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Cowboys Draft Blog #6 The Luxury Pick

April 23, 2013

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Being a history major I’ve found that I approach the NFL Draft differently from most analysts and media members. I look more at historical trends, success rates of certain draft strategies, and also am a big fan of how WAR (Wins above replacement) would work in football. Football is a game with so many moving parts that pure statistics will never be as big a part of football as they are of baseball but the idea of a “replacement” is very much in vogue in today’s NFL. One only needs to look at how Wes Welker, a WR with +110 receptions 5 of the past 6 seasons was signed for only a 2 yr $12 million deal. Welker has arguably been the most productive receiver in the past half decade yet was treated like a mediocre receiver in free agent and the reason is that the NFL has deemed the slot receiver a very replaceable position. The New York Giants are currently proving this by how they are treating their soon to be free agent wide receivers in Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz. While one has been on “Dancing with the Stars” and is the spokesman for Campbells Chunky Soup the other is the one getting the more lucrative offer from the team. The reason is simple as the league has determined that wideouts playing outside are more valuable than wideouts in the slot who are more easily replaced. It’s no surprise that the three best slot receivers in the league (Welker, Cruz, Amendola) all are being paid less than $8 million a year and all went undrafted out of college. Teams feel that they are difference makers but are so easily replaced that they are unwilling to commit large portions of their salary cap to them. That is currently one trend in vogue in the NFL and has influenced my analysis of slot receivers in this draft (Stedman Bailey, Skye Dawson, TJ Moe, Zach Rogers, etc.) as they all have to be discounted to take into account how much more the NFL values an outside receiver than an inside slot receiver. That is one of the best examples of how I try to use historical trends to analyze players and study the best approaches to an NFL Draft and one of the interesting things that I’ve found is that often times the best pick isn’t filling a need but is the exact opposite, it’s a luxury pick. In 1998 the Minnesota Vikings had a porous D but a Top 10 offense highlighted by a passing attack of future Hall of Famer Chris Carter and underrated #2 wideout Jake Reed. Both were coming off 1,000 yard seasons so the logical pick would have been to draft an impact defensive player yet with the Vikings on the clock they surprised everyone by taking Randy Moss and an offense that in ’97 threw for 3,313 yds and scored 42 TDs blew up in ’98 (Moss’ rookie season) with 4,328 passing yds and 64 TDs. For the next half decade he transformed a franchise into an offensive juggernaut that was inches away from a Super Bowl appearance and was far more impactful short term and long term than any defensive player could have been. It’s the most telling example of the luxury pick but countless lesser examples can be pointed to (Drafting Aaron Rodgers despite Brett Favre on roster, Reggie Wayne despite Marvin Harrison, Nick Fairley despite Ndamakong Suh/Corey Williams, Von Miller despite Elvis Dumervil, Julio Jones despite Roddy White, etc.). The Cowboys need positions going into the draft are clear (DT, RT, RG, FS, C, RB) yet if a player is available at a position other than that history says pull the trigger and go to Plan B at the need position as long term it’s the best strategy. Below I break down 6 positions that are set for the Cowboys (TE, LB, QB, WR, Pass Rusher, CB) and possible options that will present themselves in the first few rounds of the draft. History says taking the best player available works out in the long run but will the Cowboys have the guts to do it?

Tight End

Logic for the luxury pick: Jason Witten isn’t getting any younger, he’d be a great mentor, and a two TE offense would help the run game and in pass protection.

Tyler Eifert-In his latest mock draft Todd McShay had Eifert surpisingly going to the Browns at #6 so there’s a distinct possibility that Eifert at #18 isn’t even an option. Yet if he’s available it presents an interesting case for the Cowboys as Jason Witten will be 31 years old this season and will need to be replaced in a few seasons. Add to that the fact that the Patriots have proven just how lethal an offense can be with two tight ends on the field and that Witten would be a perfectly mentor for the 22 year old Eifert and it makes a lot of sense. My two issues I have with this are that unless Garrett changes his base offense to a two tight end set the Cowboys 1st rounder will only be a part time player and also I actually have Ertz ahead of Eifert as I think he’s faster, has better body control, and better hands.

