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Cowboys draft discussion

April 27, 2017
Cowboys draft room

Ole “pop pop” looking on. Even when he was a head coach, Wade Phillips didn’t look important. Poor guy probably was never listened to.

Team Overview: The Cowboys have a pretty full cupboard on offense. They re-signed Terrance Williams so they are bringing back their top 4 wideouts from last year. They have an All-Pro at RB who can get a team +300 carries a season if need be and they have solid depth behind him, a third down back could be an option later in the draft though as Lance Dunbar left via free agency. They have the best OL in football returning four of five starters with RT being the lone spot in need. Chaz Green was a 3rd round pick 2 years ago and both he and La’el Collins, last year’s starter at LG, have good versatility so it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to expect both to start and determine, during offseason workouts, which one starts at LG and which one plays at RT. Adding an OG or OT sometime during the draft should be expected as them losing Ronald Leary and Doug Free this offseason hurts their depth more than anything. The Cowboys bring back their starting QB and their 3rd string QB, Kellen Moore, who returns to the backup job he held in 2015. Moore isn’t a developmental starter but that likely isn’t a high priority on this roster considering Dak is all of 23 years old and is assumed to be the long term starter for the franchise. Jason Witten turns 35 a few days after the draft so it would make sense to add a developmental prospect at that spot but the Cowboys just signed him to a multiyear extension and James Hanna, Geoff Swaim and Roc Gathers all seem to hold some intrigue to the front staff so it is hard to discern how much emphasis the Cowboys place on adding a TE this year to the roster. In conclusion, on offense the team likely will add one OL (OG/OT), might add a 3rd down back and might add a tight end.

On defense the situation is quite different. The Cowboys finally did what I’ve wanted them to do each of the past two offseasons and have shook up their notoriously underperforming secondary. The fact that it comes after arguably the secondary’s best season in the past half decade is ironic to say the least yet I still agree with the decision to allow them to leave via free agency. It leaves a hole at SS and a hole at outside corner opposite Orlando Scandrick. Scandrick is 30 but has three years left on his contract and has been arguably the team’s best secondary player for much of this past half decade. His contract is reasonable and the team seems to really value him so it should be expected that he’s one of the two starters at CB through 2019. The question becomes whether the team values Nolan Carroll and Anthony Brown or sees them as replacement level talent. If they value Carroll as more than quality depth I’d be surprised. He was given a 3 year $10 mil deal with $3 mil guaranteed but projects as a mediocre starter at best and at 30 years of age seems likely to be cut before his 3 year contract expires. Brown on the other hand looked very solid for them, especially as a slot corner, and could be expected to be their slot corner the next 3 years. It’s a fluid situation as on one hand the Cowboys have three cornerbacks signed through 2019 but on the other hand there isn’t a great deal of faith in any of them, especially Carroll and Brown, so the Cowboys likely would prefer to add a top level starter to the cornerback group which pushes all three of them down a peg on the depth chart where they more deservedly belong. At linebacker we have another complicated affair as it all centers around Jaylon Smith, the Cowboys early 2nd round pick last year. I didn’t like the pick at the time and dislike it even more now as he still hasn’t fully regenerated the nerve in his leg and is going to try to play with a brace for his “drop foot.” It’s never been attempted before which makes me think it won’t be successful. If Smith’s comeback is derailed the Cowboys will be one injury away from having a starting trio of Damien Wilson, Anthony Hitchens, and James Morris. Ouch. I actually like Wilson and Hitchens but both project as average to above average starters, not playmakers that could take over for Lee if he missed an extended period of time. Whether or not the Cowboys take a linebacker in this draft will be very telling on how they view Smith’s comeback and Lee’s recent durable stretch as a linebacker in the first three rounds tells me they don’t believe in one or both of those things long term. Lee and Smith as playmakers with Wilson and Hitchens fighting for the #3 LB spot and providing depth is a great linebacking crew. Smith never coming back from his injury, Lee being injury prone and Hitchens being a free agent next year makes it a very dicey linebacking crew. I’m curious which take is more reflective of how the Cowboys front office sees things. At defensive line the Cowboys have a lot of bodies but no true star. Tyrone Crawford, Cedric Thornton and Maliek Collins have the DT group pretty well covered for the Cowboys yet with DE being so up in the air it becomes a possibly area of need since Crawford often starts the game at DE before shifting to DT which I feel is his more natural position. At DE the Cowboys have two solid starters in David Irving and DeMarcus Lawrence, who they hope take another step for them, and solid depth in Damontre Moore, an unheralded free agent signing I’m high on, along with Benson Mayowa, who actually led the team in sacks last year with 6, and the still unknown Charles Tapper, 3rd rounder last year who made little impact. That is 8 bodies already accounted for and most NFL teams carry 9 DL on the roster so the Cowboys don’t really need depth, they need a highly talented, impact player at DE. In conclusion the Cowboys likely will draft a DE if he’s deemed a difference maker, will likely add a SS at some point in the first 3 rounds, will likely add a CB at some point in the first 3 rounds, might add a FS in the mid to late rounds for depth behind Byron Jones, might add a DT and continue playing Tyrone Crawford out of position at DE and might add a LB if they have reservations on Smith and Lee’s availability next season.

Expected Scenario: Most people think the Cowboys will stay at #28, determine if an impact pass rusher is available and taken him if there is one. If there isn’t one available they’ll then address their secondary needs with CB being the most talked about but a SS like Jabril Peppers or Obi Melifonwu being a realistic option few seem to mention for the Cowboys. Most think the impact pass rushers will be long gone by #28 and the Cowboys will hunker down and take the highest rated CB on their board. I’m not adverse to that strategy but the guys in the mix (Kevin King, Marlon Humphrey, Chidobe Awuzie, Adoree Jackson, Tre’Davious White, Gareon Conley) are roll of the dice, high upside guys that scare me a bit. White is probably the safest of those six guys but also probably has the lowest upside of them too. I really like King and Awuzie and am intrigued by Humphrey so I’d be happy to see any of those three taken but am not going to be ecstatic about any of the six guys if selected as the depth at CB is rare in this draft and I’d prefer the Cowboys used that depth to add a CB and not spend a 1st to fix that hole in the roster.

