Building the Cowboys Roster: Looking Ahead To 2013, Draft Edition

Might the Cowboys find DeMarcus Ware's complement (or his replacement) in a 2013 draft rich in pass rushers?

As has been detailed here on BTB, the Cowboys have done yeoman's work this offseason. Between free agency and the draft, they added fifteen new players--and then supplemented this haul with 21 UDFAs, several of whom look like they have a legitimate chance to make the squad. In the process, they filled the many roster holes - inside linebacker, offensive guard, cornerback - that gaped like open mouths in late February. Nevertheless, there are still some evident soft spots on the Cowboys roster, positions that, while not obvious holes, could happily withstand an upgrade: interior offensive line, third receiver, back-up tight end, defensive line, safety.

How might the Cowboys address these soft spots as the Garrett administration continues to build the roster in his red-headed image? Today, I'd like to take a (clearly, premature) look at the 2013 draft, to see what kind of players - and, mostly, at what positions - might be available to Dallas next April. How can we possibly know this when most college teams haven't even established their starting lineups? I'm glad you asked. In the past few days, a couple of my favorite draft pundits have come out with early "top 100" rankings of players expected to come out next year. Russ Lande of The Sporting News offers up his heroic hundred here; the draft crew at CBS Sports (led by Rob Rang) does him one better, ranking 750 (1) 2013 draft hopefuls.

A proviso: I don't believe these are particularly useful in terms of individual player rankings (who had RGIII on any top ten list this time last year?), I do think they are telling about the strength of specific positions. For example, the 2008, '09 and '10 drafts had 3, 4 and 4 offensive guards, respectively, taken in the top 100 picks. In April, however, ten OGs were taken by the time the draft wound around to pick 101. Spikes such as this show that a given position is historically strong, which can - nay, should- impact draft strategies. Looking ahead at these perceived positions of strength can help an organization make decisions about the current draft.

What are the positions of strength in the 2013 draft? Strap on these shoes and make the jump...

What I have done is to tabulate how may players at each position Lande and CBS Sports think will be taken in the first one hundred picks with how that has actually transpired in each of the last four drafts:

2013 (Lande) 2013 (CBS Sports) 2012 2011 2010 2009
QB 8 10 7 7 4 4
RB 8 8 8 8 6 7
WR 12 12 15 11 13 15
TE 2 2 3 3 5 5
OT 8 9 7 11 11 8
OG 7 5 10 4 4 3
0C 1 1 2 2 2 4
DE 10 13 7 9 10 7
DT 11 9 11 12 14 10
ILB 5 5 4 5 6 5
OLB 13 8 10 10 5 10
CB 7 11 10 14 12 15
S 9 6 5 4 8 7
P 1 1

A quick perusal of this table confirms that the positional distribution is fairly consistent from year to year, with the notable (and historic) exception of the 2012 guard class. There have been a few positional spikes of note: in 2010, fourteen DTs (with Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy leading the group) and 8 safeties (with Eric Berry and Earl Thomas leading the way) were taken in the top 100 picks; 2010 and '11 both saw eleven offensive tackles go off the board in in the same range.

What might be the positions of strength in 2013? At first glance, there appear to be three: quarterback, where Rob Rang and the CBS crew have ten candidates ranked in the top 100; pass rusher, where a total of 23 defensive ends and outside linebackers exceed the combined totals in recent years (you'll notice that, while there are year-to-year fluctuations in the number of DEs and OLBs taken, the combined totals remain fairly consistent across years); and safety, where Lande proposes as many as nine will go off the board in the first one hundred selections.

As I noted above, positional spikes impact draft strategies. In recent years, the Cowboys seem to have taken this to heart. In 2009, they looked hard at WR, LB and safety--all strong positions in that draft. In 2010, more of the same: OL and WR. 2011? OT, CB, LB - again, all positions of strength. in April, it was offensive guard, the richest position in the entire shootin' match. When a position is strong, and the majority of teams are drafting for need (which they are), it means that at these strong positions good players will drop. When pursued over the long term, a strategy of drafting to positional strength will thus yield greater value. In recent years, Dallas seems to have realized this, and strategized accordingly.

If this holds true, it promises to work out well for the Cowboys: potential positions of strength in 2013 correlate neatly with Dallas' positions of need. To wit: despite the infusion of talent onto the defensive side of the roster, our beloved 'Boys still have a soft spots at defensive end (particularly in terms of pass rushing five techniques) and safety, where few of the options satisfy. Moreover, they have not found an adequate complement to (not to mention a replacement for) All-World OLB DeMarcus Ware. And speaking of aging core players, what better time to begin the annual search for the guy to groom as Tony Romo's replacement than the potentially quarterback-rich 2013 draft?

Who might be some viable candidates at these various positions? In separate posts over the next few days, I'll take a gander at the 2013 draft's top signal callers, pass rushers and safeties. Then, we'll do the same for the upcoming NFL free agents. After all, isn't watching other teams more interesting when the players you watch are potential Cowboys?

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