Our three-part interview with Drafttek scout - and BTB member - Long Ball concludes with a look at the defensive side of the ball, which is likely to see a lot of action over the course of draft weekend.
BTB: We spent Part II looking at possible additions on offense. Today, let's jump over to the other side of the ball - and directly to the defensive line. The Cowboys are well-stocked with five techniques (3-4 defensive ends), but they are a moribund group at best, which is why some pundits are saying the Cowboys will spend their first round pick on a defensive lineman. What do you think of the "big uglies" that are likely to be under consideration at the fourteenth pick - Dontari Poe, Fletcher Cox and Michael Brockers?
Long Ball: I wouldn’t spend #14 on Poe. He would be a trade-down target because I have gone back and re-graded his game tape at Memphis after his performance at the Combine and I still see an under-performer. His one sack came against that basketball powerhouse Austin Peay! He has a tendency to get too high and loses leverage. If you bring him in, he’s sharing snaps with Josh Brent; is that good utilization of a first half of the first round draft choice? I’m afraid of workout warriors, and if I’m going to be platooning NT’s, I'll do it by spending a later round draft choice.
Michael Brockers is my #2 ranked DE34 (behind Quinton Coples), but that is based on that dreaded "P" word (potential). He’s young, maturing and would be a helluva developmental prospect to groom. I could see the NY Giants drafting him and working him into the rotation. But, once again, the Cowboys need more from their first round draft choice.
Fletcher Cox (along with Coples if he fell) would probably be the only DL prospect I would invest #14 on, mainly because of his explosion factor. If the Cowboys draft a DL or OLB in the first round, that sucker has to be moving from Day One, and Cox can do it based on these numbers: 4.79 forty (1.63 ten yard split, unbelievable!), 4.53 shuttle, 7.07 3-cone, 26" vertical, 8’07" broad jump and 30 bench reps. This gives him an explosion factor of 65 and his speed/quickness factor will allow him to pursue and control the flanks. Compare that to Brockers’ explosion factor of 54 and there’s a significant difference.
BTB: The more I read on Fletcher Cox, the more I like him—and think the Cowboys like him. If he’s already snapped up, I’m not sure they’ll take the other two guys unless they trade down in the first.
More delicious defensive deliberations after the break...
BTB: We've covered the "big three" DT-DE types. Any other five techniques candidates that you think could make an impact in their rookie season - even if it's not as a starter? Or: any late rounders - raw guys with NFL size and developmental upside?
Long Ball: Malik Jackson (6’5", 284) of Tennessee and Derek Wolfe (6’5", 295) of Cincinnati would be good fourth round investments. And a couple of sixth-seventh round prospects to look at would be Akiem Hicks (6’5", 318) of Regina (transferred from LSU) and Dominique Hamilton (6’5", 313) of Missouri.
BTB: I’d certainly be okay with the Cowboys finding another Jay Ratliff or even a Sean Lissemore in the seventh round! Okay, let's continue with the pass rush. There are some really interesting second-day OLBs, many of whom are conversion types - college DEs who are too small to handle the rigors of NFL line play, but can still get to the quarterback. Any of them you have your eye on?
Long Ball: I know the Cowboys have their eye on Cam Johnson (6’3", 268) of Virginia as a third round prospect. At Drafttek, we have them graded, but there’s still a question in my mind as to how well Vinny Curry and/or Jake Bequette can play on 2 feet. Fourth round prospects include Brandon Lindsey (6’2", 254) of Pittsburgh and Olivier Vernon (6’2", 261) of Miami (FL) and a couple of late-round, small-school prospects would be the "Adrian Twins": Robinson (6’1", 250) of Temple and Hamilton (6’2", 248) of Prarie View A&M.
BTB: I’ve had my eye on Hamilton for a while now. I think he could take a couple of years to adjust and then be really productive. To my mind, going the small-school developmental route seems to be a better route to finding late-round pass rushers than picking middling players from BCS conferences, like Victor Butler.
And, finally, to 2012’s sore spot: the defensive backfield. Let's talk cornerback first. Rob Ryan famously went on record at the Senior Bowl saying that he has been looking only at DBs, so we should expect at least one, if not multiple picks at corner. Because of that, we must familiarize ourselves not only with the big names but guys who might be interesting third-day picks
Long Ball: As previously stated, if I take Kirkpatrick in the first, it’s as much for his future value at FS as it is CB depth this year and potential to start next year. I would love for Dallas to have a chance at Stephon Gilmore, a press corner with the size (and willingness to support the run) the Cowboys need. Gilmore is 6’1", 194.
