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

Dallas Cowboys Times’ Final 2009 Offense Grades, Player Rankings

About a week ago, we published our final Cowboys defensive player rankings for the 2009 season.  A few surprises were included, such as Keith Brooking being rated higher than Jay Ratliff, and Victor Butler ahead of Gerald Sensabaugh (don’t forget our ratings are not for overall production, but rather efficiency).

Now, we have concluded our “Grading the ‘Boys” Series, with the final offensive player rankings below.  You can find each individual offensive position study here: quarterback, running backs, tight ends, wide receivers, offensive line (run blocking), offensive line (pass protection). We will post overall player rankings (both offense and defense) in the near future.

A few notes before reading:

  • This is not a comprehensive list of everyone who played offense last season, but rather those players who participated in enough plays to gather statistically significant results.
  • It is also not a ranking of the best offensive players, but rather a list of the most important players to the team (as we see it) in 2009.
  • Lastly, players listed in blue are those we expect to improve in 2010.  We anticipate a decline in production from those players listed in red, and neither a vast improvement or deterioration in play from those listed in black.

1.  QB Tony Romo:  94.0 (A)

Threw only six interceptions over final 14 regular season games

T2.  TE Jason Witten:  93.0 (A-)

Team averaged nearly two full yards-per-attempt better when he was in route (9.3 yards) versus blocking (7.4)

T2.  WR Miles Austin:  93.0 (A-)

Dropped only 2.2% of balls and tallied an incredible 10.4 yards-per-attempt

T2. RG Leonard Davis:  93.0 (A-)

Average of 4.57 yards-per-carry when at point-of-attack is outstanding for guard; also gave up lowest negative run percentage

5.  C Andre Gurode:  91.0 (A-)

Solid in the run game and yielded least pressures and hits of any lineman–could be most crucial component of line in 2010

6. RB Felix Jones:  89.8 (A-)

Surprisingly the team’s top runner after contact (3.3 yards-after contact per run); averaged an incredible 10.0 yards-per-carry on 22 counter runs

7. RB Tashard Choice:  87.3 (B+)

Team-high 31.8% of runs up the middle and 5.8 yards-per-carry in that area could make him the 2010 short-yardage RB

8.  LG Kyle Kosier:  85.4 (B)

Perhaps offense’s most underrated player–led offensive line with just one sack yielded in 2009

9.  RT Doug Free:  80.6 (B-)

Will utilize athleticism at left tackle, but 4.54 yards-per-rush behind him last season much too low for right tackle

10.  TE Martellus Bennett:  80.0 (B-)

Quietly one of the team’s better blockers, but needs to increase his 51.7% completion percentage on balls thrown his way

11.  RT Marc Colombo:  79.4 (B-)

Gave up highest percentage of quarterback hits (by far) and largest percentage of negative runs (by far)

12.  TE John Phillips:  78.0 (C+)

Nice rookie season, but must improve as a blocker, particularly out of fullback position (only 3.7 yards-per-rush when in game)

13. RB Marion Barber:  77.2 (C+)

Name in red due to projected lack of production, not efficiency in 2010–should improve with less touches

14.  WR Patrick Crayton:  77.0 (C+)

Reliable player who lacks explosiveness–could be on another team in 2010

15.  LT Flozell Adams:  73.4 (C-)

Still a good run blocker, but led team in sacks, pressures, and penalties

16.  WR Roy Williams:  67.4 (D+)

Only 46.2% of targets ended in completion, but he will improve in 2010

By Jonathan Bales

Comparing 53-Man Roster Projections: Is Romo on the Bubble?

We sincerely hope you immediately realized that title was a joke.  If you are one of the coo coo fans who thinks Tony Romo needs to go, then you probably don’t have the requisite background to appreciate a debate concerning rookie free agent Scott Sicko’s chance of making the 53-man roster.

Alrighty. . . now that we have effectively alienated half of our fan base (hey, it’s what we do), we wanted to point you in the direction of Dallas Morning News’ reporter Todd Archer’s 53-man roster projection.  As you may recall, we predicted the final roster cuts about a week ago.  Archer envisions the Cowboys taking quite a different approach.

