I spent the draft listening the the local, rather than the national, coverage, which meant that the draft discussion was all-Cowboys, all the time. The running meme all of Saturday was that the Cowboys, unlike the Pats, Steelers, Eagles or Packers, don't have an organizational identity - and that this lack of identity extends into their behavior during the draft. On one hand, the local scribes are right, of course; in recent years, the Cowboys have seemingly changed their grading criteria and approach to the draft year to year. That said, now that Jason Garrett is the head man, I think they have behaved much more soberly - only one trade in two years - and, more importantly, have instituted a clear, consistent set of criteria for evaluating the kind of players he wants to see wear the star.
It's been about a year now since we were first introduced to the term "the right kind of guys," a phrase that first sparked and then caught fire over the course of draft weekend 2011. Jason Garrett said, after being asked about the Cowboys' draft philosophy that year, that the "most important thing is we talk about what it means to be a Dallas Cowboy, the kind of guys we want on our football team....they’re the Right Kind Of Guys." He later defined the term: in addition to being talented players, RKGs "love to play football and show you that they love it each and every day." Moreover, they play with "passion, enthusiasm, emotion."
Garrett went on to acknowledge several of the qualities that makes a player an RKG. One of them is leadership. Indeed, four of the eight players Dallas drafted in 2011 were captains of their college teams; over the course of this most recent draft weekend, they brought in four more team captains: Mo Claiborne, Kyle Wilber, Matt Johnson, and Caleb McSurdy were each elected by their teammates to represent them and to lead them by example. As McSurdy explains, as a collegian, he "just tried [on a daily basis] to be an example of a guy that would get it done on the field, at school and off the field, and someone that worked hard and took football and everything that comes with it seriously." Who woudn't want that kind of attitude throughout the roster?
We know Garrett would. Look through the profile pieces we have compiled the past two years on invitees to Valley Ranch, and you'll find a preponderance of team captains among the players in whom the Cowboys have shown special interest.
Want more RKG characteristics? Then make the jump, people...
Some other key characteristics are dedication and relentlessness, often translated by scout-speak as "work habits" and "motor." All the 2011 draft class came in with reputations as tireless workers; several were known as guys who "play though the whistle." In 2012, the draft haul again shares this characteristic. Take a look at some of the scouting phraseology culled from various draft profiles on each player:
- Morris Claiborne: "Team captain...Solid personal character and work habits....Solid work ethic...Mature for his age...No off the field issues to our knowledge...Good mental makeup for the position."
- Tyrone Crawford: "Smart, coachable and hardworking...Works hard on and off the field...Appears to have good football character...He has a reputation as a high-motor, relentless player who plays with power...Works hard to get into play from backside...No off the field issues to our knowledge."
- Kyle Wilber: "A well rounded individual...He is a high-energy, high-motor player...Hard worker and takes coaching well...Respected by coaches and teammates...Named a team captain as a senior."
- Matt Johnson: "Team captain...Character player with a professional approach who has an intangible makeup and athletic skill set to make a roster and contribute on special teams."
- Danny Coale: "Smart, hardworking and coachable...Accountable and a relentless worker...A well rounded and respectable individual...Has a team first mentality...Graduated with a degree in finance in December of 2010 and is currently on pace to earn a second undergraduate degree in market management."
- James Hanna: "Good character...Durable and coachable...Hard worker that goes about his business. Handles his responsibilities on and off the field....No red flags."
- Caleb McSurdy: "Team captain...Extremely tough and competitive...Very consistent, hardworking and durable...Plays hard and competes...Works hard in the weight room."
I find the premium placed on RKGs intriguing for several reasons. The first of these is that it reminds me of the most successful Cowboys draft class of the Jerry Jones era: the 2005 haul also had four team captains:, , and . And, if I’m not mistaken, they turned out to be a pretty good group; in fact, I suspect that they'll go down as one of the very best draft classes of the "seven-round" draft era. The 2011 and 2012 draft classes are filled with players boasting similar profiles.
To be clear, I'm not arguing that, merely because there are a slew of high-effort, college team captains in these groups, either will achieve the kind of success enjoyed by the 2005 group (the 2011 class has probably already eliminated themselves from contention, given their late-rounders' struggles to make the team). But I am willing to bet that they will exhibit the professional approach, level of focus and determination that defined the 2005 class.
Why is this important? Jason Garrett has a theory; during Saturday's post-draft presser, he told reporters that hard work "allows them all to achieve to their potential," adding that "our experience has been when you have guys on your football team like that you practice better and you play better, and it’s infectious." This is not to say, Garrett made clear, that a group of talentless choirboys were going to become good players. Quite the contrary, he stressed in the post-draft pressers the past two years that the keystone ingredient is talent.
And, lest we overlook it, this draft class is loaded with raw ability. With Claiborne, this is obvious. Wondering about Crawford's athleticism? Read Specific's excellent pre-draft FanPost on the defensive line candidates (in which our guy comes out number one) and wonder no more. WIlber boasts all the positive athletic traits: smooth hips, quick twitch, long frame with long arms, quick off the snap, good athlete for his frame. At 6'0" and 211 pounds, Matt Johnson has registered a 4.54 40-yard dash, pumped 18 reps at 225 pounds and shown his explosion with a vertical jump of 38.5 inches (want more? read O.C.C.'s recent piece on Johnson's athleticism). Coale churned out a 4.38 forty and registered a 6.69 3-cone time, just off the highest receiver mark. Hanna is fast (4.46 forty - the best Combine time for tight ends) and athletic.
Garrett's larger point is not only that a defense filled with high-motor guys will swarm to the ball or dig deeper in the fourth quarter, but also that a history of working hard, and challenging teammates to work hard, projects to NFL success because it allows the 2011, 2012 and future Cowboys draft classes to maximize the (hopefully, considerable) talent they bring with them to the pro game.
This won't happen overnight; it's a process, right? Garrett has done a remarkable job overhauling this team and building a roster filled with the kind of players he thinks will succeed and, eventually, there should be a tipping point, a moment where these hard-working, tough-minded youngsters who have grown up together, challenging each other in the weight room, on the practice field and in the huddle, will suddenly, collectively, be the better for it.
I don't know about you, but I'm planning on having a front-row seat when that happens. Without popcorn.