Readers: this is the second half of a two part series of FanPosts where I look at where the Cowboys are at in terms of the 2014 draft and their long term needs to get over the "
8-8" 7-9 hump and join the NFL's 'elite' clubs.
In part one, I looked at the Cowboys offensive line in 2014 and whether Bill Callahan's offense needs another "shiny toy", Darren Sproles or C.J. Spiller type weapon like D'Anthony Thomas to join the NFLs' 'elite' offenses that consistently put up 30-40 points a game.
In light of Lance Dunbar hardly being used at all against the Chargers, perhaps due to the coaches concerns about his fumbling problem, and the fact that the Bolts D really wasn't worried about 'old man' Romo scrambling for first downs until late in the game (and Jason Witten being unable to consistently beat single linebacker coverage, especially in the red zone) my concerns about the Cowboys 'playcalling' problems being actually a misuse of personnel problem linger. Thomas seems like the kind of electric player who could take the Cowboys offense from plodding to awesome. On the other hand, other BTBers would say drafting Anthony with a mid to high 2nd round pick would be another example of the 'shiny toy/overvaluing skill positions syndrome' that got Dallas under severe salary cap constraints. Plus, with our luck D'Anthony will start fumbling too or wind up on IR his rookie year.
While I didn't expect Dallas to have to score 34 points to beat San Diego, especially with the Chargers starting their backup interior offensive linemen, I did wonder prior to this week's Broncos game if Dallas would have enough firepower to keep up with the most prolific offenses in the league with Denver, New Orleans, Detroit and Green Bay all on our schedule this season. Thus far the answer is a resounding 'no' and those games all look like losses with the Bears and Redskins likely to play this team very tough and close enough to become losses as well. (I write MORE on the team's current struggles in this extended comment).
While Dez Bryant remains one of the best three receivers in the league, I have to consider the grim possibility that we has Cowboy fans have overrated the rest of our playmakers, including the confused rookie Terrance Williams, The (aging) Senator at tight end, Miles "bad hammies" Austin, and the once 'Roger Dodger' style scrambler Tony Romo who scared defenses from 2006 to 2009 as a semi-dual threat now being reduced by Father Time and Bill Callahan to more of a bus driving pocket QB. Overreacting, you say? Well, maybe. It should be noted this week that Jason Garrett denies putting Romo on too short of a leash to the D/FW sports media, and Romo certainly didn't look pedestrian in the first half when Dez was making big plays against San Diego).
Without the light bulb coming on for T.Will, and Callahan doing more to get Hanna, Dunbar, Harris and Beasley the ball (including using them on designed draw plays/wheel routes like Danny Woodhead) this could be a very grim season as the injuries pile up for our defense. Hopefully the Cowboys 'young ins' including Wilcox, Leary, Hanna, Harris, and inexperienced veterans such as Selvie, Rayford and Nevis will shine and give us hope for 2014.
4) Would more quality (and bigger) DB depth help the Cowboys finally defend the intermediate middle and clamp down on the pass?
Mo Claiborne had a promising rookie campaign, performing at about the NFL average level for a cornerback, but his 2013 campaign has been hurt badly by a dislocated shoulder. Mo will play through the pain but it remains unclear if surgery will be necessary -- Dallas is clearly saving its IR eligible to return slot for another core player. While many BTBers were surprised that the Cowboys released Sterling Moore, I think it came down to the question of whether Moore would be an adequate outside cover man or if he was better suited to playing nickle safety in Kiffin's scheme.
The Cowboys could still bring Moore back, but I think Kiffin and Marinelli are looking for another physical, tackling corner in the Brandon Carr mold in the mid-rounds of the 2014 draft...maybe guys like (small school) Lindenwood's 6"1 Pierre Desir or Utah's 6"2 Keith McGill in the 5th or 6th round to take over the 4th corner spot or even eventually move Mo to the slot position or provide an answer if Claiborne proves to be a bust. And if McGill proves to be a little too big to play corner, let him try out for the 5th safety slot so we can afford to keep 5 corners and 'only' 4 safeties with the position flex. (UPDATE: I wrote this prior to the Cowboys acquiring 6"1 200 corner Chris Greenwood off the Detroit Lions' practice squad).
If you're going to run a Seattle-like defense, why not have big Seattle-sized corners with your 'slot' guy playing at 5"11 195? Even the Chicago Bears seem likely to get bigger at corner next season with father time/injuries catching up with Peanut Tillman and the undersized ballhawk Tim Jennings' contract expiring.
