The DC Times

A New Way to Look at the Cowboys, NFL, and Fantasy Football

By Jonathan Bales

My Cowboys Analysis: Offseason Priorities, Rising/Falling Players, and a Mock Draft

I’ve been posting my Cowboys analysis over at Bleacher Report. Some of the most recent articles. . .

6 Cowboys Who Will See Roles Expand

8 Players Rising or Falling on Cowboys’ Board

Top 5 Defensive Ends Dallas Should Consider

Top 5 Remaining Offseason Priorities

A Mock Draft of Instant Contributors

In that last article, I picked players I believe could make the most immediate impact in Dallas. Here’s a look at the first three rounds.

Round 1: Aaron Donald, DT, Pitt

Will Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald fall to Dallas? Probably not, but there’s a decent chance that he falls into the teens, in which case the cost for the Cowboys to move up wouldn’t be prohibitive. He’s the one player it makes sense for Dallas to trade up for in this draft.

The big concern with Donald is that he has just 32.6-inch arms. That’s short for a defensive tackle. Although some players have thrived at the position despite a lack of elite arm length (Warren Sapp, for example), there’s still a trend there suggesting quality short-armed players are the exception to the rule.

When a player records college production as impressive as Donald’s, however, you can put up with short arms to a greater extent. With 11 sacks and 28.5 tackles for loss in 2013 alone, you could argue Donald was the top defensive lineman—not just defensive tackle—in the nation. He has a four-year history of elite production.

The addition of Henry Melton certainly decreased the Cowboys’ need for a 3-technique defensive tackle, but it’s hard to ignore the potential of a Donald-Melton duo. Neither is a 1-technique, but defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli should be able to work wonders with an interior pass-rushing duo with such ridiculous upside.

Round 2: Davante Adams, WR, Fresno State

The Cowboys need a wide receiver. That’s not a popular opinion, but there are few positions at which bringing in an early-round pick could have a bigger impact. Outside of the defensive line and perhaps safety, wide receiver is the Cowboys’ biggest potential area for improvement.

What will a quality rookie receiver do? First, he can help the Cowboys score. Terrance Williams showed promise in his rookie year, but he’s not the sort of player who will consistently dominate in the red zone. The ‘Boys should use tight end Gavin Escobar way more, but adding another red-zone-relevant pass-catcher will help this offense.

Second, wide receivers help quarterbacks nearly as much as quarterbacks help receivers. With quarterbacks getting the ball out quicker than ever, the value of the offensive line has decreased in recent seasons. Quarterbacks are just as responsible for their sacks as the linemen, and having big, physical wide receivers who can be trusted is of massive importance.

Finally, the Cowboys already have pretty good offensive personnel, but 1) offense is more important than defense and 2) they have a really big potential leak: a Dez Bryant injury. The ‘Boys shouldn’t draft a receiver simply because of how much they rely on Bryant, but it should factor into the equation. If Bryant were to get injured (or even see more frequent double-teams), the Cowboys offense would be stagnant.

Fresno State’s Davante Adams is one of the most underrated receivers in this draft. At 6’1”, 212 pounds, he ran a 4.56 in the 40-yard dash. That’s plenty fast enough for his size, but his time won’t cause him to rise up boards like what might happen with Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews.

Most important, Adams dominated in college. In two years at Fresno State, he averaged 116 catches, 1,515 yards and 19 touchdowns per year. That’s insane.

Round 3: Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas

Texas defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat has all the makings of an undervalued player. Despite being projected in the third round, he has long arms (33.9 inches), explosiveness (10’3” broad jump) and a history of production (13 sacks and 19 tackles for loss last year).

Jeffcoat’s potential impact will come down to whether or not the Cowboys re-sign Anthony Spencer. If that happens, Spencer and George Selvie will likely be the team’s starting defensive end duo. If the ‘Boys don’t re-sign Spencer, though, chances are they’ll start a rookie at defensive end in 2014. Jeffcoat might not be the most likely first-year player to fill that role, but he’ll be the best option in the third round.

By Jonathan Bales

5 Defensive Ends Who Make Sense for Dallas

At Bleacher Report, I broke down five defensive ends who I like for Dallas in this year’s draft. Here’s a preview:

The Dallas Cowboys are clearly in the market for a difference-making defensive end; veteran DeMarcus Ware is rapidly declining and 2013 breakout player George Selvie is a No. 2 rusher at best. In addition to defensive tackle, there’s perhaps nowhere the ‘Boys can help themselves more than at defensive end.

