Oklahoma State WR Dez Bryant has become a focal point of Cowboys’ draft discussions of late. The controversial pass-catcher recently visited Dallas and even dined with Jerry Jones (I wonder if his meal comes out of his potential signing bonus?).
Dallas has also set up visits with Ohio’s Taylor Price, LSU’s Brandon LaFell, and Illinois’ Arrelious Benn. This sudden spike in interest in wide receivers (after Jones claimed the team is set at the position) has some wondering: are the Cowboys truly interested in using an early-round draft selection on a wide receiver, or are they simply posturing as to conceal their true intentions?
Our guess is it is the latter. Jones says he has not yet given up on Roy Williams, and we believe him. There are a variety of other positions which are much weaker than wide receiver. Unless the Cowboys are attaining incredible value, we don’t see them taking a wide receiver in the first round.
The feature of this post, Georgia Tech WR Demaryius Thomas, is one of those players whose potential selection by Dallas could only become a reality if he is rated incredibly high on the team’s board–as in a top 15 player.
Could a player who broke his foot, has not worked out all offseason, and played in a triple option offense really be that high on Dallas’ board? We labeled him one our four ‘super-sleepers‘ for a reason. Watch the video below and judge for yourself.
At 6’3”, 229 pounds, Thomas has elite size to go with excellent speed. He has not worked out this offseason due to a broken foot, but his speed is evident on film (forward to 3:18 in the video below). While you always want an official time for a player, Thomas’ injury is one that should not affect his future play.
Playing in Georgia Tech’s triple option offense is the biggest knock on Thomas. He is a raw route-runner lacking experience running pro-style routes. However, the offense allowed him to become a superb blocker.
Thomas reminds us of Calvin Johnson in that, despite his huge frame, he has tremendous balance and body control. He is tough to press and, once downfield, attacks the ball. He is Larry Fitzgerald-esque in his ability to high-point the football and catch it with his hands. He can make some outrageous catches but also drops easy ones at times.
After the catch, Thomas is extremely dangerous. He doesn’t have elite quickness, but once he gets going it is extremely difficult to bring him down. He combines his great straight-line speed with a devastating stiff arm.
Overall, we absolutely love Thomas’ skill set. Although we don’t see wide receiver as a huge need for Dallas, we would not be too upset if Thomas was the pick in the first round due to the value we believe the Cowboys would be attaining.
Thomas has been projected to get selected as high as the 10th overall selection. This is unlikely, and we would rate his chance to drop to Dallas at 50/50. If the Cowboys grade Thomas as on-par with Oklahoma State’s Dez Bryant (i.e. a top 10 talent), the value may be too good to pass up. Otherwise, expect the Cowboys to skip out on Thomas and select a player at a position of more immediate need.
Yesterday we detailed why we believe that fans should continue to support wide receiver Roy Williams. He will battle for his job in camp, and during that time we will find out what sort of fight and determination he truly has within him. This season will determine the path of the rest of Williams’ career. Is he a champion? Only time will tell.
Should Williams step up in camp, he will be the Cowboys’ 2010 starting wide receiver opposite Miles Austin. We are so sure of this fact that we have purposely avoided discussing first round receiver Dez Bryant because, well, we just don’t see him as a legitimate option for Dallas. Bryant is simply too talented to fall to the Cowboys’ 27th pick on April 22 (even though we brought up the possibility in a hypothetical scenario).
Further, the Cowboys have so much money tied up in the wide receiver position (we are including Austin’s future deal) that paying another WR big-time money makes little cents (cents. . .get it?).
Dallas is also excited about the future prospects of Kevin Ogletree. The second-year man out of Virginia has turned heads within the organization. Will it be enough to win a starting job in 2010? Drafting Dez Bryant would do nothing less than give Ogletree little opportunity to play for the next five years. Who knows. . .perhaps the answer to the team’s perceived wide receiver woes is already on the roster?
