Wednesday, March 23, 2016

What I would like to see out of Dallas in this year's NFL draft.

It's time for my annual wish list for the Cowboys on draft day.

As I have looked at this year's draft I have reached some conclusions ---This was a horrible year to be horrible.

This draft sucks.

The only positive I can see is that this draft has like 50 second round caliber DTs.  Unfortunately that is a position Dallas puts a very low draft value priority on.

To understand why I say that, you have to understand what a regular draft looks like.

General draft concepts

Ordinarily a draft will have about 8 to a dozen nice talents who can step in and immediately make an impact.  Positional players who can be pro bowlers from day 1, a few franchise type QBs with minor flaws, and guys who will almost certainly be plus starters in the NFL.

Then there are another 15 or so guys who are likely solid starters.  Reaches may push some of them into the second.

Then there is a tier of 30 or so better "hit or miss guys" who could step into a starting role on day 1 and not embarrass you.  Teams reaching will usually push about 10-15 of those guys well into the third. 

And then you are playing the lottery.

Three rounds are 96  or so picks. This is the top 100 thinking that smart GMs and smart draft followers understand.

If you understand who the top 100 are and land one in each of the 3 first rounds, your odds of pulling 3 starters every year is high.

Dallas doesn't do that

Historically under Jerry Jones Dallas manages to lose their third rounder and come out with 2 guys out of that top 100.  (Reporters have tracked it out over the last few years, but I am too lazy to hunt down the link.)  Dallas over the last decade or so was one of the teams with the fewest top 100 players drafted in that timeframe.

Dallas likes to chase specific players rather than letting the draft come to them.

If it costs you picks in the top 100, it's bad strategy.

Getting back to this year's draft

Goff and Carson Wentz would both be first round picks in any draft, but both have fairly compelling red flags.

Goff to me is like the second coming of Aaron Rodgers and I don't mean that in a good way.  Remember Rodgers came out a year early and was a little under-developed.  In a normal draft he slid into the middle of the first round.

Rodgers got lucky being able to develop as a athlete and grow up as a person with no pressure on him at all in Green Bay.  He got to adjust to the speed of the NFL and refine his techniques without getting the crap beat out of him.  Landing in Green Bay likely saved his career.

I think Goff blew his Cleveland interview while Wentz aced his.  That mixed with  Goff's small hands (Cleveland's head coach doesn't like small handed QBs) appears to have allowed Goff to escape Cleveland.  He should sacrifice a cow to the football gods.   His odds of success in the NFL at least doubled.

Goff is a well coached, spread QB.  He has solid arm and an advanced understanding of passing concepts.  He kills teams when he is on and struggles when he is under pressure.  He's a skinny dude and those guys are always at risk to start hearing footsteps when they start getting hit by NFL linemen.

Some QBs have tendencies that allow them to be baited into throwing interceptions.  At this point he is in that crowd.  He is going to have to work on taking snaps under center and more ---adjust to a much less dynamic passing scheme.

He's a risky pick.  He'll probably be OK if Dallas, San Diego, or LA takes him.  He's screwed if Cleveland or San Francisco takes him.

He has recently been compared to Jay Cutler --- an NFL QB with a lot of talent who has big games against dog teams and struggles vs. anyone decent.  That is a sign that his stock is slipping.

Wentz is a workout warrior who impresses all the NFL teams with his demeanor.  He lead NDSU to two straight FCS titles as a starter.

He is big and has all the tools, but coming from the FCS ranks means you have to add another year onto his development curve.

I think he will have a Kenny O'Brien caliber career in Cleveland.

He has been compared to Oliver Luck ---crazy --- and to Blake Bortles.  I think the Bortles comparison is a good one.  Call him Bortles-lite.

Neither of these guys is a slam dunk for what you would usually have in that top tier, but they could go 2&3 in this draft.

That tells you everything you need to know about this draft.

There is no elite tier in this draft.   You start right at the second tier. 

It is the kind of draft you could easily come out of with nothing.

