The NFL draft is just two weeks away. There is a bit of a paradox that goes on this time of year. While the perception of the players among fans, reporters, bloggers and analysts often gets more volatile, the teams are likely getting their draft boards more and more locked down, especially if they have good scouting staffs that the GM and head coach trust.
Since all the mock drafts and player boards done by those of us who do not get paychecks from an owner of an NFL team are really just our guesses at what the professionals think of the college athletes trying to make the league, there is a great deal of interest in trying to ferret out any information about how those pros grade the prospects. At least one theory, which I saw most concisely explained in the Twitter feed from NFL Philosophy, is that movement on the boards and in the mocks at this time of year, especially those done by fairly well-connected reporters, largely reflects what the various authors think they have found out about the real boards for the various teams. In other words, a player suddenly moving up or down in the media likely means they are hearing things from their team sources and are trying to adjust their guesses to be more accurate.
There have been several players this week that have seen their draft stock on the rise. Two that are of particular interest to the Dallas Cowboys, because of the position they play and the fact that they now are being projected to move up from earlier ranking to be near the number 18 pick that Dallas holds in round one, are Eric Reid and D.J. Fluker. Our inimitable OCC has looked over the reports about Reid proposed that he may be a "best option" for the Cowboys. And in Todd McShay's latest mock, his version 5.0, for ESPN (unfortunately behind the paywall there), he has Fluker going just behind Dallas at 19, to our good friends the New York football Giants.
If this indeed is a reflection of some more accurate insight into how the Cowboys view the players, it would indicate that the team has those players down as first round talents. If you have been following things lately, you know that this year's draft is seen as being a bit short on legitimate first round picks, but deep on second round talent. The belief is that teams are seeing somewhere between 15 and 20 players that warrant first round consideration, and around 60 legitimate second round candidates. If that is true, then Dallas should be in pretty good shape at 18. Even though they may be on the low end of the expected range for first rounders, there is still an excellent chance that a few teams will see things differently enough to reach a bit (by Dallas' standards) and push a player they want in the first round down to them.
The worst thing for Dallas would be for the board to be bare when they go on the clock. This would mean that the team would either have to spend a first rounder for a player they don't see as true first round talent, or they would have to try and trade back, which is not going to be easy given the fact that just about everyone in the league feels the same about the draft, at least according to everything I can read about it. I don't think trading down is really viable this year.
At least as long as they are being honest about the way they rank the prospects on the board, the biggest danger for them, or any team, is to start overvaluing players to try and fill out he first round. As I said, Dallas should not really have to do that, since they sit right about as far as the "real" first rounders should stretch, and there will almost certainly be a quarterback or cornerback that some team is going to reach a bit, and probably more than one, before the Cowboys fill out their card.
But if the team has let itself get lured into overvaluing a player like Reid or Fluker, then they might wind up using that first round pick on someone who "fits a need", and letting a more solid talent who happens to be at some other position slip by them. That is why the recent buzz in articles and on Twitter about those two has me concerned. Is it a reflection of a long-held view of those two, or is the team being influenced by recent rumor and reporting? Everyone likes to think that scouting is going to be totally objective and based on what can be seen and measured about the players. The real world, however, tends to not be like that. You start hearing things from other teams, or at least what the other teams are supposed to be thinking, and even the most knowledgeable out there start to wonder if maybe they have missed something.
Now, I have no idea what is really going on at Valley Ranch, but I do see some people who report on the team and supposedly have some contacts that talk to them putting some favorable things out there about Reid and Fluker. Reid has especially been getting some really nice mentions from Dallas area writers lately. I am encouraged that some of those good reviews of him seem to have been around for a bit, which would be an indicator that he has been on the team's radar before all the chatter started. I also remember some talk about Fluker going back to before the combine, which would be a plus.
I just don't want the Cowboys leaning towards either of them because it is trendy. This draft has a great potential to bring some real help for the team, especially in the first three rounds. But with the talent levels rather close among most of the top 100 players, they need to really work at getting it right. That's why seeing a bunch of talk about players being rated more highly by teams this time of year is a little scary to me. I don't know how true it is, of course, but if it is, I also don't know how much the teams are being influenced by nothing more than talk. We all know how cheap that is.