Nonetheless, there are more immediate needs than WR. Yes, we all want Williams to play up to his potential, but we feel fully confident telling you that the Cowboys will not draft a wide receiver in the early rounds of this draft unless he is a dynamic return man, i.e. Cincinnati WR Mardy Gilyard.
Because Dallas is hosting Bryant, though, and because we can all dream, Bryant is the feature in this edition of our Cowboys “Potential Draft Picks” Series.
Bryant is an absolute beast. There is simply no other way to put it. He is ranked No. 10 in our latest Big Board, and he is only that low due to concerns about his attitude and work ethic.
Bryant is a bit of a mystery to us. He does bone-headed things like show up to his Pro Day with no cleats or (allegedly) arrive late to games. However, one look at the guy lets you know he is a hard-worker. Everybody knows Bryant can play–the question teams must answer will be how much he loves football.
On the field, we are confident in saying Bryant is every bit as talented as Larry Fitzgerald when he left Pitt. That is a gigantic statement, but this kid has gigantic game. His game tape and production are off the charts. He displays top-notch hands and run after the catch ability.
We loved Michael Crabtree coming out of Texas Tech last year, and we will tell you there is really no comparing him to Bryant. Bryant is superior in every aspect of the game–he runs better routes and is even more dangerous once he gets his hands on the ball.
Bryant recorded varying forty times at his Pro Day–from 4.52 (which he ran twice) to 4.68. We are unconcerned about that number. He plays as fast as any receiver in this class and we have yet to see him get caught from behind.
Again, every concern about Bryant is an off-field issue. If he can prove he has the requisite attitude and work ethic to succeed in the NFL, there is simply no way he drops to the Cowboys.
Bryant could go as high as the top 10 (Buffalo?). Even if some teams are scared off by Bryant’s perceived attitude problem, we just cannot see him dropping passed New England’s 22nd selection.
Would Jerry Jones trade up if Bryant makes his way into the 20’s? Perhaps we will get the opportunity to find out.
The National Football Post is reporting that Ohio wide receiver Taylor Price will meet with the Cowboys. The visit will begin tomorrow and will be of the two-day variety.
Price’s 4.41 forty-yard dash at the Combine was the second-fastest of any wide receiver, trailing only Clemson wide receiver/track star Jacoby Ford.
We see a player like Price as a more likely addition to the wide receiver corps than players like Dez Bryant, Golden Tate, and Demaryius Thomas. With Roy Williams in the midst of a $45 million deal and Miles Austin set to get paid in the near future, it just wouldn’t be a sound business decision to implement another fairly large first-round contract into an already expensive position.
It may not be what you’d like to hear, but Dallas is unlikely to address the WR spot until the middle or late rounds of the draft (if at all). A player with incredible return ability might be the exception.
In Part I of this segment, we profiled the soon-to-be rookie offensive players we think will become the cream of the crop in the NFL. Now we take a look at the defense.
DT: Ndamukong Suh (Nebraska), Gerald McCoy (Oklahoma)
This was really a no-brainer. The top two defensive tackle prospects are head and shoulders above the others. They both have the talent to play in either a 4-3 or a 3-4.
Sleeper: Jared Odrick (Penn State)
No one seems to be mentioning Odrick as a potential Cowboys’ draft selection–except us. If he can overcome some character concerns (which we believe are unjustified), he can cash in his ticket as a Pro Bowl player.
DE/OLB: Brandon Graham (Michigan), Sergio Kindle (Texas)
Graham is a personal favorite of ours because of his ability to not only rush the passer, but also effectively halt the run. He is probably a better fit for Dallas’ scheme than Kindle. Both players will likely be taken before the 27th pick.
Sleeper: Jason Worilds (Virginia Tech)
Worilds is our #44 overall player, but he could move up even further. He had the best 10-yard split of any defensive end at the Combine.