First for the similarities:

  • Quarterback, running back, and the specialty positions are all fairly easy to predict (although K David Buehler may eventually have company), and are thus identical between us.
  • Archer joins us as one of the few to believe six wide receivers (Austin, Williams, Bryant, Crayton, Ogletree, and Hurd) will all make the final roster.

Surprisingly, the similarities stop there.  Here is what we have different:

  • Archer envisions FB Deon Anderson being released and the Cowboys not even bothering to keep a fullback.  He believes undrafted rookie TE Scott Sicko will be the main beneficiary of that move.

We disagree with this prediction because the fullback position is actually quite vital to the Cowboys’ offense.  Don’t forget that, according to a study we published just after the 2009 season concluded, Anderson was far superior in run blocking than TE John Phillips (to the tune of nearly two yards-per-carry more with Anderson in the game despite a 3:1 run-to-pass ratio during those plays).  The difference in the efficiency of the passing game with each player in the lineup was negligible.  See the chart to the left for more details.

  • Archer, like us, is projecting the Cowboys to retain nine offensive linemen.  We actually only have one player different on the entire line:  he has last year’s practice squad guard Travis Bright substituted for Cory Procter.

We actually believe Bright is a superior player and even had him in our initial roster projection, but we all know the coaching staff values Procter’s versatility to play both center and guard.  For this reason, we see the band “Free Reign” sticking together for another season.

  • We have one extra defensive lineman (Marcus Dixon) making the cut.

We both agree on rookie seventh-rounder Sean Lissemore having a difficult time making the squad (although we are rooting for him).  The issue is that the Cowboys may not have a true backup nose tackle behind Ratliff if Junior Siavii is let go.  If Lissemore can prove he is up for the task of playing inside, he could take Siavii’s spot.

Archer is projecting just six defensive linemen to make the final roster.  However, Coach Phillips loves to rotate defensive linemen, so we believe there could easily be a seventh defensive line spot available.  We see it going to Marcus Dixon, a player is improving vastly from year to year.  We really don’t think there is any way the Cowboys will be able to keep him off of the roster this season.  For more on Dixon, check out our interview with the up-and-coming defensive end.

  • We believe the Cowboys will keep a fifth outside linebacker (Curtis Johnson).

The Cowboys are in the business of retaining the best football players possible.  Johnson is a highly underrated pass-rusher who could act as a security blanket for the Cowboys.  Without him, the team would be relying on inexperienced second-year players Victor Butler and Brandon Williams to be the primary backups to Demarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer.  We wrote about this scenario in a recent Mailbag.

  • Archer believes the Cowboys will keep the standard five cornerbacks, while we believe it could be just four.

    The versatility of AOA could allow the Cowboys to keep just four true CBs.

Only four cornerbacks in this day and age?  The reason behind our prediction is that the Cowboys will have two safeties on the roster (Alan Ball and rookie Akwasi Owusu-Ansah) who will be able to play cornerback.  In a way, the team will really have six cornerbacks on the roster even if they only list four at the position.

Archer also believes the Cowboys will keep two rookies: Jamar Wall and undrafted free agent Bryan McCann.  McCann is actually a player we predicted the Cowboys might select late in the draft.

We believe the versatility of the Cowboys’ safeties means both players could have trouble making the squad.  Wall struggled badly in mini-camp and McCann will have an uphill battle as an undrafted player and with Wall already ahead of him.

The reason we have neither Wall nor McCann making the final roster is due to a player many Cowboys fans probably don’t even know (but one the coaches love)–Cletis Gordon.  Now, Gordon’s opportunity to make the final cut may have shrunk once the Cowboys upgraded the return spots with Dez Bryant and AOA (Gordon was–and still is–a sleeper to return kickoffs), but we think the coaches will ultimately deem Gordon as the fourth-best cornerback on the roster.

  • Archer, like us, is projecting five safeties to make the roster.  He believes the fifth guy will be undrafted free agent Barry Church, however, while we see the Cowboys signing soon-to-be unrestricted free agent O.J. Atogwe.

We are going out on a limb to project a player on another team who is not even currently an unrestricted free agent (he becomes one on June 1) to come to Dallas, but we don’t see how the Cowboys can be comfortable with either Alan Ball or Michael Hamlin starting at free safety.

