In years past, many a fan has fallen in love with a player over stats, over combine performance, over the hype-machine that is ESPN, NFLN, etc. Blazing fast forty times, which unless you've actually run a forty yard dash might not be a good indicator of how fast these 200 lb. men are, and bench reps at 225 lbs. are fun to ogle at. The highlight videos, the crazy homemade youtube videos, and most importantly the air-time and interviews on nationally televised programs.
Good times, right? Well, considering the impending void of news, we should hope so.
Beneath all of this fun stuff lies the seedy underbelly of the draft world. Fans fight tooth and nail over who their team should draft and why, with absolutely zero say in what actually happens. "The team needs this." Well, they also need this. "This player is better than this player." But scouts probably have differing opinions. "Drafting that position here doesn't maximize the value of the pick." Who really determines the value of a position, anyway? The line doesn't function without a competent center to snap the ball, which means the QB can't hope to stand a chance, which means the offense doesn't work. But how many centers do we see going in the first round?
We all have opinions of who "the guy" is. Maybe it's J.J. Watt, a kid considered to be an overachiever until he blew up the underwear olympics. Maybe it's Mark Ingram, the next Emmit Smith. Maybe it's Prince Amukamara, the top senior corner in the draft who proved to be much faster than his tape indicated. Von Miller, anyone? I happen to be a personal proponent of Tyron Smith, who is no Bruce Campbell. He did not come out of college a nobody and suddenly explode because of the combine. Many feel that had he waited just another year, he would have wound up a top five pick. Conversely, we've seen players (Jake Locker comes to mind) lose stock from staying that extra year. We may never know how he would have developed with another year at college.
This brings me to my point. The Oakland Raiders have/had become notorious for drafting upside-players, guys who had the elite height-weight-speed measurables, but lacked the game tape to back up their eventual draft slot. The truth of the matter is that most teams are intelligent enough to know that these kids can train for the combine drills now and that what you see at the NFL Combine doesn't usually translate well to the field when it comes time to play.
The forty-yard dash only tells you who the best sprinter of the group is. I don't know of any players who run exclusively in a straight line for forty yards without someone getting in their way, though.
The bench press tells us that the player has upper body strength, but I have been told the real football power comes from the legs.
All of these workouts indicate athleticism, explosiveness, and in some cases basic technique. All of these workouts can similarly make or break a prospect in the NFL draft. Nobody wants to draft a slow, short cornerback, no matter how good his tape is. The better a player performs at these drills, the higher their "upside." Of course, the more cynical of us apply a negative connotation to this phrase. In some cases, it is all potential which far exceeds what was shown on tape. In other cases (Robert Quinn, post his pro day), it is entirely anticipated by draftniks and scouts that these players will perform well in these drills because while on the field, they showed that they had the ability to be that good.
Workout warriors - which is to say, players who look like Adonis and run like a cheetah on crack but look completely lost on the field - don't go in the first round. Plain and simple, the exception being the Oakland Raiders. But neither do players with poor measurables and good technique. If you find a corner who did everything right on the field but ran a 4.6 forty (without having an injury, I should add), would you take him when there's another corner there who ran a 4.4 forty and looked confused playing zone coverage?
You have to find a middle ground with all players. This year, we have a weak OT class by all accounts. There is no top-five lock here. However, there are solid first rounders and even a few players worthy of going in the top half of the draft. We all talk about Gabe Carimi and Anthony Costanzo. Some were talking about Nate Solder before the world realized that he was a few years away from being strong enough to start on your line and not be a liability (a la Doug Free).
Then Tyron Smith started to creep into everyone's radar (I actually mentioned him in one of my first pieces this offseason, along with Quinn and Amukamara!). Some people hate him. "He's not a starting player for us this year and he'll command top-10 money." Clearly Tony Romo isn't worth that money. Just ask Martellus Bennett. We can live with a less than stellar offensive line. It's not like we've been blaming the offensive line for so long that it has almost become our mantra whenever there is a brutal loss. That Romo, he's so good at escaping jail break blitzes that he doesn't even NEED an offensive line. Let's just put some barrels out there around Gurode and we can save money that way.