The key to finding value at any position is identifying predictors of success that other teams aren’t valuing, or at least aren’t valuing enough. At the wide receiver position, for example, most NFL teams pay for speed when they should be more concerned with size. At quarterback, they seek height when it appears as though hand size is more important.

At defensive end, a lot of teams seem to dismiss college production. They think they can spot talent with the “eye test,” frequently overrating defensive ends who look the part but haven’t gotten to the quarterback at a high rate.

One of the traits teams overvalue seems to be quickness. Certainly quicker is better for every player, but even more important is size. Overall, teams do indeed pay for one aspect of size in height. Height is indeed correlated with NFL success for defensive ends, but as with quarterbacks, that might just be because it’s linked to another trait that matters more. For defensive ends, that characteristic is long arms.

Even though many NFL organizations look at arm length, they’re still acting as though height matters more. We continually see tall players with short arms get drafted ahead of short players with long arms. The latter type of prospect might actually offer the most value, since they possess the trait that helps get to the passer (long arms) but not the one that shoots them up boards (height).

In that way, not all lengths of arm are created equally. A 6’2″ defensive end with 33-inch arms is better than a 6’5″ end with the same arm length because the shorter player is more likely to fall (unnecessarily), and thus offer value.

Valuing both college production and arm length, here are five defensive end prospects the Dallas Cowboys should consider in this year’s draft.

 

Scott Crichton, Oregon State

College Production: 22.5 sacks, 51 tackles-for-loss in three seasons

Height: 6’3″

Arm Length: Unknown

Projection: Early Second Round

Oregon State defensive end Scott Crichton is a really interesting prospect. At 6’3″, Crichton is rumored to have good length for his height. That’s the perfect combination when seeking value at defensive end. It will be really interesting to see how Crichton measures up at the combine; if his arms check in at 33 inches or longer, that’s a great sign.

Crichton was also quite productive in college. Teams will obviously look at sack totals, but tackles-for-loss are just as valuable. They represent the same sort of explosiveness to get into the backfield. Actually, when a defensive end has a ton of tackles-for-loss but a moderate amount of sacks, it could be a sign that he just got unlucky with bringing down the passer, which will improve in the future.

The Cowboys would probably need to pick up Crichton in a trade down from the No. 16 overall pick.

 

Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas

College Production: 26 sacks, 49.5 tackles-for-loss in four seasons

Height: 6’4″

Arm Length: Unknown

Projection: Second Round

Like Crichton, Texas’s Jackson Jeffcoat is rumored to have “significant arm length.” He won’t drop because of his height, which is about average for a defensive end, but he still seems undervalued with a second-round projection.

Jeffcoat had 26 sacks in four years at Texas, but he was quite dominant recently. He played only a handful of games in 2012, but in his last two full seasons, Jeffcoat averaged 18 tackles-for-loss and 10.25 sacks.

The Cowboys might be able to pick up Jeffcoat in the second round without moving up.

Head to BR for the full article.

By Jonathan Bales

Why Cowboys Need a WR and 5 They Should Consider

At Bleacher Report, I explained why I think wide receiver is an underrated position of need for Dallas. I also proposed five players I believe will develop into true No. 1 options in the NFL. Here’s the full article, with a sample and two of the wide receivers posted below.

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The Dallas Cowboys could benefit from selecting a potential No. 1 wide receiver in the 2014 NFL draft.

That’s not a popular opinion, as wide receiver is considered a position of relative strength for Dallas, but the Cowboys could be in monumental trouble if Dez Bryant gets injured, or even if defenses commit more to taking him out of games.

Do the Cowboys have positions at which an upgrade would provide more immediate value? Yes. But outside of quarterback Tony Romo, there’s no loss the Cowboys could afford less than that of Bryant; with the current roster, his absence would result in the death of all offensive efficiency.

He’s that important.

Furthermore, wide receivers are undervalued as a whole. As quarterbacks release the ball more quickly in today’s NFL, the importance of the offensive line decreases. Meanwhile, the same wide receiver types dominate and help quarterbacks as much as an elite quarterback can help his pass-catchers. That “type” is big, physical and efficient in the red zone.

Without Bryant, the Cowboys would be in trouble as they approach the goal line. They need to convert yards into points, and players like him do that.

One reason the Cowboys should target a wide receiver in this year’s class is that there are a number of potential No. 1 wide receivers—meaning someone is probably going to drop too far.

