I recently participated in MockOne, which is an independently-hosted but largely Twitter-driven 7 Round Mock Draft. I competed against 31 very knowledgeable fans to try and basically "win the Draft," so to speak. MockOne operates very similarly to the real NFL Draft: trades can happen (including the usage of future picks) and you have a time limit to deal with as you prepare to either make or deal a pick. And just like in the real Draft, some teams were very active wheeling-and-dealing all Draft long while others just stayed put and picked whenever their turn came. Anyway, I found it to be a great experience. It really helped me focus and prioritize my thoughts about this team and to think critically about how best to address the many needs that the roster has.
I decided beforehand that I would operate under these assumptions:
Anthony Spencer is gone
Josh Brent is unavailable (whether that be suspended/jailed/cut)
Felix Jones is gone
Miles Austin is here
Bruce Carter = WLB, Sean Lee = MLB
SLB was not addressed in Free Agency and is being filled in by someone already on the roster (Albright?)
Doug Free, Jay Ratliff, and Gerald Sensabaugh are here, but could potentially be replaced by early picks at their positions.
Barry Church is on pace to make a full recovery, and Matt Johnson is, well, Matt Johnson (high hopes from coaches).
The OL's only addition before the Draft was getting a healthy Phil Costa back, and no position swaps were made.
I also decided beforehand that I'd try and Draft as similarly to what I expect the Cowboys to actually do as I possibly could, even if I felt differently about ideal Draft strategy. For example, I don't believe for a second that this team will spend a 1st Round pick on a Guard unless they had basically no other option (despite my own desire for a Guard in the 1st, potentially). Also, I fully believe that Dallas will pick a RB in the mid-Rounds (despite my own thoughts that late-Round/UFA RBs are the way to go). So keep that in mind as you read:
1.18: DE Cornellius Carradine, Florida State
After the trade fell through with Cincinnati (1.18 and 6.17 for 1.21 and 2.05), I was torn between Jonathan Cyprien and Carradine. However, I believe Carradine a significantly better prospect and in true Cowboys fashion, I'm going to take the injury-driven "value pick" (Tank would probably be a Top 5 pick without his injury). Assuming Anthony Spencer walks in Free Agency, DE is a massive need, and even if he doesn't walk, I still would have no problem with using Tank to spell an aging and increasingly-injured DeMarcus Ware to try and lengthen his career. I don't believe Dallas will take an OG in the 1st Round, so that really wasn't much of a consideration for me, either. It should be noted that Jonathan Cooper was on the board at this point.
2.17: DT Sylvester Williams, North Carolina
I was thrilled that Sylvester Williams (a 1st Round-graded player imo) made it to this pick in the 2nd Round. Between an aging and declining Jay Ratliff and the loss of the underrated Josh Brent, Dallas was hurting pretty badly at DT. Adding Williams gives the team a legitimate heir to fill the big shoes Ratliff wore during his prime. And with Ratliff being a potential cap casualty this offseason, they need help now as well as down the road at the position. Williams and Cornellius Carradine will be the new pillars of the Dallas DL for years to come.
3.18: C Travis Frederick, Wisconsin
OT/OG Dallas Thomas (who I projected to replace Free at RT) was the clear leader in the clubhouse amongst my group of candidates for this pick, and I groaned when the Dolphins took him right in front of my nose. At that point, I began big mental debate over who the pick should be here. In the end, I decided on the Wisconsin product over Syracuse's Justin Pugh. Frederick fits at Center and immediately improves what was has been a subpar interior OL group for too long. Though I missed on their top target here, I am thrilled to have come away with three immediate impact starters through the Draft's first three rounds.
4.21: RB Montee Ball, Wisconsin
I traded down four spots from the original 4th Round spot because I wanted to add a 7th and thought my main target (OLB Keith Pough) would still be there when I got on the clock. Unfortunately, my trading partner was actually moving up for Pough, so I was forced to look elsewhere. After evaluating the long list of needs still unaddressed, I decided that the strongest prospect still on the board was Wisconsin RB Montee Ball. Dallas likes their incumbent lead RB DeMarco Murray, but they also recognize that their Offense crumbles when he invariably misses games. Ball not only gives Dallas the ability to spell Murray more than ever before (which should help maintain his health), but he also gives them someone they can trust to carry the load in the event of Murray's absence. I understand that signing RBs to second contracts is becoming more of a uncommon practice in today's NFL, so Ball's potential down-the-road issues stemming from very high usage in college are overblown at this stage of the game. I'm confident he can play out his rookie deal, and anything beyond that will be considered a bonus.
5.18: WR Tavarres King, Georgia
Even with the emergence of Dez Bryant this past season, WR is a need position for Dallas. King is not a blazer, but he runs smooth routes and can still work up the field as a result. He should have no trouble filling in for the soon-to-be-departed Kevin Ogletree, whose poor route-running resulted in multiple Interceptions this past season. King, like Ogletree, struggles to consistently catch the ball, but just being in the right spot to be able to get his hands on the ball is significantly better than being in the wrong spot and having the ball end up in a defender's hands. King ideally will be able to develop before getting significant playing time, but in the event that Dez or Miles Austin become unavailable at any point in 2013, King should be able to help the other depth WRs pick up the slack.
6.17: OLB Gerald Hodges, Penn State
I am very happy that a player of Hodges' quality fell to me in the 6th Round. Without a solidified starter in place at SLB as the team transitions to its new 4-3 scheme, Hodges will have a real shot to come in and compete for serious playing time in that spot as a rookie. Worst-case scenario, he adds valuable depth to a LB corps that could use some help in the event that Sean Lee and/or Bruce Carter continue to struggle with injuries.
7.27: OT Manase Foketi, West Texas A&M
I conclude the Draft by picking Foketi, who will be the team's next "project" OT. With questions about Doug Free's future with the team, OT is a significant need position. If Free is cut and current backup/part-time starter OT Jeremy Parnell becomes the incumbent starter at RT, there will really be no OT depth left on the team whatsoever. Ideally, Foketi is given time to develop, possibly on the Practice Squad, and hopefully becomes a viable RT in time. In a worst-case scenario injury-wise, he's at least a fairly talented guy who in a pinch could take some RT snaps and hopefully not be a complete disaster. I planned to address FB by signing Lonnie Pryor as an Undrafted Free Agent, but he got picked with the final pick of the Draft. Every other FB went Undrafted though, so there are options still.
Overall, I was very pleased with how things turned out. I kind of regret the one trade I did make since I missed out on Keith Pough as a result, but on the other hand, it gave me a perfect opportunity to address RB. In the end, I count as many as 4 of the 7 guys I drafted as potential Week 1 starters (Carradine DE, Williams DT, Frederick C (or G if Bernadeau moves to C), Hodges SLB), and while Ball won't win the starting RB job, he could certainly end up starting games if needed. Anyway, I'll now turn it over to you guys and ask: How did I do?
NOTE: To view how the whole Draft played out (or to sign up to participate yourself), visit www.mockone.net