The Cowboys "Little Board" And A Pre-Draft Mock

When I embarked upon a series of posts in which I took a closer look at the players the Cowboys brought to Valley Ranch for interviews, I noted that, in recent years, Dallas has chosen multiple players who have shown up on these rosters. Indeed, in a recent post, O.C.C. noted the strong correlation between the players the Cowboys have invited to the Ranch in recent years and who has ended up wearing the star; other than DeMarcus Ware, for example, every one of Dallas's top selections (i.e., Jason Williams in 2009) since 2005 has been of their Valley Ranch invitees.

Think about it: if we can take last year's leaked draft board as a reliable model, the Cowboys tend to whittle down the 450 or so eligible draftees to 130-150 names that adorn their draft board. If we assume that they are legitimately interested in the 35 to 40 players who have visited the Ranch, therefore, we know about 25% of the players on the Cowboys' board. That's some good information to work with.

In addition, by looking at which positions receive the most invitations, we can get a better idea about which positions the Dallas braintrust is honing in on. In 2008, a total of eight corners and five running backs came to visit--and the Cowboys came away with two of each. In 2009, it was linebackers--Jason Williams was an at-large invitee and Stephen Hodge came for "Dallas Day." How can this knowledge help us get a handle on what to expect from the 2011 draft? A neat little chart, some wild speculation and a mock after the jump...

So, what do we make of the 2010 list? If you've noticed, I have concluded each of my draft profile pieces with an educated guesstimate of where we should slot each player. After assuming that Sean Lee was a fourth-rounder last year, I am aware that these almost certainly fail to cohere with where the Cowboys have graded them. Nevertheless, by gathering the invitees together on a pre-draft "little board," some very clear patterns begin to emerge. Here's the board (with links to all of the profile posts that have been published thus far, should you wish to revisit them):

OFFENSE
Pos Round 1 Round 1
(trade down)
Round 2 Round 3 Round 4 Round 5 Round 6 Round 7
OT Tyron Smith
Nate Solder
Anthony Castonzo
Gabe Carimi*
Derek Sherrod
OG Danny Watkins** Will Rackley DeMarcus Love
OC Mike Pouncey

Jake Kirkpatrick
WR Jon Baldwin Edmund Gates Cecil Shorts Andre Holmes
Jimmy Young
DEFENSE
Pos Round 1 Round 1
(trade down)
Round 2 Round 3 Round 4 Round 5 Round 6 Round 7
RB DeMarco Murray Bilal Powell Stevan Ridley Phillip Tanner
DT Kenrick Ellis Ian Williams
DE J.J. Watt Christian Ballard
ILB

Kelvin Sheppard Nate Irving Greg Lloyd
OLB?


Bruce Carter
Martez WIlson




CB Prince Amukamara Aaron Williams Brandon Burton
Johnny Patrick
Shareece Wright Korey Lindsey
SS Eric Hagg Da'Norris Searcy
FS Rahim Moore Johnathan Nelson
Colln Zych

* after I had already posted his profile, reports indicated that Carimi was not in fact at the Ranch
** Watkins was not an invitee, but the Cowboys did take a scouting contingent to Baylor's pro day

Taking a look at this, a few things leap out:

  • The Cowboys will almost certainly take an offensive lineman in the first round. Look at where the OT invitees are clustered and how few first-round talents there are at other positions.
  • Yesterday, Dallas scouting Director Tom Ciskowski told the press that there are four players the Cowboys would consider at the ninth pick. It seems that Tyron Smith would almost certainly be one of these. Other than J.J. Watt, however, the other possibilities might be taken from guys who weren't invited to the Ranch (unless they have somebody graded MUCH higher than we imagine).
  • There is a sizable cluster of linebackers in rounds 2-4. Its pretty clear that they are concerned by the age and lack of depth at the position, so look for an ILB to come off the board in the early rounds (1-3) for the third year in a row.
  • There are several corners on the list, in a variety of rounds. Despite Jerry's protestations that they like who they have at corner (and the Alan Ball will return to CB after the failed experiment at safety), its clear they want to add to their stable--perhaps with a guy who can convert to safety, or to replace a current corner who they think might be able to make that conversion (Orlando Scandrick?)
  • Other than Rahim Moore, the safeties in whom they are interested look to be third-day types--the kind of guys who are more likely to provide competition for the Barry Churches of the roster than to compete for a starting job.
  • Given the types of running backs Dallas invited to the Ranch, its quite clear that they are looking to replace Marion Barber's tired legs and swollen contract. All of them are bigger, straight line guys who will get what's blocked. My guess is, that if one of them comes into the fold, Barber's locker will be cleaned out soon thereafter.
  • The Dallas brass is looking for a wide receiver--and all the wideouts they have invited fit two specific profiles: big, physical guys or speed burners who can stretch the field. My guess is that Jason Garrett would like to build a stable of receives who, with either their size or speed--or both--provide matchup problems for opposing secondaries, a la the receiving corps in San Diego and Green Bay.

Given all that information, here's my first attempt at a mock draft, with no trades. Tomorrow, I'll try one with trades. I'm clearly playing "GM for a day" here--simply put, I've chosen the guys whose profiles I found the most intriguing. So, I don't expect this to bear any resemblance to the Cowboys actual draft (but would be pleased if it did!).

#9: Tyron Smith, OT, USC
#40: Kenrick Ellis, DT, Hampton
#71: Johnny Patrick CB, Louisville
#110: Edmund Gates, WR Abilene Christian
#143: Nate Irving, ILB, NC State
#176: Stevan Ridley, RB, LSU
#219: Eric Hagg, S, Nebraska
#271: Jake Kirkpatrick, OC, TCU

The key here is round two: if you look at the chart, you'll see that there aren't a lot of guys who most draftniks are slotting in the top of the second round among the list of Dallas' invitees. So, my first impulse was to slot in a guy who would fall out of round one--and this is probably a sound strategy, given the fact that several quarterbacks are likely to be drafted at the end of the first and top of the second, thus pushing guys with first round grades to pick #40. But I thought it would be unfair to just pick a first round guy I liked (say, Mike Pouncey or Aaron Williams), even though that's what I hope will happen. Because I can't predict who that might be, I chose Ellis (hardly a bad consolation prize), all the while intrigued by the possibility of an Aaron Williams/ (falling) Christian Ballard combo in rounds 2 and 3.

What do you think, BTB Nation? Taking the names and general slots from the chart above, what would your ideal *no-trade* mock look like?

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