Monday, April 30, 2012

Knowing When To Believe What You Hear

The NFL Draft wrapped up over the weekend and we will be properly breaking down the Cowboys picks as we go through the next few weeks and have enough time to track down and view tape of Eastern Washington and Montana. Until then, there are enough people who can speculate about these picks on the web elsewhere.

There was one particular scenario I wanted to visit about with regards to the big trade at the very top of the draft. On Friday, I spent considerable time discussing the good and the bad of such an aggressive move, and if you desire to know more about my feelings on that front, please check out that piece by clicking here.

However, when that review was written, there was a significant piece of information missing about the discussion that has since been filled in to some extent.

That was the information of what the Cowboys would have had available if they would have stayed put at spots #14 and #45 for their picks, instead of packaging both to move up to Morris Claiborne. Now, I realize before continuing that many people will respond with "Get over it! They took Claiborne! Move on!". To those people, I would welcome them to stop reading now and move on to other stories that are available here at

But, I think it is vital that if you pick one scenario in a decision-making process that you are willing to at least consider what might have happened if you turned in the other direction. So, here are some of the other possibilities that were there for them:

1) - Pick #14

This one is the most interesting scenario, because by most accounts that I believe that the Cowboys had 3 of their top 4 preferred players within range at #14. Guard David DeCastro and defensive tackle Michael Brockers were available at #14. The Cowboys have publicly said that they would have taken Brockers if they had been there, and while that is interesting and anecdotal, I do not count it a binding declaration - nor should you. There are any number of reasons to say that in an interview; but when the proverbial gun is held to your head with a room full of decision makers pleading their case and a phone bank worth of trade offers, we are all left to wonder what they might have actually done if they were on the clock. If others want to believe that Brockers was their choice, that is their prerogative, but I do not join them.

One option was to move from #14 to #12 with Seattle once Fletcher Cox slid to striking range. We knew all along that Philadelphia was going to compete with the Cowboys on Cox and be a threat to move over the Cowboys to get him. Once the Cowboys moved up, then the Eagles job got easier, and they ended up sending picks #15, #114, and #172 to get to #12. We could say the price would have been less for Dallas, since the Cowboys were not traveling as far, but that could be countered with the fact that it might have been more expensive if the Eagles and Cowboys were in a last-second bidding war on the phones to Pete Carroll's war room.

Would I have dealt #14, #113, and #186 to get to Cox at #12? If you have read my thoughts on that player, I think you know I absolutely would have. Now, the Cowboys have to deal with him for a long time in Philadelphia. But, they are fine with that since they got Claiborne. The Cox move would have preserved #45, too, but let's consider that in a moment.

Another plan would have been to stay put and take Brockers or DeCastro. The wildcard in all of this would have been to wonder what sort of trade back options the Cowboys might have had to drop 4 or 5 spots, pick up an extra Top-100 pick, and still get DeCastro. But, admittedly, you can get too cute and lose your guy and end up with remorse, so we should all understand the risks involved. Brockers is now with the Rams and DeCastro will be doing his thing with the Steelers. Time will tell whether the NFL under-valued DeCastro and let him get to pick #24. I happen to think they did.

2) - Pick #45

This, of course, is pure speculation. Because, we know that the Cowboys had many targets in range as #45 approached. We know, for instance that Cordy Glenn and Amini Silatolu were on the board at pick #40 allowing a cheap trade up (hypothetically). We also know that one 1st round possibility down the list of options at #14 was Courtney Upshaw (the guy who would replace Anthony Spencer). To go get him would have cost #45 and #81, and there is no guarantee that someone at the top of Round 2 would have been interested.

If you stayed at #45, some of the top DL prospects in the draft were available. Another 3-4 team, Green Bay, snagged Michigan State's Jerel Worthy at #51 and Cincinnati took Penn State's Devon Still at #53. Still another 3-4 team, San Diego, took DE Kendall Reyes from UConn at #49. So, the idea that the Cowboys could have addressed a real position of need at #45 is very much in play.

The best center of the draft, Wisconsin's Peter Konz went at #55 to Atlanta and Ryan Broyles, high up Dallas' list for slot receiver options went at #54 to Detroit.

But, if you believe the Cowboys, they were not going to take any of them. According to their press conference, their target was yet another middle linebacker:

Asked about that scenario following the end of the third round Friday night, Jones struggled to think of the name of the player the Cowboys liked when the 45th pick was on the board. All he seemed to remember was that it was a linebacker.

About five minutes later Jones finally came up with the name: "Wagner."

That would be Utah State inside linebacker Bobby Wagner, who went 47th overall to the Seattle Seahawks. The 6-0, 240-pounder was ranked by many experts as one of the top five inside linebackers available in the draft.

And this is the point of the weekend where I almost fell out of my chair. If the Cowboys want to address a premium position by putting all of their eggs in the Morris Claiborne basket, very few people in the NFL are going to argue that they are not getting a superstar talent. However, with this public declaration of Bobby Wagner, we are left to consider two scenarios. A) The Cowboys are not being entirely truthful. Again, there is nothing wrong with this approach and in some ways, it would be good public relations to suggest to their fan base that the only thing they surrendered to jump up to the #6 pick was yet another middle linebacker who wasn't likely to play for a while. If they say Peter Konz or Jerel Worthy, then we are watching Phil Costa and Kenyon Coleman all season with a much different perspective.

Or B) The Cowboys were threatening to take a 6th middle linebacker in the last 8 drafts with a Top draft pick??? I find this simply unbelievable and almost too maddening to document. But, I shall.

First, some background. In the offseason between 2004 and 2005, the Cowboys under Bill Parcells decided to finally switch base defensive schemes to Parcells' long time preference of the 3-4. This required an added emphasis in collecting linebackers, and so the Cowboys started to do so. However, in the 3-4, the premium spot is always the edge rusher. The Cowboys targeted and grabbed DeMarcus Ware and converted Greg Ellis to the other spot in 2006. In 2007, the Cowboys drafted Anthony Spencer to fill the spot opposite Ware as Ellis was getting older and not an ideal fit. And that is pretty much the entire history of the outside linebacker position as the Cowboys enter their 8th year in the scheme. 2 1st round picks. Problem addressed.

However, the inside spots - thought to be of much lesser importance - have not gone so smoothly.

Here is the total investment since 2005 on Inside Linebackers:

YearPickInside LB
2005Rd 2/#42Kevin Burnett
2006Rd 1/#18Bobby Carpenter
2009Rd 3/#69Jason Williams
2010Rd 2/#55Sean Lee
2011Rd 2/#40Bruce Carter

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What is the most depressing aspect of this chart? I have 2 possibilities. Of all of this investment - 5 Top 70 picks - the Cowboys have received exactly one season where ANY of them has been declared a starter. That would be 2011 with Sean Lee. The whole list has been reserves, while Akin Ayodele, Zach Thomas, Keith Brooking, and Bradie James took the majority of the snaps. The other aspect that could bring on deep depression is that after this much investment, the Cowboys are still telling you that they were going with Bobby Wagner at #45 if they didn't do the Claiborne trade. I just about drove off the road.

What does this tell us about Bruce Carter? We already know what to think of Burnett, Carpenter, and Williams. But, now Carter? In the last month, the Cowboys signed a middle linebacker in Dan Conner (not a bad plan - need at least 3) and claimed they were taking a 4th middle linebacker in the 2nd round? If you are confused about this development, you are not alone.

In summary, the Cowboys have a great corner duo, but don't seem to have plugged many holes over the weekend. I plan a full film review of their picks in the days to come as we can work them around Mavericks' playoff recaps.

But, the question I am getting most is this: "Would I rather have Claiborne or #14 and #45?"

Well, here is my answer: If it was Brockers and Wagner, then of course, I take Claiborne. The last thing I wanted was a raw project at #14 and yet another middle linebacker. I likely would have been disappointed if that was their haul.

But, if the play was David DeCastro and Jerel Worthy to fill two very pressing issues? Give me the two big boys up front. How about Fletcher Cox and Peter Konz? Again, I would have taken the two big boys up front. I believe that teams win and lose in this league based on their ability to protect their QB and to attack the opposition's QB. When in doubt, go with a player that weighs 300 pounds and can use their strength to bully their opponent.

But, with all of the premium picks (Top 70) since 2008 around here spent on RB, CB, TE, MLB, WR, MLB, T, MLB, and now CB, we can see that the Cowboys don't seem to agree with this idea on draft day. They invest their biggest chips on players close to 200 pounds and will try to beat you that way. Let's see how it works.

Fans in Cowboys-land are sure hoping they are right.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Morning After: Game 1 - OKC 99, Dallas 98 (1-0)

If he is going to make that shot at that moment... Well, sometimes, you might just have to tip your cap and go on to Game 2.

There are many talking points about the Mavericks' first night of playoff basketball since that glorious night in Miami 10 1/2 months ago, but really, like so many games between these teams in this city come down to, there is going to be a shot made at the end of the game - and you just hope there is no time left for the other team to respond.

And last night, the Thunder, like games earlier in the year on this same court between these same teams, survived an effort from Dallas where the Mavericks appeared to have a lead that would get them a victory. Only to be shown a defeat in an excruciating manner.

Kevin Durant did the deed. His shot that caught the left side of the rim, worked its way off the glass, before ultimately falling through was the final blow in a Game 1 win for the Thunder in very dramatic fashion. Shawn Marion was in his face contesting the shot as well as possible, but the NBA's leading scorer three-years-running just hit an exceptional shot with :01.5 seconds left. Dallas was caught with no timeouts and Dirk Nowitzki on the bench, so time expired before a desperation heave could even be attempted.

After the game, Nowitzki said something that seemed to summarize this 2011-12 Mavericks campaign: "I feel like all season long, for some reason, teams are making one more play, one more bounce." And that best captures Game 1.

The Mavericks did so many things well that should have led them to snag Game 1. Jason Terry was on fire and hitting his famous cold-blooded shots all night long. Jason Kidd was back to his playoff form of a season ago with steals and assists and important shots at important times. And Dirk, despite being held in check for large swaths of the evening, delivered 11 points in the 4th Quarter and gave Dallas a lead with :09 to go. Yet, the Thunder made one more play.

