The DC Times

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

By Jonathan Bales

Dallas Cowboys 2011 Draft Grades: Did ‘Boys Find Value?

Jonathan Bales

I posted a few articles on my thoughts regarding the Cowboys’ first three draft selections, but this will be my initial analysis of their late-round picks.  After a tremendous start to the draft and a questionable second day, I think the Cowboys found some really talented young players today in rounds four through seven.  Here are my grades. . .

Round 1: Tyron Smith, OT, USC

In my initial article on the selection of Smith, I stated how I see him as the future of offensive tackles in the NFL.  His athleticism and upside are incredible, and his versatility will be valuable to Dallas.  I know some of you aren’t as high on Smith as me (he was No. 6 overall on my board), but I think he has legit Pro Bowl potential.  He will be a left tackle sooner rather than later.

Grade: A

Round 2: Bruce Carter, LB, UNC

I was actually going to give this selection a “D,” but Carter’s potential versatility bumps him up a bit.  Despite what others are saying, I can’t see how the ‘Boys drafted Carter to start as anything other than an inside linebacker.  He has versatility to move outside in certain situations, but after watching more tape of him, it’s clear he does not possess the pass-rush repertoire to make a immediate impact as an edge-rusher.  With players like Ben Ijalana, Brandon Harris and Marvin Austin still on the board, I thought the Cowboys missed this one.

Here is my scouting report on Bruce Carter.

Grade: C-

Round 3:  DeMarco Murray, RB, Oklahoma

Let me be clear that I like Murray’s overall ability.  From my scouting report on Murray:

Murray has solid agility and start-and-stop ability.  His quickness and long speed are both really, really good.  He ran a 4.41 40-yard dash at the Combine and he really does possess home run ability.  While I don’t like the timing of the pick, I think there are only a few runners in this draft who are better for Dallas than Murray.  He’s an insurance policy against a Felix Jones injury, which was really an underrated “hole” for the ‘Boys.

Murray is a really good back with a skill set I covet.  The problem is there were a lot of really good backs on the board at the time: Pitt’s Dion Lewis, Eastern Washington’s Taiwan Jones, Miami’s Graig Cooper, Oklahoma State’s Kendall Hunter and Oregon State’s Jacquizz Rodgers.  Why not wait until, say, the fifth round to grab Lewis and take Kenrick Ellis in the third?

Grade: C+

Round 4: David Arkin, OG, Missouri State

The theme of the Cowboys’ 2011 draft was selecting hard workers.  Arkin is an extremely hard worker who excels in pass protection.  I’ve stated before that I think the talent gap between Division I-A and Division 1-AA (or Division II) players is shrinking, meaning selecting small-school players can often hold value for teams.

Clearly I don’t know a ton about Arkin’s game and I need to find some tape, but I do know he’s a very smart individual with tremendous quickness.  Simply for being a small-school player who excels in pass protection at a position of need, I will give this pick a solid grade.

Grade: B

Round 5: Josh Thomas, CB, Buffalo

You guys are going to end up loving this pick.  Mark my words: Thomas is going to be a starting cornerback in the NFL.  He has average size (5’10”, 191 pounds) but good speed (4.4-flat).  Most importantly, he has some of the most fluid hips I have ever seen.  His fluidity and change-of-direction are exceptional.  He played a lot of zone coverage at Buffalo, but I think he has all the tools to be effective in man coverage at the next level.   He needs to work on his press, but the skill set is there guys.

Again, this is another high-character guy who will work his tail off.  Jerry Jones has sometimes been criticized for dedicating entire drafts to one trait (the “special teams draft” of 2009, for example).  A “high-character, hard-working class,” though, is fine by me.

Grade: A-

Round 6:  Dwayne Harris, WR, East Carolina

Many of you are not going to like this pick as much as me.  Wide receiver is not an area of need for the Cowboys and Dwayne Harris probably wasn’t on your radar.  Harris is a Wes Welker-esque player, however, in that he is not very fast (4.55 speed), but his quickness, hands, and run-after-catch ability are all excellent.  With the ball in his hands, Harris is agile and very difficult to bring down in the open field.  He also has return ability, making him the third draftee in the Cowboys’ draft class to possess such a skill.

Harris’ largest weakness in my view is sub-par route-running.  A large majority of his receptions at East Carolina came on screens.  If he can learn to run a few intermediate routes well, however, I think he can be a future asset in the slot for the Cowboys.

Grade: B+

Round 7A:  Shaun Chapas, FB, Georgia

I have mixed opinions on this pick.  In the seventh round, you aren’t going to find an immediate impact player.  So why not take one with high upside?  That isn’t Chapas.  Fullback Chris Gronkowski wasn’t great in 2010, but how about just not putting a fullback on the field at all?  It would sure solve the play-calling problems from “Double Tight I.”

On the flip side, you upgrade a “starting” position.  Chapas is a good lead blocker who could certainly help the Cowboys in short-yardage situations.  He will make the team ahead of Gronkowski, in my opinion.  Good player at a position of little value.

Grade: C

Round 7B:  Bill Nagy, C, Wisconsin

Upgrading the interior line was obviously a priority for Dallas.  The idea is fine, but why not take a player with higher upside?  Nagy played his first game at center in 2010 and played in just three games in 2009 due to injury.

Grade:  C-

—————————————-

Overall Dallas Cowboys 2011 Draft Grade: C+

The average of the Cowboys’ eight picks turns out to be 82.3 percent, but I’m dropping the grade to a “C” because I think they missed on two crucial selections in the second and third rounds.  It isn’t that Bruce Carter and DeMarco Murray are bad players, but rather that the options still on the board, at least in my view, appeared superior.  It still remains to be seen how both players are implemented.

The main points I will take away from this draft are:

1) The Cowboys drafted primarily for value over need.  I’ve explained in the past why selecting the best player available can be disadvantageous to a team.

2) DeMarco Murray’s presence seals Marion Barber’s fate in Dallas.  Let’s hope the same is true of Marc Colombo (Tyron Smith), and even Keith Brooking (Bruce Carter).

3) The ‘Boys emphasized hard-working, high-character players in this draft, which is great.  This may be a draft class that appears poor in 2011 but turns out to be solid in a few years, as many of the prospects seem like the type to work as hard as possible to become great.  Every single one of these players has the potential to be a Sean Lee-like worker and leader.

4) The Cowboys are clearly confident they can acquire a starting free safety in free agency.  With the weakness of this draft class, I think passing on a safety was fine.

By Jonathan Bales

Dallas Cowboys Pre-Draft Rumors, Notes, Potential Picks and Trade Scenarios

Jonathan Bales

There is a lot of information flying around right now about the Cowboys and, as is the case with all NFL teams, most of it is untrue.  Here is what I am hearing about the Cowboys’ draft plans. . .