BTB: I agree completely - and that’s why I don’t think Dallas will even look at the little squirts like Janoris Jenkins (even if he had a clean record) and Brandon Boykin. In recent years, Dallas seems to have developed a pretty clear model for the kind of corner they want: a good size/ speed ratio athlete. I think they want big corners, like Brandon Carr, who can match up with the NFC’s giant wideouts. Let's make the height cutoff at 6 feet. Who are the viable candidates?
Long Ball: Josh Norman from Coastal Carolina fits this description, but he is moving up the board and I don’t know if he’ll be available for Dallas in the third. Trumaine Johnson from Montana has a late third/early fourth round grade and we also see him as a FS. And both are tall: Norman (6’1", 190), Johnson (6’2", 204)
BTB: I like both of those guys, and love their length. Notice the heights of a couple of the DBs the Cowboys invited to the Ranch: Chris Greenwood (Albion): 6-1, Lionel Smith (Texas A&M) 6-0. It seems that they’d like to find a late-rounder with elite length - or perhaps a corner they can convert to safety.
Long Ball: Yep. You have to add Casey Hayward (5’11", 185) from Vanderbilt (4.51 forty) and Ron Brooks (5’10", 190) from LSU (who burned a 4.37 at the Combine) to that list
BTB: It seems that, if they’re not going to get length, the prospect has to have some kind of elite measurables elsewhere. Beyond those guys any late-round guys with something other than height that might be worth taking a gamble on?
Long Ball: There are four CBs I would be happy to see in either the fourth or fifth round (as I believe the Cowboys need to draft two this year): Ryan Steed (Furman), Cliff Harris (Oregon), Omar Bolden (Arizona State), Dwight Bentley (Louisiana-Lafayette) or Jamell Fleming (Oklahoma). They’re not tiny; all are in the 5’11", 190 range. All have "football speed," as quickness in covering out of cuts is more important than forty-yard dash times. If the forty time becomes prevalent, then that means the CB is chasing the WR downfield after the catch!
BTB: Agreed. I’ll take an elite 3-cone score over an elite forty time anyday. Let’s move on. The Cowboys have been searching in vain for an impact safety since Darren Woodson suddenly retired. This year’s safety class certainly isn’t as highly touted as 2010’s, when guys like Eric Berry and Earl Thomas were legit first rounders. It looks like the only comparable guy in 2012 is Mark Barron. Since the Cowboys have shown considerable interest in him, I’d love to hear what you think of his game.
Long Ball: Mark Barron is the best safety in this year’s draft class and is a first round talent (I don’t know if he is good value at #14, but keep in mind the Cowboys spent #8 on Roy Williams). Here’s my question: looking at the Cowboys’ roster, all the safeties are SS type players (Sensabaugh, Pool, Church, McCray, Silva). Do they need another SS or a center-fielder type FS? Barron has demonstrated play-maker skills and I’m not saying he is strictly an "in-the-box" type SS, but does he really fulfill a need for Dallas?
BTB: I’m asking the same thing, and wonder whether they should focus on the FS types. But first, to refer to that superb 2010 class again, it had quality guys like Nate Allen and Morgan Burnett available in rounds two and three, respectively. Any second-day safeties (i.e., rounds 2-3) on your radar?
Long Ball: At SS, I like Harrison Smith from Notre Dame and Brandon Taylor from LSU. Both are always around the ball and their instincts and reaction enable them to play faster than their forty times. If I could get him in the 6th round, I would take a flyer on Sean Cattouse from Cal.
BTB: I like Catthouse, too, and admit I may be partial because he’s a fellow Cal alum - Go Bears! Okay, now that I’ve got that out of my system: how about the more rangy deep middle types?
Long Ball: As for FS, I will say I’m "intrigued" by George Iloka of Boise State, as it appears on tape that he’s not just a "Taylor Mays Specimen" but a football player. Yes, he’s a little stiff in the hips, but as a center-fielder that shouldn’t hurt him as much. I’ve already mentioned Trumaine Johnson as a FS option.
BTB: The Cowboys invited a slew of late-round safeties to the Ranch last year and repeated the exercise earlier this month. It seems they are always churning the waters for a Brock Marion type: a small-school seventh-rounder who they can groom to be an eventual starter. Any candidates fit that profile?
Long Ball: If I was going to take a late round flyer, I might dial up Tysyn Hartman from Kansas State. Two small town boys to keep an eye on are Micah Pellerin from Hampton (another CB convert) and Janzen Jackson from McNeese State.
BTB: Great stuff, as always, Long Ball. Thanks for sitting in and sharing your knowledge with us once again! We’ll be checking in after the draft to see what you think of the Cowboys’ haul.