Time to retire the rules, 'cause Jerry's not in charge anymore! While trading down at a loss (read: pouting) after their top tier targets were chosen does sound like a Jerry move, there's no way Jerry would have had the discipline to take a C/G after watching their second-tier targets disappear also. Jerry would have seen the pending headlines of "First Round Failure" and panicked. His choice would have been one that could somehow be sensationalized and/or defended as the plan all along--Margus Hunt, Tank Carradine, Manelik Watson, Keenan Allen or Justin Hunter or Eddie Lacy...
Obviously this wasn't how the Cowboys hoped the first round would fall, so they doubled-down to try again at 31. Sure it would have been nice to get more than a 3rd for such a major drop. And in hindsight, (slash foresight as I can't imagine they'll make good use of that extra 3rd), I would have preferred Pugh at 18 over Frederick-plus-1 at 31. But if they'd taken Pugh at 18, we would be reading the same stories today--nobody had him as more than a second rounder, he was a forced pick after their other plans failed, blah blah blah.
So instead of whining, I'm praising the front office team for recognizing that this was their last chance to get one of their second-tier OL targets and pulling the trigger, even if he wasn't the guy they were hoping for and even though it meant passing on some other good talent at need positions (Cyprien, who would have been my pick, and Carradine and Moore).
But the big story is that Jerry has officially been dethroned/neutered in the draft room. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, because he's not pulling the strings anymore. And I've never been so happy to be wrong.
(and yes, I realize that some of you have already been telling me this for two years... congratulations to you.)
We all know the tools in the belt of most amateur mock drafters: pre-draft visit lists, anonymous tips from NFL insiders, composite mocks from the blogosphere, and expert “big boards” and mocks from every former scout, GM and TV analyst on the planet. But before you settle on your own final Cowboys mock, that carefully selected set of picks on which all your draftnik bragging rights depends, don’t miss out on the greatest draft tool of them all: Jerry’s Draft Rules, revised 2013 edition.
That’s right, years of agonizing observation and persistent attempts to make sense of the madness that often reigns from Valley Ranch on draft day have led to what amounts as a direct line into the talent-acquisition section of the mind of Jerry Jones. Thinking like Jerry has its painful moments, but the reward of rarely being surprised on draft day (except in round 3 where surprise is the name of the game) makes it all worthwhile.
For the sake of our common sanity, I present the following guide to the 2013 Cowboys draft as controlled by Jerry. Unless, of course, you buy into all the nonsense about someone other than Jerry making the calls from the draft room (which, I’ll admit, sounded perfectly reasonable right up until Mo Claiborne slid to pick 6 last year…). Anyway, read on and be enlightened.
Rule #1: The First Pick is for Making Money. This is the headliner on the new Cowboys world tour. This is the name that will wipe away the memories of last season’s futility, reinvigorate the fanbase, and dominate the preseason headlines—not to mention pump up ticket and merchandising sales. Instant impact is what we’re looking for: sorry all of you meat-and-potatoes strategists, this one is about the only bottom line that matters to Jerry. That profit margin, by the way, is what best explains the Tyron Smith pick (a rookie contract bargain at a top-dollar position), not some newfound dedication to the OL. Safe picks be damned, this is where the next star will be found.
In this draft, the Cowboys don’t sit at a good spot for a money-maker pick. The only realistic option combining instant playmaking potential with that coveted “highest rated ___ by far, we stole a top-10 pick” press conference is S Kenny Vaccaro. But he’s not particularly inspiring, so the surest bet is that a shiny pass rusher is going to end up as the Cowboys first pick, and they’ll probably trade to improve their position. A trade down to an “unbelievable value” headline (Carradine, Woerner, or Moore) is a decent option, other than the forehead-smacking smokescreen Jerry just dropped about preferring to trade down this year. Finally, as much as I can picture Jerry lusting after a sidekick for Dez, Tavon Austin doesn’t fit Jerry’s WR profile at all and Patterson doesn’t have the hype to warrant the pick.