  • The Cowboys don’t “know” whether they will trade their pick or stay in the ninth slot, as it depends on how the draft plays out.  I originally thought the Cowboys’ most likely trade partner if they move up (for Patrick Peterson) is Cleveland, but I have heard the Browns will select Peterson themselves if he drops that far.  Thus, the most likely trade partner for the Cowboys is Arizona at the No. 5 overall selection.  They reportedly are not in love with Blaine Gabbert and may want to move back.  If Dallas does not move up to the fifth pick, I don’t think they are moving up at all.
  • If the Cowboys are able, I think they will try to move back.  I posted a guide to all Cowboys trade scenarios a week ago.  If I had to guess, I would say the current “pod” of potential first-round picks includes Tyron Smith, Anthony Castonzo, J.J. Watt and Cameron Jordan (in that order).  Thus, if the Cowboys move down a few spots, I think Castonzo is the most likely pick.  If they move down past St. Louis at No. 14, I think they will choose between one of the defensive ends.  This might not be a death sentence, as the extra third or even second-round pick they acquire could be used as ammunition to move up for a premiere offensive tackle such as Ben Ijalana or Gabe Carimi.
  • If the Cowboys stay in the ninth spot, I think Smith is the pick, but don’t be shocked to see the team take Castonzo.  I am unsure on which player they are higher.
  • Ultimately, I would rate the chances of each first-round scenario taking place as follows:  Move up for Peterson (15 percent), stay in pick and select Smith (30 percent), stay in pick and select Castonzo (10 percent), stay in pick and select defensive end (5 percent), move back and select offensive tackle (30 percent), move back and select defensive end (5 percent), other (5 percent).
  • Here is where it gets crazy. . .I have heard from more than one person in the organization that Jason Garrett loves Andy Dalton and will seriously consider him at No. 40.  Dalton may not reach that pick (hopefully), but he could be the pick if he falls.  I think the possibility of it happening skyrockets if the Cowboys move back in the first round.  If the team can stockpile a few picks, they will be far more likely to take a risk on Dalton.
  • Otherwise, the Cowboys may target a free safety in the second round, with Aaron Williams and Rahim Moore both options.  I still think a defensive end such as Cameron Heyward is more likely.  Again, don’t rule out nose tackle Kenrick Ellis.
  • At this point, I would be shocked if the Cowboys pass on Will Rackley if he is available in the third round.

After much consideration, I have listed the players I think are most likely for Dallas in each round.  These names are based on information I have gathered on the Cowboys’ interests and my own views on the availability of certain prospects.

First Round

USC OT Tyron Smith, Boston College OT Anthony Castonzo, Wisconsin DE JJ Watt, Cal DE Cameron JordanLSU CB Patrick Peterson

Second Round

Ohio State DE Cameron Heyward, Alabama OT James Carpenter, Baylor G Danny Watkins, UCLA FS Rahim Moore, Kenrick Ellis, NT, Hampton, TCU QB Andy Dalton

Third Round

William Rackley, OT, Lehigh, Washington OLB Mason Foster, Johnny Patrick, CB, Louisville, Georgia G Clint Boling, Florida State G Rodney Hudson, Miami CB DeMarcus Van Dyke, Miami CB Brandon HarrisMarcus Gilchrist, FS, Clemson

Rounds 4-7

TCU G Marcus Cannon,  Boston College ILB Mark Herzlich, Mount Union WR Cecil Shorts, LSU RB Stevan Ridley, Louisville RB Bilal Powell, Fort Valley State WR Ricardo Lockette

By Jonathan Bales

12 Sleeper Draft Picks for Dallas Cowboys in 2011

Jonathan Bales

Last year, I published a list of 10 sleepers to come to the Dallas Cowboys in 2010.  That list included a small-school prospect who I loved and a player you may now know quite well: Akwasi Owusu-Ansah.  I listed only South Carolina’s Eric Norwood as a more likely “sleeper” to come to Dallas.

This season, I am giving you 12 names you might see on a Cowboys uniform in 2011.  All of these players are either considered unlikely to come to Dallas or simply have not been discussed as much as they should.  Listed after each player’s name is the round in which I think he could be an option for the ‘Boys.

Sleepers for Dallas Cowboys in 2011 Draft

  • Justin Houston, DE/OLB, Georgia – Round 2

Starting with one of the bigger sleepers right out of the gate.  I have Houston rated much higher than anyone else as the No. 5 overall player on my board.  He brings an explosive first step unlike anyone else in this draft.  If the Cowboys have him rated anywhere near where I do, there is no way they can pass on him in the second round.  Unfortunately, I don’t think Houston will make it out of the first.

  • Mike Pouncey, C/G, Florida – Round 1

Pouncey isn’t a sleeper in the sense that he doesn’t make sense in Dallas or that no one is talking about him.  It’s just that Pouncey is projected to get selected in that “gray area” between the Cowboys’ first two selections.  Trading up into the mid-20s from the No. 40 spot would cost way too much, and I don’t think Pouncey will drop out of the first round.  He is certainly an option in a trade down, but can a team in position to secure a true game-changer really sell Pouncey as their first pick?

  • Marvin Austin, DT, North Carolina – Round 2

A lot of people think Austin could get selected in the first round, but he is probably just as likely to fall into the second.  I don’t buy Rob Ryan’s claim that Jay Ratliff is set to remain solely at nose tackle, so I have not yet ruled out the possibility of the Cowboys drafting one.  We are all talking about Phil Taylor and Kenrick Ellis, but what about Austin?

  • Greg McElroy, QB, Alabama – Round 6

The Cowboys have shown a lot of interest in McElroy, so this isn’t a total sleeper.  What will be surprising to some, though, is the idea of the Cowboys drafting a quarterback at all.  Tony Romo and Jon Kitna are obviously automatics to make the roster, and Stephen McGee showed some good things last year.  With so many holes, selecting a quarterback might not be wise, even in the sixth round.  If the Cowboys like a signal-caller enough, though, you can bet they will pounce on him late.

  • Aldon Smith, DE/OLB, Missouri – Round 1

Smith was really the inspiration for this article.  The Cowboys reportedly love the kid and, as I wrote yesterday, Rob Ryan’s scheme will thrive with an abundance of talented pass-rushers (even more so than others).  Smith is still quite a longshot, but don’t rule anything out with Jerry.

  • Akeem Ayers, ILB/OLB, UCLA – Round 2

There is really no evidence the Cowboys are interested in Ayers, but I think he makes some sense.  The Cowboys need to find an inside linebacker of the future to take over for Bradie James, but the hole isn’t big enough to address early in the draft.  If the team is indeed interested in securing another pass-rusher, however, a prospect with inside/outside linebacker versatility could very well be an option.

  • Dontay Moch, DE/OLB, Nevada – Round 3

Moch is a project, so he may not be an option for a Cowboys team that thinks they can win now.  The ‘Boys have hosted Moch, however, and the cost (likely third round, perhaps even fourth) wouldn’t be nearly as much as with Aldon Smith or Akeem Ayers.