Second, NFL teams are valuing the wrong traits in wide receivers, paying too much for speed and not enough for size, youth and college production. That creates marketplace inefficiencies.

I’ve done a lot of research on the importance of height and weight for wide receivers, and there’s a wealth of data that shows they’re more vital than top-end speed.

Everyone agrees that younger is better for any prospect, but NFL teams don’t act like it. Younger players are superior not only because they can play in the league longer, but because they were forced to play older college competition. When a 19-year-old receiver dominates in the SEC, for example, that’s much more impressive than when a 23-year-old does it.

The Cowboys actually fell for this trap last year with their selection of Terrance Williams. The pick wasn’t necessarily a poor one because he still fell pretty far into the third round, but he played much of his rookie season at age 24. In comparison, left tackle Tyron Smith, who has been in the NFL for three seasons, won’t turn 24 until December.

Finally, college production is important for wide receivers. If a guy is going to excel in the pros, chances are that he did it in college. But instead of analyzing bulk receiving stats, it seems more valuable to look at market-share stats, which better predict NFL success. Popularized by rotoViz, market share is the percentage of a team’s receiving yards/touchdowns for which a player accounts.

If a wide receiver has 10 touchdowns on an offense with 30 total receiving touchdowns, his market share of touchdowns (0.33) would be the same as if he had 15 touchdowns on a team with 45 total scores.

Market-share stats are useful for a number of reasons, but one of the most important is that they account for team/quarterback strength. It’s more impressive when a wide receiver dominates on an otherwise poor offense with a lackluster quarterback than when one excels with an elite passer.

So without further ado, here are five wide receivers the Cowboys should consider in 2014. All have an elite combination of size, age and college production.

Allen Robinson, Penn State

Size: 6’3”, 210 pounds

Age: 20

msYds: .46

msTD: .29

Penn State wide receiver Allen Robinson might be my favorite player in the entire class. With all of the talk about some of the other players at his position, he is the big, young receiver whom no one is mentioning.

You’d like him to be slightly heavier, but he’s far from undersized at 210 pounds, and he has the frame to add some bulk. His final market-share yardage number was through the roof since he had 1,432 yards on 97 catches, but he scored just six times. That might be a concern if he hadn’t scored 11 times in his age-19 season in 2012.

My praise of Robinson is probably the largest you’ll see because I think he’s a less-hyped version of A.J. Green and an inevitable stud at the next level. Dallas would be lucky to land him in Round 2.

Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt

Size: 6’3”, 209 pounds

Age: 21

msYds: .50

msTD: .47

At 6’3”, 209 pounds, Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews has a very similar build to Allen Robinson. He also had 112 catches during the 2013 season at age 21. His market-share numbers for both yards and touchdowns are through the roof.

Even though he is perhaps an even better option than Robinson, he has a much better chance to fall to Dallas in the second round. Because of how inefficiently NFL teams draft wide receivers, there’s even a chance that the Cowboys could trade back into the late second or early third and still grab Matthews.

By Jonathan Bales

2013 Cowboys Draft Recap/Analysis

I wrote a buttload of content throughout the draft. Here are some links. Check ‘em out to read the entire articles.

One thing that worries me about Terrance Williams

I really liked the Cowboys’ third-round selection of Baylor wide receiver Terrance Williams. Although wide receiver wasn’t considered a major need, I’ve suggested for a few months that the Cowboys could be in major trouble if Miles Austin or Dez Bryant got injured; until the selection of Williams—6-2, 208 pounds—the Cowboys really didn’t have another option to play on the outside.

In addition to his size, Williams adds 4.52 speed. That size/speed combination helped Williams explode for 97 receptions, 1,832 yards, and 12 touchdowns last year at Baylor. The numbers on Williams are very impressive, and the ‘Boys surely found value on the star receiver.

But there’s one issue to monitor: Williams’ age. When the 2013 season begins, Williams will already be 24. He’ll be older than some receivers who were drafted two years ago. And historically, older players have performed better in college—and subsequently worse in the pros—than younger ones. How many current NFL wideouts could potentially dominate the college ranks if they stayed until age 23?

Again, I really like Williams’ skill set. Examining his closest comps, we see some impressive names. Take a look:

Terrance Williams: 6-2, 208 pounds, 4.52 40-yard dash, 42 percent of Baylor’s receiving yards, 0.92 TD/game

Hakeem Nicks: 6-1, 212 pounds, 4.51 40-yard dash, 49 percent of UNC’s receiving yards, 0.92 TD/game

Jordy Nelson: 6-3, 217 pounds, 4.51 40-yard dash, 48 percent of Kansas State’s receiving yards, 0.92 TD/game

The primary difference is that Nicks and Nelson were 21 and 22 years old, respectively, when drafted. That’s important.