My guide to leveraging Dallas's picks into a winning yield

Here are the assets Dallas enters this draft holding.

4th 1(4)
34th 2(3)
67th 3(4)
101st 4(3)
135th 4(37 -compensatory)
189th 6(14)
212th 6(37- compensatory)
216th 6(41- compensatory)
217th 6(42- compensatory)

If they draft well, they should be able to land 4 starters.  They won't, but they should.

I think step one is to figure out if you believe in either of the top 2 QBs.

Dallas runs a tweaked up variant of Norv Turner's simplified version of the Air Coryell offense.   Norv Turner's offense is EXTREMELY QB friendly.   You need a dude who can throw a slant.   Almost every QB can do that.

Dallas was able to hang around in every game last year that Brandon Weeden, a 3rd string caliber QB with no confidence in his ability to play at the NFL level, played in having that guy check down on every play.

That is a sign that you have a pretty good offensive scheme.

There is a thought that Dallas should take a QB because we won't pick this high again.   The trouble is these are 10-15 level QBs.  If Dallas doesn't pick a QB and Romo goes down or retires, they will be picking in the top 10 again.  That thinking is unsupported.

So the question really becomes "Do you want to hitch your franchise to Goff?" (Cleveland appears sold on Wentz so the option available would be Goff.)

IF you like him, draft him without a second thought.  I am inclined to think the answer would likely be no. 

And given the view of scouts, it makes sense.  If Romo goes down and Goff has to play immediately, there is a good chance Goff gets rattled and his development is permanently derailed.  Then you have blown another top 5 pick.  You cannot afford that.

You have to hit on a top 5 pick with top 5 value.

What if you have questions about Goff in this scenario?

If you do, you need to be looking at dangling the pick to one of the next suitors for Goff --- San Francisco or LA --- to try to get a bidding war going.

The difference between Goff and Lynch as prospects is a chasm.  Goff looks like a good starting QB on the right team.  Lynch is still a very raw talent.   He needs a good situation with good coaching and he probably needs a little time sitting.  He may or may not ever develop.

That's your selling point to both teams.  Both are in a hurry to win. And both can make strong offers.

What I would want from San Franscisco...

I would take a long hard look at Collin Kaepernick.  Again, Dallas has a very QB friendly system.  Kaepernick can throw a slant. Kapernick can take a hit, he can buy time with his legs, and he has the arm to fully utilize our #2 WR's best attributes ---finding the gaps deep on broken plays.

I think Kaepernick and #7 for #4 for Goff is a hell of a haul.  Dallas likely gets the same caliber player at 7 they would at 4 and they get a dramatic upgrade at the backup QB spot with a guy who could easily be the QB of the future.

He wants out.  They could get him to restructure his deal to make it work.   Add a year that would be this year where he is paid like a backup.  He would take that.

Dallas could likely get Shaq Lawson at 7.  I see no qualitative difference between Lawson and Joey Bosa who Dallas is rumored to be targeting at #4.  To me Bosa is another Greg Ellis. Solid NFL DE who might make a couple pro bowls, but kind of a meh return on a #4 pick.

(I think there is a compelling argument that the value in this draft will be in the low 20's where you could get two DE's of that caliber rather than paying for a "brand name" like Lawson or Bosa, but I don't know that teams will want to trade up in this draft and I don't want to complicate this too much.)

Or you could take LA's offer.

I would want DT Aaron Donald straight up for the #4 pick.

I think the Rams would take the deal.   Remember this draft is loaded with DTs and the Rams' own pick would give them the ability to take one of the best of this year's crop to replace Donald.

So the deal is really the most ready QB in this draft for a reasonable downgrade at DT.

I think they would bite.   They need a QB to take the next step and to excite LA fans. There are few options.

Donald would be the unanimous #1 overall pick if he was coming out in this draft.  He's only 24 and fits the key spot on this defense.  He is a two-time pro bowler in 2 seasons.  

He may be the best penetrating DT in this league.   Dallas' scheme is about rushing on every down. He is perfect for this defense.  We have a handful of DL who can occasionally generate pressures but few sacks.  Donald can drive QBs into their grasps.

