Dallas Cowboys Scouts: Where They've Been & Who They've Been Watching

Looks like this year we'll start talking about the draft earlier than most other teams. Well, as Jason Bourne would say, "So be it". It's never too early to talk about the draft anyway.

But is there a way to make talking about the draft this early more than just idle speculation? BTB-member Lissyyyyy and I have teamed up to do just that: We have painstakingly reconstructed what the Dallas Cowboys Scouts have been up to, we've pored over college rosters and we've scoured all available draft rankings to figure out what the Cowboys draft strategy could look like.

After the break, we'll look at which games the Cowboys Scouts have visited so far this season, which players they likely scouted at those games and make an educated guess at which position the Cowboys might pick with their first pick - and no, it's neither an O-lineman nor a Safety.

[Note: Everything we write below is of a speculative nature. We like to think it's an 'educated guess', but who really knows? Fact is, if you disagree with the conclusions, you can easily duplicate the exercise for the Cowboys - or for any other team - and you may come up with different conclusions]

Chris Steuber, an NFL draft analyst for NFLdraftscout.com on CBSsports.com, regularly tweets which NFL Scouts officially visit which college games. Since the college season began, he's been a busy man. Here's the list of college games that Cowboys Scouts have attended, according to Steuber:

Date Teams
23-Oct Georgia Tech @ Clemson
16-Oct Missouri @ Texas A&M
16-Oct Baylor @ Colorado
9-Oct Tennessee @ Georgia
9-Oct Auburn @ Kentucky
2-Oct Ohio State @ Illinois
2-Oct East Carolina @ North Carolina
Date Teams
2-Oct Penn State @ Iowa
25-Sep South Carolina @ Auburn
11-Sep South Florida @ Florida
6-Sep Boise State @ Virgina Tech
4-Sep Richmond @ Virgina
4-Sep Oregon State @ TCU
4-Sep Weber State @ Boston College

The first question we need to answer as we look at these 14 games, 27 teams and something like 600+ starters is: Which players were the Cowboys Scouts watching at each of these games? We used a process of elimination to whittle down the number of players:

First, we eliminated all players on each team that were ranked with a draft grade lower than a 4th round in the cbssports.com 2011 draft database. Two reasons for that. One, we want to figure out what position the Cowboys will draft with their top picks, and two, dipping into the shallow end of the draft pool makes things very murky.

Second, we threw out all positions that we didn't think the Cowboys will place a high priority on next year: QB, WR, RB, TE and FB.

Finally, since cbssports, like many other draft boards at this time of year, doesn't have any juniors or sophomores in their database, we added those juniors and sophomores that we found on draftsite.com's list to the CBS list.

Somewhat surprisingly, the 14 games only resulted in 26 player names who could be on the Cowboys' short list. Here's what we think that shortlist could look like so far (* denotes juniors):

Short list of players the Cowboys possibly scouted (click column header to sort)

Proj. Rd Player
Pos. School Wt. Ht. 40 Time
1 Adrian Clayborn DE Iowa 286 6-3 4.79
1 Cameron Heyward DE Ohio State 285 6-5 4.92
1 Da'Quan Bowers* DE Clemson 280 6-4 4.80
1 Nick Fairley* DT Auburn 298 6-5 4.81
1 Anthony Castonzo OT Boston College 308 6-7 5.06
1-2 Stefen Wisniewski C Penn State 298 6-3 5.16
1-2 Ras-I Dowling CB Virginia 200 6-2 4.54
1-2 Nate Solder OT Colorado 315 6-8 4.89
1-2 DeAndre McDaniel SS Clemson 215 6-0 4.54
2 Jimmy Smith CB Colorado 205 6-2 4.49
2 Christian Ballard DE Iowa 298 6-4 4.86
2 Marvin Austin DT North Carolina 310 6-3 4.96
2 Quan Sturdivant ILB North Carolina 235 6-2 4.63
2 Mike Pouncey OG Florida 310 6-4 5.29
2 Mark Herzlich OLB Boston College 245 6-4 4.75
2 Marcus Cannon OT TCU 358 6-5 5.34
2-3 Chris Culliver CB South Carolina 201 6-0 4.47
3 Marcus Gilchrist CB Clemson 190 5-11 4.49
3 Ahmad Black SS Florida 190 5-10 4.51
3-4 Kendric Burney CB North Carolina 190 5-9 4.47
3-4 Rashad Carmichael CB Virginia Tech 182 5-10 4.38
3-4 Deunta Williams FS North Carolina 210 6-1 4.53
4 Wayne Daniels DE TCU 250 6-2 4.79
4 Jermale Hines FS Ohio State 215 6-2 4.59
4 Clint Boling OG Georgia 304 6-5 5.16
4 Marcus Gilbert OT Florida 320 6-5 5.23

Is This The Deepest 3-4 Defensive End Draft Ever?

