The Cowboys draft weekend has left plenty of people with plenty of thoughts. It was a roller coaster of anticipation as Dallas was able to land a player several fans (including yours truly) had targeted as a potential get. Many fans were even more ecstatic when a player under heavy consideration in the first round was still available in the second. From there, though, the draft was a bit underwhelming for many fans. The Cowboys never got around to selecting a running back… ever. They selected players many had projected much later in the draft than where Dallas took them. All of these things lead to comtemplations about where the team stands over the summer. Here are mine.
- Stick to the plan, Part I. One thing Dallas certainly did is stick to the plan when it comes to draft weekend. CHQ’s Joey Ickes and I were in discussion when he raised the point that, from the phone calls and pressers, you can tell that the Cowboys don’t “let the draft come to them and take the best player”, and I whole-heartedly agree. Sure, in the first two rounds they did just that, and at the end of the day the success of the 2015 Draft will rest with Byron Jones and Randy Gregory. But in the later rounds, it’s clear that they target have a target or two for each round and really don’t care if someone falls to them that was expected to go higher. Guys that are close to the team are able to predict Day 3 selections? That’s as clear of an indicator as you can get, when there’s a sea of talent including guys that have fallen a couple rounds. Maybe this is how most teams do it; it’s very possible this is the right way to go. It’s just interesting to note.
Stick to the plan, Part II. Back in January, I penned a piece titled, Cowboys Six Draft Tendencies and Tells (click here to go back). Over the last 3-4 years, Dallas has clearly formed several patterns of behavior when it comes to selecting players in the draft. Once again, in 2015, they stuck to the plan, almost to a tee. Here’s how the six rules held up:
1. At an almost 80% clip, Dallas trades their first-round pick. Up, down, out of the first… the majority of the time Dallas will not select where they were originally slotted.
Wrong. Dallas had offers to move down from 27, but with two players ranked highly on their board still available (they admitted Jones was 15th/16th on their board) they stayed put and made a selection.
Dallas will do everything they can in the first round, and sometimes subsequent picks, to draft the “Best Player In The Draft At His Position”.
Right, we think. CowboysHQ work pre-draft concluded that Byron Jones was the best cornerback in the draft for the Cowboys plans. The club has since stated that Randy Gregory was their top-rated pass rusher. They got them both, which is pretty ridiculous considering both Corner and Defensive End are “Money 5” positions and Dallas was picking 27th in the round.
Dallas has waited until the second year of a new defensive coordinator/scheme to flood the defense with draft picks.
Right. Focusing on premium picks expected to help right away (Rounds 1-4), Dallas stuck to the tradition of the last few D-coordinators and got them the help they needed after a year of evaluating the in-house talent. Dallas hit each level of the defense once in the first four picks.
”Jerry Poppins” talk does not extend to draft plans. The team is unabashedly honest about their draft plans, through the media.
Right.Jerry Jones got you again. The biggest collective roll of the eyes during the pre-draft presser was Jerry Jones saying that they didn’t see running back as a pressing need. Take that, media. Also, Jerry said defensive end wasn’t the ultimate need and that was proven when they chose Jones over Gregory in Round One. They also decided not to trade picks for players, as they indicated.
Dallas uses their Valley Ranch visits very wisely, and will most often select players throughout the draft that visit team headquarters through the 30 National invites of Dallas Day visits.
Resounding Yes. Byron Jones was the ninth of the last 10 first-round picks to have visited Valley Ranch pre-draft. They then just kept the party going. Chaz Green and Mark Nzeocha were known National Invites. What wasn’t advertised was that Randy Gregory and Damien Wilson were last minute visitors to the Ranch (Dallas had a couple spots that were unknown). Ryan Russell (Carrollton, TX) apparently was part of Dallas Day. Laurence Gibson had a private workout with the team. The only name remaining is Geoff Swaim, from University of Texas.
Follow the money. Over past several seasons, Dallas has focused on positions that will eventually replace high salaries, or players in line for big pay increases.
Right.We spoke about the “Money 5” earlier. Dallas needs to replace the expensive Brandon Carr and is likely to walk away from Mo Claiborne without giving him a second contract. Problem solved. Dallas has Greg Hardy on a one-year, $13m deal. Problem solved. Dallas is paying Doug Free $5 a year through 2017. Problem (possibly) solved. Sean Lee and Ro McClain might not be long-term solutions… draft two more linebackers. Sometimes they make it too easy.
On twitter, I’ve noted that there was almost a seventh rule added to the list;
Randy Gregory checked this one off, too.
I considered adding a 7th Draft Tell… #Cowboys almost always make a bold 2nd round pick. Trade,injury risk, reach… *watching*— KD Drummond (@KDP10for10) May 1, 2015
- Stick to the plan, Part III. Just before the draft, we looked at the draft history of the Cowboys over the last five years (click here for that article). It concluded that Dallas has a preference to draft the following positions, in order, t1) Defensive Line t1) Linebackers, t1) Cornerbacks, t4) Offensive Line, t4) Wide Receiver. With the first four picks Dallas chose a CB, DE, OL, LB. The article also stated that Dallas prefers players who attended “Power 5” conference universities, with a fair amount of consideration to “Other 5” conferences in the early rounds. Their selections attended: UConn (AAC), Nebraska (Big 10) Florida (SEC), Minnesota (Big 10), Purdue (Big 10). 80% Power 5, 20% Other 5, no small school guys in sight.