Dallas, a team that won a title last year with the notable ability to make opponent leads disappear with great ease, showed unbecoming generosity in the late stages of this opener in OKC. Dirk hit a shot from 17 feet with 2:30 to go to give the Mavericks a 94-87 advantage. Running down the floor he flashed his sneer at the home crowd and all seemed to point to a gigantic opening game win on the road.

However, the Thunder went on a 12-4 run that included 2 Durant free throws, a Serge Ibaka basket and a foul, a Durant dunk, another Ibaka basketball and a foul, and finally the dagger with less than 2 seconds to play. Meanwhile, the Mavericks possessions were far less efficient. A contested 3-pointer from Dirk that seemed unnecessary, a Dirk turnover, a chaotic possession that somehow ended up in Ian Mahinmi being fouled and hitting 2 free throws, another Dirk turnover, and finally Nowitzki giving the Mavericks the lead with :09 to go.

That particular possession is worth discussing a bit. Nowitzki rebounded a Durant miss and the Mavericks used their final timeout with :24 to play, down 97-96. They would get one possession to win Game 1. Knowing they had no timeouts left, it was imperative that they try to take the clock as far down as possible before going. If they are playing to preserve a plan even if they miss, that is even less likely given the lack of timeouts. They must make this final possession count. And that is why it seemed curious that Dirk would begin his move with about :12 left on Kendrick Perkins. We have seen Dirk on so many occasions wait about five seconds longer, but for whatever reason, he went earlier and drew a foul to give the Mavericks the lead. And honestly, there is no reason to believe that Durant wouldn't have still hit a shot even if the Thunder had the ball at half-court with :03 left instead of :09. But, I wondered about Rick Carlisle's use of his timeouts in this game and Nowitzki's decision to go so early when the Mavericks could have made their possession the final shot of the game.

And that, maybe, is the margin in these playoff games. Dallas did many things correctly, but somehow managed to lose. They are matched up against a team that suits their style about as well as any potential opponent. The Thunder are not a team that will physically dominate them on the glass, and that was demonstrated in Game 1 where Dallas held a rebounding advantage and a rare free throw advantage, as well. They held the NBA's 3-time leading scorer to 25 points on 27 shots. But, he still hit that shot at that moment to get that win.

Certainly, there is no reason for the Mavericks to leave without encouragement. Both teams know that Dallas is not a typical 7-seed and they do have a style that troubles the Thunder. But, as any seasoned NBA viewer knows, these games are exhausting and difficult to win. You cannot play well enough to win too many times without victory and not have an early summer to show for it.

Other notes and thoughts about Game 1:

* The continuing adventures of Rodrigue Beaubois are always notable. Last season, the Mavericks were more likely to use Brad Davis or Derek Harper in a game before they would consider Beaubois. But, there was some belief that he would have to play an important role this season if the Mavericks are to advance a round. And yet, in Game 1, there was another "DNP-CD" for Beaubois as the coach who always prefers the proven veterans, once again preferred the proven veterans.

* Serge Ibaka was sensational in Game 1. 22 points, 6 rebounds, 5 blocked shots, and countless other altered shots. Ibaka plays high above the rim, and seems to have a vertical lift that troubles Dallas in the paint. He blocked 10 Mavericks' shots back in February, and now 21 in the last 3 games against Dallas. He certainly doesn't provide the points of Durant, Westbrook, or Harden, but the 22-year old from Congo is that perfect role player who doesn't need shots to contribute. He can know his role, receive passes under the hoop and then finish with ferocity. The Mavericks' simply must foul him harder so that he is not turning those easy dunks into 3 point plays. And speaking of 3-point plays, how about that shot before the half after the questionable foul on Dirk? Critical and pivotal, to say the least.

* And, speaking of questionable fouls, Carlisle did what coaches who lose in the playoffs always do. He took on the officials' handling of defense on Dirk: “I’ve seen this for four years. Dirk Nowitzki’s the hardest guy in the league to guard because at 22 feet, if you back up and take your hands off him, he’s going to make the shot. So people grab and hold him all the time. I mean, all the time. He shows incredible restraint in those areas.” We shall see what effect this has on Game 2, but in the playoffs, fouls don't get called much. Is he getting defended illegally? Maybe, but it looks like Marion is trying to get physical with Durant, too. I think it is nearly impossible to build the case against officiating this time of year. It seems like they switch to "prison rules" mode quite a bit.

* Scott Brooks is generally critiqued for his tactics, and in this series, it often revolves around his plans to defend Dirk. Ibaka took some turns and I think Nick Collison is always useful in this match-up. But, down the stretch, it was plenty of Kendrick Perkins on Dirk tight with Ibaka lurking as support help on drives. Not an idea that I would have thought would be effective, but given that Dirk was well under his 32-point average from last year's Western Conference Finals, I imagine Brooks and Perkins are feeling pretty good about the outcome. I am interested in the Mavericks counters on Monday.

* I have mixed emotions about the shot distribution in the 4th Quarter last night for Dallas. Jason Terry was having a wonderful performance through 3 quarters, and yet, only got the ball for 1 shot in the final quarter, despite playing 11:42 of it. Meanwhile, Vince Carter, in just under 7 minutes in the final quarter had 5 shots which made him the only Maverick besides Dirk with more than 2 shot attempts. But, before we get annoyed with Vince, we need to look at how his shots were taken. He was taking the ball hard at the rim and offering the squad some alternatives to the jump shots that normally characterize the offense. If he is going to go hard to the paint and finish inside (could have used one or two more conversions), then that might prove useful in this series. However, I still cannot allow the Thunder to keep Terry from putting his stamp on things. Dirk was determined last night, but I wonder if at times, he was actually too determined - playing his way into some turnovers that might have been avoided late.

* Russell Westbrook, one of the most polarizing players in the NBA, is full of talking points on a nightly basis. But his explosive and decisive play cannot be undersold. And his pull-up jumper with his odd body shape at release, seems pretty reliable. The Thunder as a whole are going to figure this all out at some point soon, and I wonder how close they are to that.

* Beyond all else, to see Kidd, Terry, Dirk, and Shawn Marion doing what they normally do in these playoff games, I have to confess that there was some level of therapeutic healing last night for what must be considered one of the oddest times of Mavericks basketball that I can remember. The nature of this season, full of title defense talk, player chaos, ownership decisions, and the feeling that the priorities for this franchise are far too focused on the future than the present has put many of us into some level of fog about what to think about this current crew. Many of the warriors of this team have in some ways been discarded in the fans' minds already even though they still fight for the team every night. Meanwhile, ideas of what future players might arrive in July has been given too much attention. But, to watch those 4 players in particular, the spine of the championship team that made dreams come true in 2011, fight again together in playoff basketball last night was enjoyable. This current crew might be making their last stand, but you can still see why they are special. They have turned up their game a notch and will most certainly not go quietly into the night. They have, as many in their spot have had before them, the heart of champions. And despite the fact that they may be scattered soon to other franchises, I think last night there was some "Mavericks healing" from watching familiar warriors doing familiar things again. This season isn't about Deron Williams, Dwight Howard, Lamar Odom, or even Mark Cuban. This season, to me, is about those 4 guys, a few muskets, a small reserve of ammo, and enemy forces surrounding them. They know it likely won't end well, but they are going to empty their guns either way.

Can't wait to see them push Oklahoma City hard on Monday Night.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Cowboys Shock the Draft, Trade For Claiborne

It surely is never dull around here. It happens nearly ever spring. The Dallas Cowboys have targeted and acquired the apple of their eyes by a move that is somewhere between courageous and reckless when they grabbed the best defensive player in the draft in a trade that cost them picks #14 and #45 to ascend to #6 and pick LSU corner Morris Claiborne.

Claiborne is an exceptional talent; a dazzling combination of tools and big play performances that had every team in the NFL placing him high on their respective boards. He has the upside that projects to a true #1 cornerback who can lock down his man and a large part of his side of the field. When he gets the ball in his hands - which happens pretty often considering he is a defensive player - he is often on his way to a giant, game-changing play that results in points. And, it appears the Cowboys were able to get him from St Louis for below market value. The trade up to #6 would normally have cost a team at #14 their 2nd and 4th rounder as well, but the Rams were motivated sellers, who just wanted to get out of a position that high so that they could pick up an additional Top 50 pick.

And why would that be? Because the Rams realized they had more holes than they could plug with Claiborne and the rest of their haul. They knew they were not one player away.

Kind of makes you wonder why the franchise on the other end of the phone didn't feel the same way about their situation.

I want to be clear here when analyzing the move. The player is phenomenal, and despite having some flaws, he seems to have all of the talent to be a All-Pro caliber performer for a long time. There is no question that he should be one of the Cowboys Top 10 players on their roster already, with a chance to be much higher very soon.

I am not here to suggest I didn't see some things on his LSU tape that bother me; he doesn't tackle nearly as well as I had hoped in space, for instance. But, overall, he is easily the most complete corner in this draft and has a rare combination of size and speed that is just unfair. I would say the Cowboys have addressed their corner position as well as any team possibly could. It is not crazy to wonder, with the trade last night and the signing of Brandon Carr, if the Cowboys now have the best cornerback group in football.


I really don't know that this was a smart play from the Cowboys. In fact, if I had to give an analogy on my feelings, it might be to compare it to that time in your life when you are just out of college. You are trying to make it in the real world with a real job, your own place to live, and maybe even starting a family. Your college buddies are now in a similar spot, also just getting rolling in the real world and still not a whole lot of money in the bank. The "paper plates and lawn chairs" lifestyle is still in play, and then one of your buddies rolls up with a brand-new black Mercedes Benz. This despite the fact that he is still living in an apartment where he cannot comfortably pay his bills.

Now, there is nothing wrong with his car. In fact, it is the nicest car that anyone has in your circle of friends. It is a phenomenal car that will turn heads and dazzle dates. But, as he takes you in a spin in this awesome new vehicle, all you can think about is that there is no way he can afford this when his student loan is due, his credit cards are stacking up, and he has no money to retrieve from his ATM machine. It is a great car, but is it a great decision for the buyer?

