The DC Times

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

By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys News and Notes: 6/17/10 (Ken Hamlin Signs, More on Austin/Kardashian)

Hamlin will have to again prove his worth in an effort to land one last big payday.  Hamlin was in a similar situation during his first season with Dallas and played quite well.  He obviously had a down year in 2009, but we still maintain he played better than most people (or everyone) is giving him credit.  We gave him a “B-” overall grade, including an “A-” in run support.  He missed tackles at about one-half the rate of Gerald Sensabaugh and one-third that of Alan Ball, and he also received the highest Dallas Cowboys Times Pass Defense Rating.

As we reported earlier, however, Cowboys fans need not yet worry.  A source very, very close to Austin tells us that while the two have spent time together, they are no more than friends at this point.  Too bad–Kardashian is about the only new “tight end” we’d like to see in Dallas.  Note: That joke is 100% stolen from Amber Leigh.

“I like what’s happening with Buehler,” Jones said. “I like the direction. Is that something I don’t think about? It is something I think about, but I like the way it’s going.”  Buehler led the NFL in touchbacks last season.  His accuracy is essential to the Cowboys in 2010.  We’ve already discussed the extreme importance of having an accurate field goal kicker.


Andre Gurode spends some time with the kids

OLB Victor Butler showed he has great potential last season (at least as a pass-rusher), but Williams probably has the better all-around skill set.  He has been outstanding in offseason workouts thus far.  We think he will ultimately receive more snaps than Butler in 2010, particularly on running downs.

What we learned from this defense is. . .there is so much talent that if they can find a way to force more turnovers, the Cowboys are going to be extremely difficult to beat.  Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett gets a lot of flack for the offense’s poor yards-to-points ratio (we admit a lot of it comes from us), but the number one way to improve that number is for the defense to provide the offense with a short field.

Don’t forget to visit CowboysCorral.com if you live out of town and would like to book a Cowboys vacation package.

By Jonathan Bales

Mailbag: 5/4/10 (Alan Ball, OJ Atogwe, Dez Bryant, Victor Butler)



Q:  Do you see the Cowboys having a problem at free safety?  Do you think either Alan Ball or Michael Hamlin are ready to start?

Michael Burns, Dallas, Texas

A: We gave Ball a C+ overall grade for his limited action in 2009.  Solid backup?  Yes.  Starter-worthy production?  Probably not.  We aren’t thrilled that, as of now, Ball will be the Cowboys’ opening day starter.  Our lack of total trust in Ball is one of the reasons we didn’t like the release of Ken Hamlin.

The Cowboys are excited about second-year man Michael Hamlin.  He has yet to play in a game, though, so he is really an unknown commodity.

We still believe the Cowboys will sign a veteran free safety before the start of the season.  We have even projected current Rams free safety O.J. Atogwe to be that guy in our 53-man roster/depth chart predictions.  If Dallas is interested in Atogwe, they are likely waiting until June 1 when he becomes an unrestricted free agent.  If no action appears imminent shortly after that time, expect the Cowboys to let Ball and Hamlin duke it out in camp for the starting gig.

Q:  Do you think all of the pressure that is being placed on Dez Bryant (receiving #88, all of the post-mini-camp hype) is good or bad?

Pete Garza, Tucson, AZ

A: The pressure is really inconsequential.  Any professional athlete (particularly a first round pick) must deal with a ton of pressure under any circumstances.  Dealing with high expectations is simply part of the job requirements.

Bryant should feel honored that he was given #88.  It is a sign of respect for his skills and projected future success.  However, it is unlikely to affect the way he plays.  It isn’t as if he will be running a route thinking “Oh man, I better catch this ball because I’m wearing #88.”  If anything, it will make him work harder in the offseason to live up to the hype.

More important for Bryant than dealing with pressure is not letting the early success go to his head.  The coaches and veterans like Michael Irvin are doing a nice job of reinforcing to Bryant that he has a long, long way to go.