Tight end Gavin Escobar’s fit in Dallas

The biggest positive for Escobar, in my estimation, is that he’s a big-time threat in the red zone. He converted 13.9 percent of his college receptions into touchdowns—a fairly high rate—and that’s a trait the Cowboys covet. Witten has traditionally been subpar inside the opponent’s 20-yard line, and it isn’t as if the running backs are pounding it in for touchdowns.

Escobar is a really talented athlete—not as explosive as you might like with only 4.78 speed—but a player with tremendous ball skills. He can certainly add something as a receiver, but as I mentioned in my immediate reaction of the pick, the Cowboys don’t necessarily need that. They have Miles Austin and Dez Bryant on the outside, and second-year man James Hanna showed some things last year.

The Cowboys obviously think they’ll be able to fix Escobar’s blocking. As it stands now, I see Escobar putting himself in a poor position and frequently lunging at defenders.

Safety J.J. Wilcox’s fit in Dallas

Upside

One of the reasons Wilcox is so intriguing is his upside. People often view a “raw” prospect negatively, but Wilcox’s lack of experience just means he has tons of room to improve on an already impressive 2012 season.

Jjwilcox2_crop_exact

Plus, the third round is a good time to begin seeking upside over safety. Mid-round picks don’t work out as much as people think they do, so it’s often better to swing for the fences than to land a “safe” player who won’t contribute much anyway. While I don’t view Wilcox as a major risk, there was no player on the board with more upside.

Fit in Dallas

It will be interesting to see where Monte Kiffin plays Wilcox—as a free or strong safety. I think he can play either position, continuing the Cowboys’ trend of seeking versatility.

Wilcox will get a fair shot to win a starting job in training camp, and I tentatively expect him to beat out Johnson and Will Allen for that job. If that happens, I think you’ll see Wilcox as a free safety, patrolling the deep half with Barry Church and deep middle when Church plays in the box.

The Cowboys figure to play a whole lot more Cover 3 this year than people anticipate, so whoever plays free safety for them will be in the middle of the field quite often.

Cornerback B.W. Webb’s fit in Dallas

Scouting Report on B.W. Webb

Webb is a 5-10, 184-pound cornerback, so it’s unlikely that he’ll play on the outside. That means he’ll most likely strictly be a nickel back in the NFL, playing in the slot. He certainly has the skill set to thrive in there; he’s one of the quickest players in this draft.

When you watch tape of Webb, that suddenness stands out, and it’s confirmed in hismeasurables. He recorded a 4.46 40-yard dash, but more impressive were his 40.5-inch vertical, 11-0 broad jump and insane 3.84 short shuttle.

Actually, that short shuttle time was the fastest for any single player at the 2013 Scouting Combine. The vertical and broad jump both ranked him third.

Webb was a play-maker at William & Mary, picking off eight passes and returning two for touchdowns as a redshirt freshman. Webb also displayed big-time return ability, which is where he’ll be able to immediately make an impact.

Webb excels in man coverage. He won’t be able to consistently press—especially with his 30-inch arms—but he actually plays well from a press position where he can mirror receivers. He’s got some of the quickest feet in this draft.

Despite his small stature, Webb isn’t afraid to help out against the run. That’s a primary weakness for current nickel back Orlando Scandrick.

Running back Joseph Randle’s fit in Dallas

Is He Explosive?

Randle isn’t explosive from a straight-line speed standpoint, but oddly, he measured pretty well in the vertical jump (35 inches) and broad jump (10-3)—two measurables that are strongly correlated with the 40. He also recorded a 4.25 short shuttle, which has to make you at least wonder if his 40 time was an aberration.

Late-Round Backs

Even though I would have drafted a different running back at this point, I love the idea of waiting to secure a runner. Since 2000, first- and second-round backs have totaled 4.23 YPC. Compare that to 4.25 YPC for backs drafted in the third, fourth or fifth round. There’s actually no correlation between draft spot and NFL efficiency for running backs, meaning there’s also little reason to draft one early.

2013 Projection

Like I said, Randle will step in as Murray’s backup. The way things have gone with Murray, there’s a good chance that Randle could take over as the starter at some point in 2013 if Murray gets hurt. Assuming Murray stays healthy, though, I’d expect Randle to eat up about 30 percent of the carries and take over the majority of third-down work. That works out to 107 carries, and, say, 30 receptions.