The Cowboys were 8-8 last season. When they entered week 17 with a chance to win their division with a win at New York, they were destroyed and blown out of the stadium by the eventual champion, New York Giants. You could easily watch the game and the utter domination of the Giants front against the Cowboys OL and say that this matchup was not close. Or, like Jerry Jones, you could spend the next month watching the Giants win playoff game after playoff game against quality opposition and tell yourself that this could have been the Dallas Cowboys. You might say that the Cowboys cratered in December again and finished the year 1-4, but he might say that if Miles Austin catches a pass where he is wide open against the Giants in Week 14, the Cowboys win the NFC East and the Giants don't even go to the playoffs.

And neither of you would be completely wrong.

After the week 17 demolition in New York, I spent 2,000 words summarizing what I perceived to be the state of affairs with this franchise. Here was a small portion of what I thought then and still think today:

This team fails in December for one primary and simple reason: The roster doesn't contain the quality personnel that is required to sustain the assaults of a 16-game campaign in the NFL.

Think about it: When does the team fail? December. In a 4-month season, which month would best reveal your depth and quality down the roster that can compensate for fatigue and injuries? December. The truth is that the Cowboys have enough talent on the top of their roster to compete with some of the best teams in the league. Romo, Ware, Witten, Austin, Ratliff are a very solid "Top 5". Bryant, Lee, Murray, Smith, and Jenkins are a reasonable 6-10 on a roster. But, then the drop-off begins on the roster. And if the season was just 8-10 games long, they would likely be able to hang in there. Any Cowboys historian will confirm that the team certainly gets to Thanksgiving in great shape nearly every season. So, what changes? Is it really that turning the calendar to the month of December is what makes a magical spell fall over Romo and the team where they can no longer compete?

Good teams in the NFL have quality from 1-10, but also from 11-53, too. When fatigue strikes Jay Ratliff, they have a player behind him who can bridge the gap. If Ware is being double-teamed, someone else can rise up. When the line is under siege, a solid veteran can do a reasonable job and protect his QB. The good teams have enough quality on their roster that they can construct a solid team effort for the regular season. Sure, they count on their stars to perform, but beyond that, there are starters and reserves that never find a magazine cover that do their job admirably.

And here is why this trade for Claiborne gives me great pause. This franchise that lacks any quality depth down its roster - so much so that I can still list for you at least 5 starters who should not be starting - just traded 2 more picks away to address a spot that might have been ok for the time being. Did they upgrade? Yes. But, in doing so, like the 24 year old who bought his $75,000 car, we might not be able to pay all of the bills that are due at the end of the month.

Now, with picks further down the draft where the Cowboys have had a real issue in finding quality players, the team must figure out how to upgrade their defensive line, offensive line, and fill real needs at safety, wide receiver, and tight end. But, because of past mistakes, they do not have enough picks left or cap room available to fix these spots. And what happens when you run out of resources? Then you start Phil Costa at center, Bill Nagy at guard, re-sign Marcus Spears, grab Kenyon Coleman, and do the best you can (which puts you at 8-8 all over again).

An emailer last night was bemoaning the trade, talking about this treadmill that the personnel department cannot get off of. They trade for Morris Claiborne in 2012 to replace a disappointing Mike Jenkins from 2008. They draft DeMarco Murray (2011) because Felix Jones (2008) was not what you hoped. They grab Dez Bryant (2010) because the Roy Williams trade (2008) was a disaster. They target Sean Lee (2010) because Bobby Carpenter (2006) was nowhere near the player they thought. And on and on. They draft a player to cover up a prior mistake. And when that happens, you never can make progress and improve. You are running just to stand still.

I happen to think getting the #6 pick for #14 and #45 is a shrewd decision. Claiborne fits a premium player at a premium position in a huge way. It is the type of move a team would pull off when they are "1 special player away". But, if you needed #14 and #45 to both start 16 games this year for you at key spots on the field, then perhaps you couldn't afford to buy that corner (or Mercedes) that you always wanted. Claiborne will be a tremendous player for years to come, but the roster is still razor thin at many spots. He will not help you block the Giants pass rush, and come the cold winds of December and the attrition that hits this team after Thanksgiving, we might see that like the Rams, Dallas should have been thinking about a "strength in numbers" philosophy to fill their many holes.

The Cowboys consistently have starters on the field that would be reserves elsewhere. They have reserves who are often cut and never find another NFL job. They consistently neglect the bottom half of their roster, partly because they throw picks around to move up and get players. Just charge this Dez trade to the company credit card. The team moved up to get Anthony Spencer, Mike Jenkins, Dez Bryant, and Sean Lee. In doing so, they paid the price with picks who could and should be depth and developmental players who are ready to start. Instead, they find themselves starting undrafted free agents who have no business being on the field at this stage of their career. It sounds like the equivalent of having a sweet Benz parked outside an 800-foot apartment.

But, asking Jerry to change his ways and his philosophy is asking a tiger to change from stripes to spots. He has always believed in the big splash and the top players on the field. The other spots will figure themselves out as we go. Or they won't. And we will repeat this process again and again.

I love the player, Morris Claiborne. I am just not sure that this move pushes the team any closer to the Super Bowl.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Morning Of: The 2012 NFL Draft

Congratulations on surviving the 2 or 3 most "speculation filled" months of the NFL calendar, otherwise known as the run-up to the NFL Draft. Day 1 has arrived, and by the time your head hits the pillow tonight, the Cowboys hopes and dreams will be renewed with the belief that they have acquired a franchise-altering talent to add to their squad.

Of course, so will every other team in the league, but let's just focus on this weekend from a Cowboys perspective. And right now, let's continue to zero in on pick #14.

Speculation is often what creates this dog chasing its tail feeling as we approach late April. In March, everything looked like it might break right for the Cowboys on draft day. Why? Because, the Top 10 picks seemed to be largely players that were not really on the Cowboys radar because of their position or because they did not fit the schemes in Dallas very well.

That left a bunch of players that were on the Cowboys wish list working their way down to Dallas and the immediate vicinity. This gave us the indication that like in 2011 when the Cowboys had to pick which stud they wanted as JJ Watt and Tyron Smith stood close by, the Cowboys might be able to have their pick of their two top wishes, Fletcher Cox and Mark Barron.

However, even though it could be largely speculation-based, there is a real feeling now that Cox and Barron could both be gone by the time the Cowboys take the clock sometime after 8:30 pm. If that happens, Dallas has to have considered all possibilities and scenarios so that they are not left to panic. This could all be smoke-screens. Nobody really knows until the bullets really start flying, but if Quinton Coples and Melvin Ingram are not taken in the Top 12 picks - like we thought was a sure thing a month ago - then, we face the real possibility that the Cowboys will be dropping down to their 4th or 5th favorite option when the pick happens. That might not necessarily be a horrible situation, but it could cause them to pick a guy that they are not completely sold on.

Ok. Let's get down to specifics. As a Cowboys fan, I think you should be pleased when any of the following names go off the board tonight after Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Trent Richardson, Matt Kalil, Justin Blackmon, and Morris Claiborne fill up the Top 6 picks most likely in some order: Ryan Tannehill, Riley Reiff, Luke Kuechly, Coples, Ingram, Michael Floyd, Stephon Gilmore, and maybe even someone like Dontari Poe. This would push the rest of the names down to you, and there you will find the Cowboys short list. These are names that are talented players but are either not really strong on the Cowboys wish list or not on at all.

So, based on those names going in the top 13, we are left with Cox, Barron, David DeCastro, Michael Brockers, Courtney Upshaw, and Dre Kirkpatrick.

I spent quite a bit of time breaking down each and every one of these players over the last few months, and about 2 weeks ago released my full analysis of what I would do at #14 and what the Cowboys would do at #14. You can read that by clicking on this link. By the way, if you follow that link, you will find profile breakdowns on every player on this list.

Here is what I thought the Cowboys board looked like on April 13:

1. Cox
2. Barron
3. Upshaw
4. Brockers
5. Kirkpatrick
6. Poe
7. DeCastro
8. Ingram
9. Coples

Now that we are 13 days later, I am not sure I would make any significant adjustments, except to drop Upshaw down behind Brockers and Kirkpatrick and maybe move DeCastro up.

But, overall, I think this is pretty close to right on. Fletcher Cox is their top priority. Then, Mark Barron. Personally, I would move David DeCastro behind Cox and perhaps in front of even Barron, but I have it on pretty strong authority that Jerry Jones just does not want to take a guard/center in the draft. In fact, I might argue that the whole reason they signed two guards last month (even though neither is regarded as a significant signing) was to avoid having to take an interior lineman that high in the draft. I think DeCastro is a safe and proper pick, but if we have learned anything about this regime at Valley Ranch, safe isn't something they are interested in.

Trust me, I would be delighted with DeCastro being selected at #14 if Cox is gone, but I think the Cowboys are more compelled to reach for Brockers if Cox and Barron are gone. And that frightens me.

Michael Brockers is a player I spent a lot of time on. I watched plenty of his last season at LSU and I just don't like what I saw. He was on a dominant defense with plenty of parts that scared people, and yet he merely blended in. He is not without intrigue, but I just cannot get too excited about a player who has two main traits of interest: 1) his arm length and wing span and 2) his ability to plug the run.