Zach Ertz-This makes a lot of sense to me as Ertz is the #1 TE in my eyes, is #2 on almost everyone else’s board so very possibly will be available at #47, and still gives you the same positives that Eifert does. He would get Witten’s mentoring while not forcing the Cowboys to move to a two tight end set offense as a 2nd round pick that plays half the snaps can be lived with while a 1st round pick playing half the snaps would cause a mass uproar in Dallas.

Vance McDonald-Vance isn’t nearly as talented as the first two but he does do one thing better than Eifert or Ertz: block. As a blocking TE with enough athleticism to get open he’d fill the vacancy caused by John Phillips departure and would actually be an upgrade as a pass catcher. My one issue with McDonald is that he has inconsistent hands and I don’t think I need to remind fans in Dallas how aggravating it was to watch Martellus Bennett drop 3 of his 10 passes each year. McDonald likely could be drafted in the 3rd round and would make a lot of sense.

Linebacker

Logic for the luxury pick: Dallas has two stud young linebackers and adding a third would put them in the conversation of best linebacking corps in the NFL.

Alec Ogletree-Alec is one of the best LBs I’ve ever graded and is the best coverage LB I’ve ever graded yet there’s a distinct possibility that he will be available at #18. The reason for this is his Combine performance was mediocre, don’t worry about that as about 30 seconds of game film will prove Ogletree’s an incredible athlete, and he was arrested for a DUI a few months ago. With Alec at SLB, Sean Lee at MLB, and Bruce Carter at WLB the Cowboys would have the fastest LB corp in the league and one of the 2 or 3 best overall.

Quarterback

Logic for the luxury pick: Romo is 32 years old and even though he just signed an extension it’s time Dallas added a young arm to the roster to develop. Also Romo has been brittle the past few years so the young arm could potentially beat out Kyle Orton as the backup and receive playing time if Romo was to be injured again.

Tyler Bray-Bray is the #2 QB on my board and ahead of more highly praised QBs like Geno Smith, Mike Glennon, Ryan Nassib, and EJ Manuel. The reason is simple: talent. Yes Bray only has 2 ½ years of experience under his belt, yes he’s still immature and has had a few off the field issues, and yes he at times is inconsistent with his strike zone but the kid will have one of the 10 strongest arms in the NFL the moment he takes the field and there’s no QB in this entire draft class with a higher upside. He’d be a perfect selection in the 3rd-4th round area where he can come in, be a #3 QB, develop under Jason Garrett, and have no pressure on him. Yes there are more pressing needs but 3 years from now when the Romo era is close to ending the franchise would be in much better shape if they had a QB, with a high upside and already versed in the team’s offense, waiting in the wings.

Wide Receiver

Logic for the luxury pick: The Cowboys have two very good wideouts in Bryant and Austin yet both are injury prone and there is no clear cut #3 WR on the roster. Also neither of the starters is a burner so adding some deep speed would be a tremendous asset to this offense and could stretch the field for the more possession oriented trio of Bryant, Austin, and Witten.

Tavon Austin-I’d be shocked if he was available at #18 as he’s the #4 player on my board and has continued to rise throughout the draft process yet if he’s available the Cowboys have to pull the trigger. Slot receiver isn’t nearly as important as DT, RT, RG, or FS yet, just like Randy Moss in 1998, Tavon’s impact in 2013 would far exceed the impact of any rookie playing those more needed positions. Tavon would be a kick returner, punt returner, change of pace running back for DeMarco Murray, and a slot receiver so the Cowboys would get their money’s worth out of him. No it won’t be happening but just for a second can’t I dream.