A look back at my original Randle scouting report

Randle is a natural pass-catcher. When combined with his willingness to protect the quarterback, you have the makings of a potentially successful third-down back.

Despite all of his success in college, you have to wonder if Randle can overcome his lack of long speed. He ran a 4.63 40-yard dash at the Combine and then followed that up with times between 4.54 and 4.63 at his Pro Day. Simply put, he’s not a burner.

We can discuss the importance of lateral quickness all day, but you can’t overlook the fact that running backs who have clocked in around Randle’s time have recorded about one-sixth the NFL production of those who ran as fast as Murray (4.41). That doesn’t mean Randle can’t possible succeed in the NFL, but the odds are against him. If the job of NFL teams is to maximize their chances of hitting on any given pick, it’s hard to justify using a mid-round selection on a lean running back with sub-par speed.

Linebacker DeVonte Holloman’s fit in Dallas

Safety Valve

It’s worth noting that Holloman actually played the first three years of his South Carolina career as a safety. He was a highly recruited prep player who started for the Gamecocks as a freshman. That sort of hybrid player is exactly what you’d expect new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin to target at the outside linebacker position.

College Production

Holloman never totaled more than 69 tackles in any season, and that came in 2010 as a sophomore. When Holloman moved to outside linebacker as a senior, he recorded 59 tackles, but he also added eight tackles-for-loss—a career-high—and two sacks. Holloman ended his South Carolina career with seven interceptions.

Measurables

At 6’2″, 243 pounds, Holloman is a prototypical 4-3 outside linebacker. He’s limited in what he can do; he’ll probably be best suited playing as a weak-side backer, although I have a feeling the Cowboys will give him a shot at the Sam spot to start. For the most part, Holloman turned in subpar measurables: a 4.71 40-yard dash, 33-inch vertical and 9’5″ broad jump. However, he also interestingly recorded a 4.26 short shuttle; that’s a really fast time for someone his size and could indicate some short-area quickness.

Grades for some of the notable second-round picks

By Jonathan Bales

2013 Cowboys/NFL Draft Coverage, All In One Place

Okay, so I’ve been late updating the site because I’ve been busy as shit. Can I just say ‘shit’ like that? Yes, this is my blog. Anyway, here are some recent articles/blogs I’ve been working on. Check them out.

Live Draft Blog at New York Times

My Photos from Radio City

That slideshow above contains this photo I took at 2:30 am after everyone except the janitors and I had left. We had some good laughs about the Frederick pick.

Cowboys’ Day 2/3 Mock Draft

Travis Frederick Pick Analysis

Travis Frederick’s Fit in Dallas

Thoughts on “The Trade”

There are two ways to look at the Cowboys’ deal. The first is that they received poor compensation for moving down 13 spots in the first round because they could have gotten a better haul. I think that’s true, and in many ways it’s all that matters. But what about the actual value of the selections based on historic value? Below, I charted the historic value of every single pick since 1990 based on the trade chart and players’ approximate value.

If there’s one thing the Cowboy did well, it was get to an area of the draft where the actual value of picks tends to exceed their perceived worth. That’s always a smart move, but only if you receive the right compensation; it would be foolish to move down simply for the sake of moving down.

Based on historic NFL production, the No. 18 overall pick has traditionally compiled 1.5 percent of the total approximate value for the entire draft class. Meanwhile, the No. 31 overall selection has been around 1.1 percent, with the No. 74 pick checking in at 0.6 percent. So based on actual on-field play, the Cowboys did indeed get value. That’s especially true in a draft class that’s weak at the top but deep in the middle.

Having said that, you can’t tell me the Niners wouldn’t have given up another pick, even if late, to move up for their guy. Despite the fact that the Cowboys acquired actual value in their trade-down, it was the wrong move from the standpoint that they could have gotten more.

By Jonathan Bales

More Cowboys Mock Drafts

Earlier I posted the Cowboys mock draft I completed for Bleacher Report. Well here’s another Cowboys mock draft, this one assuming the ‘Boys can’t land one of the elite guards in the first round.