Yes, he does have special physical traits, but so does Cowboys project Clifton Geathers. In fact, Geathers has better wing span, arm length, and height. Yet, the Cowboys are Geathers' 4th team and he was picked in the 6th round. Brockers is being touted as a top half of the 1st round guy. And the ability to plug the run? That is something you must have, but again, I shouldn't have to spend pick #14 to get a run plugger. Marcus Spears and Kenyon Coleman both plug the run, and that is why we are looking for defensive linemen in the first place. The Cowboys wanted more than that. They wanted a full-time defensive end who can play in every situation. At this point of his career, Brockers is not anywhere close to that guy. Here is what I wrote in his full profile last month:

Dallas doesn't need a project in their defensive line. They need a plug-and-play difference maker. When comparing him to Fletcher Cox, I see Brockers as part of an ensemble cast, where the opposition might pay more attention to Sam Montgomery or Barkevious Mingo -- the two defensive end pass rushers -- and yet Brockers seldom got home. Meanwhile, I saw Cox as the main focus of every game plan in the SEC to stop him, and yet he still accounted for 14.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks in just 12 games. That ratio tells me that Cox has upside, but his present status is just fine. Brockers, if he doesn't really come along, might join Tyson Jackson, Glenn Dorsey, and Marcus Spears as other 1st round talents at the position from LSU that never quite turned the NFL on its ear like some projected. Please don't get me wrong, Brockers is more interesting than many of the other names on the list, but when it comes to "front 7" help at pick #14, I think the Cowboys can do better than this. Let somebody else bet on his upside.

So, hopefully, that makes it clear how I feel about him at #14. If the Cowboys traded down to #25, picked up an additional 2nd rounder and then took Brockers, I might see the allure. But, to take him that high with more complete players elsewhere, I would not be too excited.

I feel so strongly about this that I actually toyed with the ideas of trading up. If your intelligence tells you that Cox and Barron are both gone before you pick - and many experts are saying that could very well be the case - then you might have to consider doing a deal with either #7 Jacksonville, #10 Buffalo, or #11 Kansas City to get your guy. That could cost you a 3rd and more, depending on how high you need to go, and keep in mind that last year's 3rd rounder might end up being your running back for the next generation, DeMarco Murray.

Here are the Cowboys picks (keep in mind they cannot deal their compensatory 4th, #135).

Rd 1#14#14
Rd 2#13#45
Rd 3#19#81
Rd 4#18#113
Rd 4#40#135
Rd 5#17#152
Rd 6#16#186
Rd 7#15#222

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The price to get to #7 is going to be very steep. As in, #14 and #45 for #7 and maybe a 5th back. Don't think that price can be paid. But, to get to #10 or #11 will likely be #14 and #81. #81 can be a very good player, and if things go right, a starter. But, I think you have to function under the idea that you must get a stud from this draft, and the only place to make sure that happens is up high. Then, later perhaps you could use your extra 4th to get back up into the 3rd if you needed to do so.

There is also the idea of trading out. If Cox and Barron are gone (and if you insist on not touching DeCastro), I would be enticed to let someone else reach for Brockers and to back up a bit and collect more picks. This team has many holes - despite what was said publicly yesterday - and an additional 2nd or 3rd rounder could be quite useful.

And then, of course, there is buyer's remorse. There are two teams that will be picking players in particular that seem to fit what the Cowboys are looking at. One team is right behind them at #15. Whether Cox, Barron, Brockers, or DeCastro, there is a good chance that whoever the Cowboys pass on at #14 will play for the Eagles for the next decade. It does seem that the Cowboys list of needs is in some ways a mirror of Philly. OL, DB, and interior DL. Then, there is also, Pittsburgh at #24. Pittsburgh needs a nose tackle for their 3-4 with Casey Hampton getting old and you know that Dontari Poe is high on their list. If he becomes what they dream at the nose (another Hampton), we might have great regret in Dallas for not following that thread.

Perfect scenario? Fletcher Cox falls to you at #14. But, if the Cowboys get Barron or DeCastro at #14, I think that is a big win, too.

Kirkpatrick and Gilmore are both reasonable ideas at corner. Brockers is a reach/project as is Poe (although I personally like Poe more). Upshaw seems out of their plans now with Spencer's tender signed, and Ingram doesn't fit the scheme as a strong-side OLB. I would like to be on record as someone who admires Coples a ton, and I honestly think he will be a beast in the NFL for years to come, but I cannot blame the Cowboys for being scared of his red flags and trying to get the right type of workers in here.

And if they take someone not on this list, then I obviously have misread this entire draft and will do something else next spring for 3 months.

Enjoy it. Tomorrow, we will discuss scenarios at #45 and #81, assuming those picks are still where the Cowboys will select.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

England Premiership Trip Recap 2012

How did it happen?

Kind of a long story, really. The short version is that a friend challenged me to give a few matches a try back about 12 years ago. He said follow one team and watch 3 matches and then tell me that it wasn’t that great.

I tried. He was right. And I was hooked on English Premiership Football. Since then, I have hardly gone a week during a season without consuming at least one match and have infected countless of my other friends with the bug themselves.

Now, in 2012, I talk every day with people who closely follow soccer on a worldwide level and also watch matches and live with their teams (clubs) from across the pond on a level that is not that dissimilar to their relationships with their local basketball and baseball teams – except that they don’t get to attend the games in person much.

But, otherwise, thanks to the interest of the public and the advancement of technology, there are no significant matches that are unavailable in high definition on live television in the states. If you follow any club in England, Spain, Italy, or Germany that is popular, you can see all of their matches live. It was something that wasn’t true when I was infected with “football fever” back after the 1998 World Cup, but the progress has been amazing.

And as I write this, I am on my flight back from my 5th journey to England in the last decade to watch matches live in England – and already I find myself mentally planning journey #6 that will likely happen in about 24 months. I truly can’t wait.

This latest trip was shoehorned between my various job responsibilities – the end of the NHL regular season and the NFL Draft. I found a week where I could leave and my presence would not be completely required in Dallas and looked for matches that could be attended in a 5-day stay. Here is what happened:

Friday, April 20: Our flight (a group of 4 of us would meet my Ticket colleague, Craig Miller who had already arrived) landed on Friday morning and we checked in at the hotel and grabbed a much-needed power nap of about 3 hours to at least give the body clock a chance at surviving through Friday night with no sleep since Wednesday night due to the time changes. London is 6 hours in front of Texas, so after a 9 hour flight and a significant time change, you land at about 8 am in England. Your body clock is off badly, but with a nap, it can work. On Friday night, 3 of us wanted to see lower division football. This is the level that is professional, but not incredibly tainted by the cash of the top division. We took a train out to the eastern coast of England to see 4th-tier Southend United in a late-season home match against Barnet. Southend by the Sea is a coastal town that has a fair-ground on the coast and at one point appeared to be a destination point for the English weekender.

Our goal that night was to see a match in its natural habitat, a place where a little town follows a little club in an old stadium and dreams of being promoted to a higher league soon. We were able to see that in all of its glory at old Roots Hall where about 6,000 fans cheered the Shrimpers to a 3-0 victory. Bilel Mohsni scored a first half hat trick and there was much rejoicing out at the coast as the Shrimpers have a chance at going up to the 3rd Division for next season if they do well in the next month. For 15 pounds on the train and 19 pounds at the gate, we caught a real slice of England that is clearly not televised. We caught the last train out of Southend back to Liverpool Street station in London and were back to the hotel by 11pm.

Saturday, April 21: This was the centerpiece of the trip when it was conceived back in January. With Craig and my other buddy, Scott, both newly converted Arsenal backers in the last few years, they wanted to go see their Gunners in person at the huge Emirates Stadium in London. I figured that if we were going to do this, we might as well schedule a great opponent, so we found this weekend where they would host cross-London rival Chelsea in a “London Derby” which is what you call a match where two geographic rivals square off. The game was the early match (12:45 pm) allowing a committed sports nerd like myself to find a 2nd match later in the day (more on that later).

Chelsea was a bit distracted by their midweek battle with Barcelona in the Champions League and did not field its best players all over the field, but it was still an intense and spirited affair. Sadly, for those of us who do not enjoy the kissing of a sister that a scoreless draw sometimes carries, nobody was able to put the ball in the net. I considered trying to convince my readers here that a scoreless draw can be quite compelling (because it absolutely can be) but then I remembered that it sounds ridiculous to even say it, so just know we had higher hopes for this match and aside from witnessing the pageantry and scene in person, it was the least noteworthy part of the weekend – despite it being the top item on the itinerary.

Now, because of the early kickoff, and because of the awesome feature in English football that the entire countries clubs can be found in the space between Dallas and Houston, I was able to find a 2nd match on Saturday that kicked off at 5:30 pm on the other side of London. Queens Park Rangers hosted Tottenham Hotspur in another London Derby and because of some great connections that I have established over the last 12 years, I was able to get tickets to both matches at face value (about 70 pounds a piece). Incidentally, for those without the connections, scalpers seemed to be seeking about 150 to 175 pounds for tickets to matches on the day of the match.

The Arsenal match concluded about 2:30 and by 3:30 we were on the train to QPR. Queens Park was about a 30-minute ride on the train west from our hotel in High Holborn in Central London and we arrived shortly after 4 pm. Whereas Emirates, home of Arsenal held about 66,000 fans, Loftus Road, the home ground of QPR holds slightly below 20,000 fans in a place that is absolutely intimate and electric.

I have now attended 12 matches in person on English soil, and I always find that the smaller the grounds (stadium) the better my experience. I love the electric scene and Loftus Road instantly shot to the top of my list of favorite places that I have been to, alongside Arsenal’s old stadium (Highbury), Portsmouth (Fratton Park), and Liverpool (Anfield).

The match featured a home side in QPR that was attempting to stay up in the top flight of English football. To those who do not know the intoxicating system of relegation and promotion that goes on around the world in sports (outside the USA), a team must earn the right to remain in their league each year. Basically, there are 4 tiers of football in England, and each year, the top division relegates their 3 bottom team down to the 2nd level in exchange for the top 3 teams from that division. This goes on up and down the ladder so each year, every squad is trying with all of its might to avoid relegation. This is brilliant, as it keeps teams from playing meaningless games at the end of each season and it also demands that every team tries to compete every year unlike some of the teams we have in our country who consistently field horrid teams. They can’t do it there, or they get kicked out of the league.