Tyron Smith to Dallas is about more than money. Jerry Jones HAS the money. We know that because he's paying a ridiculous amount to other unproven players (one year wonders, rather). It's about more than being a mauler (which I think is silly - people act like he's Alex Barron, just dancing out there). It's even about more than making sure there isn't constant pressure off the right side when Tony Romo drops back to pass. It's about...wait for it...The Cowboy Way. The 1990's wouldn't have been possible without that all-world line. Maybe we win a Super Bowl with the talent elsewhere, but those 49er's were pretty darn good, themselves. Troy Aikman would've been forced into retirement much earlier, too. It starts in the trenches and you should get the best possible player at every position on your team. If you're going to use a fullback, wouldn't it be nice if he could dig a linebacker out of the hole (Cricket, thank you) and catch the football (Cricket, I'm disappointed in you)?
I think we can all agree that we're set at a few positions on offense: QB (unless we're asking manchild players for their opinions), WR, TE, RB, LT, and that's about it. Four out of five linemen are experiencing decline as the clock ticks on their playing careers. Three of those four are almost bad enough that it hurts to watch them try to stop a good player. I don't think I need to point out who is left out of that count, but for what it's worth, he's not technically a part of this team after the CBA is ironed out, I don't think.
The Dallas Cowboys can't exactly hope to improve their offense by neglecting the weakest parts of it. The same goes for defense, unfortunately. They only have so many picks to use. So I'll reiterate: this draft class is incredibly weak for offensive tackles. There are maybe three that should go in the top 20, then the dropoff begins. As far as tackles go, the pickings at #40 will be Cannon (OG according to some scouts), possibly Ijalana (OG according to many scouts and apparently first round material), a Danny Watkins (who is about the same age as our other starting tackle...only with worse technique), and the list goes on in a similar fashion from there the further into the draft you get.
This is not the year to try and draft a developmental lineman. We have some of those. They haven't been doing so well. This isn't the draft to WAIT on a lineman. And considering how weak this class is (only one of these guys is even considered close to a blue chipper), it isn't the draft to get cute and try to stockpile extra picks. Take your guy at #9 and let him make everyone who was crying for a trade down eat some delicious crow. Now, of course, that's assuming that the Cowboys are targeting a lineman. For all I (we) know, this is a very elaborate ruse to convince us that Jerry Jones will change his ways, only to see him draft Julio Jones. If that happens, they may have to put me on suicide/homicide watch.
For those who do call for, say, a 3-4 DE or cornerback, I have to disagree on the basis that talented versions of each can, contrary to popular opinions, be found later on in this draft. The defensive line crop this year isn't just remarkably strong - it is incredibly deep. The cornerbacks can be found in handfuls. The University of Texas has churned out a few solid corner prospects for this draft, in fact, and only one of them is a threat to go in the first round.
Aaron Williams could be there in the second, as could Jimmy Smith. Both are talented players. We've heard talk of Ras-I Dowling falling into the third, even with his first round talent. I am sure that ChiaCrack could rifle off ten players in the 3-4 DE/NT and CB positions at pick #40 and then ten more for #71 (I think that's the pick). Pretty much all of them would be good players, too, even in comparison to the J.J. Watts and Prince Amukamaras of the world.
You know who won't be there at #40 or #71? A player who can come in and start for you (without getting Tony Romo killed) at offensive tackle on either side. That's where a Smith comes in, or even a Costanzo or Carimi. So, yes. I think that we're best suited staying put and taking Smith. If he's even there. He has begun to shoot up draft boards, after all, and people know he's strong, fast, and has good/solid tape. He could go to a tackle-hungry team ahead of us very easily and the fact that we're not hearing anyone talking about it just makes me feel like it could happen even more. He is a starting tackle who could swing between either spot (though some seasoning would be ideal before throwing him to the wolves at LT) which puts us in an excellent situation should Free go down to injury. The alternative is that you're starting a Barron over there or, heaven forbid, "Marco" Colombo. I've seen what happens when those guys are on the field individually. I would cry if I had to watch both of them at the same time.