The Twitterverse is a pretty cool place. I was presented with an opportunity to represent our beloved franchise in a unique exercise. Brandon Nall has developed what appears to be the leading Twitter-based mock draft experience over the last couple years and I was selected to lead the Dallas Cowboys into this year's third iteration, "#MockThree". Trust me when I tell you the other 31 franchises were placed in extremely capable hands.
#MockThree differed from the earlier two versions this year in that instead of just having a sole GM, it was the War Room edition. @BigDKey19 @JeremyCabler and @Joeo1s were all great Assistant GMs to work with. If you have some time, I'd love to share with you the machinations of how we went about fixing our cap-strapped Dallas Cowboys.
1) Develop a Big Board.
Using some of the lessons I've absorbed since the Parcells era, I went about stacking a big board based on team needs and my perceived rankings of the collegiate prospects. Everyone is going to have a different opinion of who goes where. What I did was combine research I've done based on the esteemed draftniks Tony Pauline, Dane Brugler, Scott Wright, Shawn Zobel, Drafttek and Russ Lande. Combined with my knowledge and interpretation of the Cowboys roster needs I came up with the following.
14 players graded as first rounders, 53 as second rounders, 32 in the third, 41 in the fourth and 12 in the 5th. In all honesty, my working knowledge of prospects started to get shaky at this point. I'm not a draftnik, I read up on folks and after the running back group I started to lose confidence in things. No shame in admitting what you don't know.
I also categorized our needs as follows: 1st Tier: OG-DT-S 2nd Tier: OT-DE-LB 3rd Tier: C-RB-QB-WR-TE. Now, you're obviously not filling all of those with only six picks.
Here's a look at my First Round Candidates, in order.
Obviously, with only 14 players rated as first-rounders, Dallas at #18 would have to consider moving up or moving down should things not fall the way we would like them to. After presenting my big board to the group, we tweaked things a little bit prior to the draft kickoff. "Key" provided a list of players that he wouldn't touch in any situation. Sam Montgomery, Tyrron Matthieu, Manti Te'o... I overruled on Teo and also took Damontre Moore off my list. There were instances when it came down to between a group of players and I clearly had a preference for the one that was lower ranked. That should have been fixed in the big board and showed up in the 2nd through 4th rounds.
2) Draft A First Rounder
I anticipated several players outside of my "First 14" to go before we got on the clock and that did in fact happen. Bjorn Werner, Barkevious Mingo, Geno Smith, Jonathan Cyprien and Jarvis Jones were all off the board by the time we reached 18.
The concern for us as a War Room came into play when we reached pick 14 and Lane Johnson went off the board. That was because we liked Tank Carradine and DJ Fluker immensly, but really didn't want to take either at 18. We sent out feelers to the league that we weren't married to the 18th pick and would be willing to move up or down. The best trade offer we received was to move up to pick 15, but that would have cost us our third rounder. With only six picks to begin with, we decided it just couldn't happen; we'd live with the best player on our board. Here's how the first round unfolded before us.
St. Louis engineered a trade with Detroit to move up to 5 and take Fisher. San Francisco, using their gluttony of picks moved up first to 20 with Chicago and then up to 13 with Tampa Bay so they could take Vacarro. When the board fell this way, Dallas still had two players ranked as first rounders: Jonathan Cooper and Sheldon Richardson. If it were to fall this way in real life; how stoked would we all be?
With the 18th selection in the #MockThree NFL Draft, the Dallas Cowboys select... G Jonathan Cooper, University of North Carolina.
If you know me, you knew this pick was coming. I've been targeting Cooper since the season ended. Here's my write-up I turned in:
Dallas is ecstatic to get the player that they had coveted all along. In our scout's eyes, Cooper is the 5th best prospect in this draft, based on building the big board on BPAPN (Best Player Available at a Position of Need). Cooper is, by far, the best G suited for a zone-blocking-scheme; something the team started to move towards in 2012 and we figure to see more of in '13.
