Cowboys Draft 2013: A "Little Board" And Some Player Profile Trends

Jerry Lai-US PRESSWIRE

What can last week's list of national invitees to Valley Ranch tell us about the Cowboys' draft plans? Plenty! Not only can we tell which positions Dallas is targeting, but also when they are likely to draft them, and what position profiles interest them. As we prepare for April 25-27, that's a lot of useful information.

Every year, after we receive the list of national invitees to Valley Ranch, I use them to create what I call the "little board." Why do I repeat this exercise each and every April? Well, as we witnessed with 2010's leaked draft board (and have heard from sources like Bryan Broaddus), the Cowboys seek to whittle down the 450 or so eligible draftees to the 100-120 or so names that adorn their final draft board. If we assume that they are legitimately interested in the 35 to 40 draftable players who have visited the Ranch (each year, the vast majority of the local, "Dallas Day" invitees are UDFA types), we know between 25-40% of the players on the Cowboys' board. That's some good information to work with.

In addition, as our own O.C.C. brilliantly demonstrated in early March, by looking at which positions receive the most invitations, we can get a better idea about which positions Dallas is most likely to draft. In 2008, a total of eight corners and five running backs came to visit - and the Cowboys came away with two of each. In 2009, it was linebackers - Jason Williams was an at-large invitee and Stephen Hodge came for "Dallas Day." 2010: Wide receivers and offensive linemen, and they came away with Dez Bryant (all the O-linemen were snapped up very early). In 2011, they again invited a passel of "big uglies," as well as corners and inside linebackers. The result? Tyron Smith and Bruce Carter. In 2012, they invited six corners and eight offensive linemen, and came away with Mo Claiborne. The pattern is obvious.

Which brings us to this year's "little board." Although I'm not completely finished slotting all the prospects, a lot of useful information can be gleaned from this still-in-progress exercise. Here's the 2013 board (the names in italics are the four draftable "Dallas Days" players):

1 (18) 2 (47) 3 (80) 4 (114) 5 (151) 6 (185)
OFFENSE
RB Gio Bernard Le’Veon Bell Joseph Randle Knile Davis
WR DeAndre Hopkins
Marcus Wheaton
Terrance Williams
Josh Boyce
OG Chance Warmack
Johnathan Cooper
Kyle Long Justin Pugh
Travis Frederick
DEFENSE
DE Damontre Moore Margus Hunt Stansly Maponga
DT Sheldon Richardson Kawann Short Bennie Logan Jordan Hill
OLB Sio Moore Sean Porter Gerald Hodges Brandon Magee
SS Kenny Vacarro Johnathan Cyprien J. J. Wilcox Jakar Hamilton
FS Eric Reid Phillip Thomas

Some thoughts:

A cursory glance at this board makes it obvious which positions the Cowboys are targeting: on defense, they'll look at defensive tackles, outside linebackers and safeties. On offense, it will be offensive guards, wide receivers and running backs. This is not to say that they won't take a player at a position not among these should the value present itself, but I think at least four of their 2013 draft picks will come from these positions, and it wouldn't surprise me to see more. The good news, as we've pointed out on these pages before, is that these are both the team's positions of greatest need and the strongest positions in this year's draft.

Moreover, we can get a decent idea which positions they'll be looking at in which rounds:

Offensive guard: rounds 1-3
Wide receiver: round two or not at all
Running backs and outside linebackers: day two or three (rounds 2-5)
Defensive tackle: rounds 1-4
Safeties: throughout the draft, but mostly in rounds 1-2

But there's also information on the types of player the team appears to want for each position. I'll have a "draft target" profile on each of these guys before the draft (I've already done the defensive linemen and am currently working my way through the linebackers); for each, I have to type out what draftniks think of them, a tedious yet highly instructive process. Not only do I learn a lot about the different prospects but by preparing their profiles over a short period of time, can recognize similar phrases that tend to crop up for, say, all the outside linebackers in the group. What can be gleaned via this pattern recognition? It's clear that the Cowboys are going to be targeting a few specific types:

Athletic, one-gap defensive tackles. Although we have spilled a lot of ink wondering who might serve as the big-bodied "one-tech" DT in Kiffin's 4-3, it looks like they want two smaller guys who win one-on-one (or, in the case of the one-tech, one-on-two) battles with quickness. Look at the listed weights of the invited DTs; all are in the 300-310 range (Hill 303; Logan 309; Richardson 294; Short 299). Kiffin's best Tampa Bay D-line had two tackles, in Warren Sapp and Booger McFarland, who fit this profile exactly. And, if all their D-tackles fit roughly the same profile, they can rotate and mix-and-match them more easily.