Justin Hunter-A more likely scenario if he falls to the #47 pick would be taking Hunter. He has the size to play outside and with Austin being adept at playing in the slot he would be able to be on the field at the same time as Bryant and Austin. Also with 4.44 speed he would provide a deep threat that no one else on the roster provides and at 6’4 he could be an additional red zone threat for the Boys. Finally it would give the Cowboys more options next offseason as far as what to do with Miles Austin since another injury plagued year will force the Cowboys to either cut him or renegotiate his contract that to this point has not provided nearly enough results compared to his level of compensation.

Pass Rusher

Logic for the luxury pick: The Tampa 2 scheme is based on having a dominant pass rush with the linebackers and defensive backs all in zone schemes and if the rush doesn’t get to the quarterback the scheme often fails. Also DeMarcus Ware turns 31 this season and Anthony Spencer is on a 1 year deal so adding a third pass rusher would help take some wear and tear off DeMarcus and possibly replace Spencer in 2014.

Ezekial Ansah-He has been one of the fastest risers in this draft class so it’s unlikely he’s available at #18 yet if he is the Cowboys should pull the trigger. It’d be a perfect scenario as in my opinion he and Lane Johnson have the two highest upsides of any player in this draft and the fact that Ansah wouldn’t be asked to start as a rookie would be ideal due to his lack of experience. I can’t think of a better mentor for the raw Ansah than DeMarcus Ware and in a year or two when Ansah hits his stride they could be the best pass rush duo in the league.

Tank Carradine-As much as everyone loves Ansah I actually have a higher grade on Carradine. He’s coming off a torn ACL and might not even play in 2013 so he’s the epitome of a luxury pick but he’s a Top 10 talent in my eyes and likely will be looked back at as one of the steals of the draft due to his injury. I would do backflips if the Cowboys moved back a few spots in the 1st round, added a 3rd round pick, and then took Carradine as he has Pro Bowler written all over him and would allow the Cowboys to move on from Spencer after this year.

Demontre Moore-Too much is being made of poor 40 times by Demontre Moore and Jarvis Jones. While Jones is a 3-4 OLB and therefore doesn’t fit the Cowboys scheme very well, Moore is a perfect fit for a Tampa 2 scheme that asks it’s edge rushers to be active and disruptive. While Dion Jordan and Barkevious Mingo are getting all of the love Moore has had more sacks than either of them each of the past three seasons. A decade ago Terrell Suggs dropped on draft day due to a poor 40 time and the Ravens took advantage. Maybe on Thursday the Cowboys can do the same.

Cornerback

Logic for the luxury pick: In today’s NFL you never can have enough talented cornerbacks. With Carr having the ability to play safety in a pinch the Cowboys could go more to that look if they added a top flight #3 CB. Also adding a stud CB would allow the Cowboys to move on from Orlando Scandrick and his atrocious contract which still has a few years left on it.

Tyrann Mathieu-The honey badger is one of my favorite players in this draft and highly underrated despite the enormous amount of publicity he’s been receiving. I have a Top 20 grade on him and while I’d be shocked if he went in the 1st round I could see him going as high as the middle to latter portions of Round 2 so #47 would make a lot of sense for Mathieu. Also Claiborne already has a relationship with Tyrann and could join with veteran Brandon Carr to continue to mentor him and keep him on the right path.

Those are the possible luxury picks that will be available for the Cowboys at #18 or #47 if they choose to go best player available instead of addressing their needs. It’s unlikely to happen as the Cowboys have been very need based the past few years but history has shown some of the best picks occur when needs are disregarded and the best player is taken regardless of a team’s roster. We shall see what direction the Cowboys go on Thursday and Friday night. Also I posted the full breakdowns of the luxury pick positions (TE, LB, QB, WR, PR, CB) below if any further information is needed. My next blog will be the running backs as there is a serious lack of depth behind DeMarco Murray and it will need to be addressed in the draft.

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