So, here is QPR, needing to win to aid its efforts in staying in the premiership taking on a team that sits 4th in England, Tottenham in a mismatch in talent, but not in urgency. The Rangers took a lead in the 1st half on a goal that was quite wonderful and caused the stadium to shake from its foundation (not difficult for a stadium built in 1882) and then spent the rest of the afternoon trying to survive flurry after flurry from Tottenham and amazingly stayed alive with a 1-0 win that might insure that their fans can see top division football next year, too. It was a magical scene to witness, one that has me very invested now in their fate. I feel myself rooting for their survival although I have never had a shred of connection with the club before that experience. I see how much it means to those people who clearly love their boys.

2 matches in one afternoon? The cynics will point out that is a lot of running around for 1 goal, but if you could have been there, I think you would have appreciated a rare treat of skill and competition that left nobody unsatisfied who witnessed it.

Sunday, April 22: You can’t have 3 matches being played in England on a Sunday while you are there for that purpose and not figure out how to attend one, so our group caught a train to Manchester (70 pounds) to see the New York Yankees of English Football (just ask them) Manchester United in their natural habitat at famous Old Trafford. The stadium is humbly called the “Theater of Dreams” and despite enjoying several years of rooting against them, I will concede that I have wanted to visit this famous ground. No connections in Manchester made this ticket easily the most expensive of them all, as we had to fork over 175 pounds to attend this match. Not something that I would do very often, but with a chance to knock something off the bucket list, I paid the freight. It is easily the largest home stadium in all of England, as almost 80,000 loyalists plan on an easy destruction of Everton on their way to their 20th league title.

But, it wouldn’t go as planned. Everton would score first, but United answer as Wayne Rooney scored right before half to tie things up at 1-1. Early in the 2nd half, United hit the gas and scored 3 more times to take a 4-2 lead and the celebration for the day and the season was underway. Prematurely, we would find, as Everton scored twice in the final 10 minutes to earn a 4-4 draw in the most unlikely of results. The tie kept United within range of cross city rival Manchester City, which now has a chance to steal the league title next week when the two sides square off for what could amount to a championship game for the whole title. I counted seeing 8 goals in one match and no Manchester United victory as a win for my journey, so I left back to the train station as a happy man.

4 matches in 42 hours in 4 different stadiums in crowds ranging from 6,000 to 80,000. 12 goals and 350 pounds in tickets. 50 pounds lost in gambling on the matches (which is a delightful way to waste money as you can legally wager on the matches from right at the stadium – next to the concession stands).

It was expensive, tiring, and wonderful. It is the one sport I can follow and consider it not a part of my living where I must take notes and offer tons of insight or research. It is simply an enjoyable side hobby that I can enjoy in the very early hours of my weekends in Dallas or occasionally hop on a plane and see it up close.

If you love the sport as I do, you should consider a pilgrimage to see it live. The stadium experience is unlike anything we have in the US. In England, there is really only one sport and the people really only have one team that they follow. But, they follow it with a passion and allegiance that is off of the charts. Here, if the Mavericks are playing poorly, we follow the Rangers. If the Cowboys are bad, we have a college team we like more. In England, they truly understand what being a die-hard actually means. Through thick and thin, they follow one team. We could argue whether it is a better experience or worse, but it is surely different, and fun to consider.

Monday, we ended the journey with a tour of Tottenham’s home ground, White Hart Lane, a place that might be a destination spot for the next trip. And on Tuesday, it was the long, absurd flight back to Dallas where you fly for 10 hours but with the time change, you can do it all between lunch and dinner. It makes for a long day.

Anyway, since many of you have asked, there is a brief rundown of my 5th trip over there in the last 11 years.

Let’s get back to the draft tomorrow.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Cowboys Mailbag 4/20

Today’s Cowboys mailbag is being written high above the Atlantic Ocean as I am on my way to a long weekend in England where I will watch 4 English football matches in 4 days and then will be back and ready to consume the NFL Draft next week. I think on Monday or Tuesday, I will write a nice long recap of the adventure as I do believe that more American sports fans are watching the world game than ever before, but you don’t check out a Cowboys mailbag to read about soccer or my thoughts on Chelsea at Arsenal, so let’s stay on point today and continue to zoom in our focus for arguably the most important weekend of the year – the NFL Draft. The following are several of the emails that you sent in this week looking for answers:
Bob, First thanks for all the great information and insight. Love your blog analysis on the Cowboys draft options. My question is, assuming Fletcher Cox is off the board (consensus feeling is he will be by #14) if Dallas comes down to a decision between David DeCastro/Mark Barron who, is the better pick? I dug a little deeper into drafts of the past 10 years expecting the guard position to prove out to be the safer option. I was surprised to learn that data proves quite the opposite. Consider this: In the past 10 NFL drafts 12 safeties have been selected in the first round. They are Eric Berry, Earl Thomas (2nd team All Pro 2011), Kenny Philips, Laron Landry, Michael Griffin (2nd team All Pro 2010), Reggie Nelson, Brandon Meriweather, Michael Huff (2nd team All Pro 2010), Donte Whitner, Jason Allen, Sean Taylor (2nd team All Pro 2007), and Troy Polamalu (All Pro 2004, 2005, 2007, 2008, 2010, and 2011). In the past 10 NFL drafts only six guards have been selected in the first round. They are: Danny Watkins, Mike Iupati, Ben Grubbs, Davin Joseph, Logan Mankins (All Pro 2007, 2009, 2010, 2nd team 2011), and Kendall Simmons. 5 of 12 (42%) safeties have made an AP All-NFL teams while only 1 of 6 (17%) guards have. Even if you consider those drafted 2008 and earlier to allow for player development, that 4 of 10 (40%) safeties have made an AP All-NFL teams while 1 of 4 (25%) guards have. I’m feeling much better about the possibility of a Barron selection. But I’d still rather have DeCastro. I think you said you expect the Cowboys to take Barron if faced with this choice. Based on your analysis who would you take? Thanks, Wayne Smith P1 from Maryland
First off, Wayne, nice job on the research. I like a fan who obsesses about these choices to the point of building a case in one direction or another. I like the use of All Pro teams far more than Pro Bowls to determine who is a strong player at their position. The trouble is, All Pro teams take only the top player at each position or in the case of guards and safeties, we are talking the top 2. Consider the odds: 32 teams, 2 guards each team start. Of the 64 starting guards, only 2 will be recognized as 1st team and 2 more as 2nd team. That means about 6% of starting guards or safeties will ever make the Pro Bowl. So, while that is a very nice bar that we should shoot for, we should also keep in mind that 94% of the starters in the league will not make the All Pro team. That is a very high bar. That being said, it does appear that if you want an elite safety, very few of them leak down the draft very far. When I think about the best safeties in the game, many of them went in the 1st round. Guards, of the top quality, often can be found all over the draft board. The point is that if you want elite, you better get the elite safety right away. You can find solid interior offensive lineman later. And that is the case this year, too. There are a number of guards who are thought of as starters. Not Decastro quality, but very, very good guards. Conversely, if you don’t take Mark Barron, then you might not find a stud safety in the draft (the reviews of Harrison Smith from Notre Dame are all over the board). Wayne asked what I would do and I have been consistent on this. I have to get this pick right. The Cowboys are at a critical time in personnel and I have to err on the side of caution. With that in mind, I feel DeCastro is more of a slam dunk and would lean in that direction. I think both would be great picks and Barron would be the type that might dramatically change the team right away, but if I am looking for a strong pick that I am confident is a leader on the team in 2016, I will roll with DeCastro.
QB of the future as early as Rd 3? With Romo in his prime, it feels more sensible to strengthen around him, but is there ever a "convenient" time if you hope to avoid earning a top 5 pick? -Jonathan
This comes up every year in the draft and for good reason. Since Tony Romo has become this team’s QB, the backup situation has remained in a constant state of “upgradeable”. I would love for this spot to get settled with a Matt Flynn type that the team feels is a starter-in-waiting. And that was why we all relaxed for a second when the Cowboys targeted and picked Stephen McGee with a premium pick to start Round 4 in 2009. But, somewhere between the scouting process of McGee and today, he has fallen out of favor for reasons that seem somewhat unclear to me. I thought he did a real nice job at Arizona at the end of the 2010 season, but the next week at Philadelphia, the Cowboys selected one of the most absurdly conservative game plans ever when they could have asked more of McGee and seen what he was capable of. The success stories of developing QBs in Dallas begins and ends with Romo in the last couple decades since Troy Aikman was selected #1 overall in 1989. They have tried again and again to find a kid and try to grow him, but it seems that the Cowboys don’t have much of a knack for it. As for this coming weekend and the idea of even a 3rd round pick, I would not encourage it because of the immediate needs in the following areas: Guard/center, corner, safety (multiple), defensive line (multiple), 3rd WR, 3rd TE, outside linebacker, and perhaps a punter. However, by the 3rd round, you should be trusting your board and operating under the heading of drafting the best player available. If the Cowboys look up and see a QB who has a grade high above the other spots, they should grab him there and feel good about that. But, don’t force that shot.
Bob, I know the vast majority of fans aren't sad to see Martellus Bennett go, but what type of impact will his loss have on the offense? I know he was inconsequential in the passing game, but isn't he generally regarded as one of the better blocking TE's in the league? Jason Garrett likes to run two TE sets and I assume Bennett played a relatively high number of snaps last year so can John Phillips capably replace Bennett or should adding a TE (in what looks like a weak class) be a priority in the draft? Jason Lustig
Jason, that is a solid observation. Martellus Bennett was overdrafted and a failed experiment in Dallas. But, the Cowboys did use him more and more as a tight end that could serve as a very capable blocker in both the run and pass game. He would often stay in and help pass protect which took a load of Jason Witten’ s plate, which should not be undersold. I remember the dying moments of the 2007 playoff loss to New York as Witten should have been the primary target on the final play of the game as he was in Detroit in a similar spot early that December on a post route that won the game. But, Romo and the OL were so battered by the Giants front that the Cowboys felt compelled to keep Witten in to block with their Super Bowl dreams on the line. That was a crime that your #1 option as a receiver was taken out of the play because the Cowboys had no option in pass protection. Martellus changed that for several years. And although that is way overpriced to find a blocking TE in the 2nd round, his strength at the point of attack in the run game was always undervalued. I don’t think Phillips is nearly as strong and versatile on the line of scrimmage and therefore, I do expect the Cowboys to block a much stronger option deep in the draft. They need to address it for sure to keep their “12” and “22” personnel options in the mix. Otherwise, without a strong blocker like Bennett, you lose your ability to force the defense to keep an extra LB on the field as opposed to a corner when they change up personnel. The LB stays on the field because they didn’t want to get steamrolled in “12” personnel (1 RB, 2 TE). Without a strong TE, the opposition might be comfortable matching up with the extra DB and sit pass in nickel or dime.
I’m torn Bob. I think we all agree that the Cowboys will likely go defense with their first round pick. With that in mind, I don’t know what will help the defense more in 2012: finally establishing some much-needed physicality to the secondary with Alabama safety Mark Barron? Or, getting some consistent pressure on the quarterback outside of Ware with help from one of the front-seven targets (Cox, Upshaw, Ingram, Poe, etc)? Which way would you go? I’m beginning to lean towards Barron. I recall watching the 49ers in the NFC Championship game this past season and drooling about how physical their defense played. Dallas doesn’t have that. I know big-hits is only a small part to playing safety, but I think we could use some physicality to set the tone for the rest of our defense. Russell Giles Newark, DE
The great question of the entire defensive quandary; what is more needed – pressure up front or coverage in the back? Secondary or front 7? You can argue this point for hours either way and have a very difficult time finding a definitive answer either way. I am a huge believer that the game is won in the trenches at the line of scrimmage. And, since the gold standard in the NFL at the moment is the NY Giants, we should zero in on a few elements of what made them great. They dominated the Cowboys at the line of scrimmage. Lasting memories of 2011 include the OL (Doug Free, in particular) having no answer for Jason Pierre Paul at Cowboys Stadium. Further, in the rematch in NY, the entire OL was under siege with the Cowboys young, undersized interior being thrown aside with ease by the Giants’ deep DL rotation and battering Romo play after play. Then, the Giants OL kept the Cowboys defense from touching Eli Manning in the game in Dallas to a point of sheer madness. 50 drop backs without a sack or hardly a hit? In retrospect, the fact that the Cowboys were a Miles Austin moment of losing the ball in the lights away from winning that game and by extension the division is still a point of some amazement. Dallas was simply defeated badly at the line of scrimmage. And if the Giants are the champs and in your division, well, then you best figure out how to fix that as soon as possible. That is why Tyron Smith means so much to the future of this franchise, and that is why the free agency period focused on bulking up the guard spot with the signings of Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau. So, if you want to continue to close that gap and keep up with the champs, you can’t go wrong by targeting the OL or DL again. Do you get Fletcher Cox in the 1st and a guard in the 2nd? Do you take DeCastro in the 1st and then go get DL help at pick #45? I don’t think you can go wrong. The question remains that if you think Mark Barron is a game changer (and he is) and a physical presence (and he is) then do you pull the trigger and ignore this “line of scrimmage” issue at the top of your draft? If you do, you better make your subsequent picks matter in a hurry up front. Especially that DL that scares nobody.
Could you do a comparison of Carr vs T. Newman At first I thought we cut T New to save money, however were paying Carr more than we would of paid T New Do you think V Butler and B Carter will see a good amount of playing this year Overall, do you think our defense and secondary will be better Thank you Jeff
Jeff, to compare Carr and Newman is rather easy at this point. Newman can’t stay healthy, can’t cover like he once could, can’t tackle like he once could, and has lost a step. He also is almost strictly an “off and soft” cover guy and at $8 million was among the more overpaid players in football last year. Carr, on the other hand, is a larger, younger, and healthier corner that should be able to play as much “press” coverage as you desire. This will help your pass rush because the QB will have to wait longer to have his man pop open if Carr is in his face. He is just 26 years old and while his salary will raise expectations to unrealistic levels as a guy who should never concede a completion, he will instantly be the Cowboys best corner. And in a passing league, feeling good about having a strong top corner is very valuable (and quite expensive). As for Bruce Carter and Victor Butler’s prospects for 2012, I would suggest that Carter needs to play a major role. The Cowboys invested a very high pick in him last year and received nothing from it in his rookie season with his health concerns. The signing of Dan Conner does raise questions about how inside linebacker playing time will be allocated, but one would assume that Sean Lee will play in every situation, Conner will be more run downs and Carter will be more of a 3rd Down LB who will anchor your special teams and grow into a bigger role. Victor Butler is a very interesting question, as he has flashed many times as a capable pass rusher, but clearly has not earned the faith of the team as a versatile every down OLB because of questions of holding up against the run. I think they see him as a reasonable weak-side backup for DeMarcus Ware and beyond that, a crucial special teams piece while he is still under his 1st contract. But, that changes when he hits free agency next winter and will likely be replaced with another cheap option unless he can prove capable of a bigger spot.
Hey Bob, Just came across your blog on the potential draft picks you like for Dallas. I really liked your ideas and plan to keep up with you blog. Question: Why doesn't Dallas copy the draft strategy of successful drafting clubs like New England and Philadelphia? New England almost always has two number ones and trades out of one of them for a two and a one next year. If one continued to do this, they would always have two number twos each draft year. What a plan! Also, those two teams trade players before they loose them in free agency or before they lose their trade appeal. I think Jerry is too short sighted and always planning for now, unlike the teams mentioned. Keep up the good work. I enjoy your show and your blog. Thanks, Larry Gray Hurst
Larry, we could ask “why don’t the Cowboys copy the Patriots and Eagles” in many categories these days. Those two franchises have done a great job in managing their franchises since the turn of the millennium. Neither are perfect, but they both are model front offices that are always looking for chances to get ahead. The Cowboys have tried trading down a few times, with very mixed results. The first one that pops quickly to mind is the 2004 debacle when they elected to pass on Steven Jackson of St Louis and take Julius Jones because “they had similar grades” and they were able to pick up an additional #1 (which was Marcus Spears). If they would have stayed put and taken their guy, who knows how history changes over the last 8 years? Those franchises can move up and down the board because most years they do not have glaring needs all over. When you have options on draft day, you can think with a bigger vision. But, this is a simple case of the rich getting richer. If your roster is set, you can take advantage of desperate teams on draft weekend. And for a while the Cowboys have played the role of the desperate team. You can tell that when you see a team trading up quite a bit and tossing in later picks to do so. Anthony Spencer, Mike Jenkins, Sean Lee, and Dez Bryant were all trade ups that cost extra picks to do so. Not saying those were poor ideas, but I am saying they come at a price that does need to be paid.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Draft Profile: Stephon Gilmore - South Carolina