The Cowboys have already scouted four DE's (Fairley, if he comes out, would project nicely as a 3-4 DE) who could likely earn a first round grade. Add Alabama's Marcell Dareus and Allen Bailey from Miami (Fla.), and you'd have 6 DE's who could go in the first round. This would mark the first time in NFL history that 6 DE's would be taken in the first round. The Cowboys are sure to scout this position extensively, likely rounding out the top prospects but also looking at more prospects for later rounds like Hampton's DT Kenrick Ellis, currently projected as a 2nd-3rd rounder.

The Cowboys are definitely looking for help at DE. Marcus Spears, Stephen Bowen and Jason Hatcher are free agents after the season, and Olshansky's contract is up in 2012. And as Lissyyyyy says: "Sean Lissemore is a great player, but he can only man one spot."

The Cowboys scouts have looked at a lot of DEs with first round grades. Given the quality of the class and what is increasingly looking to be a very high pick, the Cowboys look likely to go for one of the premier DEs in 2011 in the hope of solidifying the D-line for years to come.

But what about the O-line?

2011 is not shaping up to be a great year for tackles. In Castonzo and Solder, the Cowboys Scouts have looked at two of the premier tackles available (with Mississippi State's Derek Sherrod the odd man out - so far), but it's possible that the Cowboys may go for more of the T/G tweener type players like Marcus Cannon, DeMarcus Love and Benjamin Ijalana who're likely to still be there in the second round. Also, Stefen Wisniewski is a great center prospect.

But as you look beyond our self-imposed limit of a 4th round grade, there are some intriguing prospects for the O-Line that our scouts have already seen in live action:

O-line candidates the Cowboys possibly scouted (click column header to sort)

Proj. Rd Player
Pos. School Wt. Ht. 40 Time
1 Anthony Castonzo OT Boston College 308 6-7 5.06
1-2 Stefen Wisniewski C Penn State 298 6-3 5.16
1-2 Nate Solder OT Colorado 315 6-8 4.89
2 Mike Pouncey OG Florida 310 6-4 5.29
2 Marcus Cannon OT TCU 358 6-5 5.34
4 Clint Boling OG Georgia 304 6-5 5.16
4 Marcus Gilbert OT Florida 320 6-5 5.23
4-5 Chris Hairston OT Clemson 325 6-7 5.18
5 Justin Boren OG Ohio State 320 6-3 5.24
5-6 Lee Ziemba OT Auburn 320 6-6 5.22
6-7 Tim Barnes C Missouri 300 6-4 5.14
6-7 Jarriel King OG South Carolina 324 6-5 5.23
7 Jake Kirkpatrick C TCU 305 6-3 5.14

Two sleepers on this list might be TCU's Center Jake Kirkpatrick and Auburn's OT Lee Ziemba. Kirkpatrick gets ranked low maybe because he didn't start playing football until his senior year of high school, but he is a natural athlete with good size. And Ziemba would make a real nice RT and has tons of starting experience. Also, Mizzou's Tim Barnes is having a pretty good year, and while he might be a better fit in a ZBS he still has the size to play in our scheme.

And where does that leave the secondary?

The Cowboys appear to like like AOA and their two UFA's, Church and McCray as options at safety and will probably give them a chance to make something of themselves. The Cowboys have scouted DeAndre McDaniel out of Clemson and some later round safeties, and obviously they still have a couple of games to scout, but based on the scouting trips publicized so far, it's unlikely the 'Boys will go high for a Safety. Look for a free agent signing here as the likelier option.

Based on their scouting behavior, the Cowboys think they have a bigger need at corner. If you sort the Short List above by player position, you'll see that the Cowboys have scouted six corners between a 1-2 round grade (Ras-I Dowling) through a 3-4 round grade. That translates into a corner roughly every 15 spots. This may be pure coincidence, but this could also indicate that the Cowboys are keeping all their options open regarding a corner and will take one whenever there's an opportunity.

A couple of linebackers round out the short list, and linebackers are always in demand on 3-4 teams, particularly if Jason Williams doesn't pan out.

And that leaves?

Free Agency. There are too many holes on this team to fix in one go and the holes from the botched 2006 and 2009 drafts (and to some extent also the 2007 draft) are showing. If Jerry wants to avoid going into a complete rebuilding mode, he'll have to shell out for a couple of choice free agents to bolster the team.

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