This is the deal I want.  You can't ask for more out of a top 5 pick than a 24 year old two time pro bowler who is literally the prototype for the most important spot on your defense.

But really either play would amount to maximizing 1(4).

I would fill out the rest of the picks in this manner.

34th 2(3) trade into first for Cody Whitehair

I would advocate trading into the first round here if the right player is available.   Doing so would add one more year onto a player's initial contract.  4(135) would likely allow Dallas to move up  a couple spots to 1(31).   My thinking is that in this draft in particular, Dallas has to hit with picks in the first 100 or so picks --- I don't give a crap about the 6th round picks as Dallas already has a lot of quality people on the roster and adding similar guys seems less of a priority if you consider your team a contender.  You need starter caliber players.  Preferrably four.

If something weird should happen and Paxton Lynch is passed over by a few teams including the Jets at 20,  I'd secure a conditional move into the early to mid 20's.  (Washington at #21 would be a good call.  Their GM believes in avoiding injuries through having a very young team and as such is eager to increase the total number of picks he has each year. He likes to flood his camp with What Jason Garrett refers to as "the right kind of guys" to improve the team culture -- even if he takes a slight talent hit to do it.  He seems like an ideal trading partner for Dallas.  Given that the talent in this draft is off, even though 2(34), 4(135), 6(189), 6(212), 6(216), and 6(217)  only equates to a pick value of 727 vs. his 1(21) pick's value of 800,  he may be more than content to have a lesser pick in a future draft thrown in to "make up" the value.  Maybe even as little as a future 6th when you consider Dallas could call anyone prior to Kansas City - picks valued from 760 to 680 - and make a cheaper deal.  It is sensible for Washington to concede a little to get the bounty of picks they want.)

I think Lynch is a good fit in Dallas (Dallas offers a QB friendly scheme, conservative coaching staff who will protect him.  In the instance the now brittle Romo goes down, should Lynch take some hits due to failures on the line or by our RBs, he would able to take them without it derailing his long term development.)  I think Lynch will simply take a while to learn everything he needs to know. He likely isn't going to start a full season from Day 1, so I do not think there is a danger of a little emergency early PT derailing his development.  Lynch still being available at 1(21) is unlikely though. 

Looking at more likely players to be available late in the first...Of guys who could fall, I have a feeling DE Emmanuel Ogbah and Kevin Dodd will be off the board by the early to mid 20's in the first round.  That's OK.  I only like them if they fall.  I like Whitehair optimally of that trio and I think he could be had at the end of the first.

Whitehair is a polished prospect lacking a little height for being a LT prospect.  He projects as a Zach Martin-lite guard.  We did OK with real Zach Martin, so why not?  He projects as a starting caliber guard who can also offer solid pass protection at left tackle in a pinch. He'll be a cheap, OK starter from day 1 with a chance to become a good one as he gets stronger over the years.  He is not the kind of guy who will get paid a bunch and that has value in itself.   I would love a little pass blocking insurance on the OL given Romo's health lately.

I would also be thrilled with Baylor CB Xavien Howard here.  He is a big physical, ball-hawking #1 CB prospect.  He is occasionally over-aggressive and will get beat from time to time, but has all the talent you want and makes plays too.  Right now we get beat from time to time, don't have anyone who can match big physical receivers, and our CBs don't make plays.  I would be totally content with a starting CB duo of Howard covering the opponents' possession receiver and Mo Claiborne covering their speed receiver in a couple years.

If none of those guys are there, I also would not be opposed to drafting Ohio State QB Cardale Jones at and end of first round spot either and securing him for 5 years.   Now that would be considered a reach by most (and in a vacuum it is).  He is rated as a 4th round prospect who needs a lot of work who some team might take as early as the end of the second because his talent level is elite.  He is basically the second coming of JaMarcus Russell talent-wise (but thankfully there are no indications he is as lazy as Russell).

