On the heels of my participation in #MockThree, and off of the variety of questions I get asked repeatedly on the @BloggingTheBoys Twitter account (shameless plug, go follow us!), I figured that a post to open discussions on the common memes of Cowboys 2013 Draft would be a good one. There are several repeating concepts about what Dallas needs to do come April, especially on the heels of a slow start to free agency. Now, while some of these can be rationalized to some degree, I've reached different conclusions and thought it would be good starting points for a discussion or two.
I understand that not everyone will agree with me on these subjects, which is kind of the point. This is an opinion piece, based on things as I perceive them. I request and encourage you to weigh in where you disagree.
We have an age problem, not a depth problem on the defensive line. Assuming that Anthony Spencer isn't dealt for draft picks as some fans still feverishly jones for, Monte Kiffin should feel able to enter 2013 with a formidable pass-rushing defensive line. Ware at Open End, Hatcher and Ratliff interchanging as 1-tech and 3-tech tackles and Spencer at Closed End... that's really a pretty good group to go to war with. The issue is that three of the four players are over 30 and the fourth will be there after the season. But why does that mean this group wouldn't be up to the task for 2013? It doesn't.
If you put any stock into PFF's ratings, Hatcher (+25.7) and Spencer (+23.0) ranked amongst the best defensive front players in the NFL. Are they considered the best DT and DE on the team? See?
There is also a little bit of depth behind them. While Sean Lissemore's season of increased opportunity wasn't what everyone had hoped for, he still flashed, especially towards the end of the season. Tyrone Crawford seems like he is capable of taking on a bigger role as both a 5-tech closed end and possibly inside. Throw in the reclamation project known as Brian Price and that might be three people capable of being starters in the league in the very near future.
There is of course the counter argument that centers around Ratliff's lack of recent availability due to injury and the fact that DeMarcus Ware struggled with multiple ones while staying in the lineup. I get that, I really do. But all in all, Dallas is planning on those players being available on a regular basis in 2013. I don't think there is a mandate on taking a DL with the first pick. I'd welcome it at any point in the draft thereafter, but unless one of the top prospects inexplicably falls, I'd like them to go in a different direction for Round One.
Eric Reid, Matt Elam, Phillip Thomas, Shamarko Thomas, Bacarri Rambo. All capable and projected to be Day One starters at the free safety position and picked after the 2nd round starts. I made the point previously that in order to actually capitalize on a draft being deep at a certain position, you can't exactly take the top rated player there. That's not the definition of capitalizing on depth.
Now, that's not to say that taking the best player at a position is a bad idea. Clearly it's not. Vacarro would be a great addition to any secondary, but are you maximizing the haul you could take away from the draft if you went with another position here and one of the other safeties in Rounds 2 or 3? If/when Dallas signs Ronde Barber to be a one-year player, or Michael Huff to a longer deal, then I'm comfortable with one of the aforementioned guys to join the fray with Barry Church and Matt Johnson.
The edict that you win in the trenches has been time tested, and goes back a lot farther than the Cowboys needing to fix their line. The line was good during 2007-2009, we have winning teams and go to the playoffs. The line has been bad since, we haven't gone. Are there other factors? Sure, but to think the parts that "put points on the board" can do so without a competent line is a little questionable. We had the worst running attack in the history of the Cowboys in 2012. Is that DeMarco Murray's fault or the fact that the line has gotten so bad the coaches don't even try to run anymore? Where are our screens, pulling plays... heck, do we even run our infamous delayed draw anymore?
The line leaks from every orifice, clearly affecting Romo's decision making and we have all witnessed that he is very susceptible to moments of bad decision making. I'm pretty sure improving his confidence in the line would improve his composure if he didn't have to guess which area he would feel pressure from on each play.
Of course, you can get "good enough" later in the draft and "good enough" can win. But you'll probably have one or two misses for every hit 3rd round or after. Can we afford to do that? Doug Free was good enough for a couple years as a fourth rounder; he's no longer that. The further you go into a draft, the higher the chances of drafting a player that isn't capable. Atlanta, San Francisco, New England, Baltimore... all have starting O-Lines that include at least 3 first or second rounders, and then players that were drafted lower that have proved to be under-drafted. Seattle has a 1, 2 and a 3rd. The Cowboys have a 1st, a 4th, a 7th and 2 UDFAs. That's not good enough. Good enough later in the draft also probably takes longer to develop than 'great' right away; meaning that you are losing the window of those players that score points, such as Austin and Witten, and also are further into the rookie deals of those players before you reap the benefits of the cheap labor.