The following is the 10th and last in a series of draft profiles for the 1st round pick for the Dallas Cowboys. These profiles are put together with the specific needs of the Cowboys in mind, and is an attempt to examine their resumes and game tape to get an idea of who might fit in best with Dallas come draft day.

Stephon Gilmore
South Carolina
6'0, 190
40 time: 4.39, Bench Press: 15
August 18, 1990 (21)

There are times in the draft when some of the numbers involved cloud the vision of a player you are looking at. For instance, with South Carolina's Stephon Gilmore, you have the dream combination when it comes to a cornerback in the NFL.

First, he is 6'0 tall. You will see him listed even taller in certain places, but at the combine was measured at slightly over 6'0. But, he also has sub 4.4 speed in the 40. At 4.39, he is one of only 3 DBs (out of 58) who broke the 4.4 mark (Josh Robinson, Central Florida ran 4.30 and Coty Sensabaugh of Clemson ran 4.36) and the only one who is 6 feet tall to accomplish that feat.

So, he has size and speed at elite levels for his position. He also demonstrates a physical posture and mentality. When seeing a play in front of him, he does a nice job of finding the ball and heading straight for it. As a tackler, he is darn solid - but far from perfect, as you do see at times that his willingness doesn't always translate into a ball carrier on the ground. He also has a knack for the blitz and looks comfortable in close quarters causing chaos.

As we approach draft day, it is interesting to see him cruise up the boards from where he was back in January. We see this all of the time as players convert impressive measureables into countless riches as they can use workouts to over-shadow some of their issues they had when playing college football in the fall and early winter. He moves like an elite player. He carries himself like an elite player. But, on Saturdays, he wasn't always elite. In fact, he was often the target of opposing QBs who wanted to throw at him. Is it the talent being such that teams are willing to take a chance on things that aren't quite where they need to be?

I think that is the case with Gilmore. Its not that I wouldn't welcome him to my squad, because he does have very interesting upside and a skill set that is prototypical and quite attractive. He can do many things to help your team - including in the return game. But, for pick #14, there are just too many times on film where he just gets roasted for my tastes.

Yes, he is faster than Dre Kirkpatrick. And yes, he is more willing to tackle than most corners. And yes, to watch him return that blocked extra point in the Bowl game against Nebraska demonstrated insane straight line speed. But, why then, when you pop on the tape do you see so many completions going to his men? Why was he finishing 2nd on jump balls? Why was he getting beat on pump fakes and gos?

Let me be clear on a few points. 1) It is highly possible that he will sneak even higher in the draft. Some whispers have him now sneaking into the Top 10 or 15 picks. This seemed highly unlikely 3 months ago. And 2) I have no doubt that he will have some great plays at the next level. But, his flashes are both great and ugly. Very capable of a wonderful play and equally capable of biting on a fake or losing sight of the ball which will get you beat for a 80-yarder on Sunday.

To me, it seems to be a spot where he is a great athlete who may not fully be a great cornerback. It is highly possible that a team thinks that if they get their hands on him, they can work on technique, footwork, and not falling for fakes from a QB, but in the NFL, there is very little time for a 1st round corner to learn before the elite QBs of the world are trying to teach you their own lessons.

I admit that I may place way more stock into college tape and performance than many scouting departments, but for me, he is too far away from being where he needs to be for me to trust him that high in the draft.

Here are some youtube cut-ups for your own personal eye-ball test:

Vs East Carolina

Certainly a willing tackler. Don't like to see a guy look lost on a fade to the pylon, but East Carolina got him there for sure. You can see his punt returning and his off and soft cover skills. Looks like he loses track of the football a bit.