ILB: Rolando McClain (Alabama), Brandon Spikes (Florida)
Despite all of the criticism Spikes is receiving, we still look at him as having first round game tape. What else really matters? We view both him and McClain as better fits in a 3-4 scheme where they will have to participate less in sideline-to-sideline pursuit.
Sleeper: Micah Johnson (Kentucky)
Another 3-4 guy, Johnson’s forty time, like Spikes, was atrocious. However, if he checks out medically, he is worth a risk late in the draft due to his athleticism and play-making ability.
CB: Kyle Wilson (Boise State), Devin McCourty (Rutgers)
Wilson and McCourty just look the part. They have tremendous hips and fluidity, and both will also help you out in the return game. McCourty’s size and speed may even give him the highest upside of any CB in this class.
Again, another cornerback who can return punts and kickoffs. It is AOA’s combination of size and speed that we love though. He will have to show teams he is capable of playing with the big boys.
S: Eric Berry (Tennessee), Earl Thomas (Texas)
Fairly standard selections here. Berry and Thomas are simply the two best safeties in this draft–hands down.
Sleeper: Major Wright (Florida)
Wright has been slowly crawling up draft boards, even reaching the top five safeties in NFL draft analyst Mike Mayock’s rankings. Is his centerfield ball-hawking ability enough to make up for his poor tackling? Wright is a high risk/high reward selection.
- Eagles QB Donovan McNabb could be involved in a big-time trade.
- There is a lot of talk of Oklahoma State WR Dez Bryant falling to the Cowboys’ 27th overall pick.
The ‘Boys playing cards
- Dallas could be a good draft away from a championship.
- Scout.com’s Draft Muncher is an excellent tool to uncover mock draft trends.
The combination of Demarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer probably makes the Cowboys’ outside linebacker position the strongest on the team (in terms of the starters). We are all a-ware (no pun intended…okay it was intended) of Ware’s dominance. His 12 sacks were sub-par for him (although he still ranked third in the league among OLB’s), but his 17 quarterback hits were fourth in the NFL among all players.
A major factor in the success of the Dallas’ defense in 2009 was due to the emergence of Spencer, who finally became a pass-rushing force. After a slow start, Spencer racked up seven sacks and 26 quarterback hits (the latter led the entire NFL). Don’t forget that 3-4 outside linebackers must occasionally drop into coverage.
Spencer also tallied 56 tackles–the most of any 3-4 OLB in the NFL and 22 more than Ware. His ability to consistently plug the run makes his pass-rush totals all the more impressive.
With such dominating starters outside, could the Cowboys really address the OLB position in the first round of this year’s draft? The answer will be determined by the organization’s thoughts on second-year players Brandon Williams and Victor Butler.
Butler showed flashes in limited time last season, but he is currently more of a pass-rush specialist than a full-time player. Williams is a giant question mark as he lost the entire 2009 season to injury.
Consequently, the Cowboys are a bit thin (or at least questionable) behind Ware and Spencer. Remember that coach Wade Phillips loves drafting OLB’s, and he even went as far as to claim that it is the strongest position in this year’s crop of rookies.
Thus, don’t count out the team drafting a DE/OLB in round one if they determine the pick to hold excellent value. Michigan’s Brandon Graham, who made our “Elite Eight,” could be that player.
Graham, a 6’1”, 268 pound college defensive end, is widely considered a potential 3-4 outside linebacker in the NFL. Graham’s stock has been rising since he tore up the Senior Bowl. He carried that success into the Combine with a 4.69 forty-yard dash and 31 reps on the bench press.
Graham reminds us of Spencer when he came out of Purdue. Both players are pass-rushing monsters but, just as importantly, they are equally stout against the run. For this reason, Graham will be an every-down player in the NFL, whether it’s as a 4-3 DE or a 3-4 OLB.
He uses his combination of speed and strength to pressure the quarterback with a variety of moves. He maintains great balance and leverage when rushing, which he needs due to his short arms (just 30 inches). He needs to improve his ability to not let offensive tackles get their hands into his body.
