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By Jonathan Bales

If Dallas Had the Top Pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. . .

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IF DALLAS HAD THE TOP PICK IN THE 2011 NFL DRAFT. . .

By Vince Grey

Let’s play a little “what if,” shall we?  What if, when Tony Romo got hurt last season, Jon Kitna came in and soon got knocked out for the rest of the season himself?  That hypothetical, along with the possible retainment of Wade Phillips, very well may have put Dallas in the No. 1 overall draft spot.

Let’s assume that’s the case.  Who should they take?  If I was running the draft, here are my top five, in order (assuming no trades).

  • 1.  Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama

The top guy on my board is Dareus, and really, no one else is even close.  This due in part to his talent, and in part to team needs at this time.  In my view, Dareus has the highest “floor” of any top player in this draft, as well as a very, very high ceiling.  He doesn’t appear to be as explosive as Ndamukong Suh, or even Nick Fairley, but he’s a very powerful 3-4 end who could slide to the nose without losing much.

There are no real character questions with Dareus, and he’s been basically injury free his entire career.  Dareus would make the Cowboys’ defensive line much, much better almost instantly, giving opposing blockers a point of focus outside of Demarcus Ware and Jay Ratliff.

And, if we ever do the right thing and go back to a 4-3 scheme, Dareus would make one hell of a three-technique tackle.  That scheme-diversity is why he’s the best player in this draft.  I am generally opposed to trading up at the top end of the draft for anyone other than a sure-fire franchise quarterback, but I would at least consider it with Dareus if the price wasn’t too steep.

  • 2.  Phil Taylor, NT, Baylor

I view Taylor as an extremely safe pick who fills a strong need.  He’s almost a “can’t miss” nose tackle, with the potential to be great. Another Haloti Ngata, if you will.  Plus, he would allow Ratliff to move to what I feel is his more natural position of 3-4 defensive end, where his pass rush skills could really flourish.  One pick, two key positions upgraded for the next few years.  Win-win.

  • 3.  Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn

Here’s where it starts to get a little dicey.  I like Von Miller a lot, but outside linebacker isn’t a position of great need.  Plus, there are questions about how well he would fit in a 3-4 defense.  In addition, none of the offensive line personnel blow me away.  No Jonathan Ogden’s here that I can see.

Therefore, I would go with Fairley as my third choice.  Fairley definitely has downside, as there are questions about his work ethic, as well as some concerns he was a one-year (maybe even one-game) wonder.  Still, the man has a ton of talent, and at his best he would be a real force as a pass-rusher.  Any of these top three players would solidify our defensive line, which would automatically upgrade our secondary.

  • 4.  Offensive Tackle–Anthony Castonzo (Boston College), Ben Ijalana (Villanova), Tyron Smith (USC)

Pick one.  I like—but don’t love—all of these guys, and don’t see a whole lot of difference between the three, talent-wise.  I have Castonzo by a small margin over the other two, but it’s really a toss up.  I’m not quite as sold on Ijalana as JB, but I like that he’s a quality drive blocker as well as a guy who can pass protect.  Smith worries me a bit because of his weight (as in a lack of it).  The other two have at least 25 pounds on the guy and yet I can’t see much of a difference in the group’s overall quickness.  Still, we need an offensive tackle in the worst way.

  • 5.  Cameron Jordan, DT, Cal

On pure talent, I think Peterson and Julio Jones are here, if not higher, but I’m totally opposed to taking defensive backs and receivers this high, so I’ll go with Jordan.  He would be a somewhat small, but very quick 3-4 end.  I think he would be a real asset to the defense for his high-effort play (something we lack at times), as well as pass-rush ability.  There’s no question that’s something we desperately need from at least one of our ends.  J.J. Watt is a guy who is growing on me and also an option here, but for now, I’ll take Jordan.

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15 Responses to If Dallas Had the Top Pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. . .

  1. chris stallcup says:

    i heard that south dakota state’s db Cole Brodie had a good pro day working out for the cowboys. how do you feel about that?

  2. Vince_Grey says:

    Chis, it all depends on what round we’re talking about, but honestly, DB’s, as a general rule, just don’t excite me that much, unless we’re talking stealing a 1st rounder in 3rd round… something like that.

    I’ll also add the guy is a 5′ 10″ 190 pound CB with low 4.4 speed. OK measurables, but not anything special.

  3. Tyrone Jenkins says:

    Vince, I guess you and I will always disagree on taking a DB (and WR and I’m assuming a few other positions) high in the draft. I’ve read your arguments in other posts and do agree to some extent that the “track record” of pro bowl DBs taken in the top 10 doesn’t emulate other positions (like OT for instance).