Vs Alabama 2010

You can see here that Julio Jones and the Crimson Tide were happy to target Gilmore on many occasions. A good battle, but Gilmore looked his best in the box and going after blitzing situations. You can see where Gilmore might be a good slot corner/blitz guy.

Vs Nebraska

Here is that sprint to the end zone referenced earlier. He is fast. Once again, ball awareness comes into play on a long pass where he panics and commits a needless pass interference.

And then this clip, which is Stephon on the Steve Spurrier who where he admits that he has been caught peeking back to the QB too much in his coverage. Interesting, that his coaches see the same issues that we see when we watch him.

The Case For Taking Stephon Gilmore at #14: The issues that he has suggest that the only reason you jump on him this high is that you believe in your ability to magnify his good and coach-out his bad. He is a very interesting prospect, and if he was still a player rated in the 40-50 range in this draft, I would argue that he is a perfect 2nd round talent and target. But, as we get close to draft day, we see that premium positions rush up the board and get over-drafted. If the Cowboys think at his height and speed that he is too good to pass up, then they better develop him quickly lest they risk another 1st round reach.

The Case Against Taking Stephon Gilmore at 14: The case against him is rather simple after watching several of his games. He has some major flaw issues with the actual game of football. Speed is great and so are highlight plays. But, I need a solid down-to-down player who can make 65 solid plays rather than plays that range all over the board between awesome and getting scorched. In my mind, Kirkpatrick may be slower, but he also doesn't lose sight of the football or get caught peeking like Gilmore does. I have Gilmore as a gambling ball hawk (think Asante Samuel with a willingness to tackle). That is obviously an impressive upside, but I prefer to limit my risk and focus more on the players that I can trust to do what they are coached to do.

If the Cowboys go corner at #14, I don't think it should be Gilmore.

Previous Profiles:

Dre Kirkpatrick - Alabama
Mark Barron - Alabama
Fletcher Cox - Mississippi State
Michael Brockers - LSU
Quinton Coples - UNC
David DeCastro - Stanford
Melvin Ingram - South Carolina
Courtney Upshaw - Alabama
Dontari Poe - Memphis

Monday, April 16, 2012

Worst Player Acquisition Contest

If you are going to write a blog, sometimes you have to stop down your draft preparations to address a fabulous topic that was made specifically for sports talk radio and blogs like this one.

With that in mind... Friday on our radio show, we started discussing the stay of Lamar Odom in DFW. It started on a confusing day in December when the move was announced, and much like the acquisitions of Delonte West and Vince Carter, were treated as items of news that both startled and had some actually thinking that the losses of Tyson Chandler and JJ Barea might not be so bad after all. It ended about 100 days later, with Odom - sent away from the team in humiliating fashion - going through the airport in a Lakers shirt - one of the great "flipping of the bird" moments that any of us could remember.

It was all so absurd, because Odom could be a remarkably dangerous player - assuming his heart was in it. And it was clear that his heart never was in it. He was one of the few professional athletes of modern history that was unable to adjust to leaving one franchise for another in terms of internal happiness. Most players treat trades and player movement as "no big deal" because the money stays the same and it seems most of them feel they are employed by the league, not the franchise. They play in the NBA or NFL or NHL. Which city they are transferred to hardly bothers them for too long. They are still in the league. Not Odom. He operated under the premise that his heart was broken. And now his reputation may forever be broken, too. At least in North Texas, where I would imagine his future reception will rival that of any player that has rolled through town since Kiki Vandeweghe. He didn't want anything to do with this city or franchise, despite Mark Cuban and the franchise rolling out the red carpet constantly for Lamar and his wife. It just didn't work.

So, the question on the show developed into the following: What is the worst acquisition decision by each of the local teams since our show started in 1998? With all due respect to the Harold Baines trade, we wanted to keep it to years where we were present and could feel the effects of such a move. So, let's look at the 4 local teams to see where Lamar sits:

Dallas Stars: When you look at the Stars, they actually have an interesting little list. And both moments of regret happened with Brett Hull's name in the story. First, after the 2001 season, the Stars decided not to activate Hull's $7 million option and instead allowed him to become a free agent where he would sign with Detroit and instantly become one of their Stanley Cup heroes the next summer. But, when the Stars did not keep Hull, they tried to get Jeremy Roenick or John LeClair. And when that failed, they had a ton of money and nowhere to go. So they dumped the ton on Pierre Turgeon (5 years/$25.5 million) and Donald Audette (4 years/$12 million) in the opening days of free agency in July 2001. Turgeon never fit here, but he was a hand in a glove compared to Audette, who signed for 4 years, but received a healthy scratch within the first few games. Audette's role got worse and worse to a point where the Stars were all too happy to trade him just 6 weeks into his new 4 year deal. Turgeon would take a few years to be bought-out, but his stop in Dallas seems like a waste of major amounts of cash. And the GM and Coach who presided over the summer of 2001? Bob Gainey and Ken Hitchcock were not around for the summer of 2002.

But, what takes the cake was the signing of Sean Avery, just 2 months after the Stars went all the way to the Western Conference Finals in 2008. Hull - now the GM in Dallas, who used to allow young Avery to live with him in Detroit, signed the controversial pest to a 4 year/$15.5m deal. It was one of the few times in my life where I have seen players on the team astonished and annoyed at what their bosses just did and not seem interested in really ever giving the move a chance. Avery was a loner from Day 1 (a spot that suited him just fine, it seemed) and the team began to fracture immediately. By December 2, Avery had embarrassed the squad one last time in Calgary, and the run of 23 games in Dallas was over. The Stars may still be trying to recover, Hull's career in personnel seemed irreparably damaged, and Avery continued down that Avery spiral. It was Odom-like in many regards.

Texas Rangers: January 16, 2002, the Rangers decided to go get an ace for their rotation. It was never easy to do so, because at the time, good pitchers did not desire to come to Texas. So, when the moment presented itself, the Rangers pounced - even if Park wasn't an ace, did not have the mentality to do so, was vastly over-paid, and was a product of pitching at cavernous Dodger Stadium. 5 years/$65 million for a player that people knew was likely a failed bit about a week into it. In fact, he took the loss in his first start on April 1, 2002, and then went away and did not take the hill again until May 12. He would never win 10 games as a Ranger in 4 seasons and was finally sent away for Phil Nevin in which the Rangers supplied the Padres with big bucks to take Park. Why? Because Chan Ho would make $16m in his final season of his pact, 2006. By that time, the Rangers are ready to dump $60m more on Kevin Millwood to try to be that ace, but his 16 wins in his first year here completely lapped the Park era in 1 season. He might not have been worth the full $60m, but he was darn solid compared to the other candidates.

Sure, there would be others who rolled through town; The colorful names that did not require a big investment - John Rocker, Hideki Irabu, Ken Caminiti - and some might even say Alex Rodriguez and his 10 year/$250 million deal. But, I think most of us would think that is silly, since A-Rod had 3 of the most prolific seasons in MLB history while he was here and seemed to earn every penny on three lousy baseball teams. All in all, it would appear the John Hart era was particularly awful when it comes to personnel decisions. But, it doesn't seem like anything comes too close to Chan Ho.

Dallas Mavericks: Let's not act like Odom was the first time the Mavericks had something blow up on them. Nothing quite like Odom, but certainly, when you consider the entire Cuban run, there were high hopes/little delivery starting with the pre-Cuban Shawn Bradley investment, Juwan Howard, Raef Lafrentz, and Erick Dampier. Combined, you will find hundreds of millions invested with very small delivery. That doesn't include Antoine Walker or the Michael Finley contracts that the Mavericks paid out totaling $144 million dollars (nice player, but $144 million?). Finley's deals were so bad that when they wanted to bid him farewell, they still owed him $51 million. Who says Cuban hasn't written a lot of checks and that Donnie Nelson has a perfect record along the way?

As far as the Odom category of just not wanting to play, Tariq Abdul Wahad and Doug Christie have both had very odd and short tenures with the team, but to compare either to Odom and his trojan horse routine here in the last 4 months would be insulting on pretty much every level.

Dallas Cowboys: I imagine that Jerry Jones enjoys going last for once, as he receives far and away the most criticism of any GM for his track record. No one is saying he doesn't deserve it, but hopefully this list shows that he is not alone. It is difficult to get these moves right and it you are going to screw up, it likely is better to do it with the Stars where most media folks aren't keeping track.

But, the Cowboys are center stage, and the moves are plentiful to pick apart. There are countless draft day debacles that haunt this team, but they don't quite rate high enough for this debate. Nor, do speculative moves like the Drew Henson deal or the Chad Hutchinson deal where the Cowboys were hunting for their next QB and he showed them that he wasn't it. As we go down the list, there are many failures along the way, but I think you could boil things down to just WR moves if you want to question the last 15 years or so. After Michael Irvin's career ended in Philadelphia, the Cowboys have consistently gotten into more trouble with the WR spot than anywhere else.

Joey Galloway's trade of February 12, 2000 was one that still makes locals shake their heads. The Cowboys sent their 2000 and 2001 first rounders to Seattle for Galloway and then paid him 7 years/$42 million to make him happy. He was 29 years old and lasted about 3 quarters before blowing out his ACL in his first game. By the time he returned, Troy Aikman had been retired by Lavar Arrington, and Galloway would spend the final 3 seasons with Quincy Carter, Clint Stoerner, Anthony Wright, Chad Hutchinson, and Ryan Leaf throwing him ducks. He would ultimately be traded for Keyshawn Johnson in March of 2004 and go on to be productive again in Tampa Bay for several more years. But, his time in Dallas was very, very forgettable.