Q:  Do you have any suggestions for where to buy Cowboys tickets?  Thanks!

Multiple people

A: If you live out of town and want to make a trip to a game, we recommend CowboysCorral.com.  They have excellent game packages and customer service.

Q:  Who would start at outside linebacker if either Demarcus Ware or Anthony Spencer got injured?  The Cowboys seem pretty weak at that position behind the starters.

Jim Weller, Sahuarita, AZ

A: If either player gets injured, second-year player Victor Butler would likely start.  We recently graded the outside linebackers and Butler received a ‘C.’  He is an adequate pass-rusher, but currently has a long way to go before he becomes a complete outside linebacker.  We anticipate him coming into the season a bit heavier and a lot stronger after a year in the conditioning program.

Needless to say, the Cowboys could be in trouble if either Ware or Spencer goes down for a significant period of time.  Watch out for this sleeper:  Curtis Johnson.  We expect him to make the final roster and compete heavily for the primary backup role outside.  He played defensive end for the Colts before he was released and signed by Dallas last season.

By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys Potential Draft Pick: Ricky Sapp, DE/OLB, Clemson

There is no doubt the Cowboys have one of the strongest (and probably the strongest) sets of starting outside linebackers in the NFL in Demarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer.  We all know of Ware’s dominance, but Spencer led all 3-4 outside linebackers in tackles (56) and quarterback hits (26) and was a big ticket to the Cowboys’ 2009 defensive success.

The backup situation at OLB, though, is a bit cloudy.  The Cowboys have two unproven second-year players in Victor Butler and Brandon Williams.  Butler did show some signs of athleticism last season, particularly against the Panthers, but the future contributions of both players is a giant question mark for Dallas.

The Cowboys have shown they are willing to provide their young players with an opportunity to play in recent years.  Last season, they released T.O., paving the way for Miles Austin.  This season saw the somewhat-shocking releases of Flozell Adams and Ken Hamlin, leaving Doug Free and Alan Ball/Michael Hamlin as the current starters at left tackle and free safety (hopefully Free is at left tackle and not free safety).

Having said that, the outside linebacker position is one that seems near and dear to coach Wade Phillips’ heart.  We really think he would draft players at the position with every selection would it not be for, you know, having to win football games.

We have already profiled Michigan’s Brandon Graham as a “Cowboys Potential Draft Pick.” He may just be the best edge rusher in this year’s class.  If that is the case, today’s feature–Clemson’s Ricky Sapp–isn’t far behind.

Scouting Report

Sapp is an ideal fit for a 3-4 scheme at 6’4”, 252 pounds.  He has experience playing in a stand-up position at Clemson, which makes him even more attractive to 3-4 teams.

The majority of Sapp’s success is a result of his speed (4.61 forty-yard dash at the Combine).  The man can absolutely fly and he utilizes his speed regularly on the football field, often chasing down ball-carriers from across the field.  He also does a great job of implementing a variety of pass rush moves into his game in addition to the speed rush.

There are currently two knocks on Sapp’s game.  The first is health-related:  he tore his ACL in 2008 and played 2009 at what he said was “about 60 percent.”  However, he claims he is 100 percent healthy now and he did appear to check out just fine medically at the Combine.  We aren’t particularly concerned with Sapp’s health because of his work ethic.  This is a stand-up individual who will outwork just about anyone, so teams can rest assured that he will do everything possible to prepare himself to play at 100 percent.

The second critique of Sapp’s game is that he might just be a pass rush specialist at the next level.  Some think he will get overpowered if he gets tangled up with a bigger offensive lineman.  However, we don’t really think this “con” of Sapp’s game is justified.  Sapp has the type of frame upon which muscle can be added, and we know his work ethic will have him hitting the weight room to improve his game.

We tend to grade player’s not simply on where their game is now, but where it can be in the future.  As dominant as Sapp was in college, it is scary to think just how much better he can get.