Ball played adequately last season (we gave him a ‘C+’ overall grade), but the ‘Boys don’t need just ‘adequate’ play from their free safety anymore.  Ken Hamlin was released because he lacked the ability to make big plays.  Atogwe is a ball-hawk (15 interceptions in the last three seasons for a St. Louis defense that was attacked on the ground more than through the air) who would provide the Cowboys with what they currently lack in the back of the secondary.

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’ Wide Receiver Situation: A Closer Look



Earlier today we posted our Dallas Cowboys 2010 projected depth chart.  We are predicting that, barring a trade, the ‘Boys will keep six wide receivers on the roster. Since neither Patrick Crayton nor Sam Hurd were dealt on draft day, it is unlikely another team is going to yield a draft pick for them.

But will one of the Cowboys’ pass-catchers be released?  NFL Network recently took a look at the situation:

If a Cowboys’ wide receiver is cut, it will almost certainly be either Crayton or Hurd. Obviously Miles Austin and Dez Bryant are locks to make the roster.  It won’t make many fans happy, but Roy Williams isn’t going anywhere either.  We can also throw Kevin Ogletree in that group, as his play in 2009 justifies his stay (particularly at such a young age).

While Crayton and Hurd were on the trade block, both still have valuable roles in Dallas.  Crayton may have lost his return duties, but he is still the team’s only true slot receiver. He doesn’t do anything extraordinary, but he is a reliable player who goes over the middle and rarely drops balls.  The #1 reason he would be released is financial–he is certainly getting paid more than a #4 WR should make.  Still, Austin, Bryant, Williams, and Ogletree are big, physical receivers who aren’t necessarily well-suited for slot duties.

Hurd’s main role on the Cowboys is on special teams. He is arguably the team’s best player in that area.  Don’t think for a second the Cowboys don’t value his contributions in the oft-overlooked third phase of the game.

If the Cowboys do release a wide receiver, we expect Hurd to be the one to leave. However, the Cowboys are in a position to truly keep the best (or near the best) 53 players.  Is Hurd really on the fringe with players like Curtis Johnson, Marcus Dixon, and Travis Bright?  We don’t think so.

Ironically, the Cowboys’ wide receiver situation may be linked to the foot of kicker David Buehler.  If Buehler can win all kicking duties and save a roster position, Dallas may be able to afford the luxury of keeping six wide receivers.  If Buehler struggles, the most likely roster spot to suffer would be the sixth receiver spot.

By Jonathan Bales

Predicting Dallas’ 2010 Depth Chart/53-Man Roster

Below is our projected Cowboys’ opening day 53-man roster and depth chart.  It is also the one we think will be the team’s greatest ticket to success.  We have listed a few of the intriguing aspects of our projections at the bottom of the post.

**UPDATE:  The Cowboys just signed guard Montrae Holland to a two-year contract.  We had originally had him being released and have since changed our projected roster, removing Travis Bright.

QB
1. Tony Romo
2. Jon Kitna
3. Stephen McGee

RB
1. Felix Jones
2. Marion Barber
3. Tashard Choice

FB
1. Deon Anderson

TE
1. Jason Witten
2. Martellus Bennett
3. John Phillips

WR
1. Miles Austin
2. Roy Williams
3. Dez Bryant
4. Patrick Crayton
5. Kevin Ogletree
6. Sam Hurd

LT
1. Doug Free
2. Robert Brewster

LG
1. Kyle Kosier
2. Cory Procter

C
1. Andre Gurode

RG
1. Leonard Davis
2. Montrae Holland

RT
1. Marc Colombo
2. Sam Young

DT
1. Jay Ratliff
2. Junior Siavii

DE

1. Marcus Spears
2. Igor Olshansky
3. Stephen Bowen
4. Jason Hatcher
5. Marcus Dixon

ILB
1. Bradie James
2. Keith Brooking
3. Sean Lee
4. Jason Williams

OLB
1. Demarcus Ware
2. Anthony Spencer
3. Victor Butler
4. Brandon Williams
5. Curtis Johnson

CB
1. Mike Jenkins
2. Terence Newman
3. Orlando Scandrick
4. Cletis Gordon

S
1. OJ Atogwe
2. Gerald Sensabaugh
3. Alan Ball
4. Michael Hamlin
5. Akwasi Owusu-Ansah