  • Jurrell Casey, DT, USC – Round 2

See Austin, Marvin.  Casey is projected lower than Austin, but I don’t think he will be an option for Dallas in the third.  If he does drop there, he makes an awful lot of sense.  More likely is a trade down in the second (or up from the third) to grab him.

  • Taiwan Jones, RB, Eastern Washington – Round 3

I expect the Cowboys to address the running back spot in the draft, but not until the late rounds.  If they deem a back a great enough value in the third, though, he could theoretically be an option.  Jones is a player I could see being very high on some boards (like my own).  The Cowboys have brought Jones in for a visit, so there is some interest.  Plus, Jones could be an insurance policy against a Felix Jones injury.

  • James Brewer, OT, Indiana – Round 2

There has obviously been some talk about the Cowboys selecting a non-offensive lineman in the first round.  I think that would be a mistake, but the rumors make me wonder if they really like an offensive tackle who they believe will be available for them in the second round.  Brewer will almost certainly still be on the board, so is this the player the ‘Boys possibly covet?

  • Martez Wilson, ILB/OLB, Illinois – Round 2

See Ayers, Akeem.  Note that, while Ayers will likely be gone by the Cowboys’ 40th overall pick, Wilson probably will not.  I have Wilson rated slightly ahead of Ayers.

  • James Carpenter, OT, Alabama – Round 2

See Brewer, James.  There has been talk of Carpenter getting selected in the first round, so he is probably higher on most boards than Brewer.  Nontheless, he is likely to be available for Dallas in the second and he could be a reason the team might bypass the tackle position in the first.

Likelihood of Sleeper Picks Becoming Cowboys

1.  Mike Pouncey

2.  Greg McElroy

3.  James Carpenter

4.  James Brewer

5.  Jurrell Casey

6.  Martez Wilson

7.  Marvin Austin

8.  Dontay Moch

9.  Akeem Ayers

10.  Taiwan Jones

11.  Aldon Smith

12.  Justin Houston

By Jonathan Bales

Dallas Cowboys Potential 2011 Draft Pick: Marcus Gilchrist, FS, Clemson

Jonathan Bales

While strong safety Gerald Sensabaugh’s future in Dallas is in limbo, there’s no way free safety Alan Ball will be starting for the ‘Boys in 2011.  Free agency looks like a strong possibility, with Michael Huff being heavily linked to Dallas.

Whether the Cowboys sign a veteran free safety or not, they should probably address the position at some point during the draft.  The position is so crucial in today’s game, and it’s been far too long since the ‘Boys had a reliable playmaking safety on D.  My current safety rankings look as follows:

1. Aaron Williams, Texas
2. Marcus Gilchrist, Clemson
3. Rahim Moore, UCLA
4. Chris Culliver, FS, South Carolina
5. Jaiquawn Jarrett, Temple
6. Deunta Williams, UNC
7. Quinton Carter, Oklahoma
8. Ahmad Black, Florida
9. DeAndre McDaniel, Clemson
10. Tyler Sash, Iowa

I did a feature on Chris Culliver a couple of days ago, and he is a developmental prospect I like a lot.  You can see that I like today’s feature, Marcus Gilchrist, even more than Culliver.  He has just as much upside (if not more), but he is less of a project.  Even if Dallas does sign a player like Huff, Gilchrist would be a perfect prospect to bring in and develop behind him.  Actually, I think teams should start two “free safeties” (or at least safeties who are interchangeable), but that discussion is for another day.

Scouting Report

Gilchrist reminds me of a lot of former USF free safety Nate Allen.  Both players are very versatile in that they can play safety, move into the slot (and cover as well as most cornerbacks), and pitch in on special teams.  Gilchrist is one of the few pure cover safeties in this draft, which is exactly what the ‘Boys need.

Unlike many other safeties who excel in the deep half, Gilchrist is not a horrible tackler.  He’s not a devastating hitter by any means–you won’t see Gilchrist wrap and drive a ball-carrier backwards.  He is a solid tackler, though, who doesn’t whiff on ball-carriers.  He uses excellent form and position to bring the guy to the ground.  Your free safety is generally your last line of defense, and Gilchrist is about as efficient as an open-field tackler as one might hope.  His angles to the football are superb, which is crucial when in the back of the secondary.

Gilchrist tackles well despite average (at best) size.  He is 5’11”, 190 pounds, which allows him to be extremely quick in coverage.  His backpedal, hips, and lateral quickness are all cornerback-like.  His speed is good (not great), but he is “quicker than fast.”  He has athleticism similar to that of Chris Culliver, but superior football instincts.  He breaks on the ball fairly well and is generally in proper position in coverage.

Gilchrist’s range, body control, and ball skills are all outstanding.  He attacks the football like a receiver (see the 34-second mark below. . .that play is ridiculous).  Despite displaying the ability to play cornerback, I think Gilchrist is best-suited as a free safety.  With the ‘Boys figuring to blitz more under Rob Ryan, you’ll see plenty of Cover 1 this year, which means the free safety is in a “centerfield” position.

Overall, I think Gilchrist will eventually be a starting safety in the NFL, but one who possesses cornerback and special teams potential.  He’s a personal favorite of mine (currently No. 35 overall on my Big Board).

Projection

Gilchrist is rising up boards.  Most draftniks are now projecting him to go in the third round.  Because of how highly I have him rated, I would be fine with the ‘Boys selecting Gilchrist there.  It is certainly possible Gilchrist drops to the fourth round, which would obviously be even better value, but waiting that long may not be worth the risk.  If the ‘Boys grade Gilchrist as I did, they need to grab him in the top of the third.

Other Potential Dallas Cowboys Draft Picks in 2011

Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska

Cameron Jordan, DT/DE, Cal

Robert Quinn, DE/OLB, UNC

Cameron Heyward, DT/DE, Ohio State

Nate Solder, OT, Colorado

Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin

Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa

Tyron Smith, OT, USC

Brandon Harris, CB, Miami

Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU

Rahim Moore, FS, UCLA

Phil Taylor, NT, Baylor

Aaron Williams, CB, Texas

Muhammad Wilkerson, DT/DE, Temple

Corey Liuget, DT/DE, Illinois

Martez Wilson, ILB/OLB, Illinois

Casey Matthews, ILB, Oregon

Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College

Mikel Leshoure, RB, Illinois

Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado

Brandon Burton, CB, Utah

Nick Fairley, DT/DE, Auburn

Jaiquawn Jarrett, FS, Temple

Ben Ijalana, OT/OG, Villanova

Drake Nevis, DT/DE, LSU

Dontay Moch, DE/OLB, Nevada

Brooks Reed, DE/OLB, Arizona

Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State

Sam Acho, DE/OLB, Texas

JJ Watt, DE, Wisconsin

William Rackley, OT, Lehigh

Allen Bailey, DE, Miami

Akeem Ayers, ILB/OLB, UCLA

Johnny Patrick, CB, Louisville

Jeremy Kerley, WR, TCU

Chris Culliver, FS, South Carolina

 

By Jonathan Bales

Dallas Cowboys 2011 Second Round Draft Pick: Breaking Down the Candidates at No. 40

Jonathan Bales

With the Cowboys selecting so early in the draft, the number of potential first round selections is limited.  We “know” if they stay put, the ‘Boys will select a player like USC offensive tackle Tyron Smith, Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara, or Wisconsin defensive end J.J. Watt (that is not a conclusive list).  They might also trade down and grab a guy like Wisconsin offensive tackle Gabe Carimi.