Projection

Sapp is projected to go in the late-second to early-third round range, but, like South Carolina’s Eric Norwood, we are not completely sure why he is not rated higher.  It is probably more due to Sapp’s health than his on-field play.  If the Cowboys have cleared Sapp medically, though, we see his selection as holding incredible value.

For the Cowboys to nab Sapp, they would likely have to spend their 59th overall selection on him.  He may or may not be there at that point, but there is zero chance he drops to the back of the third round in our opinion.

The chances of the Cowboys drafting Sapp increase dramatically should they sign either a left tackle or free safety prior to the draft.  In that scenario, Dallas would be freed up to select the best player available in the second round.


By Jonathan Bales

2010 NFL Draft’s Future Best Players, Part II: Defense

Along with Ndamukong Suh, Gerald McCoy may be the best prospect in this draft.

In Part I of this segment, we profiled the soon-to-be rookie offensive players we think will become the cream of the crop in the NFL. Now we take a look at the defense.

DT: Ndamukong Suh (Nebraska), Gerald McCoy (Oklahoma)

This was really a no-brainer. The top two defensive tackle prospects are head and shoulders above the others. They both have the talent to play in either a 4-3 or a 3-4.

Sleeper: Jared Odrick (Penn State)

No one seems to be mentioning Odrick as a potential Cowboys’ draft selection–except us. If he can overcome some character concerns (which we believe are unjustified), he can cash in his ticket as a Pro Bowl player.

DE/OLB: Brandon Graham (Michigan), Sergio Kindle (Texas)

Graham is a personal favorite of ours because of his ability to not only rush the passer, but also effectively halt the run. He is probably a better fit for Dallas’ scheme than Kindle. Both players will likely be taken before the 27th pick.

Sleeper: Jason Worilds (Virginia Tech)

Worilds is our #44 overall player, but he could move up even further. He had the best 10-yard split of any defensive end at the Combine.

Micah Johnson is similar to Brandon Spikes--poor forty times but great game tape.

ILB: Rolando McClain (Alabama), Brandon Spikes (Florida)

Despite all of the criticism Spikes is receiving, we still look at him as having first round game tape. What else really matters? We view both him and McClain as better fits in a 3-4 scheme where they will have to participate less in sideline-to-sideline pursuit.

Sleeper: Micah Johnson (Kentucky)

Another 3-4 guy, Johnson’s forty time, like Spikes, was atrocious. However, if he checks out medically, he is worth a risk late in the draft due to his athleticism and play-making ability.

CB: Kyle Wilson (Boise State), Devin McCourty (Rutgers)

Wilson and McCouty just look the part. They have tremendous hips and fluidity, and both will also help you out in the return game. McCourty’s size and speed may even give him the highest upside of any CB in this class.

Sleeper: Akwasi Owusu-Ansah (Indiana of Pennsylvania)

Again, another cornerback who can return punts and kickoffs. It is AOA’s combination of size and speed that we love though. He will have to show teams he is capable of playing with the big boys.

S: Eric Berry (Tennessee), Earl Thomas (Texas)

Fairly standard selections here. Berry and Thomas are simply the two best safeties in this draft–hands down.

Sleeper: Major Wright (Florida)

Wright has been slowly crawling up draft boards, even reaching the top five safeties in NFL draft analyst Mike Mayock’s rankings. Is his centerfield ball-hawking ability enough to make up for his poor tackling? Wright is a high risk/high reward selection.

By Jonathan Bales

Potential Draft Picks: Brandon Graham, DE/OLB, Michigan

Graham is a sleeper pick for us. Wade Phillips loves drafting OLB's and Graham fits his mold.

The combination of Demarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer probably makes the Cowboys’ outside linebacker position the strongest on the team (in terms of the starters). We are all a-ware (no pun intended…okay it was intended) of Ware’s dominance. His 12 sacks were sub-par for him (although he still ranked third in the league among OLB’s), but his 17 quarterback hits were fourth in the NFL among all players.