There are questions about Graham’s ability to drop into coverage. Although he is fairly quick in short areas, he is more of a “straight ahead” player and may not be able to effectively get into his drop. He can sometimes display tight hips (although so did Spencer). He could have tremendous value to a 3-4 team if he is able to display proper coverage technique.
We have Graham going No. 12 to the Miami Dolphins in our latest mock draft, although that is higher than most. It is unlikely he will fall to the Cowboys’ selection, but crazier things have happened. Although the team has bigger concerns than outside linebacker, it will be interesting to see what they decide to do should a top-tier player at a “non-need” position unexpectedly drop.
In the Elite Eight of our Cowboys draft pick March Madness, we narrowed the field of potential selections to just four. Unlike the Sweet 16, the Elite Eight featured no upsets. And now for the Final Four and Championship.
Remember, match-up “winners” are not necessarily the best choice for Dallas, but those which we consider most likely among the two.
- The Cowboys are in a bit of a pickle in that they need an upgrade at left tackle, but depth at guard. Do they address the tackle position that currently has good depth with Adams, Free, Colombo, and Brewster? Or do they take an interior linemen who will likely sit behind Gurode, Kosier, and Davis in 2010 simply for depth purposes? If they select the latter in the first round of the upcoming draft, expect it to be either Iupati or Pouncey. In a bit of a shocker, we are going with Pouncey due to his versatility and a higher probability of being available.
- Winner: 5 Maurkice Pouncey, C/G, Florida
11 Kyle Wilson, CB, Boise State
- We really like both of these players as options for Dallas. Both Wilson and Odrick are a bit under-the-radar, but we believe they would be good fits in Dallas. The Cowboys are pretty solid at cornerback, but Wilson’s return ability increases his value. Odrick was a DT at Penn State but would transition to the five-technique (defensive end) for Dallas. Ultimately, we see Odrick as a more likely selection due to the abundance of top-notch returners that Dallas could secure later in the draft.
- Winner: 2 Jared Odrick, DT/DE, Penn State
- Perhaps surprising to some is the notable absence of both a safety and an offensive tackle in our Championship (and even in our Final Four). Dallas could certainly benefit from upgrades at both positions, but we just do not see the value being there at pick #27. At this point, we see the most likely selection at each spot being USF safety Nate Allen and Maryland tackle Bruce Campbell. We believe both Pouncey and Odrick represent better value than either of those prospects.
- With the 27th pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, the Dallas Cowboys select. . . . . Maurkice Pouncey, C/G, Florida!
We had Pouncey as the Cowboys’ selection in our latest Cowboys-only Mock Draft. In that mock, we said: “A lot of mocks have Idaho guard Mike Iupati as the Cowboys’ selection at #27, but we believe they will value the versatility of Pouncey. If Iupati is still on the board, it will be interesting to see who Dallas has rated higher. Some scouts believe Pouncey is a top 15 talent. He would likely come in and be the immediate backup to both starting guards and center Andre Gurode.”
Dallas missed out on a versatile lineman they coveted last season in Oregon’s Max Unger. History will not repeat itself in 2010.
We have previously discussed some of the pros and cons of trading up in the NFL draft. Overall, the NFL’s Trade Value Chart is weighted so much toward higher picks that trading up is generally a poor idea.
For example, the Cowboys 27th pick has a value of 680 points. The 16th overall pick, belonging to the Titans, is worth 1,000 points. For Dallas to move up those 11 spots, they would have to yield their first and second-rounders.
There are situations when paying that hefty price is worth the risk. For the Cowboys, 2010 may just be the time to make a move for a stud, perhaps a dominant left tackle. There are an extremely limited number of roster spots available on the team, meaning Dallas would be well-suited to emphasize quality over quantity this year.
A trade up is only smart, of course, if a player of great value drops unusually far. For which players might the Cowboys consider making a move up? Our list is below.