LS
1. L.P. Ladouceur

K
1. David Buehler

P
1. Mat McBriar

KR
1. Dez Bryant
2. Cletis Gordon
3. Akwasi Owusu-Ansah
3. Kevin Ogletree

PR
1. Dez Bryant
2. Patrick Crayton
3. Akwasi Owusu-Ansah

Additions
Dez Bryant (R)
Sean Lee (R)
Akwasi Owusu-Ansah (R)
Sam Young (R)
Jamar Wall (R)
Sean Lissemore (R)
OJ Atogwe (from Rams)
Marcus Dixon (from practice squad)

Released
Patrick Watkins
Bobby Carpenter
Pat McQuistan
Duke Preston
Steve Octavien
Stephen Hodge
Flozell Adams
Ken Hamlin
Jamar Wall (R)
Sean Lissemore (R)

Some points of interest

  • We expect FB Deon Anderson to make the squad despite his current legal situation.  If Anderson is suspended for a long period of time, however, expect undrafted rookie Chris Gronkowski to be the guy.
  • We expect Dez Bryant to begin the season as the #3 wide receiver.  As of now, we actually believe there is a solid chance the Cowboys keep six wide receivers.
  • We don’t expect Dallas to address the offensive line in free agency.
  • If the Cowboys cannot trade Marcus Spears for a reasonable price, expect him to be on the team and for the Cowboys to carry five defensive ends to make room for the up-and-coming Marcus Dixon.
  • Expect rookie Sean Lee to immediately compete with Jason Williams for the nickel LB job.  That leaves one Bobby Carpenter out of the mix.
  • The Cowboys seem to really like the versatility and athleticism of seventh-rounder Sean Lissemore, but we think he will have a tough time making the squad.  His best bets would be for a current defensive end to get traded or to beat out Marcus Dixon for the final roster spot.  We don’t see the latter scenario happening, and Lissemore probably cannot be counted on to immediately be an effective backup to Jay Ratliff inside.  Thus, Junior Siavii will probably make the team and Lissemore will have his work cut out for him.  He could also benefit from the Cowboys keeping just five wide receivers.
  • Curtis Johnson has so much promise as a pass-rushing OLB that we don’t think the Cowboys will let him go.  Putting him on the practice squad would likely result in another team signing him.
  • Unfortunately, we think Texas Tech rookie cornerback Jamar Wall is going to have a tough time making the team.  Due to the versatility of both Alan Ball and rookie Akwasi Owusu-Ansah, Dallas may just keep four true cornerbacks on the roster.  If so, Wall will compete with Cletis Gordon for the last spot.  The coaching staff loves Gordon and he is a darkhorse candidate to return kickoffs this season.  This is a toss-up, but we believe Gordon has the slight advantage as of now.
  • Fans will be happy to know that we do envision the team signing one free agent–Rams FS OJ Atogwe.  We think the presence of veteran free agents such as Atogwe and Darren Sharper allowed Dallas to truly focus on selecting the best player available in the draft.  Atogwe’s addition wouldn’t preclude the Cowboys from keeping five safeties (again, AOA and Ball can be considered hybrid players), but it would likely mean Patrick Watkins would be released.
  • David Buehler will be given every opportunity to win all kicking duties.  If he struggles, the team will obviously have to sign another guy.  The most likely roster casualty?  Probably Curtis Johnson.
  • Dez Bryant will probably begin the season as the primary punt and kickoff returner.  This will likely be just for 2010, as his emergence at receiver would pave the way for AOA to take over return duties.


By Jonathan Bales

Cowboys News and Notes: 4/14/10

Dallas Cowboys ‘State of the Franchise

By Jonathan Bales

The Blonde Side: Team Romo

By Amber Leigh Hartman (Twitter: @texasaleigh)

***BREAKING NEWS***

We have just been informed that all of the recent major catastrophes, world hunger, the downfall of the United States economy, and every Dallas Cowboys’ loss all derive from one common source—Tony Romo.

Okay, maybe these comparisons are a little extreme, but enough is enough! I am tired of the Romo-hating, self-proclaimed “lifelong die-hard Cowboys fans” blaming every loss or mistake the Cowboys make on the quarterback.