A major factor in the success of the Dallas’ defense in 2009 was due to the emergence of Spencer, who finally became a pass-rushing force. After a slow start, Spencer racked up seven sacks and 26 quarterback hits (the latter led the entire NFL). Don’t forget that 3-4 outside linebackers must occasionally drop into coverage.

Spencer also tallied 56 tackles–the most of any 3-4 OLB in the NFL and 22 more than Ware. His ability to consistently plug the run makes his pass-rush totals all the more impressive.

With such dominating starters outside, could the Cowboys really address the OLB position in the first round of this year’s draft? The answer will be determined by the organization’s thoughts on second-year players Brandon Williams and Victor Butler.

Butler showed flashes in limited time last season, but he is currently more of a pass-rush specialist than a full-time player. Williams is a giant question mark as he lost the entire 2009 season to injury.

Consequently, the Cowboys are a bit thin (or at least questionable) behind Ware and Spencer. Remember that coach Wade Phillips loves drafting OLB’s, and he even went as far as to claim that it is the strongest position in this year’s crop of rookies.

Thus, don’t count out the team drafting a DE/OLB in round one if they determine the pick to hold excellent value. Michigan’s Brandon Graham, who made our “Elite Eight,” could be that player.

Scouting Report

Graham, a 6’1”, 268 pound college defensive end, is widely considered a potential 3-4 outside linebacker in the NFL. Graham’s stock has been rising since he tore up the Senior Bowl. He carried that success into the Combine with a 4.69 forty-yard dash and 31 reps on the bench press.

Graham reminds us of Spencer when he came out of Purdue. Both players are pass-rushing monsters but, just as importantly, they are equally stout against the run. For this reason, Graham will be an every-down player in the NFL, whether it’s as a 4-3 DE or a 3-4 OLB.

He uses his combination of speed and strength to pressure the quarterback with a variety of moves. He maintains great balance and leverage when rushing, which he needs due to his short arms (just 30 inches). He needs to improve his ability to not let offensive tackles get their hands into his body.

There are questions about Graham’s ability to drop into coverage. Although he is fairly quick in short areas, he is more of a “straight ahead” player and may not be able to effectively get into his drop. He can sometimes display tight hips (although so did Spencer). He could have tremendous value to a 3-4 team if he is able to display proper coverage technique.

Projection

We have Graham going No. 12 to the Miami Dolphins in our latest mock draft, although that is higher than most. It is unlikely he will fall to the Cowboys’ selection, but crazier things have happened. Although the team has bigger concerns than outside linebacker, it will be interesting to see what they decide to do should a top-tier player at a “non-need” position unexpectedly drop.

By Jonathan Bales

March Madness: Dallas Cowboys Draft Pick Style (Final Four)

In the Elite Eight of our Cowboys draft pick March Madness, we narrowed the field of potential selections to just four. Unlike the Sweet 16, the Elite Eight featured no upsets. And now for the Final Four and Championship.

Remember, match-up “winners” are not necessarily the best choice for Dallas, but those which we consider most likely among the two.

Final Four

Idaho guard Mike Iupati

1 Mike Iupati, G, Idaho

vs

5 Maurkice Pouncey, C/G, Florida

  • The Cowboys are in a bit of a pickle in that they need an upgrade at left tackle, but depth at guard. Do they address the tackle position that currently has good depth with Adams, Free, Colombo, and Brewster? Or do they take an interior linemen who will likely sit behind Gurode, Kosier, and Davis in 2010 simply for depth purposes? If they select the latter in the first round of the upcoming draft, expect it to be either Iupati or Pouncey. In a bit of a shocker, we are going with Pouncey due to his versatility and a higher probability of being available.

