Grading the Plan: This is an A+

IRVING, Tex. - I got in trouble for pointing this out a few years ago during Cowboys' Draft Weekend, so I'll try to be gentle this time around.

Anybody who tries to grade the players Dallas is snatching up in this NFL Draft is a fake, a fraud, a scammer. (Gentle enough for you?) But to grade the Cowboys' plan? And the execution of that plan? That has validity. That is real.

And the grade is an A+. For real.

In 1995, Jerry Jones and the Cowboys had themselves a Draft Day vision. In a story I broke in the days leading up to the weekend, I detailed how Dallas had developed a three-pronged plan.

One part of the plan: Trade out of the first round and get additional 2's.

The second part of the plan: Load up on O-linemen.

The third part of the plan: Get one of the handful of solid running back prospects.

So on that weekend, when the Cowboys 1) traded out of Round 1 and landed two Nos. 2 from Tampa Bay; 2) used two second-round picks on blockers Kendall Watkins and Shane Hannah; and 3) moved around to grab Alabama rushing star Sherman Williams. … well, that's an ‘A.'

And I said so – in the face of other writers (including some at my own paper) who were grading Dallas down because they didn't like the non-sexy choices of offensive linemen.

Could the players play? Among the three of ‘em, not a lick. Nor, as it turned out, could anybody else in the Cowboys '95 Draft class: Sherman Williams, slated to be Emmitt's heir, was kind of a bad actor and was judged to be "in the same handful'' with Terrell Davis. Hannah barely got a uniform dirty. Watkins was such an odd talent the team didn't know whether to make him a center, guard or tight end. Charlie Williams, Eric Bjornson, Alundis Brice, Linc Harden, Edward Hervey, Dana Howard, Oscar Sturgis. All nice fellas. But that's 10 guys. None of whom could play a lick.

Now, maybe Purdue pass-rusher Anthony Spencer (Round 1) can't play. Maybe Boston College O-lineman James Marten (Round 3) is a stiff. Washington QB Isaiah Stanback (Round 4) will convert to receiver? Who knows? Tackle Doug Free (Round 5) will make the jump from Northern Illinois? Your guess is as good as mine. Arizona kicker Nick Folk and UConn fullback Deon Anderson (both Round 6)? Whatever. Cornerbacks Courtney Brown from Cal-Poly and Alan Ball from Illinois (both Round 7)? I know we're supposed to define these guys already as "steals'' or "busts,'' but I'll come clean: I didn't pay a lot of attention this year to the Cal-Poly defensive backfield.

Did you?

Seriously, I bet if you're a native of the Indiana/Illinois area you give the Dallas draft a good grade because maybe you are very familiar with the work of Spencer and Free and Ball. That's how it works, you know; the more "name'' players a team takes, the more likely it is some lame sportswriter will deem that pick worthy of a good grade.

Meanwhile, maybe the Cowboys will regret not landing guys who they traded away from, like QB Brady Quinn at 22. "We stared that one right in the eye,'' said Jerry, who confirmed what wrote months ago, that Dallas thought Quinn was a top-of-the-draft-board talent. Cornerback Eric Wright at 53 might be a regret, too. Dallas traded away from him because of behavioral issues. Meanwhile, "clean-cut'' New England had no problem drafting a first-round bad boy in Brandon Merriweather from Miami and no problem trading for an all-time bad boy in Randy Moss from the Raiders. (And then later in the draft came Dallas' choice of Anderson, who got kicked off the Connecticut team. So what, behavior counts less if you're a sixth-rounder?)

But why pretend we are knowledgeable enough to grade all these players and all these moves?

Instead, let's grade the plan. And the execution of that plan.

Jerry Jones hinted in a pre-Draft presser that:

* He would seriously consider "bundling'' to move into the top 10 for one of five-to-seven "wow'' players.

* He had no wish to trade away a veteran like Julius Jones.

* He would strongly consider the "character risk'' issue on Draft Day. (At least on Day One, we suppose.)

* He had on the table an offer to trade the Cowboys a 2008 first-round pick for the Cowboys' No. 22 pick this weekend.

* And, word leaked, Purdue defensive end/linebacker Anthony Spencer was on the long list of Cowboys' targets.

Those were all factors in the Cowboys' 2007 Draft plans. And by God. … The Cowboys did indeed look into jumping up into the top seven. They didn't trade a veteran. They passed on troubled cornerback Eric Wright. They netted in a trade Cleveland's 2008 first-round pick. And they got Spencer.

Grading the Cowboys' draft? Go ahead. Guess away. Pretend you know.

Grading the Cowboys' execution of their plan?

That's an A+.

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