There are definitely other options to drafting Cooper/Warmack to fix the guard position. In theory, I agree that 18 is probably too high to draft a guard. I understand the financial aspect of spending a high pick on a player not from the "Money 5". But the neglect shown here mandates this be done if possible. It's risky to think that Warford is going to get to us in Rd 2. The 3rd round G Justin Pugh has a lot of upside, but he's being pushed inside as a former tackle with short arms. Winters from Kent State and Bailey from Arkansas have their own question marks. Why not just fix this thing, once and for all?
OK, you got your JAG at Sam LB. Who is going to backup oft-injured Sean Lee and Bruce Carter? Oh, forgot about that, huh? The description of the position might make it seem like anyone could play the role, but the situation of the Cowboys does not allow that to be a fact. Outside of Ernie Sims, who people seem to forget was sitting on his couch as a 4-3 Will linebacker before Dallas called him, there isn't anyone on the roster to fill in should either Lee or Carter miss any time.
Alex Albright and Kyle Wilber are possibilities to man the Sam position; I'll give them a shot despite not thinking either is a great player. They most certainly are not going to be able to chase players all over the field like the Mike and Will have to. In that vein, I think Dallas needs to get a Mike or Will capable linebacker and then plug him into the Sam spot.
A lot is made about the body type of the Sam needing to be a bigger guy than the other two spots, but look closer at Monte Kiffin's history? Shelton Quarles was his starting Sam LB until he moved over to the Mike position the year they won the Super Bowl, 2002. Sure does look like Kiffin prefers talent over body type.
While I wouldn't be mad if the Cowboys drafted a pure Sam LB like Howard's Keith Pough, I'd much rather have them draft a great, athletic linebacker, period. The ability to play should one of the top two guys get injured should be paramount for the Cowboys collegiate scouts.
As currently constituted, Dallas' running back corps consists of DeMarco Murray, Lance Dunbar and Phillip Tanner. That's one injury-riddled but highly effective starter and two third-backs. There is a gaping hole in the depth chart for a primary backup player. The former backup, Felix Jones, is currently a free agent. Like the majority of this year's FA running backs, he isn't getting a lot of love from the market at this point. Teams are looking to the draft to fill out their depth charts and most of these guys will probably get interest once we're through that exercise and teams that weren't able to supplement come calling. Dallas is expected to be one of the teams in the hunt during that last weekend of April and most people are saying, "whomever they pick better be durable. We're tired of the injured running back." Why?
Two extremely injury-prone guys and Dallas has never been without one or the other. I know that is minimizing what Felix went through last year. He was oft-injured and in two of the games, vs Atlanta and Washington, he started despite suffering from shoulder and knee ailments. But he was able to give the team something in those games. He also entered the Week 16 contest against Philly in 2011 hurt but played initially until it was deemed a throwaway game after Romo's injury.
So is adding a guy with an injury history a bad idea? Not to me. I'm not talking about taking a guy with limited skills that also poses an injury risk; that's not a good plan. But a guy that has first round pedigree and has dropped because of injury? Like a Marcus Lattimore or a Knile Davis? Yes please, with a side of hurry up.
Not saying you draft Lattimore in the 2nd or Davis in the 3rd, but after those jump off points, each should be viable options for Dallas. If Dallas was drafting either to be a feature back, I'd have my reservations, but the upside of getting that kind of talent at those spots in the draft make as much sense to me as hoping lesser talents overcome those shortcomings to be what you need them to be.
For as many jokes as I have had about Martellus Bennett and his complete lack of pass catching ability while in Dallas, I do understand he was valuable as a blocker. I know that Dallas missed his contributions last season. However, I don't see how using one of our six draft picks on a blocking TE is anywhere up on the list of ways to immediately help this franchise. There are very high hopes that James Hanna's development will lead to a greater role this season and in case people forgot, Jason Witten is one of the best all-around tight ends in football history. While his YPA took a major hit this season, his blocking seemed to bounce back after a down year in 2011.
Would it be far-fetched to put more of the inline responsibility on Witten as Hannah develops as a vertical threat?
Even if they sign Romo to the extension, which I certainly think they will, why wouldn't you at least look for a cheaper option as the backup? Kyle Orton is scheduled to make $3.25m in 2014. That's a lot of money to pay a guy that you hope never sees a snap on the field. The expensive quality back up QB is one of the most overrated thought processes, in my humble opinion. Is Orton even that good? I know that he's played on bad teams before, but he could never unseat Rex Grossman and lost his job to Tim Tebow. Meh.
While there is a dearth of top-level signal callers in this draft, there are a handful of project guys that could help Dallas as soon as next year, provided they actually have the coaching to develop a quarterback. Matt Scott, Zac Dysert, Mike Glennon, Tyler Wilson, Tyler Bray all have potential if the right staff knows how to improve their individual deficiencies.
The Cowboys don't necessarily need to be looking for Romo's future heir. I'm not opposed to that either but I have confidence Romo can deliver with a competent team around him. A viable young backup simply makes sense, financially and practically.