    However, I don’t think that NFL GMs should NEVER draft any DB in the top ten based solely upon that reasoning (it is something to consider but not live by no matter what). DBs, in today’s NFL where rules drastically favor QBs and WRs, are just as important as the pass rush and pass protection. Since 1990, there have been more than a few DBs that should have been drafted in the top 10 based on their play:

    Nnamdi Asomugha, Troy Polomalu, Deion Sanders, Ed Reed, Asante Samuel, Troy Vincent, Brian Dawkins, Ty Law, Ronde Barber, Charles Woodson, Adrian Wilson, Champ Bailey, Ronnie Lott, Darelle Revis, Rod Woodson, Darrell Green, Steve Atwater, Leroy Butler, Darren Sharper . . . I’m sure I’m missing some. Sad point that I know you know already is that Nnamdi was drafted after Terence Newman – just think of what the Dallas defense could’ve been had they used their #5 pick on him!!!

    But, back to my point. Less than half of these guys above WERE actually drafted in the top 10. I think it’s clear from their play they all, or at least more than half, deserved to be. There are players drafted every year in numerous other positions that also didn’t go in the top 10 that certainly deserved it (Tom Brady, James Harrison, Antonio Gates, Lance Briggs, Jared Allen, Drew Brees, Zach Thomas, Terrell Owens and many others) – why should it be any different for DBs?

    Bottom line – dominance is dominance regardless of position and simply put, if a DB looks like hs possesses the ability to be an ELITE talent (shutdown corner, extremely good ball-hawking FS or disruptive, hard hitting, sack machine type SS w/ some coverage skills), then it makes no sense to PASS on them just because you happen to be picking in the top 10 (what the INDICATORS of a DB draft prospect being dominant is certainly debatable but is a whole different story). Overall, NFL GMs should grade players based upon their perceived abilities at the respective position against others at the same position and make picks based upon those assessments accordingly. The only three “universally” accepted positions that don’t get a 1st round grade are kicker, punter and long snapper (wouldn’t you know that the Raiders drafted Sebastian Janikowski w/ the 17th overall pick of the 2000 draft!?! – figures).

    So it makes little sense to me to leave Patrick Peterson out of anyone’s (in particular Dallas’) top 5 prospects especially when the consensus of draft analysts grade him to be one of the best (quite a few have him as THE best) prospect available. I would certainly draft him before i took ANY of the offensive linemen you have on your list at 4.

    Again, just my opinion (and you know what they say about opinions)…

  4. Vince_Grey says:

    I have a few interesting questions for JB and everyone else:

    - Let’s say we take Tyron in 1st and all of the good 3-4 D-linemen are gone when Dallas picks again in the 2nd, but Ben Ijalana was still there. Would it be at least a strong consideration to take two O-linemen 1st and 2nd?

    - Same question, but switch to defense. What if we took, say, Fairley, but Taylor is still sitting there when we pick in the 2nd round and the top 3-4 O-linemen are gone? Really bad idea, or go for it?

    - I agree that RB’s are a dime a dozen usually, but what if Mikel LeShoure and/or Mark Ingram are there when we pick in the 2nd? What if we traded down and it’s a low 2nd? Or top of the 3rd? Is a RB here a stupid move, no matter what or something to consider?

    - I think Brandon Harris in the 3rd is a really good deal, but what about with our 2nd, IF a top D or O lineman is sitting there? (Assuming we take the other lineman in the 1st)

    - What’s the highest point anyone feels good about taking a safety in this year’s draft? 2nd round? 3rd? 4th?

  5. Tyrone Jenkins says:

    Again, Tyrone’s opinion…

    1st pt – YES (but with conditions). In Dallas’ specific case, they could use more than 1 good lineman but only if they view Tyron Smith AND Ijalana as prospects who will be good enough to replace Columbo and Davis or Kosier AND be as good or better than either of them (Columbo or Davis) project to be in 2-5 years. It’s comes down to simply who does Dallas think will be better in the future at each position. I would actually feel pretty good about the Smith pick at 9 but ecstatic at the Ijalana pick at 40. At that point, the question becomes what does Dallas do to address the FS and DE/DT positions?