Either way, while the pass rush still needs Hatcher next to Ratliff or Anthony Johnson to become truly fearsome, more ballhawking on the back end will help push the Cowboys into the upper half of the league in pass defense.
5) What kind of QB should the Cowboys be looking for to succeed Tony Romo? And how soon should they draft that player? I say sooner rather than waiting until 2015...by picking a small school guy with high potential...
In light of my concern that Tony can no longer spook defenses into almost spying him or playing zone closer to the line of scrimmage by taking off, this remains the biggest question facing Dallas over the next two to three season -- especially if the Cowboys can find a talented successor to Demarcus Ware.
Whether Alex Tanney can become a dynamic backup next year, I don't know. Tanney has shown flashes of being able to scramble while keeping his eyes downfield (for example, with the laser he threw past zone defenders to a sprinting Andre Smith in one preseason game -- that was the kind of throw that helped Romo become a starter earlier in Tony's career). But I think Dallas needs to look to the collegiate ranks in the mid-rounds of this draft and not put all their eggs in the Tanney basket or in betting on having a high draft pick or trading up to snag a future franchise QB in 2015.
I do think that with Dallas picking around 12-16 after another 7-9 or 8-8 year, the top QBs like Teddy Bridgewater, Tajh Boyd and possibly (if the redshirt sophomores turn pro) Marcus Mariota AND Brett Hundley are ALL likely off the board (to the Jags, Browns, Eagles, and Vikings respectively, which optimistically drops 3-tech beasts like Ra'Shede Hageman or Anthony Johnson closer to our pick). Mariota or Hundley might prove to be trade down bait if they're available at in the early teens and Dallas has that pick after a disappointing year.
The top tackles are likely to be gone top 10, leaving us with the choice of drafting a DT or DE. I think in 2014 we stand pat and take the DT, but look out for the Cowboys to try and grab D'Anthony Thomas or another burner/scatback in the 2nd round to give Romo a badly needed, RELIABLE 'dump it off and take it the house' weapon (since this team doesn't apparently trust Dunbar to be that guy, unless they just decide to go 4 WR or TE spread and use Dunbar early this weekend against the Broncos with nothing to lose). If Callahan wants to make Romo a more turnover-averse quarterback who makes shorter throws, the least Dallas can do is give him another weapon who can turn a short catch into a big gain.
Ultimately, while guys like Hundley or Mariota or even Keith Price are likely to be drafted much higher than they otherwise would due to Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson (the UW QB Price is in fact a texting buddy of Wilson's and models his game after the shorter Seahawks QB), I don't see Dallas buying into the zone read QB "fad", especially considering Kaepernick and RG3's sophomore slumps. While RG3's can be blamed on injury, even Wilson has not been putting up the kind of numbers he did last year with defensive coordinators having more tape on him and the injury to Percy Harvin removing his most dynamic weapon.
I think Dallas will take note and probably seek a QB in the young Tony Romo mold -- one who can scramble for a shorter first downs, but is not likely to get designed runs except in the old 'spread em out QB sneak' play in the red zone that Dallas ran successfully in 2007.
Does that QB have to be drafted high? I'm not sure -- I think guys like Taylor Martinez with fantastic scrambling ability will remind us of ole' Captain Checkdown himself, Stephen McGee in the pros. Mid to late round senior QBs with some mobility like Illinois' Nathan Scheelhaase might wind up as backups for starting zone/read QBs in the pros. I also think dark horse late picks like Mississippi State's Tyler Russell seem likely to slip into the UDFA ranks, especially with Russell missing games this year due to concussion issues and his lack of mobility not being a good fit for many NFL offenses.
No, if there's any QB I would look at as a dark horse to come into Dallas and make some noise next preseason, it would be another UDFA or at best, a 6th or 7th rounder, someone overlooked like Romo or Tanney due to their lower collegiate level of competition. I'm speaking about two-time FCS national champion North Dakota State QB Brock Jensen. I would rather have a guy who's won it all repeatedly at his FCS level than a QB who's often struggled and had horrible games on a bigger college stage.
At 6"2 1/2 225 Jensen is similar in size to Romo and seems to be a guy who can make all the throws while retaining some scrambling ability. If I'm Jason Garrett, and my scouts can't make it up to Fargo this season, I'm sending them across the Metroplex to Allen when NDSU comes to North Texas for their third consecutive FSC title game on January 4, 2014.