In the second round, however, things are a bit cloudy.  I personally believe the Cowboys need to grab an offensive tackle in the first round because the likelihood of a premiere one being available at pick No. 40 is very slim.  I explained how the numbers back up this idea in my article on why selecting the best player available is a myth.

NFL Network’s Mike Mayock, one of the few draft analysts I respect and whose opinion I value, disagrees.  He thinks the value of a tackle like Alabama’s James Carpenter or Miami’s Orlando Franklin is enough to justify spending an early second round pick.  He claims the lack of cornerback depth means the Cowboys should seriously consider Amukamara at No. 9.

While the Cowboys’ second round selection will be heavily influenced by their pick in the first, I thought it would be a good idea to take a look at who might be available at pick No. 40.  Below, I have created a “bracket” with the 16 players I consider to be the most likely to end up in Dallas.  A couple notes:

  • The percentages behind each player’s name are the likelihood he will be available when Dallas selects in the second round.
  • You might ask why I would have any “upsets” since I am the one seeding the prospects.  I have no good answer, outside of the fact that I need to make the winner a surprise.
  • I am assuming no free agent acquisitions before the draft.

Sweet 16

Moore has pretty good range as the draft’s consensus top-rated safety.  The Cowboys have shown interest in him, but that interest could fade if they sign a free agent like Michael Huff.

vs.

I love LeShoure, but he’s certainly the underdog in this competition.  He would be a worst-case scenario for Dallas.

Winner: Rahim Moore

  • 8. Rodney Hudson, G, Florida State (95 percent)

I don’t like the value of any guard other than Mike Pouncey, but he won’t be available for Dallas.

vs.

Paea is a talented player who I believe can play the nose, but I don’t think Rob Ryan will target him because he would be a one-gap player.  The ‘Boys already have that in Jay Ratliff.

Winner: Rodney Hudson

Williams may or may not be available for Dallas, but he is a real possibility if he’s on the board due to his versatility.  I think he’s better-suited at safety.

vs.

Taylor is my top-rated player on this list, but he won’t be around.

Winner:  Aaron Williams

  • 4. Danny Watkins, G, Baylor (85 percent)

I don’t like Watkins at all, but the Cowboys have been following him intently.  He’s a favorite at this point.

vs.

The value would be tempting if Smith is still on the board in the second round, but I can’t see the Cowboys bringing in a player with such character concerns.

Winner: Danny Watkins

  • 6. Orlando Franklin, OT/OG, Miami (95 percent)

Mayock thinks Franklin is a possibility.  That’s good enough for me to rank him as the No. 6 seed.

vs.

Ijalana is clearly the superior player, but I really don’t think he will be available in the second round.

Winner: Orlando Franklin

Heyward’s availability, in my opinion, will be a true coin flip.  I think he drops with players like Muhammad Wilkerson and Marvin Austin moving up boards.

vs.

Wilson is a longshot, but he’s a favorite of mine.

Winner: Cameron Heyward

  • 7. Marcus Cannon, G, TCU (90 percent)

Cannon makes more sense to me than Watkins, but I still don’t think the value is right.

vs.

  • 10. Christian Ballard, DE, Iowa (85 percent)

I haven’t talked about Ballard too much, but he’s a darkhorse.  Still, you have to think the Cowboys have Heyward rated higher.

Winner: Marcus Cannon

I’m really hoping Harris falls to the Cowboys’ second round pick.  It’s certainly possible, and despite other holes, I don’t think you’ll find much better value.

vs.

  • 15. James Carpenter, OT, Alabama (95 percent)

Not a legitimate option. . .I hope.

Winner: Brandon Harris

Elite Eight

  • 1. Rahim Moore vs. 8. Rodney Hudson

Winner: Rahim Moore

  • 5. Aaron Williams vs. 4. Danny Watkins

Winner:  Danny Watkins

  • 6. Orlando Franklin vs. 3. Cameron Heyward

Winner: Cameron Heyward

  • 7. Marcus Cannon vs. 2. Brandon Harris

Winner: Brandon Harris

Final Four

  • 1. Rahim Moore vs. 4. Danny Watkins

Winner: Rahim Moore

  • 3. Cameron Heyward vs. 2. Brandon Harris

Winner: Cameron Heyward

Championship

  • 1. Rahim Moore vs. 3. Cameron Heyward

Winner: Rahim Moore

What have we learned?

Even though I believe the Cowboys will make a serious push for free agent safety Michael Huff, I haven’t simply assumed his presence in Dallas.  Actually, this little tournament has taught us that the opportunity for a top free safety to be available in the second round is pretty good.  If we assume the chances that Moore and Williams are available as those I have listed above (65 and 40 percent, respectively), then the combined chance that one of them is available at No. 40 is 79 percent.  Thus, it is likely, but not certain, that either Williams or Moore will be available for Dallas.

We have also learned that the likelihood of a top offensive tackle being available is slim.  Actually, Ijalana is the only top-rated tackle I have listed in this bracket.  There is zero chance of a player like Gabe Carimi or Derek Sherrod falling.  I don’t see the value in a prospect like Franklin or Carpenter.

The Cowboys will have the opportunity to grab a guard in the second round, if they so choose.  The chance of one of the guards I have listed above (including Franklin) being available is 99.96 percent.  With such certainty, I think it would be smart for the Cowboys to wait until the third round, at the earliest, to address the position.  If we assume that Hudson, Watkins, Franklin, and Cannon have just a 25, 15, 25, and 20 percent chance of being available in the third round, the overall probability of just one still being around is still 61.8 percent.  I say bypass reaching for a guard in the second and “gamble” on one being available in the third.

There will be defensive linemen available for the Cowboys in the second round.  This is one reason I believe they should pass on J.J. Watt and Cameron Jordan in the first round in an effort to target an offensive tackle.  The Cowboys may not be interested in Paea, Taylor, Heyward, and Ballard, but the chance that at least one is available in the second round is 98.3 percent.  Even if we throw out Ballard, that probability is still 88.8 percent.