More importantly, Cooper will bring the pull and screen game back to the Dallas offense, something that has been sorely missing over the last few years. At the combine he showed greater burst and power than Warmack, and the tape shows that he definitely has better mobility and fluidity. When he weighed in over 310 lbs, up from 295 in college, it was a wrap.
The Cowboys <3 Romo and miss the run game, and with their second first-round linemen in the last three drafts, actually are going to act on that emotion.
By the time the 47th pick was coming in range, many of our defensive line prospects were long gone. Sheldon Richardson went one pick after Cooper, and Kawaan Short, Alec Ogletree, Datone Jones, Damontre Moore and Alex Okafor all went in the first round. Sylvester Williams, Cory Lemonier, Brandon Williams, Hankins, all gone. For the record, Larry Warford and Terron Armstead went 40 and 45 respectively.
After leaking that we were interested in trading down and sending out some offers, a few came in. Due to everyone and their mama looking to do the Trade Down Dance, a lot of the offers were disrespectful. People were expecting us to lose between 50 and 100 points on the Trade Value Chart; the equivalent of a 4th rounder!
There was one worthwhile offer; that came from the Minnesota Vikings. Interested in moving up for WR Quinton Patton, they offered us their 5th rounder (5.22) to move down from 47 to 52. We jumped on it.
Once we moved down, we ended up with the exact same list of targeted players despite moving down five picks; that is the paramount of successful trade downs.
After a very heated discussion of the best safety on the board...
With the 52nd selection in the #MockThree NFL Draft, the Dallas Cowboys select... S Eric Reid, LSU.
Eric Reid is an athletic marvel and a feared hitter that has plenty of range. He might need a little coaching up but he is an instant starter for the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys are extremely thin at safety, and having their 27th ranked player still available after trading back and picking up a 5th is a no brainer. Of sorts. The board really didn't break the way Dallas wanted and there was heated debate, but in the end the hard-hitting range covering LSU product is the choice. Moving to a Tampa 2, Dallas could use S help with the only ones currently on the roster missed all but 2 1/2 games between them last year. Barry Church and Matt Johnson haven't started any other games in their careers. Expect Dallas to also chase one of the numerous free agent safeties that have flooded the market.
Things got really interesting in the third round. We still had several needs to fill and trading down was becoming more and more difficult. When we got to the clock our decision was between OT Dallas Thomas, LB Zavier Gooden and QB Tyler Wilson. While I wasn't anti-QB, I wasn't a huge fan of Wilson while my assistant GMs were. The true battle was between Thomas and Gooden and whether or not a combination of Tackle then LB or LB then Tackle would help us improve the most. The way my draft board was set up, Brennan Williams was closer to Thomas than Keith Pough was to Gooden. Also for me, Gooden has the ability to play any of the three LB spots, which to me is paramount seeing that neither Sean Lee nor Bruce Carter has played a full season in the pros.
With the 80th selection in the #MockThree NFL Draft, the Dallas Cowboys select... LB Zavier Gooden, Missouri.
The Cowboys have grabbed themselves an extremely athletic marvel for the linebacking corps. Gooden outshined every linebacker in every speed category at the combine, and then added four inches to his vertical at the Missouri Pro Day. Folks might think he's too slender for the Sam LB spot, but Shelton Quarles played there for Kiffin for a few years before moving to Mike. Not only that, but he provides a capable fill-in should Sean Lee or Bruce Carter go down with injury.
Most people say that Sam LB is an afterthought position, without thinking about the fact that we don't have backups for either Mike or Will. That's a huge problem. In doing research, I found that Monte Kiffin's original Sam LB in Tampa Bay was Shelton Quarles before he moved to the Mike. Kiffin has no problem using a less stout guy at the Sam and obviously one with the capabilities to play multiple positions. If Lee gets hurt, you slide Carter over, move Gooden in as Will and put Wilber or Albright at Sam; neither of whom could play Will or Mike. This is a dream scenario for us.