    2nd pt – NO. The issue with picking up both Fairley and Taylor is two-fold. First, I’m starting to dislike the Fairley pick at 9 more and more because I don’t think he will be a dominant as some expect. Second, the nature in which Dallas’ typically uses DT/DEs (platoon method) gives reasoning to picking a position other than DT/DE (unless the new D Coord changes the philisophy). Whichever DT/DE they pick, which in your specific case is Fairley, in the 1st round has to project to be SO dominant that it justifies using a top 10 pick on a part time player – otherwise, the opportunity cost of that pick is too high. It would be a better value to pick a guy who may not project to be as good but one that plays more often and therefore is of greater use to the team. My answer would change to YES if Dareus was the 9th overall and Taylor was the 40th as I think Dareus will be that dominant.

    3rd point – absolutely not (unless there is a plan to trade one of the current RBs). TC and FJ are two young and solid RBs (so far, FJ hasn’t quite lived up to his 1st round drafting IMO but TC has exceeded what I had expected of his 4th round selection). What is needed now, according to Jerry Jones himself, is a RB who can carry the rock when one or both of the 2 aforementioned are injured AND excell at special teams. Neither LeShoure or Ingram fit that description. And, again, the opportunity cost of using a 2nd or even a 3rd on a position that is loaded is unjustifiable. I’d say 5th is the highest round but think the roster is OK the way it is (w/ Lonyae Miller).

    4th point – YES in the 3rd round, I’m not sure in the 2nd. Depends on what how Dallas plans on addressing the FS spot.

    5th point – Depends on the safety. I’d be ok w/ 2nd round for Rahim Moore (if OT was taken care of in the 1st). RT and FS are the 2 positions of greatest need and I think there will be a fairly good NT prospect (Kenrick Ellis or Jerrel Powe) or some other DE prospect avail in the 3rd. I’d be very happy w/ a RT, FS, NT/DE 1, 2, 3 round draft for Dallas!

    TJ’s dream draft for Dallas – PP in the 1st, Ijalana in 2nd, Ellis in the 3rd, Havili or Marecic next, then the best PK on the board, then best OL on the board (I only have 6 picks because I’d expect them to have to trade up at least once, maybe even twice, to do this).

    Nice questions though…you and JB make a pretty good team.

  6. Vince_Grey says:

    BTW, in the 2nd question, when I say top 3-4 O-linemen, I mean the top three to four, not, obviously 3-4 as in 3-4 defense. Didn’t notice that slip up until just now.

    Love the site and this forum, but I really wish there was a way to go back and “fix” a post even after it’s posted.

  7. Chris–I honestly know nothing about Brodie. I will take a look.

    Vince–1. YES, in a heartbeat. I would actually be thrilled to have Smith/Ijalana in the first two rounds. I can’t think of better value.

    2. I don’t really like Fairley at 9, but if it happened, selecting Taylor in the second would be tough. I personally would do it because of how high I have Taylor ranked (the value would be overwhelming), but I don’t think the Cowboys should select him IF he isn’t rated in that top 10 or 15 range for them….very similar to the Sean Lee situation last year.

    3. I wouldn’t take a RB in the second, but of course I would take a look at Leshoure/Ingram in the 3rd. That won’t happen, but they’re worth a look that late. On that point, I disagree with Tyrone.

    4. Harris in the 3rd is a no-brainer. Not even close. The second is a tough call, and he has a chance to be there. If he’s the top player on the board, I say go for it…but I certainly wouldn’t take him ahead of Ijalana, Carimi, etc. I WOULD take him over a guy like Cameron Heyward, though, because to me that value overrides the fact that DE is a position of bigger need.

    5. I personally wouldn’t take a safety until the late-second round. My top safety is Aaron Williams (I think he’s a FS, not a CB), and I’d probably look at moving up a LITTLE from the third for him. Don’t think he’ll last until then, but you never know. Rahim Moore is worth a look in the third, but he’ll get over-drafted b/c of the lack of talent at the position.

    Now….what are YOUR answers to those questions?

  8. Vince_Grey says:

    TJ – If we didn’t have obvious needs on both lines, or there was a severe dearth of talent in those areas for the draft, as well as at LB, and a couple of other positions, I guess I could live with taking Peterson that high, though I’m morally opposed to it on general principle.

    However, we DO have those needs and there are several quality linemen, both offensive and defensive, who figure to be available, so I just can’t justify taking a DB that high.

    Let me break it down as simply as I can for you regarding the real world worth of top DB’s:

    Look back over the past ten, twenty, thirty years… whatever, and I can name you a bunch of championship teams with dominant defensive lines and average/below average secondaries, while I can’t think of more than one or two the other way around.

    There’s just no possible way you can convince me that a great DB is as valuable as a great D-lineman, who stop the run and the pass. Forget great D-lineman, I’ll settle for very good. Even pretty good, over the best of any DB you can name, with the possible exception of Deion, Ed Reed, or Ronnie Lott.