11 Kyle Wilson, CB, Boise State

vs

2 Jared Odrick, DT/DE, Penn State

  • We really like both of these players as options for Dallas. Both Wilson and Odrick are a bit under-the-radar, but we believe they would be good fits in Dallas. The Cowboys are pretty solid at cornerback, but Wilson’s return ability increases his value. Odrick was a DT at Penn State but would transition to the five-technique (defensive end) for Dallas. Ultimately, we see Odrick as a more likely selection due to the abundance of top-notch returners that Dallas could secure later in the draft.

Championship

5 Maurkice Pouncey, C/G, Florida

vs

2 Jared Odrick, DT/DE, Penn State

  • Perhaps surprising to some is the notable absence of both a safety and an offensive tackle in our Championship (and even in our Final Four). Dallas could certainly benefit from upgrades at both positions, but we just do not see the value being there at pick #27. At this point, we see the most likely selection at each spot being USF safety Nate Allen and Maryland tackle Bruce Campbell. We believe both Pouncey and Odrick represent better value than either of those prospects.

We had Pouncey as the Cowboys’ selection in our latest Cowboys-only Mock Draft. In that mock, we said: “A lot of mocks have Idaho guard Mike Iupati as the Cowboys’ selection at #27, but we believe they will value the versatility of Pouncey. If Iupati is still on the board, it will be interesting to see who Dallas has rated higher. Some scouts believe Pouncey is a top 15 talent. He would likely come in and be the immediate backup to both starting guards and center Andre Gurode.”

Dallas missed out on a versatile lineman they coveted last season in Oregon’s Max Unger. History will not repeat itself in 2010.

Florida C/G Maurkice Pouncey. . . future Dallas Cowboy?

By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys Potential Draft Picks: Devin McCourty, CB, Rutgers

McCourty's versatility to play both outside and in the slot and to return kicks will help his value.

We recently detailed the 2009 success of the Cowboys’ cornerbacks in our Grading the ‘Boys segment. Nickel cornerback Orlando Scandrick struggled some in ’09, but starters Mike Jenkins and Terence Newman were outstanding. Newman’s health proved to be a ticket to the Cowboys’ defensive success.

With such strong starters in place (and Scandrick set to rebound nicely in 2010), the Cowboys have no need to address the position early in the draft. Newman is aging and a team can never have too many talented cornerbacks, but the position is not an area of immediate need.

There is one big “unless,” however. . .UNLESS that cornerback is an excellent return man. In our last “Potential Draft Picks” post, we profiled Indiana of Pennsylvania cornerback/return man Akwasi Owusu-Ansah, a.k.a. “AOA.” AOA figures to be a second or third round selection.

The feature of this article, Rutgers CB Devin McCourty, will not last until the Cowboys second round pick. His 4.34 forty at the Combine cemented his status as, at worst, an early-to-mid second-rounder.

Is it really possible that the Cowboys could use their 27th overall pick on a player at a position which is such a strength of the team? If they consider McCourty a top-notch returner, then yes.

Scouting Report

At 5’11”, 193 pounds, McCourty has the size to play either outside or in the slot. This versatility might make him more attractive to the Cowboys than AOA, who likely will only line up outside. His 4.34 Combine forty was the fastest of any cornerback. He also displayed outstanding hip fluidity and change of direction.

McCourty’s 16 bench press reps are not off the charts, but at 193 pounds, it proves that he has been in the weight room. His work ethic and skill set are such that we would not be surprised if he is deemed the best cornerback of this draft class five years down the road.

McCourty will have to improve his tackling form in the NFL. At Rutgers, he frequently dove at the feet of ball-carriers instead of wrapping up. Newman has shown it is not necessary to be a huge player to become an excellent tackler.

Also like Newman, McCourty may have to work on securing interceptions. His speed and quickness allow him to be in position virtually every play, but he will sometimes bat the ball down when it appears he could pick it off.

On returns, McCourty shows tremendous burst and decision-making. He hits the hole at full speed, showing no hesitation. While most of the returners we have profiled are primarily punt returners, McCourty is actually superior on kickoffs. This may be valuable to Dallas, who struggled mightily on kickoff returns with the hesitant Felix Jones and Kevin Ogletree back deep.