All-purpose running backs in the DeMarco Murray mold. Throughout the offseason, we have speculated which smaller, change-of-pace (COP) backs might interest the organization. If this list is anything to go by, the answer is: Lance Dunbar. The backs they invited to the Ranch all have games resembling Murray's: physical, one-cut runners who are also good to excellent receivers. Its seems clear that the team not only values these attributes, but doesn't want to alter the gameplan when they sub backs in and out, as they have done the past two years with Murray and Felix Jones, who specialized in very different run calls.

Wide receivers with good size who have elite speed and/ or are polished route runners - or both. It appears that the team is interested in two receiver profiles: the kind of guy, like former Steeler Mike Wallace, capable of taking the top off of a defense by running past defensive backs (both Wheaton and Boyce are 4.3 guys who can stretch a defense). Think back to last year's supplemental draft when they were willing to spend a third-rounder on Baylor's Josh Gordon, another speedster with good size. By its behavior, the team seems to know that, as talented as their offensive skill players are, what they lack is the elite deep threat, a guy capable of opening up things for everybody else.

The other wideout profile is a Michael Irvin type: a polished (and crafty) route runner. Clemson's Hopkins fits this bill nicely. Jerry Jones is on record saying the league-wide WR bust rate scares him; to avoid this scarifying trend, the Cowboys seem to focus on early-round WRs who are receivers rather than athletes; the latter group tend to excite scouts but struggle to get open against NFL-caliber corners.

Outside linebackers with quickness and lateral agility. The Cowboys are interested in OLB types who are likely slotted across a variety of rounds. Despite this disparity they boast some similar traits: undersized; good speed; burst; good lateral agility. Back in early February, I wrote a post in which I looked at Kiffin's core defensive philosophies. One of these stood out in particular: quickness. In an old Buccaneers playbook, he wrote:

The quicker the defense, the harder it is for the offensive team to score. It only makes sense [that] if your defense has overall team quickness the better the opportunity to swarm and gang tackle. The best of both worlds is size and quickness, but if something has to give, take the quickness.

At the time, I opined that we should start scouring draft profiles looking for the smaller, quicker players that manned Jimmy Johnson's front sevens. Dallas appears to be looking for a future starter at the "SAM" position as well as talented backups who can play special teams (another trait the OLBs share is that they are experienced "teams" guys, and many excelled in that regard as collegians). One thing is certain: whoever they bring in to fill these roles, he will be quick, quick, quick.

The Right Kind of Guys. As has been the case the last two drafts, this year's crop of prospects is filled with high-character guys: hard workers; players who practice hard and live in the weight room; leaders in the huddle; coaches' favorites; special teams demons; and team captains - often for more than one year. Whenever we talk about RKGs, its important to note, as Garrett does, that the baseline qualifier is the requisite athletic talent to succeed in the NFL. But the type of players who interest the Cowboys are those that are more likely to maximize whatever talent they have.

High-round guards. As I noted in one of my offseason strategy posts, the Cowboys have three types of players on the offensive line depth chart: first-round talent (Tyron Smith); low-rent free agents (Nate Livings, Makenzy Bernadeau) and late-round/ UDFA draftees (everybody else). There's little benefit in bringing in any players who match the last two profiles, as that's not likely to provide a significant talent upgrade. And, given the team's financial situation, they can't afford to break the bank to get an Andy Levitre-type free agent O-lineman. Thus, the only avenue lies in the draft's first and second days. And, indeed, this is where they appear to be focusing their energies. As they did last year, the Cowboys have kicked the tires on almost every offensive guard who merits a high-round selection. Hopefully, this year, they won't miss out as they did in 2011.

Mobile offensive linemen. Other than Chance Warmack, who is such a "war daddy" that he must be made an exception, the teams is interested in mobile offensive linemen - especially guards who can pull, trap and are effective in space and on the second level. Take a look at the guys on the "little board"; there are several offensive tackles (and Terron Armstead could be added to this list) who will have to kick inside due to short arms or other issues. Justin Pugh and Kyle Long would struggle as NFL tackles, and don't have the raw power to succeed in a root-'em-out offensive scheme. But they are very good foot athletes, who would flourish in a more mobile group.

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If we can assume that the team's interest in these players is legitimate - and history suggests that it is - then we can fill out the remaining 80-100 spots on Dallas' draft board by looking at non-invitees who share these traits. I'll offer up a post on this exact subject in the next few days. In the meantime, I'd love to hear from our members: which players, who fit these targets' profiles, might we add to the list of prospects who have their names on the wall in the Cowboys' War Room?

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