Ultimately, though, it might be in Dallas’ best interest to look into trading up from the second round.  The majority of the players listed above are nice, but not incredible.  I have Taylor, Ijalana and Harris rated in my top 15 (No. 6, No. 11 and No. 15, respectively).  The probability that just one of them is available, however, is just 60.4 percent.  If we throw out Harris, who probably wouldn’t start immediately anyway, that number plummets to 28 percent.

Thus, I like the idea of the ‘Boys moving up a few spots from pick No. 40 to secure a prospect who can have an immediate impact.  The likelihood of that scenario playing out increases dramatically if the Cowboys trade out of the No. 9 spot.  Would you rather have Gabe Carimi and Phil Taylor, or Tyron Smith and Cameron Heyward?  That’s not a rhetorical question.

By Jonathan Bales

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

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.

By Jonathan Bales

Dallas Cowboys Potential 2011 Draft Pick: Brooks Reed, DE/OLB, Arizona

Jonathan Bales

In my 2011 Big Board, I rated the defensive ends as follows:

  • 1. Robert Quinn, DE/OLB, UNC
  • 2. Justin Houston, DE, Georgia
  • 3. DaQuan Bowers, DE, Clemson
  • 4. Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa
  • 5. Brooks Reed, DE/OLB, Arizona
  • 6. Aldon Smith, DE, Missouri
  • 7. Sam Acho, DE/OLB, Texas
  • 8. Jabaal Sheard, DE, Pitt
  • 9. Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue

In my opinion, Bowers, Clayborn, and Kerrigan would be poor fits for a 3-4 system.  The others would all transition to outside linebacker.

To me, Quinn and Houston are a cut above the rest.  I know I’m much higher on Houston than just about anyone, but he appears to be a much safer pick than second-tier players such as Bowers and Clayborn, both of whom have concerns about their body.

At the end of that second-tier are Aldon Smith and today’s feature, Brooks Reed.  Reed has been flying up boards of late and, if the Cowboys are unsatisfied with their outside linebackers, Reed will be an option.  It’s worth noting that defensive coordinator Rob Ryan thinks highly of the Cowboys’ current outside linebackers, as he should–I graded Ware, Spencer, and Butler as the team’s first, ninth, and third-most efficient players in 2010, respectively.

Scouting Report

As a defensive end in college, Brooks Reed would transition to outside linebacker in the Cowboys’ 3-4 scheme.  The major issue with this move would be Reed’s ability to drop into coverage.  He hasn’t done it in the past, and I don’t think he’d excel at it in the future.  Reed’s later mobility is rather poor and he doesn’t appear to have great hips.

Nonetheless, Reed has been moving up draft boards due to his insane 1.54 10-yard split at the Combine.  I don’t see that burst on tape.  That isn’t to say Reed is a poor player–he does show some explosion and quickness–just not to that degree.  I’d rate his “get-off” as only average.

Reed’s pass-rush arsenal is rather diversified.  He possesses solid spin and rip moves, as well as bull and speed rushes.  None of these moves is sensational, but all are above-average.  Reed is an intense, high-motor player who will work hard to improve at the next level.

Against the run, Reed sometimes has trouble shedding blockers.  He’s not a liability against the run, but it isn’t the strongest part of his game either.  Reed’s production against both the run and the pass was never outstanding.

Overall, Reed seems to be a rather safe pick.  His work ethic and solid athleticism make it unlikely he’ll be a bust, which is exactly what you want in a high-round draft pick.  If the Cowboys are seeking a rush linebacker with a ton of upside, Reed isn’t their guy.

Projection

With Reed projected to possibly go in the back of the first-round, he’d be an option for Dallas in the second.  I personally don’t think the ‘Boys need an outside linebacker that high, but if Von Miller and Robert Quinn are options in the first-round, Reed could be so as well in the second.

Other Potential Dallas Cowboys Draft Picks in 2011

Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska

Cameron Jordan, DT/DE, Cal

Robert Quinn, DE/OLB, UNC

Cameron Heyward, DT/DE, Ohio State

Nate Solder, OT, Colorado

Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin

Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa

Tyron Smith, OT, USC

Brandon Harris, CB, Miami

Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU

Rahim Moore, FS, UCLA

Phil Taylor, NT, Baylor

Aaron Williams, CB, Texas

Muhammad Wilkerson, DT/DE, Temple

Corey Liuget, DT/DE, Illinois

Martez Wilson, ILB/OLB, Illinois

Casey Matthews, ILB, Oregon

Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College

Mikel Leshoure, RB, Illinois

Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado

Brandon Burton, CB, Utah

Nick Fairley, DT/DE, Auburn

Jaiquawn Jarrett, FS, Temple

Ben Ijalana, OT/OG, Villanova

Drake Nevis, DT/DE, LSU

Dontay Moch, DE/OLB, Nevada

 

By Jonathan Bales

Dallas Cowboys Potential 2011 Draft Pick: Dontay Moch, DE/OLB, Nevada

Jonathan Bales

There are situations when Combine numbers matter, and situations when they just aren’t all that important.  For cornerbacks, the much-hyped 40-yard dash is actually pretty vital to predicting future success.  If you don’t surpass a baseline of requisite straight-line speed, you simply aren’t going to be a great cornerback.

There are other positions, such as offensive line, whose 40-yard dash times are basically irrelevant.  I’d be interested in knowing a lineman’s 10-yard split and short shuttle times instead of how quickly he can cover 120 feet.

There are yet other spots where the numbers are simply a guide to either confirm or negate pre-Combine hunches.  If the numbers match up with what a player did on tape, there isn’t much else to analyze.  When the numbers are drastically different from what a prospect displayed on the film, however, it’s time to reassess that player.

Nevada’s Dontay Moch is one such prospect.  On film, he’s incredibly raw.  He doesn’t play with good instincts and seems to lack football intelligence, but it’s hard to ignore a 4.45 40-yard dash–the fastest ever for a defensive end–and a 42-inch vertical.  Can this athlete be molded into an effective 3-4 rush linebacker for the ‘Boys?

Scouting Report

Like I said above, Moch is incredibly raw.  At 6’1”, 248 pounds, he’s slightly undersized for a rush linebacker.  That shows in his game, as he’s frequently unable to hold up at the point-of-attack.  He’s got an incredible speed rush (as you might imagine), but his other pass-rush moves are below average.  I’d point out a play or two in the videos below during which Moch shows his speed rush, but it’s basically every pass play.  The question is whether his speed rush is so good that his lack of a diversified pass-rush portfolio is even that important.  At the very least, his incredible speed makes his other moves much more effective (even though they are still, in themselves, quite poor).  If he can develop another quality move, watch out.

Moch reminds me a bit of Victor Butler.  Butler was a pass rush specialist when he was drafted out of Oregon State (although he’s become a fine run defender).  Moch doesn’t have the arsenal of moves that Butler possesses, but he’s in that same mold.  He’ll have a ton of trouble holding up against the run in the beginning part of his NFL career, as he plays with poor leverage at times and really has trouble getting off of blocks.  The strongest part of his run defense is backside pursuit (see the 3:13 mark below).