Projection

To secure McCourty, Dallas would likely have to use their first round selection. There is a slight chance that he is taken before their 27th overall pick, but he will more than likely be available. We currently have McCourty going No. 30 overall to the Vikings in our latest mock draft.

McCourty is in a battle with FSU’s Patrick Robinson to be the third CB drafted in 2010. Even if Robinson surpasses him, McCourty is unlikely to sniff the Cowboys’ 59th overall selection in the second round.

By Jonathan Bales

2010 NFL Starting Quarterback Power Rankings



Quarterback is the most important position in all of sports, and below is our rating of all 32 (predicted) starting quarterbacks for 2010.

No. 31 Jake Delhomme

32. Brian Brohm, Buffalo Bills

Will Brohm win the starting job in Buffalo? It really doesn’t matter who starts for the Bills–they will be last on our list.

31. Jake Delhomme, Cleveland Browns

Delhomme was once a starting Super Bowl QB. Now the only way he will get back to a Super Bowl is to buy a ticket.

30. Bruce Gradkowski, Oakland Raiders

Although there are reports that Jamarcus Russell has changed his ways, we still believe Gradkowski gives Oakland the best chance to win.

29. Alex Smith, San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers transitioned to a spread offense over the second half of last season and it served Smith quite well. Let’s see how he performs after an entire offseason in the system.

28. Marc Bulger, St. Louis Rams

Bulger’s demise is a perfect example of what can happen to a quarterback with no offensive line.

27. Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay Bucs

Freeman showed poise and leadership in his rookie season, even leading Tampa Bay on a game-winning drive against Green Bay.

26. Kyle Orton, Denver Broncos

No. 25 Matt Leinart

The Broncos have claimed that Orton will remain their starter, but he is on a short leash with Brady Quinn now waiting in the wings.

25. Matt Leinart, Arizona Cardinals

Leinart finally gets his chance to start, although he will have to hold off free agent acquisition Derek Anderson.

24. Jason Campbell, Washington Redskins

Judging Campbell’s ability is extremely difficult because of his porous offensive line. On a different team, who knows what he would do?

23. David Garrard, Jacksonville Jaguars

Garrard’s time as a starting NFL quarterback is slipping away. He needs to pray the Jags don’t select Tim Tebow. Perhaps he should just tell Tebow and he can relay the message directly to Jesus.

22. Matt Moore, Carolina Panthers

We have high expectations for Matt Moore. He is only this low on the list due to inexperience.

21. Matt Cassel, Kansas City Chiefs

2010 will be a defining year for Cassel. Is he a future NFL star or was he simply a one-hit wonder in New England?

20. Matt Hasselbeck, Seattle Seahawks

There is an outside chance Hasselbeck isn’t even the opening day starter, although Seattle will likely attempt to slowly incorporate Charlie Whitehurst into the lineup.

No. 18 Mark Sanchez

19. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions

We didn’t like Stafford coming out of college in ’09, but he grew on us. His ability to play through pain against Cleveland was admirable.

18. Mark Sanchez, New York Jets

When Mark Sanchez wasn’t busy eating hot dogs on the sideline during his rookie season, he enjoyed great success. The expectations for him this season are through the roof.

17. Chad Henne, Miami Dolphins

We may be in the minority, but we believe Henne has that ‘it’ factor. He is poised to have a big year in 2010.

16. Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears

Cutler is so streaky that Chicago has no chance of going far in the playoffs (or even making it) unless he becomes more conservative.

15. Donovan McNabb, Philadelphia Eagles

McNabb is certainly talented, but he has yet to show that he can lead a team to a championship. A quarterback without leadership skills is just a passer.

14. Vince Young, Tennessee Titans

Young’s career has been a roller coaster thus far. Despite his off-field struggles, however, he usually just finds a way to win.

13. Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens

No. 11 Matt Schaub

With a new arsenal of weapons outside, Flacco is poised to take a big step forward in 2010. We’ll see if he can handle the pressure.

12. Carson Palmer, Cincinnati Bengals

Carson has been quiet the past few years. His time is running out to prove he is a winner and not just a stat guy.

11. Matt Schaub, Houston Texans

Like Aaron Rodgers, Schaub has put up some huge numbers. To take his game to the next level, he must get Houston to the playoffs.

10. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons

Ryan came back to reality a bit in his second season after a stellar rookie campaign. Still, he is ahead of the pace for most third-year quarterbacks.

Note: There sure are a lot of “Matt’s” starting at QB in the NFL. This is the 7th, meaning over 20 percent of the league’s starting quarterbacks go by the moniker.

9. Eli Manning, New York Giants

If it was not for one magical season, fans would likely be calling for Eli’s head. He simply has not played at an elite level since losing Plaxico Burress.

No. 6 Philip Rivers

8. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers

Who has the highest passer rating in NFL history? Joe Montana? Peyton Manning? It belongs to Rodgers, believe it or not.

7. Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys

Romo gets a lot of heat, but he is just behind Rodgers with the fourth-highest passer rating in the history of the NFL. He will win a championship before his career is over.

6. Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers

We love the fire Rivers displays each and every week. The man played an entire game on a torn knee.

5. Brett Favre, Minnesota Vikings

We expect a lot of harsh words for placing Favre so low on our list, but his offseason antics have just grown old.

4. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers

Times are tough for Roethlisberger right now, and his future in Pittsburgh may even be uncertain. On the field, though, he is a leader and a winner.

No. 1 Tom Brady

3. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints

Brees is on the top of the world right now. Let’s see how he and the Saints respond next season after tasting success.

2. Peyton Manning, Indianapolis Colts

Did Peyton need to win Super Bowl 44 to be considered one of the top two or three quarterbacks ever? Only time will tell, but his 9-9 postseason record is the difference between him and Brady.

1. Tom Brady, New England Patriots

The Brady/Manning debate causes blood to boil, but there is really no debate in our minds. Brady is king.

Think we screwed up? Tell us why below.

By Jonathan Bales

Mailbag: 3/22/10 (3-4 OLB’s, Taylor Mays, Marion Barber to Fullback)

Q: Why does everybody look for college defensive ends to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense? Why not move a fast 6’3”, 260lb guy to inside linebacker?

John Coleman, Bassett, VA

A: The reason 3-4 outside linebackers are generally college defensive ends has to do with the similarities between the positions. Both 3-4 OLB’s and 4-3 DE’s are almost always rushing the passer. They develop similar pass-rush moves and, although a 3-4 OLB rushes from a standing position, the general mindset of the two positions is equivalent.

3-4 OLB's like Victor Butler were generally 4-3 defensive ends in college because the positions require a similar skill set.

An inside linebacker does not rush the quarterback. He may come on blitzes from time to time, but the primary goal of an ILB is not to sack the quarterback–it is to read a play and react by either stuffing a run or dropping into coverage.

Thus, the positional designation of a player is not solely determined by size and speed, but more so by skill set. College defensive ends, although sometimes the same size as a 3-4 inside backer, rarely have the fluidity and change of direction to efficiently drop into ILB coverages. Remember that speed is not everything. Just because a college DE runs a 4.6 does not mean he has the quickness or the hips to play ILB.

3-4 outside backers, on the other hand, are almost always rushing the quarterback. When they are not, they are very rarely asked to do anything but drop into the flat.

It is these differences in athleticism and mindset that make a transition from 4-3 defensive end to 3-4 inside linebacker basically non-existent.

Q: Why do you guys hate USC safety Taylor Mays so much? He is an incredible athlete and even if he can’t play safety, the Cowboys could move him to linebacker.