When our kicker failed to perform last season, Romo stepped up to become the holder in order to benefit the team. Did he get any credit? No. Some analysts and so-called “fans” criticized the move as “dumb” and said “he’ll break his hand” and that “he can’t even hold the ball”. No matter what this man does (right or wrong) he is put down for it.

When I think of a Dallas Cowboys fan, I don’t think of a traditional football fan. I see the people who bleed silver and blue and who wear Cowboys gear year-round (because their wardrobe consists of 90% Cowboys stuff).

I see the people who stick by the team through thick and thin, win or lose, despite the bandwagon-jumpers or how much controversy they might create.

I see the people who save their money for a ticket to sit in the upper deck of the new stadium just to feel the energy of the game.

I see the people who include themselves as part of the team and say “WE had a great win last night”, “WE just couldn’t get it together”, “WE are going to the playoffs.”

Tony Romo is MY Quarterback. Is he going to mess up? Yes. Is he going to crack under pressure? Yes. Every player on that team is going to have their good days and their bad days—they are only human (though some look like Gods). Each member of the team contributes to its success or failure, and as FANS we should be supporting our players, not tearing them down.

I will probably yell at Romo during a game to get his stuff together, but I will also be yelling at the O-Line to block, and the receivers to get open or to learn to catch. I can do that because I have their back. If I hear negative comments about MY players, I launch into defense mode (like someone just insulted my momma!).

Think of it as a marriage—right now Romo is your brother-in-law who you can choose to hate but, when it comes down to it, you’re going to have his back because he’s family. If he ever cheats (gets traded), you can say or do whatever you want. You don’t have to be a Romo fan, but support your family.

We can’t control what the media reports or what analysts say, but we can show the world that the Dallas Cowboys have an army of fans who will immediately come to their defense. That is what being a TRUE fan is all about—loyalty.

As long as Tony Romo is the quarterback for MY Dallas Cowboys, for MY team, I will be loyal. . .I will be on Team Romo.

By Jonathan Bales

Dallas Cowboys ‘Super-Sleeper’ First Round Draft Picks

Thus far in our draft analysis we have studied those players which are considered “likely” Cowboys draft picks–the Mike Iupati‘s, the Earl Thomas‘s, and the Maurkice Pouncey‘s. We have even taken a look at the “sleeper” candidates–the Brandon Graham‘s and the Kyle Wilson’s.

But could Dallas go completely off the radar? Might they select someone who will shock every Cowboys fan across the nation?

In this article, we will take a look at four “super-sleepers.” These are players not many people are projecting to go in the first round, much less to Dallas. If we have learned anything over the years concerning the draft, though, it is to expect the unexpected.

Rodger Saffold, OT, Indiana

The most likely of our “super-sleepers” is Indiana tackle Rodger Saffold. We see him as an extreme reach in the first round, but some analysts think he could slip into the back of it. There have even been a few mocks which have projected Saffold to Dallas.

Still, the left tackle is a long-shot to become a Cowboy. . .which is exactly why he made our list.

Demaryius Thomas, WR, Georgia Tech

Thomas is a guy that has perplexed us by moving up draft boards despite having done absolutely nothing all offseason. The Cowboys have hosted Oklahoma State WR Dez Bryant, so they may (or may not) be willing to select a wide receiver in the first round. Is Thomas high enough on their board to be considered a legitimate option?

Jerry Hughes, DE/OLB, TCU

Hughes is a talented pash-rusher who could very well sneak into the back of the first round. Is he an option for Dallas? Most say no, and out initial reaction is the same.

However, Wade Phillips loves outside linebacker depth (of which Dallas has little). We have also been pushing the notion of Brandon Graham to Dallas, so why not Hughes? He has no chance of dropping to the back of the second round, so don’t count him out.

Chris Cook, CB/FS, Virginia

The “sleepiest” (sleepiest?) of sleepers on our list is Virginia’s Chris Cook. Cook has soared up boards since the Combine, where he recorded the longest broad jump of any player and displayed supreme overall athleticism.

Dallas is in the market for a play-making free safety, so a safety that also has the ability to play cornerback fits the bill. We have a feeling fans would be furious if the Cowboys selected Cook, but he appears to be an excellent fit in the team’s system, so we wouldn’t be extremely shocked to see it happen.

What are your thoughts on our list? Which under-the-radar players do you think the Cowboys could select in the first 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.