Before last year's draft, we were fortunate to sit down and have an extended chat about the draft with Drafttek's Long Ball who, as most you you know, is not only one of their scouts (his expertise is the offensive line), but also a Cowboys fan. This year, you'll be pleased to know, Long Ball will once again grace us with his wisdom and wit. To add to this good fortune, we'll have him for an extended conversation - three posts worth, no less. Today, we'll look at the draft globally; in tomorrow's post, Long Ball opines on the offensive prospects; Friday's concluding post will take a look at some defensive guys the Cowboys might be interested in.
BTB: Okay, lets start by talking about the draft globally. What are the positions of strength in 2012? And: where are they strong—i.e., excellence at the top? Strong in the middle rounds? Deep in the late rounds?
Long Ball: I’ll discuss the positions by looking at strength (defined as quality at the top of the draft) and depth (defined as solid prospects in later rounds) in the 2012 NFL Draft.
QB is strong but not deep; QB is such a flip of the coin, but there are prospects scattered throughout the rounds (as we have them graded) that may be able to play. RB is deep but not strong. WR is strong and deep; there will be talented WR’s to be had in every round (whether a team is looking for speed or possession). TE is deep but not strong; TE is a solid class but not as talented as years past and the FB class is limited, if not just down-right weak. That covers the offensive skill positions; as for the Big Uglies: OT is strong but not deep; you have 4 "plug and play" LOT prospects and maybe a hand full of others who could be developed to play the position, but ROT is strong and deep. OG is strong and deep—the deepest of all when you include the OT prospects who will be moved inside at the next level. OC is weak, with only one "plug and play" starter plus maybe another 3-4 that could start some day.
Long Ball's take on 2012's defensive haul and more scouting goodness after the jump...On defense:
DT43 is a strong and deep, talented class. DT34 is weak, with maybe 3 that have grades in the first 3 rounds—but all of ‘em have warts. There are some interesting developmental NT prospects that could be had in rounds 5-7, but I had to do some digging to find them. DE43 is strong and deep; however, it’s questionable as to how many of them have the footwork to play OLB34. DE34 is below average and not very deep. OLB43 is above average, which could benefit the "Mo’s" (3-4 WILB), as the ILB is weak; there are only 9 "pluggers" (SILB) that have grades in the first 6 rounds. OLB34 is strong; deepness will depend on the DE43’s that can play standing up. CB is strong and deep. Both Safety positions are weak. At Drafttek, we graded some of the bigger CB’s as potential center-fielder FS to come up with more draftable candidates and the SS class is even weaker (after Barron, of course).
BTB: One of the aspects of the pre-draft process that fascinates me is the notion of "clustering," wherein a team will look at, say, all the available running backs to determine where there is a distribution bulge. Clustering can help make decisions about what positions to pursue when. Let’s say there are a lot of backs with mid third-round grades; a team could be confident that they could pick up value at RB in the mid-to-late third.
So, where can we find clusters of guys with similar grades at each position?
- QB: Rounds 4-5 and rounds 6-7
- RB: Rounds 2-3 and rounds 4-5
- WR: After the top 2 or 3, pretty even distribution from Rounds 2-7
- TE: Rounds 3-4 and rounds 6-7
- LOT: After the top four tackles, rounds 4-5.
- ROT: Even distribution, but a helluva lotta talent in the 7th round.
- OG: Rounds 2-3 and rounds 5-6
- OC: Only 12 with potential draftable grades and an even distribution throughout the seven rounds
- NT: After the top three candidates, the remainder fall in rounds 5-7
- 3-4 DE: 3-4 have first round grades. After that, there’s an even distribution
- 3-4 ILB: SILB (run-pluggers) even distribution. WILB--fourth round
- 3-4 OLB: Rounds 2-3
- SS: 10 have draftable grades, with an even distribution throughout all seven rounds
- FS: Fourth round (but not by much--there's a pretty even distribution throughout the draft)
- CB: You want a definition of even distribution? Here’s how many corners fall under each "Round Grade": First: 3-4; Second: 4-6; Third: 4-6; Fourth: 4-6; Fifth: 4-5; Sixth: 4; Seventh: 4
BTB: So, if we can accept that Dallas’ primary needs are DL, DS, OC, OG, OLB, and CB, in roughly that order—and assuming that you had to pick up one of each--what positions would you be targeting in each round?
- DL: Whether NT or DE, fourth or fifth round.
- DS: I would draft a big CB--either Kirkpatrick in the first, Trumaine Johnson in the third-fourth or, if a FS prospect, probably in the sixth-seventh.
- OC: If I can get an OG who can play OC, probably a second-third round investment; otherwise, I want to see Kowalski.
- OG: See above. Probably either second or third.
- OLB: More than likely, whatever round I don’t spend on the interior OL, second or third.
- CB: If I don’t address it in the first round, I'll need to draft two CBs in the third through the fifth rounds.
BTB: I think this is a really interesting way to look at the draft - and I suspect the Cowboys are currently engaged in playing out exactly these kind of scenarios: "if we don't take a corner in round one, and the best value at guard is in round two, when do we pick our CB?" and: "can we pick two CBs in rounds 3-7?" Thinking about which positions are available in what rounds helps clarify these possibilities and maximize pick value.
Okay, now I’ll invite you to throw out a couple of mock drafts using the above and focusing on players that you think fit Dallas’ player profiles or about whom you have heard the Cowboys express interest.
Long Ball: I’ll go you one better; here’s three options, in Column A, B or C:
|Round||Column A||Column B||Column C|
|First||Stephon Gilmore (CB)||Dre Kirkpatrick (CB)||Fletcher Cox (DE)|
|Second||Kevin Zeitler (OG)||James Brown (OG)||Bruce Irvin (OLB)|
|Third||Trumaine Johnson (CB)||Cam Johnson (OLB)||Philip Blake (OC)|
|Fourth||Derek Wolfe (DE)||Malik Jackson (DE)||Josh Norman (CB)|
|Fourth (supp)||Brandon Lindsey (OLB)||Jamell Fleming (CB)||Ladarius Green (TE)|
|Fifth||Matt Reynolds (OT)||B.J. Coleman (QB)||Coty Sensabaugh (CB)|
|Sixth||Patrick Witt (QB)||George Bryan (TE)||Landon Walker (OT)|
|Seventh||Josh Chichester (TE)||Greg Childs (WR)||Austin Davis (QB)|
You’ll notice there are 2 CB’s in each mock, at least one with size who might be a future FS. I also threw in some late-round developmental QB’s, as I think it’s time to jettison Stephen McGee. OLB and DE are each covered, as is a late-round TE. You could very well make a case for substituting Amini Silatolu for James Brown and I wouldn’t quibble—but it will take a second round pick for either one of them (as well as Zeitler). I threw in a couple of late-round swing OT prospects who could also kick inside as OG.
The one position I did not project was NT—the reason being I believe there are a number of "dark horse" prospects that may be available as UDFA’s: Damon Harrison (6’2", 340) of William Penn and Brandon Bullock (6’3", 350) of Marshall are two fireplugs who could spell Josh Brent.
So let the readers pick their favorite and I’ll tell you which one I see as most realistic.
BTB: I’ll definitely do that. Okay, readers, hit the comments section and let LB know: which of the above mocks rocks your socks?