Round 1: Sylvester Williams, DT, UNC

With Kenny Vaccaro still on the board, I think the Cowboys will realize the safety position is so deep that drafting Vaccaro won’t maximize overall value. If that’s the case, Williams might be a major consideration. From my Williams scouting report:

“Williams is a big, powerful defensive tackle who nonetheless can move with speed. He’s extremely quick off of the ball—consistently the first person off of the snap at UNC—despite his 6-3, 313-pound frame. Like Purdue’s Kawann Short, Williams is one of the few defensive tackles in this draft that I see being scheme versatile. He’s strong enough to hold up at the point, but he’s fast enough to penetrate as a one-gap defensive tackle. He was used as the latter sort of defensive tackle at UNC.

As a pass rusher, Williams parlays his quickness and strength into an excellent bull rush. When he gets a jump on the ball, he can quickly drive interior linemen into the backfield. He combines his bull rush with an outstanding swim move—probably the best in this draft class. Williams also has great play recognition; I saw about a half-dozen screens thrown against him and he wasn’t fooled by one.”

Williams can play both defensive tackle positions and would eventually take over for one of the Cowboys’ two aging interior defensive linemen.

Round 2: Justin Pugh, G, Syracuse

I’m not very high on Pugh, but a lot of teams think he has guard/tackle versatility. The Cowboys have visited with Pugh.

“Pugh is one of those “what if?” players, but we probably won’t get to uncover the answer to the question “what if Pugh stayed at offensive tackle in the NFL?” The reason is that, although he has 6-5 height, Pugh’s arms measure only 32 inches. That’s a death sentence for an offensive tackle in the NFL; arm length is strongly correlated with success because tackles need to be able to fend off tall defensive ends.

You can already see signs of Pugh’s potential struggles when you watch tape of him at Syracuse. While he generally did an admirable job in pass protection, he can be neutralized if a longer defender gets his hands into Pugh’s chest. At the next level, Pugh will face the best of the best—defensive ends and linebackers who all know how to use their length to control offensive tackles with short arms. On top of that, Pugh struggled at the Senior Bowl when he lined up outside.”

Pugh would be a starting guard right off the bat.

Check out the whole mock at NBC.

I also published my final 32-pick mock draft at Dallas News.

1. Kansas City Chiefs: Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M

The only other legitimate option here is Eric Fisher, but Joeckel has been the favorite for a couple months. The Chiefs’ GM reportedly prefers Joeckel, so that’s the direction I’m leaning.

2. Jacksonville Jaguars: Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan

I have to say that I’ve had Geno Smith in this spot for weeks and I just took him out at the last minute because of all the evidence pointing to Jacksonville taking a safer player. I really think it could all be a smokescreen, however, with Smith being their guy all along.

3. Oakland Raiders: Dion Jordan, DE/OLB, Oregon

The Raiders could easily take Sharrif Floyd at No. 3, but there are lots of reports that they’re going to move this pick, possibly to Cleveland. Jordan could be in play for Oakland, but either way, I think he’s the most likely player to come off of the board at this spot.

4. Philadelphia Eagles: Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma

I originally had Fisher here, but the more I think about it, the more I believe Chip Kelly will prefer Johnson—one of the most athletic linemen to come out of the draft in years—no matter which linemen are on the board.

5. Detroit Lions: Barkevious Mingo, DE/OLB, LSU

With the top three offensive tackles off of the board, Detroit’s pick becomes a very interesting one. They could surprise everyone with one of the elite guards, but it seems more likely that they’ll look to upgrade their pass rush.

6. Cleveland Browns: Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama

Despite reports that Milliner could be out until August with a shoulder injury, the Browns have reportedly shown a lot of interest in the draft’s consensus top cornerback.

7. Arizona Cardinals: D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama

This is where things get interesting. The Cardinals would love to see one of the top three offensive tackles fall to them, but I don’t see it happening. There have been rumors that they like Fluker, which would be a monumental reach at this point.

8. Buffalo Bills: Ryan Nassib, QB, Syracuse

I originally had E.J. Manuel here, but it appears as though the Bills favor Nassib.

9. New York Jets: Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida

Oakland is the key to Floyd’s draft spot. If they pass on him, there’s a good chance that he’ll drop. I can’t see him falling out of the top 10, however, because it seems as though enough teams like him that someone will be willing to trade up. The Jets reportedly still want to move back, so I’ll place Floyd here—whether he goes to the Jets or not.

10. Tennessee Titans: Ezekiel Ansah, DE/OLB, BYU

Another value pick, Ansah fills a need for Tennessee. Chance Warmack and Xavier Rhodes are also options here.

11. San Diego Chargers: Chance Warmack, G, Alabama

I actually think most teams will have Jonathan Cooper rated higher than Warmack, but the latter is a better fit with San Diego.