Note: These are players that would hold great value for Dallas is they drop near or into the 20’s. Obvious selections who have no realistic chance of dropping that far, such as Tennessee safety Eric Berry, are not provided.
- Bryan Bulaga, OT, Iowa
Bulaga is a stud left tackle who is projected to go in the top five of some mock drafts. With all of the top-tier tackles (Russell Okung, Trent Williams, Bruce Campbell, Anthony Davis), though, there is a decent chance that an impact left tackle like Bulaga drops further than expected.
Like Bulaga, Williams is a potential top five selection. There have even been recent reports that the Lions could be interested in selecting him with the second overall pick. If Williams makes it out of the top 10, however, he could slide passed teams selecting in the teens that have more glaring needs or value a different offensive tackle more.
Williams is the sort of player for which Dallas might even consider moving up higher than the 20th pick.
McClain is a stud linebacker who probably has the best shot of any of these players to drop. He has the potential to be an every-down linebacker for Dallas, eventually replacing Keith Brooking to create a formidable duo inside with Bradie James.
If the Cowboys value a second round prospect such as Florida LB Brandon Spikes, they may bypass a trade up for McClain to obtain better value later.
Yup! Noticeably absent from our list are Texas safety Earl Thomas, Oklahoma State wide receiver Dez Bryant, and Idaho guard Mike Iupati. We feel each of those players has a realistic chance (although not probable) to drop to pick #27.
Bulaga, Williams, and McClain, however, have no true opportunity to fall to the Cowboys’ selection, and thus, assuming they are very high on Dallas’ draft board, a move up might make sense.
Q: Why does everybody look for college defensive ends to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense? Why not move a fast 6’3”, 260lb guy to inside linebacker?
John Coleman, Bassett, VA
A: The reason 3-4 outside linebackers are generally college defensive ends has to do with the similarities between the positions. Both 3-4 OLB’s and 4-3 DE’s are almost always rushing the passer. They develop similar pass-rush moves and, although a 3-4 OLB rushes from a standing position, the general mindset of the two positions is equivalent.
An inside linebacker does not rush the quarterback. He may come on blitzes from time to time, but the primary goal of an ILB is not to sack the quarterback–it is to read a play and react by either stuffing a run or dropping into coverage.
Thus, the positional designation of a player is not solely determined by size and speed, but more so by skill set. College defensive ends, although sometimes the same size as a 3-4 inside backer, rarely have the fluidity and change of direction to efficiently drop into ILB coverages. Remember that speed is not everything. Just because a college DE runs a 4.6 does not mean he has the quickness or the hips to play ILB.
3-4 outside backers, on the other hand, are almost always rushing the quarterback. When they are not, they are very rarely asked to do anything but drop into the flat.
It is these differences in athleticism and mindset that make a transition from 4-3 defensive end to 3-4 inside linebacker basically non-existent.
Q: Why do you guys hate USC safety Taylor Mays so much? He is an incredible athlete and even if he can’t play safety, the Cowboys could move him to linebacker.
Jeremy Frederick, Arlington, TX
A: We don’t hate Taylor Mays. He is a hard-worker and a good kid. We simply think he would be a poor fit in Dallas. As you point out, he is certainly an incredible athlete. Incredible athletes don’t necessarily win games though. Good football players win games.
In our opinion, Mays does not properly translate his athleticism to the football field. He was rather unproductive at USC, particularly the last two seasons.
If Dallas does make a change at safety, it will likely be for a “ball-hawk.” Mays is a hard hitter and possesses great straight-line speed, but the last thing we would characterize him as is a “ball-hawk.”
At 230 pounds, Mays is also way too undersized to play linebacker in a 3-4 defense. Further, why would the Cowboys want to invest a first round pick in a player who would take a few years to transition to a position he has never before played?