Rob Ryan’s 3-4 scheme actually seems to be a good fit for Moch, as Ryan employs plenty of packages in which he simply wants the best pass-rushers on the field.  Plus, in my view, it’s better to stock up on one-dimensional pass-rushers than one-dimensional run-stuffers.

For me, Moch’s future comes down to his work ethic.  He has the raw tools and there’s definitely a football player inside of him.  He has a frame which can and will add bulk and, if his on-field motor is any indication of his off-field work ethic, I think his incredible upside makes him worthy of a look in the middle rounds.

Projection

I have a feeling someone (Al Davis) will overpay for Moch’s potential.  If he goes in the second-round, that’s too high.  I personally think you’ll see Moch get drafted in that latter portion of that round or the early stages of round three.  Dallas might take a look at him there, and although I don’t think it would be horrible value, there are areas of greater concern than outside linebacker (where Moch would clearly play in Dallas).

If teams place emphasis on game film, Moch could very well end up dropping into the fourth round.  That’s the spot where I think he’d hold excellent value for the Cowboys and, outside of a second-round talent dropping there, the pick with which I’d take a chance on the Nevada product.  For me, the upside would be too great to pass on.

Other Potential Dallas Cowboys Draft Picks in 2011

Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska

Cameron Jordan, DT/DE, Cal

Robert Quinn, DE/OLB, UNC

Cameron Heyward, DT/DE, Ohio State

Nate Solder, OT, Colorado

Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin

Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa

Tyron Smith, OT, USC

Brandon Harris, CB, Miami

Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU

Rahim Moore, FS, UCLA

Phil Taylor, NT, Baylor

Aaron Williams, CB, Texas

Muhammad Wilkerson, DT/DE, Temple

Corey Liuget, DT/DE, Illinois

Martez Wilson, ILB/OLB, Illinois

Casey Matthews, ILB, Oregon

Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College

Mikel Leshoure, RB, Illinois

Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado

Brandon Burton, CB, Utah

Nick Fairley, DT/DE, Auburn

Jaiquawn Jarrett, FS, Temple

Ben Ijalana, OT/OG, Villanova

Drake Nevis, DT/DE, LSU


By Jonathan Bales

Dallas Cowboys 2011 Free Agency/Draft Guide: Who’s Available, Who’s Coming to Dallas?

Jonathan Bales

A few readers have asked me to take a look at the free agents in 2011, so here you go.  In addition to analyzing the best available players at positions of need for Dallas, I’ve also provided my assessment of which one is most likely to come to Big D, as well as whether the ‘Boys should indeed address the position in free agency or visit it during the draft.

Please note that there may be a few omissions from these free agent rankings.  Some “free agents” are restricted, have already been franchised, etc.  Also, it’s actually quite difficult to obtain a reliable list of free agents.  Some organizations are needlessly secretive about their players’ contracts, and there’s plenty of inaccurate information out there regarding free agent statuses.  If you notice a player who is missing or one who shouldn’t be listed, please notify me in the comments below.

  • Positions of Need Assessed (in order of importance): FS, RT, DE, CB, OG, SS, ILB, FB, RB, OLB
  • Other Positions of Need: K, NT (if Ratliff moves to DE), Returner, C, slot WR

Top Unrestricted Free Agents

FS
1. Michael Huff
2. Eric Weddle (Restricted)
3. Dawan Landry
4. Tanard Jackson
5. Donte Whitner
6. Darren Sharper

Most Likely to Become a Cowboy:  Michael Huff–I really think you’ll see the Cowboys address the free safety spot in free agency.  UCLA’s Rahim Moore (scouting report here) is the consensus top free safety in this draft class, but many scouts have reportedly given him just a third-round grade.  I think he’s a second-round talent and nothing more.  Huff is the top free safety above and, to the best of my knowledge, he’s unrestricted.

Solution:  Free agency–The 2011 safety draft class is simply too weak to find an immediate starter.  If the Cowboys do address the free safety spot during the draft for some reason, options (in addition to Moore) include Oklahoma’s Quinton Carter, UNC’s Deunta Williams, and Temple’s Jaiquawn Jarrett (scouting report here).

RT

Ben Ijalana is versatile and represents great value in the second-round.

1. Ryan Harris
2. Matt Light
3. Tyson Clabo
4. Jared Gaither
5. Khalif Barnes
6. Jermon Bushrod
7. Willie Colon

Most Likely to Become a Cowboy: Ryan Harris–Why not?  Harris is young and his value has plummeted.  He has a tremendous skill set and something to prove, however, so now is the time to sign him.

Solution:  Free agency if value is there, otherwise early rounds of draft–If the Cowboys can’t find a bargain in free agency, they’ll undoubtedly need to address the offensive tackle spot early in the draft.  I’ve already analyzed Villanova’s Ben IjalanaBoston College’s Anthony CastonzoUSC’s Tyron SmithWisconsin’s Gabe Carimi, and Colorado’s Nate Solder.

Of those players, Smith and Castonzo are options in the first-round, while Carimi and Ijalana could fall into the second.  I actually think the latter two players are the best fit at right tackle, and I would be extremely happy with either player in the second-round.

And for those interested (Mom), here are my current offensive tackle rankings (of those listed above):

1. Tyron Smith
2. Ben Ijalana
3. Anthony Castonzo
4. Gabe Carimi
5.  Derek Sherrod
6. Nate Solder (third-round grade)

DE
1. Shaun Ellis
2. Tommie Harris
3. Cullen Jenkins
4. John McCargo
5. Brandon Mebane

Most Likely to Become a Cowboy:  Cullen Jenkins–I’m really stretching it here with this free agent list, as only Ellis and Jenkins have played as a five-technique defensive end in the past.  The other three players have been three-technique players in 4-3 schemes, so they’re quite unlikely to land in Dallas.

Solution:  Early rounds of draft–The draft seems like the obvious arena through which to upgrade the defensive end spot this offseason.  There are plenty of talented linemen who project as 3-4 ends, including probable first-rounders Marcell Dareus (Alabama), Cameron Jordan (Cal), Nick Fairley (Auburn), J.J Watt (Wisconsin), and Adrian Clayborn (Iowa).

Options in round two include Muhammad Wilkerson (Temple) and Cameron Heyward (Ohio State). All would be upgrades over the current Dallas defensive ends.

