.  BUT, that doesn't mean that you should be scared away from a 22 year old who exhibits a number of traits that I would love to add to the Dallas roster.

Sutton is a stud and if you can just go back to his old weight of 290, you would see a player who looks just as troublesome as Aaron Donald.  His USC game in 2012 was a thing of beauty as he had a violent game that was destructive in so many ways.  That is who I would be betting on returning.  He has a swim move and a relentless pass rush from the interior, and as his 37 TFLs in the last 2 seasons indicate, he will destroy some running plays with great ease.  


In 2013, he looked bigger and also looked slower.  He was chopped a few times in September, once in the Wisconsin game, and that looked like it slowed him down quite a bit as he might have transitioned into "careful to not get hurt before my draft" mode.  All that is true, but with 53 destructive plays in 2012-13, I wouldn't call him "fatso".  I would call him productive.  

I think he is dropping weight and if so, he might be the 2nd best candidate for the 3-technique vacancy that is being left open by Jason Hatcher.  I don't like him as much at 315, but this weight issue and his poor 2013 tape (relative to 2012) might allow him to fall down the board.  If he is there when the Cowboys go up in the 2nd - and I am absolutely guessing on February 12th that he might be, then I sprint to the podium and take him while giggling (unless I don't already have Donald in the 1st Round).  

DaQuan Jones - Penn State - 6'3 - 323

Now, this player is a difficult study as well.  First, he had almost no production before 2013, and the road is paved with prospects who had 1 good year and then returned to an anonymous career.  

He moves well and penetrates reasonably well.  He has a real solid motor and from what I saw - especially against Nebraska, he appeared to get better as the game went along.  I think his best attribute is that he has quite a bit of position-flex in that they played him up and down the line and at different points of his 2013, I bet he played all 4 spots along the defensive line.  

He is an active body and perhaps he will only be a solid 1-technique for the future.  He is a tier below, but unlike some of the other bodies that surround him in the rankings, I think he could be a very valuable addition if you could find him in the 2nd or even 3rd round.  I would not overpay for him, but of the players who are down a bit on the board at this spot, DaQuan's tape caught my eye the most.

Keep an eye on his ability in the combine because that might determine what level his prospects are.


There are 2 other DT prospects that I have not included, Florida's Dominique Easley and Notre Dame's Stephon Tuitt.  I will get to Easley and I will keep Tuitt at DE for now, but I think he might have DT in his future.

Otherwise, I believe that should cover your Top 50 picks at DT.  Of course, with almost 3 months to go, a lot can change.

Comment below on your agreements/disagreements and next week we will try to turn out a new group of prospects, likely at Safety.

Once again, I would recommend you examine tape of all of these guys over at Draft Breakdown and decide for yourself who you like most at this position of great need of the Cowboys this spring.  


Koji said...

Bob, if we draft 2 solid DTs, would you be comfortable in starting Tyrone Crawford at LDE and George Selvie at RDE? Considering age and health, I think Selvie could be an upgrade over Ware (never imagined I would say something like that). As for Crawford, we know that he must recover from his Achilles surgery, but assuming he comes back 100%, I think he could be a solid starter. Your thoughts?

Unknown said...

I prefer Will Sutton at 47 than I do Aaron Donald at 16/17. We have depth at DT in this draft. A point can be made that we also need FS help. A true FS. I like Calvin Pryor there with 16/17...or how about a guard Zack Martin who could play for the next 10 years with Smith, Fredercik. Leary has bad knees and Bernardeau is really your back-up G/C. Now you would be building a solid O-Line to help protect, not only Romo for the next 2 years but, his replacement. My picks first two rounds would be Martin/Pryor then Sutton.

Unknown said...

I much Sutton with the 47th pick than Donald at 16/17. We have depth at DT in this draft. A point can be made that the Cowboys could use a FS badly, but depth isn't the same at that position in this draft. My pick at that position for the 'Boys would have to be Calvin Pryor over Dix. Pryor is a true FS where Dix looks more like a SS which we have plenty. A point can be made that picking a Guard to solidify our O-Line for the next 7 years would make heaps of sense. A) you are not only helping Romo for the next 2 years but you're setting it up real good for his replacement, B) Leary has knee issues and Bernardeau is really your back-up G/C. My picks for the first 2 rounds would be Zack Martin/Calvin Pryor then Will Sutton in the second.

TBash said...

Looking forward to your breakdown of Dominique Easley. He's my pet cat for the silly season. Plus, we know Dallas loves defenders coming off serious knee injuries.

If we could get Easley in the 4th, or even the 3rd round, I would be very happy.