Q: Is it possible for the Cowboys to move Marion Barber to fullback? Deon Anderson might not be back, and it would allow two talented ball-carriers to be on the field together. Thanks!
Alicia Packard, Tampa Bay, FL
A: Barber has lined up at fullback in the past, particularly in short-yardage situations. The Cowboys don’t generally call traditional running plays (power, lead, iso) with Barber at fullback. Quite frankly, offensive coordinator Jason Garrett has been rather predictable in these situations, either handing the ball off to Barber on a dive or faking the dive and pitching outside to Felix Jones.
There do seem to be some situations where Barber could be used effectively at fullback, particularly on pass plays (as he is excellent as both a receiver out of the backfield and in pass protection).
The problem is Barber has little experience being a lead blocker, so designating him as a true fullback is not an option. He can be a “specialty fullback” (if there is such a thing), but utilizing him consistently in a Deon Anderson-esque role is not going to be successful.
Let’s just hope for these reasons that Deon Anderson returns to the team in 2010.
We recently detailed the 2009 success of the Cowboys’ cornerbacks in our Grading the ‘Boys segment. Leading the pack was Mike Jenkins, who really took tremendous strides last season. The second-year player led the team in interceptions, pass deflections, completion percentage against, and yards-per-attempt against.
Surprising to some was how highly we graded Terence Newman (B+). Newman has been underrated for years, though, and last season he was finally healthy enough to perform well over the course of an entire 16-game schedule. Newman was thrown at on just 9.49 percent of plays, making him the least targeted cornerback on the team.
The success of Jenkins and Newman was not matched by nickel CB Orlando Scandrick. Scandrick, who began the season as a rotational starter, regressed in his second season in Dallas. He was actually one of the most targeted players in the league and yielded a pedestrian 62.9 percent of passes his way to be completed.
The difference between Jenkins and Scandrick doesn’t appear to be in their skill sets as much as it is in their minds. Jenkins gained confidence at a seemingly exponential rate as the 2009 season progressed. Scandrick, who was often in position to make a play, often displayed a bit of hesitation which ended up costing him by year’s end.
We believe Scandrick has the adequate physical tools and mindset to rebound nicely in 2010. Still, a team can never have enough talented cornerbacks. Thus, the Cowboys may be looking to bolster the position during the draft, perhaps even in the early rounds.
Akwasi Owusu-Ansah is a small-school cornerback out of Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He is a personal favorite of ours not only because of his coverage, but also due to his electrifying return ability. The latter of these skills is the primary reason we view him as a target for Dallas (we rated a dominant return man as the team’s #1 draft need).
Owusu-Ansah is eerily similar to Cardinals’ CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. At 6’0”, 207 pounds, Owusu-Ansah has the requisite size to be solid in run support. He does not have the blazing speed of DRC (AOA ran a 4.47 at the Combine), but he may actually be a more versatile player.
Owusu-Ansah was highly productive in college, albeit against DII talent. The major knock on him coming out is that he has not faced elite competition. How will he react when he gets beat? That basically never happened at IUP, so his ability to respond to adversity is a question mark at this point.
For Dallas, Owusu-Ansah would be an upgrade at both punt and kickoff returner. He displays great vision and has the strength to break tackles. His biggest weakness on returns is his propensity to use his superior athleticism to dance around before getting up-field. That will obviously not work in the NFL.
A possible concerning issue for Dallas is the fact that Owusu-Ansah is probably better suited to play outside than in the slot. If the team is interested in bringing someone in to compete with Scandrick, they may want to look elsewhere. However, this concern could easily be alleviated by playing Newman in the slot and Owusu-Ansah outside in nickel situations (assuming AOA beats out Scandrick).
AOA is steadily climbing draft boards just as Rodgers-Cromartie did two seasons ago. While he won’t be a first round selection, AOA figures to go somewhere in round two. In our opinion, he represents great value if he falls to Dallas at pick #59. We would rate the odds of this happening at about 50/50.