Then, there is Roy Williams, the WR from Texas. On October 14, 2008, the Cowboys traded basically their 2009 draft; a 1st, 3rd, and 6th to get Roy Williams out of Detroit. On the same day, they slapped a giant 5 year/$45 million deal on him, making him exceedingly overpaid. In 10 games that season, he totaled 19 catches for 198 yards - about what you might hope a great game would be for a guy you just paid $45 million. But, from the day he arrived, the excuses were everywhere. Romo was hurt. Romo didn't like him. Roy wasn't being put in a proper spot. And on and on it went. In 2009, he went up for a pass in Week 4 in Denver and was knocked silly by Broncos LB DJ Williams. This made a space for Miles Austin who took the spot and then caught 10 passes for 250 yards the next week and has held the position down ever since. But, to Roy apologists, that was the bad luck that destroyed his stay here - even though he missed only one game with the injury and played in the other 15 that season - totaling just 38 catches for 596 yards. His 2010 was another forgettable, excuse-laden season which was his last in Dallas, 37 catches for 537 yards, and the Cowboys were out a bunch of picks, money, and Roy was off to Chicago. There is no question that this move is at the top of the Cowboys list. With Galloway and Williams, we wouldn't even suggest Terrell Owens signing is in this class.

So, argue amongst yourself if Sean Avery is worse than Lamar Odom. Or if Chan Ho Park is worse than Roy Williams. Lamar is the freshest in our memories, but Avery did not want to be here either like everyone on the list besides Lamar had a long deal that soaked millions out of the owners. Williams and Park were likely miscast as superstars who just weren't. Paying a player to be a superstar doesn't make him a superstar.

I would say it is a fun debate, but it actually induces headaches of the highest order.

But, it is a trip down "nightmare memory lane". Putting a team together is never as easy as it looks. All 4 teams have demonstrated that loud and clear. And history tells us that the next bad move is right around the corner for one of them.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Cowboys Mailbag - 4/13

This week's mailbag could potentially be a bit different. Since we have spent the last 3 weeks profiling so many of the choices at #14 for the Cowboys and their potential pick, I have literally dozens of emails from many of you asking me to rank one against two others.

Do I like Poe over Brockers? And Brockers over Coples? And Kirkpatrick over Barron? And what about Upshaw and DeCastro?

So, rather than bouncing too far around a number of wide ranging topics, I think we should set up my own, "14th pick big board".

The idea here is simple. We have looked at the 9 players that I think are the finalists for the #14 pick. There are a few more I want to sift through next week - DontA Hightower, Stephon Gilmore, and Cordy Glenn, but these are the 9, that in my own research and visiting with those who are in the know, were the players that we needed to know best when it comes down the Cowboys 1st Round pick.

From here, the idea would be simple. We simply work down on the list and take the highest ranked player left when Dallas is on the clock. I will do this from my perspective of who I like the most and then alter the list as I think the Cowboys see the list.

Incidentally, I think we can operate under the assumptions that Morris Claiborne is #1 on their list. I did not do a breakdown on him because I don't see a scenario for him to get past #6 in the draft and I honestly don't see the Cowboys spending the assets necessary to get up to the Top 6. So, know that if he somehow got to the Cowboys, they would take Claiborne before anyone on this list. Beyond that, I think the Cowboys war-room cheers every time a player that is not on their plan goes off the board.

Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin, Justin Blackmon, Matt Kalil, Ryan Tannehill, Trent Richardson, and perhaps even Michael Floyd and Riley Reiff are all expected to be in the Top 13 and not fits for what Dallas wants to do, anyway. So, add Claiborne to that list and you have 9 players who will not hurt the Cowboys at #14. Now, we build our list and say how they should be stacked if everyone else was still on the board from a Dallas perspective.

Let's begin.

1. Fletcher Cox - DT - Mississippi State

If I could have any player left on the board and therefore my dream scenario for the 26th of April, it would be the impressive Mr Cox from Mississippi State. He can do so many things and make this defense so much better immediately after he arrives. He is both already developed as a ready-to-go player, and had tremendous upside moving forward where he can only improve. He is a difference maker in the backfield where he destroys plays, he holds up against the run very well, and he gets to the QB with some surprising pass rush gifts. He would be the best choice as far as I am concerned from everything I have looked at. A premium defensive lineman? Jump on it and run to the podium if he is still there.

2. David DeCastro - G - Stanford

Here is where i think the Cowboys and me have our first disagreement. I think the Cowboys did what they did in free agency so they would not be tempted to take another offensive lineman this high. But, I think that David DeCastro is actually the safest pick of this entire list. He is solid. He is as near to a "can't miss" guy as you might fine. He will fill the interior of your offensive line for the next decade and you would have almost no doubt about it. He can play guard or center and he seems to be the type of guy that the only bad thing people will ever say about him is that he plays a position that you just shouldn't take that high. Well, I have seen the Cowboys struggle at offensive line long enough. If you are telling me that with this pick I could take offensive line off my need list for the next several years, then sign me up. DeCastro would be a huge addition for the Cowboys and they should not apologize to do so.

3. Mark Barron - S - Alabama

There is a bit of a drop off between #2 and #3 in my mind. After the top 2, I am now looking at players that I wish I felt were bigger slam dunks. But, they are not. They all come with some level of concern. But, I am placing Barron next and the reason is that he is the guy on the list who I think I trust the most to generate game-altering moments in 2012 and shortly thereafter. I think he can be one of those real difference making safeties that have defined defenses in this generation. Troy Polamalu, Ed Reed, Brian Dawkins, Laron Landry, Darren Sharper and so many more are all at the heart of their team's takeaways. They are the guys who find the football and change games. Meanwhile, the Cowboys have had generic safeties that seldom make an impact of the positive nature. Barron looks like he could be special and he also looks like he could be a guy with a real voice on the team in time.

4. Courtney Upshaw - Alabama

Courtney Upshaw is next on this list, but it is not without reservation. I think he could be an exceptional replacement for Anthony Spencer, but I have a hard time convincing myself that the Cowboys defense improves if I make that trade. I want to add to my good pieces and replace my poor ones. And I will not accept this idea that the defense has been held back by Spencer. It just isn't true. So, while i think Upshaw is the 4th best player on my list from a Cowboys perspective, I think it would be unfortunate to settle for him because then I still have gigantic voids at safety and both defensive ends. This team has too many holes to simply swap out Spencer for a guy who could be slightly better in the short term.

5. Dontari Poe - Memphis

This is controversial, but I am sticking with it. If the Cowboys were to pick Poe at #14, I am now comfortable with it. I wanted to know that his motor runs high and after watching his film, I feel good about that. Yes, I wish he was more productive, but for the Cowboys specific needs, the idea of a nose tackle who would demand a double team on each down which frees up Ratliff to kick out to defensive end and make me better there is very intriguing. I think he is a bit raw and needs some coaching, but I really think his potential upside is too much to ignore at this juncture. He could really fill a need with a guy who could be a very, very disruptive player for years to come.

6. Dre Kirkpatrick - Alabama

Now, I am filling a real position of need with Kirkpatrick. I want to consider Gilmore here, too, but for now, Kirkpatrick's size and physical makeup is the type of zone or press corner that I think could really change things with Brandon Carr on the other side. If the Cowboys left their draft with 2 starting wide corners who were both 6'1 or 6'2 and physical, then I think you could finally feel really good about where the secondary is at. I am a bit concerned about his top end speed and whether or not the Cowboys would be able to deal with the smaller wide receivers in Philadelphia and the Santana Moss types, but with Mike Jenkins coming up for free agency, I believe I would be pretty pleased to leave with Dre.

7. Quinton Coples - UNC

These last three players would not be of great interest to me with regards to Dallas. Coples has all of the tools and is a player I personally like, but I have heard it on rather strong authority that the Cowboys just do not trust his motor and have no plans on allowing Coples to bring his talents to Dallas. For me, I think he could be a wonderful 5 technique and offers some of the best natural pass rush skills of anyone in this draft, but if Jason Garrett only wants players who "red line" their RPMs at all times and all snaps, then I endorse the Cowboys not dancing with someone they don't fully trust. He is very talented but they don't like him.

8. Melvin Ingram - South Carolina

I actually like Melvin Ingram's game. He is a very exciting player at South Carolina and I think he is the type of player that can really help plenty of teams. I just don't think the Cowboys are one of them. He needs to go some place where a team has the luxury to use his skills with creativity. But, to expect him to plug a spot in a traditional defense where you want 900 snaps out of him a season just doesn't seem reasonable in a 3-4 defense, unless you would play him at the weak side OLB. And DeMarcus Ware is your weak side OLB until further notice. He could not play on the strong side in my opinion and matchup with double teams and heavy run traffic. He just doesn't seem big or tall enough and strong enough at the point of attack. 4-3? Sure. Not here. The interesting thing here is that of all 9 players on my list, I feel he is the most likely to go in the Top 10. But, not a fit in Dallas.

9. Michael Brockers - LSU

Brockers is a player I just don't like. Unlike Poe, there are not great reasons why he had almost no production to speak of. Poe was double teamed. Poe was keyed upon. But, Brockers had other players on that LSU defense attracting all of the attention and he still didn't make too many impact plays. He is not ready for the NFL and has a major learning process in front of him, I do believe. And, to top things off, Poe ran a 4.98 while Brockers ran a 5.35 in the 40. Poe lifted 44 bench press reps and Brockers had about half as many in his pro day. I feel Brockers is hanging his hat on arm length, and I need way more than that to fall in love. I would pass.

So, that is my list. I like each player more than the players ranked below him. Simple, right?

Now, how does the order change from a Cowboys standpoint? What do I think THEY feel about these players?

1. Cox
2. Barron
3. Upshaw
4. Brockers
5. Kirkpatrick
6. Poe
7. DeCastro
8. Ingram
9. Coples

I may be affected by smoke screens or poor information that I am being fed, but I think that if Fletcher Cox and Mark Barron are both on the clock at #14, there will be a massive tug-o-war in the war room over which direction they go. Beyond that, I think they are settling and happy, but not over the moon. I may have my 3-6 rankings a bit off, but that is where I think they are today.

I think they just don't want to deal with taking a guard, and the Coples thing is explained above.

Surely an odd version of the mailbag, since I used dozens of emails but reprinted none of them, but hopefully this helps answer so many of the questions that are up right now in my email box and on twitter.

Speaking of email, send me your Cowboys questions at or follow on twitter (@sportssturm).

Have a great weekend.