Jeremy Frederick, Arlington, TX

A: We don’t hate Taylor Mays. He is a hard-worker and a good kid. We simply think he would be a poor fit in Dallas. As you point out, he is certainly an incredible athlete. Incredible athletes don’t necessarily win games though. Good football players win games.

In our opinion, Mays does not properly translate his athleticism to the football field. He was rather unproductive at USC, particularly the last two seasons.

If Dallas does make a change at safety, it will likely be for a “ball-hawk.” Mays is a hard hitter and possesses great straight-line speed, but the last thing we would characterize him as is a “ball-hawk.”

Barber is capable of playing fullback once in awhile but a full-time switch is unrealistic.

At 230 pounds, Mays is also way too undersized to play linebacker in a 3-4 defense. Further, why would the Cowboys want to invest a first round pick in a player who would take a few years to transition to a position he has never before played?

Q: Is it possible for the Cowboys to move Marion Barber to fullback? Deon Anderson might not be back, and it would allow two talented ball-carriers to be on the field together. Thanks!

Alicia Packard, Tampa Bay, FL

A: Barber has lined up at fullback in the past, particularly in short-yardage situations. The Cowboys don’t generally call traditional running plays (power, lead, iso) with Barber at fullback. Quite frankly, offensive coordinator Jason Garrett has been rather predictable in these situations, either handing the ball off to Barber on a dive or faking the dive and pitching outside to Felix Jones.

There do seem to be some situations where Barber could be used effectively at fullback, particularly on pass plays (as he is excellent as both a receiver out of the backfield and in pass protection).

The problem is Barber has little experience being a lead blocker, so designating him as a true fullback is not an option. He can be a “specialty fullback” (if there is such a thing), but utilizing him consistently in a Deon Anderson-esque role is not going to be successful.

Let’s just hope for these reasons that Deon Anderson returns to the team in 2010.

By Jonathan Bales

How Important is Intelligence in Football?

With so much attention being placed on the Wonderlic exam, we want to address the importance of intelligence in football. First, let’s take a look at some interesting Wonderlic scores (the highest attainable score is 50):

Contrary to popular belief, Randy Moss is actually one of the smartest players in the NFL.

Dan Marino- 15

Ben Watson- 48

Vince Young- 15

Michael Vick- 20

Kevin Curtis- 48

Matt Leinart- 35

Drew Henson- 42

Donovan McNabb- 14

Terry Bradshaw- 15

Jim Kelly- 15

Randall Cunningham- 15

Ryan Leaf- 27

Steve McNair- 15

Jason Garrett- 36

Troy Aikman- 29

Clearly a high Wonderlic score is not a golden ticket to future NFL success, while a low one is not necessarily indicative of future failures. Except in the case of McNabb. 14. Nice.

But how important is true intelligence, apart from a standardized test result, in becoming a successful NFL player? We would argue that more important than being intelligent is being able to translate one’s intelligence to the football field. Dan Marino’s Wonderlic score of 15 obviously left something to be desired, but he certainly had “football smarts.”

Going hand-in-hand with intelligence is player conduct. When analyzing character, teams not only search through a player’s history of conduct, but also attempt to determine if he is intelligent enough to stay out of trouble in the future.

Two contrasting example of this are Randy Moss and Ryan Leaf. Moss slipped in the 1998 Draft due to concerns about his character (as Cowboys fans know all too well). However, Moss has used his intelligence to (generally) avoid trouble since entering the league. In fact, Moss was voted one of the smartest players in the entire NFL by his peers.

On the other end of the spectrum is Leaf, whose struggles are well-documented. Leaf didn’t fail in the NFL because of a lack of talent, though, but rather because he was a headcase. Despite scoring a 27 on the Wonderlic (a fairly good score), Leaf was one of the dumbest players we can remember. He did not translate his intelligence into becoming a better football player.

The key for teams is not only to decipher players’ intelligence, but also their ability to implement those smarts into improving on the field. For the Cowboys, it could mean the difference between either drafting or missing out on this year’s Randy Moss.