Round 1 Prediction-by-Percentage: 60% DE, 20% S, 20% WR (Bonus P-by-P: 40% trade up, 40% stay put, 20% trade down)
Rule #2: Offensive Line is a Secondary Draft Priority. Sure, the OL matters to Jerry. But there are just so many other excellent ways to spend a draft pick. I honestly believe that Plan A in the Cowboys draft room this year, as in many others in recent history, is to grab at least one OL in the first two rounds. But when it comes time to pull the trigger, things just never work out that way—their target (Pugh, in this case) is grabbed before they can get him or a must-have player drops into their laps… there’s always another priority to honor, and besides, there’s great OL value to be had in the next round. We all hate it, but it happens year after year.
Why should this year be any different? The Cowboys have enough holes that when some highly rated player slides further than expected, Jerry will have no trouble making the case for OL procrastination. Safety is the most likely spot, and who wouldn’t love the defensive makeover story of a fresh(?) DC with rookie talents at DE and S? WR2 would also trump OL, as would SLB. Plus, it’s about time for another just-like-Witten TE project, so that’s the darkhorse pick. Oh, and if for some reason Jerry does trade down in round 1? That’s an immediate guarantee of a trade up in round 2—first pick disappointment is barely noticeable at a “two of our top 25 prospects” presser…
Round 2 P-by-P: 40% S, 25% WR, 20% TE, 15% SLB
Rule #3: Round 3 is for Proving You’re Smarter Than Everyone Else. This is the round where Jerry figures draft picks just don’t matter very much. Or, if you’re of the “someone else is in charge” perspective, this is the pick that that someone promises to let Jerry make on his own just to keep him occupied. The only sure thing is that "project" will be used to describe any player picked in this spot. Face it, we have no idea what’s coming in this round, so don’t even try.
This year, as always, there’s a 50% chance that the Cowboys won’t end up with a 3rd round pick, either because Jerry’s used it to jump over the Steelers to get a pass rusher or because he’s traded it for some magic Kiper-beans. If they keep the pick, it stands to reason that this may be the round that they’re finally forced to address the OL. But it’s far more likely that the pick will be spent somewhere we least suspect, or at least on a player that we’re all mocking in round 5 or 6.
Round 3 P-by-P: 50% traded, 50% surprise pick, 0% your pet cat, 0% Gerald Hodges (my pet cat)
Rule #4: Everybody Loves A Theme Party. Your knickers aren’t the only things that get bunched when Jerry drafts: his picks often come in positional bunches as well. Need a LB? Why not take 4? (LBs in 2009), or 3 DEs in 2005, 3 CBs in 2000, etc. At least backup an early investment with a safety net: Marten/Free, Felix/Choice, Jenkins/Scandrick. Or if positional double-downs aren’t your thing, consider the theme drafts of 2006 (Parcells’ Guys), 2009 (Special Teams), 2011 (RKG), or 2012 (Claiborne and ?). Balance has been improving over the last few years, though, so perhaps Jerry simply loses interest and lets someone else throw the darts after round 3.
The best bet for a positional overload this year is DL, with the overall theme being a “Full Monte” of 4-3 defenders. As to the quality of those players, well, it’s been a long, long time since the Cowboys received high marks from media draftniks for their mid-to-late round picks. The Cowboys scouting department rarely seems to line up with popular opinion, though that’s hardly a way to measure success. The draft is pure dumb luck at this point, but that’s still not a good reason to draft David Buehler…
Rounds 4-7 P-by-P: 75% overall defensive players drafted, 50% 4-7th round picks beaten out by UDFAs
So there you go, now you know what will be going through Jerry’s mind on Thursday and Friday. If it works out this way, I’m a genius. If not, well, I guess that’s solid proof that Stephen or Garrett or someone else has finally tied Jerry’s hands on draft day. Either way, I’ll be back afterwards to say I told you so, so don’t take me too seriously and enjoy the draft!