In the fourth round, we were pretty much deciding between OT Brennan Williams and DT Akeem Spence. Trying to stay true to the philosophy of the previous round, picking Williams was pretty much a no brainer. Several draftniks saw him as a 2nd or 3rd rounder and he seems to be the perfect future RT for us. In a normal situation he would probably sit for a year to improve his strength, but he might actually have a shot at replacing Doug Free this year and would definitely push him off the roster in 2014.
With the 111th selection in the #MockThree NFL Draft, the Dallas Cowboys select... OT Brennan Williams, North Carolina.
Thanks to our second round trade down, we had both the 144th and the 148th picks in the fifth round. Our decisions were pretty easy at this point, as we took a flyer on a running back with elite possibilities and a DT we had targeted last round that was still on the board.
With the 144th selection in the #MockThree NFL Draft, the Dallas Cowboys select... RB Knile Davis, Arkansas.
Speed Score of 124.5, 4.37 40 at 227 pounds. 31 reps on the bench press. 5th round, with an extra pick we didn't start with? Yes, Knile Davis please. Davis was ranked right up there as a prospect before the latest of his several injuries. A system reset and still not being recovered tanked his 2012 season and yes, he does have fumbling problems. Unfortunately for the rest of the league, you can fix fumbling problems. Davis completely destroyed the Scouting Combine and at this point, with a need at the position, you take a chance on someone that has shown elite talent. Yes, you'd rather have a non-injury risk to pair with DeMarco Murray, but this is life. Running back by committee with elite talent on the depth chart. #Winning.
With the 148th selection in the #MockThree NFL Draft, the Dallas Cowboys select... DT Akeem Spence, Illinois.
Seriously? What are the other GMs thinking? Spence is rated as a Top 65 player by every single draftnik I've come across. Lande, Pauline, Brugler, Ourlads... yet, somehow he makes it to Dallas at 148? Steal. While shorter than your prototypical DT, Spence has an ability to penetrate the LOS on a consistent basis, and also can chase down runners. This makes him perfect for a 1-gap scheme such as Kiffin's 4-3 Under/Over. He has an explosive closing burst. While he might not posess the skillset to be a Top 100 pick based on his 2012 play, he will be a great rotational guy with plenty of upside early on.
Finally, we were down to our final pick (although we tried unsuccessfully to trade 2014 picks to get back into the draft). While I really wanted us to pick up QB Landry Jones as our future Romo backup and possible Tom Brady candidate, my Asst. GMs made a compelling case for another direction. So we chose:
With the 175th selection in the #MockThree NFL Draft, the Dallas Cowboys select... WR Aaron Mellette, Elon.
It's always a gamble on whether a small-school star can translate that success to the NFL, but we feel confident that Mellette is worth that risk in the 6th round. His ability to snatch balls from over his head, behind him and at his feet jump out when evaluating the player. He isn't a blazer, but that seems to get more and more overrated in the NFL. Jason Garrett has a prototype for receivers; 6'3" 210 lbs and very fluid. The small-school star meets that criteria. He'll need some work, but expect him to be a solid NFL contributor down the line.
Now obviously the draft is only the major portion of amateur talent acquisition. As Tony Romo and Miles Austin will attest, the UDFA market can still reap huge rewards. With that in mind, here are the players that I'd target after going undrafted in #MockThree.
FB Zach Line (SMU) * OLB Kenny Tate (UMD) * RB Mike James (Miami) * TE Matt Furstenburg (UMD) * DE Wes Horton (USC) * CB/FS Micah Hyde (Iowa)
So that wraps up my experience in #MockThree - I have to say, it was way more tedious than I anticipated as it lasted over 5 days! It was a great time, though and I'd do it again in a heartbeat. You can look at the complete results of the exercise here. The drafts are being graded right now by Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout), member of the Pro Football Writers of America. What are your thoughts as to how we did?