    Even with those guys in their prime, I’ll take an All Pro D-lineman over any of them, any two of them, at the drop of a hat.

    In fact, that’s a very good thought. Give me an Ndamukong Suh or one top pass rusher like D Ware, over any two DB’s you can name, and I’ll gladly take my chances, `cause I’ll win 9 of 10 over your DB’s every time.

  9. Tyrone Jenkins says:

    NFL Defensive Player of the Year from 1971-2010: 9 are safeties or CBs; 15 are DTs or DEs and 14 are linebackers. From that right there, it seems as if a dominant DT/DE occurs slightly more often but not to the extent you mention.

    In 2005, Champ Bailey and John Lynch started for the Denver Broncos. Most football fans know of these two guys but I doubt many would know any of the D linemen that played that year – Trevor Pryce, Michael Myers, Courtney Brown and Gerard Warren (none of which got more than 4 sacks each). During the season, the team gave up more than 300 yards passing only once but gave up over 100 yards rushing 3 times. 4 of the top 6 leading tacklers on the team were members of the secondary (both CBs and both safeties). John Lynch was tied for most sacks w/ 4 and forced fumbles w/ 4. Champ Bailey played only 14 games due to injury but had 8 INTs of which 2 were returned for TDs, a forced fumble (same # of FFs as the entire starting D line), was 1st team All-Pro and a pro bowler. His 2 TDs qualified him for tied for 6th at scoring (yes, a defensive player was tied for 6th highest scorer on the team). The secondary as a unit gave up a ridiculously low 56.1 completion percentage that paved the way for the team’s 13-3 record. They won their 1st playoff game over the Patriots by creating 5 turnovers (2 INTs) but lost the conference championship (due primarily to the offenses’ 4 turnovers).

    A good example of dominance by a defensive secondary. The D line played a part but were by no means the reason for sucha a good defense.

    For a little more recent team, look at the 2007 Cowboys. D Line was Chris Canty, Marcus Spears and Jay Ratliff. Secondary was Roy Williams, Ken Hamlin, Terence Newman and Jacque Reeves (yes, Reeves played more games the Anthony Henry due to injury). Again, 4 of the top 6 leading tacklers are both CBs and safeties (the other 2 were LBs). Chris Canty led all D lineman w/ 3.5 sacks – D Ware had 14 and Greg Ellis has 12.5. Roy Williams, Newman, D Ware and Ellis were the only defensive pro bowlers.

    The defensive scheme of the Cowboys nulifies the need for dominant D lineman. The fact that very solid to elite play from the LBs and DBs was the determing factor that year.

    USA Today article on Dec 21, 2010 showed that whenever Troy Polomalu didn’t play (over the course of the last 2 seasons), the Steelers were 5 – 7. When he did play, they’re 14 – 4. Not sure what the difference would have been had one of there D lineman not played and Troy did but you get the point. The very fact that USA Today took notice enough to do the research and write an article displays that the DB is that much of a difference maker.

    I could go on.

    On the flip side, there are teams (namely the NY Giants) that had virtual nobodys in the secondary but an awesome D line and LB crews that dominated other teams. But, keep in mind, that was a team w/ a DOMINANT D line (not just one all pro guy and a few other OK ones).

    All I’m trying to say it, never say never. If a guy is good enough to be drafted top 10, then you draft him there – regardless of his position.

    I guess we can just agree to disagree.

  10. john coleman says:

    Interesting piece Vince.

    If I were in control with the #1, I would take Peterson or trade down. IMO, and It’s just my IMO, Dareus is not a lock anywhere in the top 5. As you mentioned he is no Suh. If Dareus is a #1, then Suh should have been a #1, 2 years before he came out. In addition I too agree that Fairley is a risk. Castonzo is not even a true 1st rdr.

    Concerning Taylor, I have been screaming his name for 6 months now. However, he has done nothing at any time in his career that warrants 1st rd. Again I like him, but I feel that he is a huge reach in the 1st. This years class has a lot of “Good” prospects, but very few “GREAT” prospects. People will reach because of the good vs. great situation and a Taylor could end up in the 1st rd. His career production is 2nd to 3rd rd talent.

    As far as RBs go, I don’t care who is available, I’m not touching one before the 6th or 7th if then. Now if we trade Barber or Choice and garner a solid pick, I might consider 4th or 5th. Simply put, there are always, FA RBs who are proven and can be had at a decent value. So there is your bailout if something happens. Seriously we can’t unload Barber now because of value.