Here’s the rest.

By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys’ First-Round Options

As mentioned, I’ll be covering the draft for the Times and Bleacher Report. My BR content will include instant analysis for each Cowboys pick. I’ve already posted two slideshows at BR: a mock draft for Dallas and a list of the most likely options in the first round.

You can use that latter link throughout the draft. It’s where I’ll post my reactions and grades after each selection. I’ll also have scouting reports on every Dallas pick and revised mock drafts on Friday and Saturday.

By Jonathan Bales

Running the Numbers: “Best Player Available” and My Dream Mock Draft

My two latest posts at DallasCowboys.com have been a critique of a true “best player available” draft strategy and my dream “stat nerd” Cowboys mock draft.

Draft Possibilities Exhibit a Range

So often it appears as though draft strategies are split up into a distinct dichotomy; you’re either drafting the best player available, or you’re drafting for need, they say. It’s so engrained into our minds that it almost seems like a given that drafting for need necessitates forgoing the highest-rated player. But it doesn’t.

The best player available/drafting for need dichotomy fails on two levels. First, it assumes that drafting for need is the opposite of drafting the highest-rated player. Logically, we should know this can’t be true since it’s possible to select the best player available who happens to play the top position of need. When that happens—when a team’s highest-rated prospect plays their primary position of need—drafting is quite easy. Ideally, you’d always prefer to draft the highest-rated player and, if possible, you’d want him to play your top position of need.

But the combination rarely occurs. In most cases, the top-rated player will play a position that’s not the most important need. So what then? Most would say you draft that player anyway, but the merits of such an idea become worse and worse as the position becomes less and less of a need.

For example, if the Cowboys have Geno Smith rated in their top five and he falls to the No. 18 pick, does anyone really think they’ll take him? There’s no chance of it, and there shouldn’t be. That’s because quarterback isn’t a need at all for Dallas, meaning Smith would be the “true” opposite of drafting for need: drafting the top-rated player at the position of lowest need. And it’s easy to see why that strategy, although still a version of “best player available,” is just as bad as drafting the top need regardless of his position.

In reality, draft strategies fall into a range. At the one end, we have drafting solely for need. Such an extreme strategy would be very shortsighted; teams would say “we’re drafting this one particular position, no matter who is on the board.” That’s obviously a problem.

But at the other end of the spectrum is drafting the top-rated player at a position you don’t need at all. In most cases, that’s also a big mistake because the prospect—Smith, for example—might not ever see the field.

Pure Need——–Top Player, Top Need——–Top Player, Lowest Need

In the middle, we have the “Platonic ideal” of drafting—the top player at the No. 1 need position. The closer a potential prospect is to falling in the center of the range, the better he’d be as a pick. When a prospect doesn’t fall into the center of the range, teams should really be balancing their board and their needs. To select a player at a position that’s not a need at all, he would need to be rated reallyhighly on the board—way ahead of other prospects. On the other hand, to draft a pure “need” position, the player should be ranked at least near the top of the board. It’s a delicate balancing act, but superior to blindly selecting the top-rated player.

Check out the rest of the “best player available” article.

And the mock draft:

Round 4: J.J. Wilcox, S, Georgia Southern

Again, the best predictor of future NFL success is college production, but what happens when a player has little experience at a position? Wilcox, a three-year starter at receiver and running back for Georgia Southern, was moved to safety in 2012. After rushing for nearly 1,000 yards and scoring 17 total touchdowns in his first three seasons in college, Wilcox registered 84 tackles and two interceptions at safety as a senior.

In situations like this, it’s vital to figure out if a prospect possesses elite potential but will drop due to a lack of experience at a small school. That’s where measurables come into play. At 6-0, 213 pounds, Wilcox ran a 4.51 40-yard dash, jumped 35 inches vertically, and recorded a ridiculous 4.06 short shuttle. He’s an elite athlete, and in the fourth round, it’s worth the gamble to see if he can become a top-tier safety.

Round 5: Zac Stacy, RB, Vanderbilt

The Cowboys might be tempted to draft a running back earlier, but historically, late-round running backs have been just as efficient as early-round running backs. It’s difficult to determine whether NFL teams are really that poor at drafting the position or if running backs are so dependent on their teammates, namely the offensive line, that it doesn’t make sense to take one early in the draft, but it’s probably a combination of both.