CB
1. Nnamdi Asomugha
2. Jonathan Joseph
3. Antonio Cromartie
4. Eric Wright
5. William Gay
6. Chris Houston
7. Ike Taylor
8. Chris Carr
9. Richard Marshall
10. Carlos Rogers
11. Will Blackmon
12. Kelly Jennings

Most Likely to Become a Cowboy: Jonathan Joseph–With this year’s cornerback draft class very strong, I don’t see any reason for the Cowboys to sign a middle-tier cornerback in free agency.  Either go big or go home.  The top three cornerbacks on this list are all top-tier guys (with Asomugha obviously in a class by himself).  I don’t see Asomugha as a legit option, unfortunately, because he’s simply going to be too costly.  Don’t forget that Dallas still needs to re-sign Doug Free, perhaps a few other free agents, and their rookies.

Joseph is incredibly underrated and, if he can be had for second-tier money, the Cowboys could find a bargain.

Solution: Sign Joseph if the price is right, otherwise early rounds of draft–I’ve already broken down the games of Nebraska’s Prince AmukamaraMiami’s CB Brandon HarrisLSU’s CB Patrick PetersonTexas’ Aaron Williams, Colorado’s Jimmy Smith, and Utah’s Brandon Burton. As of now, I’d rate those players as follows:

1. Patrick Peterson
2. Brandon Harris
3. Prince Amukamara
4. Jimmy Smith
5. Aaron Williams
6. Brandon Burton

If Peterson drops past the fifth pick, the Cowboys need to look into trading up.  He’s the No. 1 overall player on my board.  I love the upside of Brandon Harris in the second-round, or Burton in the third.

OG
1. Davin Joseph
2. Justin Blalock
3. Harvey Dahl
4. Robert Gallery
5. Richie Incognito
6. Alan Faneca

Most Likely to Become a Cowboy: Davin Joseph–Offensive guard is a difficult position to assess for the ‘Boys.  Kyle Kosier, who I’d rank at No. 3 on this list, is a free agent as well.  The ‘Boys could re-sign him to a short-term deal (which I think is a good idea, as he graded out as the seventh-best Cowboy in 2010 and the top lineman).

Solution: Re-sign Kyle Kosier and/or sign a free agent–Whether the Cowboys re-sign Kosier or pick up a free agent, I think they need to address the position in free agency.  The interior linemen at the top of this year’s draft class are weak (Florida’s Mike Pouncey, TCU’s Marcus Cannon, Baylor’s Danny Watkins, and FSU’s Rodney Hudson all figure to be in the second-round range).  I like Pouncey’s upside and versatility in the second-round and Cannon/Hudson are intriguing if they drop, but none of these guys “wow” me (particularly Watkins).

SS
1. Quintin Mikell
2. Bernard Pollard
3. Atari Bigby
4. Brodney Pool
5. Roman Harper
6. Abram Elam

Most Likely to Be a Cowboy: None–Outside of Mikell, this is a very weak group of strong safeties.  I think Mikell is extremely underrated, but the lack of talent behind him means someone will overpay for his services.  That shouldn’t be Dallas.

Solution:  Re-sign Gerald Sensabaugh, find depth late in draft–Like Kosier, I think Sensabaugh’s 2010 play went unheralded.  He wasn’t incredible, but he yielded just a 57 percent completion rate, 6.95 yards-per-attempt, and one touchdown (all while snagging five interceptions).  You can see all of his numbers in my 2010 safety grades.

Whoever the Cowboys sign, they should probably look for a mid-to-late prospect at the position (assuming they don’t think Danny McCray or Barry Church are the future at strong safety).  Options include Florida’s Ahmad Black, West Virginia’s Robert Sands, Idaho’s Shiloh Keo, and Boise State’s Jeron Johnson.

ILB
1. Paul Posluszny
2. Barrett Ruud
3. Stephen Tulloch
4. Stephen Cooper
5. Takeo Spikes

Most Likely to Be a Cowboy:  Paul Posluszny–The former Penn State linebacker is really the only option for Dallas in free agency.  There’s no reason to sign any of the other aging players when you already have two of the same at the position.

Solution:  Sign Posluszny if the price is right, otherwise mid-to-late rounds of draft–I really like Posluszny and think he would complement Sean Lee quite well inside.  I don’t think he’s likely to land in Dallas by any means, but I’d take a long look if the money isn’t exorbitant.

If the Cowboys look to the draft to upgrade the position, Martez Wilson if by far the best prospect.  He might be available in the second-round and he could potentially play outside linebacker too.  The Cowboys’ more pressing issues make Wilson’s arrival unlikely, however.  Other possibility include UNC’s Quan Sturdivant, Oregon’s Casey Matthews (yuk), LSU’s Kelvin Sheppard, NC State’s Nate Irving, and Michigan State’s Greg Jones.

RB
1. DeAngelo Williams
2. Ahmad Bradshaw
3. Michael Bush
4. Cedric Benson
5. Darren Sproles
6. Ronnie Brown
7. Tim Hightower
8. Joseph Addai
9. Cadillac Williams
10. Ricky Williams
11. Kevin Smith

Most Likely to Become a Cowboy:  None–The Cowboys will likely be in the market for a running back to fill Marion Barber’s shoes (not literally, as it would be difficult to get one’s feet through the concrete. . .thank you, I’ll be here all night).

This free agent list is impressive, but the top players will all be too pricey for the ‘Boys.  Even a guy like Sproles, who could dramatically upgrade the Cowboys’ return game and be an insurance policy for Felix Jones, will probably command more money than Dallas is willing to spend on a position which isn’t really a gaping hole.

**Note: If Sproles’ asking price drops due to the abundance of talented free agent runners, I think he’d be a really nice option for Dallas.  Others will want a bruiser at tailback, but Sproles’ versatility trumps the short-yardage ability of the big boys.  Plus, I think Jones and Tashard Choice are just fine in short-yardage.

And you know I’m not going to just throw an opinion out there without proof. . .

That’s some mighty fine tasting pudding.

Solution: Mid-to-late rounds of draft–I really don’t see the ‘Boys addressing tailback in free agency, but it’s certainly a possibility late in the draft.  Potential draft picks include Syracuse’s Delone Carter, Oklahoma State’s Kendall Hunter, LSU’s Stevan Ridley, Auburn’s Mario Fannin, and my personal favorite, Pitt’s Dion Lewis.  I really like Lewis.

FB
1. Vonta Leach
2. Heath Evans
3. John Kuhn
4. Deon Anderson

Most Likely to Become a Cowboy:  None–Again, I don’t see the Cowboys addressing the backfield through free agency.  Leach is a stud, but he will probably re-sign with Houston.  Meanwhile, Evans and Kuhn aren’t tremendous lead blockers, which is just what the Cowboys need out of a fullback.  Readers know I like Anderson, but his time in Dallas is over.

Solution: Mid-to-late rounds of draft–Options include Stanford’s Owen Marecic, Pitt’s Henry Hynoski, and USC’s Stanley Havili, although it’s just as likely the Cowboys roll with Chris Gronkowski.

OLB
1. Manny Lawson
2. Matt Roth
3. Thomas Howard

Most Likely to Become a Cowboys: None–This isn’t even a question.  Teams simply don’t allow stud 3-4 outside linebackers to hit the open market.

