Cowboys 2011 Draft: The Perils Of Trading Down

Will trading down in the first round ensure that Tyron Smith slips from the Cowboys' grasp?

A recent conversation in the comments section, stemming from the last of our interviews with Drafttek personnel guru Longball, merited enough further contemplation on my part that I thought it should be elevated to the front-page. The conversation involved the Cowboys, Tyron Smith, and a potential trade down in the first round.

As we know by now, both from the information offered by Longball re: Smith (i.e., that Dallas has asked for more tape on him than any other team) and the report that Smith will be one of the Cowboys’ pre-draft invitees to Valley Ranch, its clear that Smith is a huge (now 307 lb.) blip on Dallas’ radar.

It remains to be seen exactly where consensus NFL opinion will slot T. Smith, but as teams have caught up to him (as a Junior who played RT, not a lot of teams expected him to declare for the draft, so their reconnaissance on him has developed more slowly than for the Senior tackles), and that information begins to leak out, he has been creeping up draftniks’ lists everywhere. In February and early March, he was usually found in the middle of the first round. Increasingly, however, we are seeing him jumping into the top ten. Drafttek’s resident O-line expert, Longball, suggests that, while other OT prospects might be more "NFL ready" right now, T. Smith has the higher ceiling; indeed, the National Football Post’s Wes Bunting claims that Tyron Smith is a significantly better prospect than former Baylor tackle Jason Smith, who was taken in the second slot by the Rams in 2009.

Depending on how well he does at USC’s pro day on March 31—at which he is expected to participate in all the exercises he couldn't at the Combine, due to the lingering affects of a knee injury—he may end up as one of the consensus "elite players," either joining the established list of blue-chippers or displacing a falling guy like Da’Quan Bowers. If this happens, a draft which appeared not to have an elite OT prospect in the Trent Williams or Russell Okung mold may in fact have one: Tyron Smith.

If this transpires, trading back, which most BTB members seem to endorse as a first-round draft strategy (unless, of course, a Patrick Peterson or Von Miller falls) would almost certainly equate to letting go of Smith. In an earlier post, I suggested that the most likely trade down scenario would involve St. Louis, and a move to #14 (go here to check out my reasoning). That would net the Cowboys an extra third rounder, which would be a definite good. It would also suddenly have them picking behind a cluster of teams with a need at offensive tackle.

Although they may have more needs elsewhere, Washington (10), Minnesota (12) and Detroit (13) all could use a young tackle--and thus conceivably nab Smith. This is where the aforementioned comments section comes into play. Mikeyclaw, an analyst and team correspondent at Drafttek--and a Lions fan--claims that, unless a top corner (Prince Amukamara) falls to them, "Detroit would jump all over Smith at 13."  BTB member lonewolfz28 then astutely points out that the three teams mentioned above:

all have OL needs. Washington is paper thin on the OL and Jamaal Brown turns 30 on the 30th, is a FA and has had injury issues. Minnesota has shown interest in Smith by interviewing him. Detroit – Jeff Backus…’nuff said.

And, from this, concludes:

IF Dallas feels that Smith is their man, they need to not get fancy and pick him at #9. Although, Castonzo or Carimi would be a good consolation prize if they trade down.

I find lonewolfz28’s ’s conclusion persuasive. If Dallas determines that Smith is prohibitively better than the other offensive tackles on the board--especially if they tag him with the kind of grade given to the Okungs and Trent Williamses of the world--they must resist the urge to get too cute or make a big media splash. Instead, they’ll need to let the draft come to them--to anchor themselves at pick # 9 and get their man. A lot of this depends on what the Dallas brain-trust thinks of Smith. To whom will they compare his game? Is he Ryan Clady or Jeff Otah?

Even if they can correctly determine Smith's value, this is a tough one to call. Which is preferable? A potential Pro-Bowl LT or a solid OT (who might only be able to play RT) and an early to mid third-rounder? I’ll make an analogy using the 2010 draft. Would you rather have Trent Williams or Brian Bulaga and Major Wright (who went in the third round, at pick # 75)?

Honestly, given that scenario, I’m not sure which I’d choose…

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