Grading The Plan

IRVING, Texas -- It was, in one regard and according to a grading system that is all my own, the best draft the Cowboys ever had. The Aikman/Stepnoski/Johnston/Tolbert take of '89? Nah.

The acquisition of seven starters in '91? Nope.

The Dirty Dozen of '75? No way.

The Hall-of-Fame-caliber selection of Renfro/Hayes/Staubach-in-the-10th-round of '64? Not hardly.

In one sense -- and bear with me here -- the Cowboys' 1995 draft was their best-ever draft.

That sense: Execution of a plan.

As brilliant as Dallas had usually been under Gil Brandt in previous eras, and as productive as most of Jimmy Johnson's four drafts were, never before were the Cowboys as clear-headed about what they wanted to do as in 1995, with Jerry Jones and Larry Lacewell running their second draft together.

They had a plan. A magnificent plan.

And they pulled it off.

The Cowboys were convinced that a) the second round was loaded, more loaded than the first; that b) there were at least three running backs who were second-round worthy and who would be stars, so they simply needed to get one of them, any one of them; that c) a team priority need was "backup O-line,'' and believed they should take two linemen on the first day with the understanding that on that great club, they could afford to be projects; and that d) from then on in the draft, again based on the idea that Dallas was too deep to find any instant starters from the second day, just draft athletes. Don't worry about their positions. Athletes.

I was given some information about that blueprint a week before the draft. So when it came down as it did, I wrote in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram on Monday that while it might take years to actually evaluate the players, and that while most draft grades are fraudulent because most sportswriters simply give good marks to teams that select players the sportswriters can identity, the "execution of the plan'' deserved an A+.

Why?

The idea that "the second round was more loaded than the first'' resulted in Dallas swapping out of Round 1 and picking up two No. 2s from Tampa Bay. Perfect execution!

The idea that "there were at least three running backs who were second-round worthy and who would be stars'' resulted in the selection of Alabama RB Sherman Williams. Perfect execution!

The idea that "we should take two first-day O-linemen, even if they are projects'' resulted in the drafting of first-day blockers Kendell Watkins and Shane Hannah. Perfect execution!

The idea that "Dallas is so talented that we should just grab-bag athletes after that'' resulted in the selection of a wide receiver-turned-safety from little Bowling Green named Charlie Williams, a quarterback/wide receiver-turned tight end named Eric Bjornson, and a USC track man named Ed Hervey to play receiver.

Now again, between the lot of them, Sherman Williams, Watkins, Hannah, Charlie Williams, Bjornson, Hervey and the rest of the gang could hardly play a lick. In the case of Watkins, team executives never quite decided if he was a center, a guard, a tackle or a tight end. ... but by God, he was an athlete!

So in retrospect, the 1995 Dallas draft deserves an F. But do you see what I mean about the "execution of the plan''?

What do I think Dallas' plan is this year? Some educated guesses:

Offensive line, safety and linebacker on the first day. (Take it to the bank that the team scouts have been told to think that way.) The O-lineman would ideally be able to play tackle. I'll pencil in Winston Justice if its early and he slips anywhere into the teens, Charles Spencer -- who played left tackle in college but might be a guard in the pros -- if it's not a first-rounder. The safety wouldn't seem to be a value choice with the 18th overall pick, so maybe they drop to take Tennessee's Jason Allen. The linebacker? A compelling argument: The freakish talents of Manny Lawson, a DE/LB who might bookend DeMarcus Ware? Or a reliable type, like Ohio State's Bobby Carpenter, who has the roots (his dad was NFL running back Rob) and the connections (yes, Bobby's agent is Jimmy Sexton, also Parcells' agent.)

Remember what a Cowboys staffer said in this space weeks ago: The right linebacker choice will be "versatile, able to play multiple positions.''

And some more wild guesses: UTEP linebacker Thomas Howard, whose father played in the NFL; South Carolina safety Ko Simpson; Alabama quarterback Brodie Croyle; and Auburn wide receiver Ben Obomanu.

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