Curveball Scenarios: Everyone has the Cowboys taking a DE, CB or SS in this draft and it’s for a valid reason as this team needs defensive help but don’t be shocked if the Cowboys take a player not from one of those spots. Numerous years the Cowboys have had an in his prime Jason Witten and surprised people by taking an early round pick on another TE (Martellus Bennett in the 2nd in 2008-when Witten was 26 years old! Gavin Escobar in the 2nd round in 2013) so if David Njoku falls to them at #28 don’t be shocked if the Cowboys surprisingly pull the trigger. He’s an athletic freak but also rather raw so he could use a season as the #2 behind one of the all time greats in Witten. Also, as I mentioned, the DB depth in this draft class is ridiculous so they could easily draft Njoku in the 1st and bring in a starter caliber player at CB AND SS with their next two picks. It doesn’t sound crazy at all to me. Another curveball scenario is if Forrest Lamp is still available at #28. I am not as high on him as some are (early 2nd round on my board) but some are saying he’s deserving of a mid 1st grade and are comparing him to Zack Martin. The Cowboys think La’el Collins can play RT and have consistently proven their obsession with making their OL the best in the NFL so taking Lamp at #28 to actually improve the best OL in the NFL compared to last year is an interesting idea. How high is Zeke’s ceiling as a runner? How good can this running game become? Taking Lamp would be one way to find out. Finally there is the idea that Jerry Jones knows he blew their 2nd rounder last year on Jaylon Smith and is ready for a do over. If Reuben Foster slides on draft day due to his red flags I could see the Cowboys rolling the dice on him. They have really changed the way they view the LB position these past few years and seem to be placing a greater emphasis on it all the time. No one mentioned Smith at #34 before it happened last year. If Foster slides, big IF as some mocks still have him in the Top 10, then I could see the Cowboys pounce. To some people he’d be a bigger steal than Smith was last year and I admit I’d be very interested in a Lee, Smith, Foster linebacking trio. One of those would always be injured but wow that’d be some great speed and versatility for a defense.

Dream Scenario #1: Budda Baker. Yes I know it won’t be happening but why not! The biggest issue the Cowboys secondary has had the past half decade has been a lack of interceptions. 2 of the past 5 years the Cowboys have been 2nd to last in the NFL in interceptions. 5 of the past 6 years the Cowboys have been in the bottom half of the league in interceptions. You can’t blame the scheme as from Wade Phillips to Rob Ryan to Rod Marinelli the results have been the same despite the scheme changes, it’s the players. Budda is neck and neck with Malik Hooker as the best ballhawk in this draft. His speed, quickness, hands and instincts make me sure that his INT total will be high throughout his career. He has a little Honey Badger in him and that is exactly what this defense needs. Let’s be honest, the Cowboys don’t have the players to be a great defense next year but with their Top 10 offense they don’t need to be, they just need to get a decent number of turnovers so they win the turnover differential battle and they should be a successful team. I just outlined why I think Orlando Scandrick will be a starting CB for this team the next three years, his career high for INTs in a season is 2! Byron Jones will be this team’s FS the next three years, he has 1 INT the past two seasons. Nolan Carroll is the latest addition to this secondary, he has 3 INTs the past three seasons combined. Where will the turnovers come from? The Cowboys need to add a playmaker with their CB selection because SS isn’t usually known for being a ballhawk and there isn’t a playmaker on the roster among the three in house (Anthony Brown had 1 INT as a rookie). Add Budda to this team and the INT totals will go up. I guarantee it.

Dream Scenario #2: Why not trade down? Jerry Jones has been pretty open about not moving off #28, “This is a real good year for staying put,” but I question why. The Cowboys avoided salary cap hell by being able to swap out Tony Romo’s $19 mil a year deal for three more years of Dak Prescott at 630k a year but a lot of that cap space will be eaten up when the Cowboys sign Zack Martin to a big extension. It likely will be in the $12-14 mil a year range and will make their offensive line not just the best in football but also the most expensive. Add in Dez Bryant’s 5 yr $70 mil deal and Jason Witten’s new 4yr $29.6 mil deal and you have a rather expensive offense. The Cowboys need to get cheap labor and Rod Marinelli’s scheme of lots of substitutions and non-stop pursuit and activity when on the field fits perfectly with a draft strategy of trading down and accumulating more inexpensive 2nd-4th rounders instead of a few expensive 1st and 2nd rounders. Also this draft is perfect for that strategy. I’d love to see the Cowboys move down into the 2nd round and get a trio of DBs like Quincy Wilson, Akhello Witherspoon, Damontae Kazee, Howard Wilson, Jourdan Lewis, Rayshawn Jenkins and/or Justin Evans. Also moving down would allow them to steal one of the draft’s biggest fallers like Sidney Jones, Fabian Moreau or Gareon Conley. All had 1st round grades at some point in the draft process so to get one or two of them in the 2nd round would be impressive. Finally #28 is a perfect spot to execute a trade down as a lot of teams in the early 2nd (Browns, 49ers, Bears, Jaguars, Jets, Bills) could be calling to move up for their QB. The true dream scenario would be both Watson and Mahomes on the board and numerous teams call Jerry and start a bidding war. Jerry is known for being a wheeler and dealer. It’d be sad for him to sit tight in a year where it makes so much sense to make a deal.

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