Jones didn't play much in college (...although he never lost a game) and that is a huge red flag as far as QBs go  (Ideally you want a 3+ year starter so they have to deal with adversity), but he can take a hit and the arm talent of the player knick-named "12 gauge" is obvious.

I think there is a compelling argument that if Ohio State didn't lose their Offensive Coordinator to Houston, Jones might have maintained the level of play he showed in the championship run. (He was still decent this year.) If that had happened he might be at the top of this draft's QB list.

I think he dealt with adversity in college so I am OK with rolling the dice on his talent --- rolled out slowly in our scheme.

Mix that with the fact that Dallas doesn't ask a lot of it's QBs and burning essentially a second in a weak draft to have the Jones project under contract for 5 years actually looks sensible.  (Think 2 years of no pressure sitting behind Romo, learning the game, and adjusting to the speed.  Then Dallas will have 3 years seeing if he is the guy before they have to commit. Jones will be able to step on the field behind a solid OL..That is not a bad return on a second in QB terms and it works well for Dallas' position...)

67th 3(4) RB Jordan Howard Indiana

This is more of a double than a home run pick.  Howard lacks the game speed that other similar grade, promising backs in this draft like Arkansas's Alex Collins and LSU's Kenneth Dixon possess, but he is a 230 lb cannonball who seems to protect the ball a little better than his peers.  Additionally, where guys like Utah's Devontae Booker have a long way to go as pass blockers, Howard's a solid pass blocker.

I think the scouts have him rated about right.   He's a solid NFL back although there is something off fundamentally in his style that will likely keep him from being a long term feature back.  He is such a tough guy that he really hasn't chosen to develop the ability to avoid unnecessary hits. He initiates and invites contact.  You watch his highlights and every run ends with him volunteering for a collision.  You can see the damage piling up. He's either going to be a 3 year NFL feature back or a 8 year NFL short yardage back.   Ideally he would be a short yardage back.  Dallas doesn't have anyone like this and could definitely use this kind of physical chain mover on short yardage plays.

This would also be a good spot for Jones, although you don't get the extra cap help year.

101st 4(3) CB Ken Crawley  Colorado

I'd like tall CB or a FS here.  Crawley is an experienced,  functional 6'0 tall, skinny press CB who can handle speed receivers.  He'd work, but I'd be OK with one of several guys.

Texas Tech's RB DeAndre Washington is a very underrated prospect I would consider at this spot or at 4(135) if we still have it.   He is sound in every way, just slightly undersized.

This video is not the greatest --- I apologize --- It is a "highlight video" nonsense production where you get a ton of useless field level, limited visability shots.  Still every 20 seconds or so you get to see the whole field from overhead and you see all the little things Washington does on every run.  In those instances his ability pops into focus.   The first thing you will see is that his feet are a blur.  He is both tough to get a good shot on and he is constantly shifting his weight and balance.  This is great trait for a long career. He can make a guy miss or elude a big hit.  While at his size he should not have the power to break arm tackles, his explosiveness and elusiveness allows him to "emulate" having tackle breaking-power. He slides right out of a lot of arm tackles.  He has elite vision and quickness and good long speed. And he does all the little things when not carrying the ball. He is a guy who could be one of those rare undersized 1000 yard rushers.

Houston RB Kenneth Farrow II is a vastly under-appreciated prospect.  At 5-10 220 he has what I would consider the ideal build for a feature back.  He is big enough to have power and small enough to be able to redirect his momentum to good affect and not suffer joint injuries.  He combines this good build with very good RB mechanics.  He hits the holes quickly with good body lean to finish his runs.  He compresses down instinctively when going through the line to limit fumbles.  He protects the ball. I am gobsmacked that he is rated as a free agent level prospect.  He will make someone's roster.

There is game footage where his OL is overmatched and he still produces.  He doesn't run tentatively.  He doesn't dance in the backfield.  He picks up positive yards.  That is a HUGE sign he will be able to produce in the NFL.

The worst thing I can say about him is that he goes down to arm tackles a little more that you'd like, but most backs do. It isn't glaring in Farrow's case. Scouts are sleeping on him.


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