Solution: Mid-to-late rounds of draft–Unlike many other people, I think the Cowboys are just fine at outside linebacker.  Anthony Spencer will rebound (and he wasn’t even as bad in 2010 as people think), and Victor Butler is ready for a bigger role.

Of course, you can never have too many pass-rushers, and draft options include UNC’s Robert Quinn in the first-round (if the team deems his value to great to pass up) or Nevada’s Dontay Moch, Stanford’s Thomas Keiser, UCF’s Bruce Miller, and Fresno State’s Chris Carter in the mid-to-late rounds.

Overall Free Agency/Draft Plan

The Cowboys desperately need to find a starting free safety in free agency.  In my opinion, no rookie safety is worthy of starting.  There are also some quality offensive tackles on the market, but the abundance of talented players at that position who are projected to go in the late-first or early-second make signing a free agent less likely.

I don’t see the Cowboys signing a defensive end in free agency, as the draft is stacked with 3-4 end prospects.  Cornerback is a tricky position, but I think you’ll see the Cowboys address that spot via the draft as well.

At guard and strong safety, the Cowboys’ best options appear to already be on the squad.  Kyle Kosier and Gerald Sensabaugh won’t demand top dollar and are underrated players, according to my film study.

The inside linebacker, tailback, fullback, and outside linebacker spots could all be upgraded, but they aren’t pressing issues.  It’s possible the Cowboys will look to find value in free agency with a player like Paul Posluszny, but all four of these positions are probably only options in the middle or late rounds of the draft.

Dream Upgrades/Roster Moves (Realistically)

  • FS- Michael Huff
  • RT- Ben Ijalana (Villanova)/Gabe Carimi (Wisconsin) — Second-round
  • DE- Marcell Dareus (Alabama)/Cameron Jordan (Cal) — First-round
  • CB- Aaron Williams (Texas) — Third-round
  • OG- Davin Joseph (and Kyle Kosier)
  • SS- Gerald Sensabaugh
  • ILB- Nate Irving (NC State) — Fourth-round
  • RB- Dion Lewis (Pitt) — Fifth-round
  • FB- Undrafted free agent/Gronkowski
  • OLB- Steven Friday (Virginia Tech) — Seventh-round
  • K- Kris Brown/David Buehler duo
  • NT- Ratliff likely to stay put
  • Returner- Jeremy Kerley (TCU) — Sixth-round
  • C- Develop Phil Costa
  • Slot WR- Jeremy Kerley (TCU) — Sixth-round

By Jonathan Bales

Dallas Cowboys Potential 2011 Draft Pick: Nick Fairley, DT/DE, Auburn

Jonathan Bales

Thus far this offseason, I have analyzed tape of six defensive tackle prospects:  Cameron Jordan (Cal)Cameron Heyward (Ohio State)Phil Taylor (Baylor)Muhammad Wilkerson (Temple), Drake Nevis (LSU) and Corey Liuget (Illinois).  I’ve also taken a look at Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn.

As of now, I would rate those six players as follows:

Tier One

Phil Taylor

Tier Two

Cameron Jordan
Muhammad Wilkerson
Adrian Clayborn
Drake Nevis

Tier Three

Cameron Heyward
Corey Liuget

I see Taylor as a potential monster inside.  It is worth noting that he is the only player who would remain at defensive tackle (nose tackle) in the Cowboys’ 3-4 scheme.  The six other prospects are all potential defensive ends.

Today’s feature would also fall into the latter category.  I hesitated doing a scouting report on Auburn’s Nick Fairley because 1) everyone seems to know his game pretty well and 2) there seemed to be little chance Fairley will drop to the Cowboys’ No. 9 selection.

After a sub-par showing at the Combine, however, Fairley is perhaps a legitimate option for Dallas in the first-round.

Scouting Report

Fairley can be a dominant player at times.  He’s very explosive off of the football and can create havoc in the backfield.  He uses his thick lower body and long arms to ward off offensive linemen.  He does a really nice job of getting his hands into linemen, allowing him to fully extend his arms, disengage, and make plays.  As far as his power/speed combination, Fairley may be the best in this draft class at the defensive tackle position.

A lot is being made of Fairley’s average time in the 10-yard split, but he generally displays outstanding quickness on tape.  Although he has the power to anchor at the point-of-attack, Fairley is also sudden enough to get into the backfield in a hurry.

Fairley’s major problem at this point is consistency.  He started just two games prior to the 2010 season, and he was only average then.  Within individual games, Fairley takes plays off and, at the end of contests, sometimes wears down.  I have major questions about his ability to play hard every snap.  That might be easier if he’s in a rotation in Dallas, but who wants to pay top 10 money to a rotational player?

Fairley plays big in big games, which is certainly a positive, but he also plays down to low competition.  He really seems to only step up when absolutely necessary, leading to questions about his work ethic and love for football.

To me, Fairley is a boom-or-bust pick.  He has an incredible skill set, but what will he do when he’s an instant millionaire?  I’m not very confident that he’ll continue to work to better his game.

Further, I’m not sure Fairley can thrive in a 3-4 defense.  He’d certainly be an upgrade over any of the current defensive ends on the roster, but in my opinion, Fairley is best suited as a three-technique player in a 4-3 scheme.

Projection

Fairley still figures to get selected by a team before the Cowboys’ No. 9 overall pick.  If he does end up dropping, I don’t think he should be an automatic selection for the ‘Boys.  First-round players should have very few concerns (particularly about work ethic) and, more importantly, very high floors, i.e. not much bust potential.  That is particularly true in the top 10.  I think Fairley has a high chance of under-performing relative to his draft spot.

In my defensive linemen rankings above, I would place Fairley in the first tier, but I actually have him rated just behind Phil Taylor.  I realize I am the only person in the United States to do this, but Taylor offers the same upside as Fairley at a position which I consider “more important” than 3-4 defensive end.  Remember, my board is built as if I was a member of the Cowboys’ organization; it isn’t simply generic rankings.

Other Potential Dallas Cowboys Draft Picks in 2011

Nebraska CB Prince Amukamara

Cal DT/DE Cameron Jordan

UNC DE/OLB Robert Quinn

Ohio State DT/DE Cameron Heyward

Colorado OT Nate Solder

Wisconsin OT Gabe Carimi

Iowa DE Adrian Clayborn

USC OT Tyron Smith

Miami CB Brandon Harris

LSU CB Patrick Peterson

UCLA FS Rahim Moore

Baylor NT Phil Taylor

Aaron Williams, CB, Texas

Muhammad Wilkerson, DT/DE, Temple

Corey Liuget, DT/DE, Illinois

Martez Wilson, ILB/OLB, Illinois

Casey Matthews, ILB, Oregon

Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College

Mikel Leshoure, RB, Illinois

Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado

Brandon Burton, CB, Utah