The 2008 NFL draft has finally come and gone. We spent so much time gearing up for this past weekend that it seems as if there's a feeling hanging around of "now what?" So, to satiate our thirst for all things NFL we turn around and instantly judge the draft, team by team. An "A" for this team and their picks, a "B" for that team and their picks, and so on and so forth. I have never really understood the fascination with automatically assigning a grade based on which team picked whom, the day after the draft! There is absolutely no way for anyone to judge how any of these players are going to work out in the NFL. They haven't even met with their coaches yet or picked up a play book. Sure, we have an idea of how a certain player might fit with a club but there are no guarantees, especially when it comes to the draft. I think the only way to really judge a team's draft is to look at the strategy they employed, how they executed their plan and if any glaring misjudgments were made.
For every Patrick Crayton that is drafted, I can give you three Skyler Greens. For every Peyton Manning, there are numerous Ryan Leafs. Just because a player was selected in the first round does not automatically make that player a star. Every year there are 32 players drafted in the first round (well, 31 this year), and on average less than half of those players pan out to be Pro Bowl players, or even long time starters for the team that drafted them. I'm sure that when a team selects a player with their number one pick they are certain that this is the guy. Problem is, it never works out that way across the board.
This brings me to the Felix Jones/Rashard Mendenhall debate. It's a very valid issue among Cowboys' fans and media alike. Immediately your thoughts go back to 2004 when the Cowboys found Steven Jackson sitting all pretty and ready to be drafted by them right there at #22. But the Cowboys were convinced they could get a valued running back in the second and traded away the pick to Buffalo. Steven Jackson went on to go to the Pro Bowl with St. Loius while Julius Jones is now playing playing with the Seattle Seahawks. Just like in 2004, the Cowboys had Rashard Mendenhall fall into their laps. Incredible! Everyone was certain that Mendenhall would be long gone before #22 but there he was. All the Cowboys had to do was write his name down on the draft card and hand it in. Instead, the Cowboys drafted Felix Jones, sending the Blogging The Boys community into a frenzy of emotion. How could Jerry Jones make the same mistake all over again.
To truly judge this pick, you have to step back and see it from the Cowboys point of view instead of a fan's. The Cowboys wanted to draft a running back who was a true complement to Marion Barber and who gives them big play potential every time he touches the ball. Mendenhall is not that player. He is a running back who need 20-25 carries a game to be effective and he would not get that playing behind Marion Barber. Jones has played in a two-back system his whole career and makes the most of it every time he touches the ball. He is a threat to take it to the house on any play he is on the field and is extremely versatile as well. Some may point out that Jones and Mendenhall had nearly the same amount of big plays last year, but then you have to realize that Mendenhall had 130 more carries than Jones.
A lot of you have brought up the question of what if Marion Barber is not here next year? Mendenhall would have been the perfect back to draft to be the franchise back of the future. Well, that's all well and good except the Cowboys are not rebuilding their team and are not looking for a running back of the future. The Cowboys are in the hunt to win now and to win it all. The Cowboys went into this draft with every intention of re-signing Marion Barber to be their long term running back. If that happens, then Mendenhall was not the player that fit this team. While everyone including me, thinks that Mendenhall was the better back of the two, the only way we can even know that is to just wait and see.
After picking Jones, the Cowboys made a quick trade to move up and select Mike Jenkins, giving up a fifth and seventh rounder in the process. Immediately, you scratch your head and think the Cowboys could have selected Jenkins at 22 and waited until 28 to grab Felix Jones. But then you realize that Pittsburgh would have nabbed Mendenhall and Tennessee would have selected Jones at 24, leaving the Cowboys with whole lot of nothing when it comes to first round running backs. The Cowboys had a plan with who they wanted in the draft and Jerry Jones made the trades to make it happen.
Martellus Bennett was initially a head-scratcher. Why would the Cowboys draft a tight end just one day after trading one away? But if you wait until the draft was over to judge the pick, you see that the Cowboys didn't draft a FB. The Cowboys last year used the tight end a lot as a blocker but since Fasano never developed his blocking ability Jason Witten too often was called upon to block. This took one of the Cowboys best weapons right out of the game. The Cowboys love to use the tight end as a wham blocker out of the fullback position as well as helping out in pass protection. If Bennett can come in and do a better job of that than Fasano, then Witten's job just got a whole lot easier.
All you have to do is take a look at the clip Grizz posted of Tashard Choice to realize why he was drafted. Some use this pick as an argument to prove that Felix Jones wasn't the right pick. I contend the Cowboys would have drafted Choice even if the had picked Mendenhall. The man's intangibles, drive and leadership abilities are off the chart and something that was sorely lacking on the team in key situations last year. It doesn't matter if that spark comes from a rookie as long as it comes from somewhere. Tashard Choice will be a vital asset to this team in ways that most likely will never show up on a stats sheet. It doesn't hurt that he's a pretty good running back as well.
If you look at the draft picks as a whole for the Cowboys as well as the guys they are bringing in as free agents it becomes clear the team is making a concerted effort to get faster. Much faster. The Cowboys went into the draft with cornerback as a weakness and walked out of it with the same position a major strength. Immediately, the Cowboys have vastly improved their defense. With this group of defensive backs it is hard to think those big third down plays we saw last year will haunt us again this year.
The only real questionable pick in my eyes was the selection of Erik Walden. I just don't understand why the Cowboys decided to reach for a tweener defensive linemen when it seems that he might not have been drafted at all.
It's tough to not make an instant judgment on how the Cowboys drafted. Sometimes its easy to question a move though, like last year when Miami drafted Ted Ginn in the first round. The Cowboys didn't have a glaring issue like that though. They certainly made a very interesting choice with their first pick that will be debated all the way until the first snap of the regular season. Only then, when these players actually make it onto the field with the team that drafted them, can the true judgments be made.
For what it's worth, I give the Cowboys a B.