It looks like I’ll end up eating crow, but I’m sticking to my belief that the club only signed Darren McFadden as “Joseph Randle” insurance. When McFadden signed, Randle was facing a domestic violence investigation following an incident at a hotel in Wichita Falls, KS where he was cited for marijuana possession. That investigation was closed last week with no charges against the Cowboys back-up. If Dallas signed McFadden as insurance against Randle missing significant time (or being cut)- then a sigh of relief could have Dallas once again looking at Randle as their lead back. That is, after all, why he was drafted two years ago, to replace DeMarco Murray. McFadden’s guaranteed salary is less than Ryan Williams’. If we were only talking talent, this would be a no-brainer. Randle has shown that he has the talent to compete for the lead spot. It’s his dummy underwear theft and this recent run-in that has put his ability to be a top back in question. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that knowing Randle escaped the charges weighed in on Dallas not spending any draft capital on the position. Not saying that would necessarily be the correct strategy, but it’s certainly a viable explanation.
- Leon Lett has an opportunity to earn a future defensive coordinator’s position. If he can own the meeting room that now has Greg Hardy and Randy Gregory in it? How can you not say that he is destined for bigger and better things? Managing personalities is one of the most underrated aspects of quality coaching. Fish had a tremendous profile (premium) of the task ahead of Lett and others in the Cowboys fold of managing Gregory’s ascension to professionalism. If Lett navigates this correctly, he should be highly thought of.
- That look on Jason Garrett’s face following the Gregory selection? Is that “I can’t believe they didn’t give me a back right there” or “What have I gotten myself into?” Cowboys are giving the RKG atmosphere a ton of credit by now bringing in two bad-ass bad-asses to fix the defense’s most glaring problem, pass rush.
- Will McClay’s future as an up and coming GM candidate will rest squarely on the Cowboys ability to have a successful running game in 2015. After hoping a back they liked would fall to them at Pick 91 and being thwarted, Dallas refused to stray from their targets and chose to not select a back at all during the draft. Dallas clearly said that they don’t need top-tier running backs in order to have a successful running game (a though echoed by the majority of the league just two months ago). However, this crop of running backs was regarded as the best class since 2008 when Chris Johnson, Matt Forte, Ray Rice and Jamaal Charles entered the league. By the way, those were the 5th, 6th, 7th and 9th backs chosen that draft; after McFadden, Jon Stewart, Felix Jones and Rashard Mendenhall. Justin Forsett, who finally broke through last season, was the 21st back taken. This is nowhere near 'make or break' but if the running game falters in a class that produces 8-10 lead backs, well... you get the point.
Don’t be surprised to see the Cowboys employ Ryan Williams as the punt returner and Lance Dunbar as the kickoff returner this season. They will likely be given the opportunity to prove themselves come training camp and preseason, and it would certainly be a way to get two dynamic players opportunities with the ball in their hands. Dunbar has returned a handful of kicks in his Dallas career and although he has yet to break one for a touchdown, certainly has the ability to do so. During his collegiate days, Ryan Williams was all set to be their dynamic return man until he earned the starting job as a red-shirt freshman. As neither are lead backs (currently), if Dallas chose to go running back by committee as Cowboys HQ suggested back in January(read up on why we think it’s a good idea here), this might be a way they team utilizes the skillsets of all of their weaponry.
If you aren’t familiar with how “in” some of us were with the idea of Byron Jones joining the Cowboys, listen here to Keith Mullins and I through the first half hour of our Draft Preview Podcast on potential cornerbacks. For us, and many others in Cowboys Nation, this was Friday morning:
- The NFL moved up the June 1st date to May 12th, which means the second stanza of free agency is just a week away. Will Dallas look to make any moves at the running back position? Seeing who is still out there, it will probably behoove them to roll with what they have, swing a trade for a newly disgruntled back, or wait until guys start getting “Reaper’ed” in training camp.
- I’m trying to convince anyone that will listen that there will be a chance that Dallas uses Randy Gregory in a similar role to how Seattle used Bruce Irvin. I’m having trouble finding takers. Yes, people believe he will be a rush specialist to begin with, but no one sees the role of linebacker in his future. With the scattered rumor about using an OTTO linebacker, it would seem a player that is currently so light would be an ideal fit for the role. Alas, not many agree so I’m on an island here.
- The team’s obsession with the linebacker position is getting a little creepy. It’s like they keep trying to replace the same ex-girlfriend.. they have a type. The team seems to be throwing darts at the wall hoping to strike gold. After losing Justin Durant and Bruce Carter in free agency, the club reluctantly brought Ro McClain back into the fold. They don’t truly know how far along Sean Lee is in his rehab so the obsession does make sense. But the players they signed in free agency have deals that will cost the team in dead money should they not make the final roster. Jasper Brinkly and Andrew Gachkar were not signed to deals like CB Corey White, where the team can just walk away. Lee, McClain, Hitchens, Brinkley, Ganchar, Kyle Wilber, Dakoda Watson, Cam Lawrence, Keith Smith, Will Smith, Damien Wilson, and Mark Nzeocha. 13% of the 90 players brought to Oxnard could be linebackers.
- The selection of Chaz Green makes sense, in principle. Not necessarily the player, who many assume could have been grabbed a round or two later. We’ve been down that road before… but the double-dip on OT showing the club’s prioritizing of a back-up plan should Doug Free miss any time is a grand idea. Dallas clearly doesn’t believe that Darrion Weems would be capable of doing what Jeremy Parnell did for seven games last season. And if that’s the case, the club had to find a solution in the draft. Continuing the line of thought, if Weems isn’t capable of being ‘that’ guy, then don’t you have to bring in someone to try and push him off the roster? Enter the Laurence Gibson selection.