In my article on potential running back picks, I left you with this comparison:

Zac Stacy: 5-9, 216 pounds, 3,143 yards, 5.4 YPC, 4.55 40-yard dash, 6.70 three-cone drill, 4.17 short shuttle, 27 reps

Player X: 5-9, 215 pounds, 3,431 yards, 5.6 YPC, 4.55 40-yard dash, 6.79 three-cone drill, 4.16 short shuttle, 28 reps

I didn’t reveal the identity of ‘Player X’ at the time, but it’s Doug Martin, a first-round pick in 2012. If the goal of NFL teams is to uncover undervalued commodities, Stacy, a player who ranked third in my weight/speed metric, is the ultimate “arbitrage” selection who could offer big-time value.

Round 6: Charles Johnson, WR, Grand Valley State

The Cowboys once gambled on an undrafted free agent wide receiver with freakish size and athletic ability. At 6-2, 217 pounds, the small-school prospect ran a 4.47 40-yard dash and turned in a 40.5-inch vertical leap. His name is Miles Austin, and he’s worked out pretty well for a player no one really wanted.

Johnson could very well be the next Austin. He’s 6-2, 215 pounds with even better speed: 4.38 in the 40 and 4.31 in the short shuttle. For the sake of comparison, consider that Dez Bryant ran a 4.52 40 and 4.46 short shuttle. At a time in the draft when the sole concern should be maximizing the ceiling for each choice, Johnson could very well be the premiere prospect left on the board.

Rounds 1 through 3 are at the team site.

By Jonathan Bales

2013 NFL Draft: Top 5 at Each Position

At NBC, I published my top five players at each position.

QB

1 Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
3 Matt Barkley, QB, USC
4 Matt Scott, QB, Arizona
5 Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma

Analysis: I really don’t like Syracuse’s Ryan Nassib, who many have predicted could be a top 10 pick. Actually, I don’t even have him in my top 80 prospects. Manuel, who recently moved into my top 30 overall, could have the highest ceiling of the bunch.
RB

4 Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama

Analysis: Since I last posted my rankings, I moved Michael into the No. 1 spot over Franklin. I really like both players, but Michael has an elite size/speed combination.
And I published this comparison a few weeks ago, but it’s worth repeating:
Zac Stacy: 5-9, 216 pounds, 3,143 yards, 5.4 YPC, 4.55 40-yard dash, 6.70 three-cone drill, 4.17 short shuttle, 27 reps
Player X: 5-9, 215 pounds, 3,431 yards, 5.6 YPC, 4.55 40-yard dash, 6.79 three-cone drill, 4.16 short shuttle, 28 reps
“Player X” is Doug Martin.
WR

4 Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee
5 Keenan Allen, WR, Cal

Analysis: I’ve had Hopkins rated as my No. 1 wide receiver for a little while, but he’s now my No. 13 overall prospect. I also moved Rogers up to No. 3 because he’s basically a Brandon Marshall clone. His future will hinge on his ability to stay out of trouble.

Check out the rest right here.

By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys’ Potential Draft Picks: RB Latavius Murray and OT David Quessenberry

At NBC, I broke down the final two players I’ll scout prior to the draft: Central Florida running back Latavius Murray and San Jose State offensive tackle David Quessenberry.

On Murray:

It’s really amazing that there isn’t more hype surrounding Murray, who could very well possess the top combination of size and speed of any running back in this draft. At 6-3, 223 pounds, Murray ran a 4.38 40-yard dash, jumped 36 inches vertically, and recorded a 10-4 broad jump.

On tape, Murray reminds me a lot of Arkansas running back Knile Davis in that he’s not extremely elusive. Both Davis and Murray turned in average short shuttle times—Murray’s was 4.36—which suggests they have more long speed than short-area quickness.

Check it out at NBC.

On Quessenberry:

At 6-5, 302 pounds, Quessenberry is a long, lean offensive tackle. He reportedly came to San Jose State at only 240 pounds, so he’s been able to add plenty of bulk to his frame over the years and it appears he can get even bigger and stronger. Quessenberry’s arms are over 34 inches long—a very important trait for an offensive tackle.

I watched all of Quessenberry’s Senior Bowl snaps and many of his practice reps. He’s extremely quick, whether it’s getting into his drop or moving to the second level of the defense. That quickness was reflected in Quessenberry’s short shuttle time of 4.45—one of the best for any offensive lineman. Quessenberry really played well throughout the Senior Bowl practice week, struggling primarily with bigger players like Sylvester Williams (when lined up inside). Quessenberry also got a lot of reps at right tackle, where he looked comfortable.

Here’s the whole scouting report.