In the weeks following the Senior Bowl and Combine each draft season, the very top of the draft begins to take shape. In short, the players to whom almost every team would assign an elite grade, like cream, rise to the top. In a typical year there are usually about 6-8 of these "blue-chip" players. Of course, not all of them turn out to be NFL superstars, but an increasingly high percentage end up becoming perennial Pro Bowl-caliber players. One of the reasons they do so is simple: they are simply more athletically gifted than their astonishingly talented peers. In a league filled with the world's top athletes, they possess off-the-charts production and/ or measureables, usually both.
In a recent post, the illustrious KD offered up a nightmare scenario: what if all the collegians whose names we have been bandying about as options for the Cowboys at the fourteenth pick were to get snatched up in picks 1-13? NFL war rooms run innumerable draft scenarios, and prepare for all possible/conceivable contingencies. A key part of this exercise--and one the Cowboys' war-room has almost certainly considered--is to determine who the 2012 draft's "top op the top" are and where they might fall. They probably already have a plan for the scenario KD proposes, one in which Trent Richardson and Justin Blackmon, elite players at Dallas' positions of strength, sit atop the board when the Cowboys' pick rolls around.
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One way to determine how the Cowboys' organizational triumvirate might react in such a situation is to determine who the draft's blue-chip talents really are. Who are the guys that must be chosen, regardless of position, because they offer such thrilling, game-changing skillsets? To answer this question, I decided to create a list of the players that appear to be consensus blue-chippers on most draft boards. I looked at about twenty different "big boards," and selected those that matched two criteria: they offered a post-Combine update and were from respected scouting types.
The scouts whose big boards I used follow. Hit the name to link to more draft goodness: Tony Pauline's top 33; Wes Bunting; Mel Kiper (ESPN; subscriber); Gary Horton (ESPN; subscriber); Nolan Nawrocki (Pro Football Weekly); Todd McShay (ESPN; subscriber); Rob Rang (CBSSports.com). In compiling this list, I included only players that at least one of the above draftniks included in his top ten, and organized them according to this handy chart to arrive at a list of the 2012 draft's elites:
|Robert Griffin III||2||7||4||3||5||2||3||3.71|
|David De Castro||11||3||13||14||11||16||6||10.57|
At this point in the draft process, it's difficult to find consensus, especially in regards to players such as Dontari Poe, who blew up the Combine but has middling tape. A guy like Wes Bunting clearly feels that Poe's tape speaks louder than his work in underwear shows; Pauline apparently disagrees--and his list is supposedly derived from actual team scouts evaluations. That said, looking at the average scores is telling: there is a pretty clear-cut dividing line between the fifth and sixth highest-ranked players in this exercise. Looking at the top five guys, we can see that every scout believes that each belongs in the top ten; indeed, none are ranked lowed than eighth.
I noted above that most drafts have between 6-8 blue-chip prospects. Here, in early March, these five--Andrew Luck, Matt Kalil, RG III, Trent Richardson and Morris Claiborne--are the 2012 draft's blue-chippers. It's possible that in the next six weeks another name or two might join this list. In fact, I would expect two defensive linemen to be added to this elite group, with the likely candidates being Michael Brockers, Quinton Coples or the aforementioned Poe. That might bode either well or ill for the Cowboys, who have reportedly been sniffing around the top-tier defensive linemen: a blue-chip player might fall to fourteen; conversely, with the D-linemen rising, the chances of a good one still being on the board at fourteen will diminish if a couple of them find their way into the top ten.
At pick #14, the likelihood is that all the blue-chippers will be gone, and Dallas will come away with a "red-chip" talent. But KD's post asks important questions: what if one of these guys does in fact fall to them? Would they take him no matter what position he played? Which blue-chipper, other than Claiborne, plays a position where Dallas has an obvious need? Jason Garrett has gone on record as saying the Cowboys want to pursue a "best player available" draft strategy. If Trent Richardson is available at fourteen, this policy will be sorely tested: will Dallas pass on his top-of-the-draft skillset to nab a player at a position of need?
Could be interesting...