    Someone mentioned olinemen in the 1st and 2nd and I would not be upset. However there are none worthy of #1 or even top 5. IMO at #9, it would be a reach for any of them. Tyron Smith and Sherrod are the two best at this point, IMO. Sherrod did it on the field week in and week out, in the SEC. Smith was more than solid and has more upside than the rest. I’m saying mid teens for Smith and early twenties for Sherrod. Next would be Carimi at 25 thru 40. I do think Carimi will be a beast at RT, but RTs aren’t generally 1st rdrs. The problem with Carimi and Castonzo is on tape they are abused by speed.

    Trading down to 15th or so, getting a 3rd for it, then taking Smith would be good. Then getting Ijalana in the 2nd, oh yeah!

    Here’s a list, place them where you will; Jordan, Harris, Carimi, Ijalana, Heyward, Taylor, Wilson, Smith, Sherrod, Pouncey, Watt. All of them are mid 1st thru 2nd. Then; Gilchrist, Culliver, McDaniel, Irving, Franklin, Sheppard, Ellis, Ballard, Ziemba, 2nd thru 4th. Then late to UDFA look for a FS/SS/Nickel LB, WR, FB, and RB. Guys like Schuylar Oordt TE, Ryan Jones CB, Da’ Rel Scott RB, Aldrick Robinson WR, Jarriel King OT/OG, Dom DeCicco SS/NLB, are guys with “Potential” to surprise and their draft status should reflect that.

    For what it’s worth that is my take on the “Year of the Reach”.

    For the record, concerning WRs, I like Leonard Hankerson as good as any and IMO he is a better value later, than Green or Jones are early.

  11. john coleman says:

    off the point, but of concern- If DE is a non stat (NO SACKS/ Few tackles) position in a 3-4, why would we consider a 1st rd DE at #9?

    Point is, that if, Marcus Spears was a bust where he was picked, does anybody have a chance of shedding the label?

    If a guy is just going to occupy two blockers and be a run stuffer, how is Spears considered unsuccessful? IMO he was the best runstuffer we had the last 2 seasons.

    At the end of the day, are we doing a disservise to any DE prospect we select in the 1st rd, even late?

  12. john coleman says:

    Oops! c instead of s.

  13. Tyrone Jenkins says:

    JColeman,

    Amen brother to the DE comment. I think Dallas feels the same as you do…

    However, there is SOME value to a run stuffing space occupier DE that can also get up the field from time to time and create some havoc. Stephen Bowen has shared time at the position because of his pass rushing abilities – his limfac is that he’s not a run stuffer/space occupier.

    The problem w/ every NFL draft is that the fans of each team want to draft EVERYBODY they think is good and Dallas fans are notorious for this. To think that some Cowboys fans actually even considered Cam Newton has (because of the high ceiling that he has) is preposterous to me. Dallas, IMO, has the best QB package in the league (better than the Steelers AND Eagles). QB is not a position we will need to look at drafting for about 5 – 7 years – when Kitna gets too old, we’ll just replace him w/ another VETERAN QB and let McGee continue to backup Romo. Some like Von Miller because he projects to be a beast. This is true but I don’t think that projection is SO MUCH BETTER than the Ware, Spencer and Butler combination in that we absolutely must take him if he’s available at #9. If by some freak of nature he were to be available then, I’d still pass on him (unless there was a plan to trade Spencer). Same thing goes for RB – people forget that the Cowboys have 4 on roster right now: Barber, Jones, Choice and (Lonyae) Miller. Even when Barber gets cut, there’s still a 1st rd back available to start and a solid backup in place. Ingram, even if he’s available in the 2nd round, is not a good pick for the Cowboys because it takes away from a pick in a position of need.

    You can’t draft EVERYBODY so, until this free agency thing is worked out, let’s concentrate on the positions that matter the most: RT, FS, DE/NT, OG, CB, RB and K. If the Boys don’t draft anyone from another position not listed above, they’ll be fine.

  14. JC–I think Taylor is a legit first round prospect. He has concerns, so it would be risky to take him in the top half of the round, but whoever picks him in the 20s is going to be pleased, IMO.

    I would LOVE to move down to 15 and get Smith, but I don’t think that’s likely. Castonzo or Ijalana seem more probable there (I don’t think there’s any way Ijalana falls into the second round–if that happens, I would be in heaven).

  15. Tyrone–I agree completely on Miller…heck of a talent, but I would pass on him at 9. You know I have confidence in Spencer and Butler is one of my fav players, of course, but there are MUCH bigger needs than OLB.

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