Dallas Cowboys Draft: What Will Jerry Do?

Jerry Lai-US PRESSWIRE

You can mock and rank and study prospects all you want. What is really important as draft day approaches for the Dallas Cowboys is the intentions and plans of Jerry Jones and his key staff.

Is the draft here yet?

I am so tired of the waiting. I had fun during the recent BTB FPW mock draft, but now I am just ready to see what really happens. Let's get to the real picks.

My approach to the draft has always been a tad different. I am very curious about the philosophy and approach the team takes. We are very fortunate to have Archie Barberio and rabblerousr writing here, because both of them do an outstanding job of studying and analyzing players. I know they are way, way better at that than I am. Me, I want to study Jerry and Stephen Jones, Jason Garrett, and Tom Ciskowski. I figure there are always some players that the team has a very different view of than the fan base does, and that the draft board at Valley Ranch may well hold some real surprises.

OCC has already done a brief recap of the Cowboys' NFL mandated predraft press conference, which featured those big four Valley Ranch decision makers in the draft, but I sat and listened carefully to the original video a couple of times for some indicators of how the brain trust thinks about it.

There were some very specific bits of information that came out of it, but the first thing that struck me was the whole dynamic of the four men sitting there. As several people in the twitterverse mentioned, this was a Jerry centric show. Jones did about 90% of the talking, with his typical wandering, convoluted and garbled style. And he started off the whole thing by making a joke about how he really did not plan to tip anything specific. But, given that this was Jerry, he still had to talk, and talk, and talk. Along the way, he had each of the others make a brief statement or two about something to show they were there and part of the infamous process, but this was clearly Jerry's soapbox. As a matter of fact, I got the impression the other three, who all had a bit of a poker face for most of the affair, would just as soon have let Jerry do the whole thing solo while they used the time to refine their plans.

But that is nothing new. We all know that one of the main appeals for Jerry Jones of owning an NFL team is that he gets to pontificate to an eager press pretty much at will. Along the way in this case, there were some things said that are helpful in understanding the picks that Dallas will make during the draft.

Ciskowski had a revealing response to a question about how players are slotted within rounds. The question was about whether there were groupings within each round. The questioner (who I could not identify on the video) asked about there being perhaps fourteen players grouped at the top of the round, and then another group towards the lower end. Ciskowski explained that the Cowboys did not look at it that way. They went in and rated players as being a prospect for the first round, the second round, and so on. The implication was that it was a yes/no thing. In the first round, the team will either have names left on the board for the pick at 18 or not. If not, then I would expect the team would really try to find a trade partner. Otherwise, they will have to use the pick for what they see as a second round talent. However, if there are players left, then it should be a quick decision who to pick. And things might be a bit dicey for the team, based on this:

This is also confirmed by Broaddus, who said the Cowboys need two "surprise" picks ahead of them to get to someone they like. And the indication is clearly that they will go with one of the first round grades whatever position it represents. Remember, Dallas has already tailored the board to meet its needs. If I understand that correctly, they are not going to have a player that they cannot use. This is going to change a little by round, but a good example is that they are guaranteed to not have any quarterbacks with first round grades. That would just be a waste of a resource for them given the current situation (more about that later). Now, they may have some QBs with lower round grades to bring in as developmental players if things fall correctly, but not in round 1. So if the Cowboys go on the clock and at least one player is left on their first round list, they have a pick. Given sixteen possibilities, the team should be hoping for at least two players they don't want to go ahead of them. If that doesn't happen, then you can figure the team will really want a trade partner. If that fails, then they have to take the best second round prospect they have.

It is sad but true that the Cowboys don't really control their fate with the first round pick. Essentially two teams ahead of them have to overvalue players, by Dallas' evaluation, for things to work out.

Obviously, everything hinges on how good a job the Cowboys do of evaluating talent. It was in addressing this that Jerry Jones made what I thought was the most important statement of the whole interview. He said that he listens to the coaches, and especially likes to hear from new coaches how other organizations approach the draft, but the bottom line is that the scouts "really rule the day". His logic was excellent, based on the fact that coaches really start evaluating college players at the Senior Bowl, while the scouts look at the college talent year round. I am greatly encouraged by this, because I am not one of the crowd that thinks Jerry is dishonest. He can confuse the heck out of me, but I don't really see him as lying about stuff. I don't buy the whole idea that the team is looking to trade up because he said the opposite, for instance. He could always change his mind if he got some strangely cheap offer, or if, say, a Luke Joeckel, Dion Jordan or Chance Warmack unexpectedly slipped down into reasonable range, but I take him at his word that he would rather move back and gain picks this year. And I really like hearing that he puts his faith in the scouting department, which to me translates into sticking by the board. If your scouts are good, and the past three years of drafting lead me to believe that they are doing a pretty good job under Ciskowski, then the board is your roadmap to draft riches.

Jason Garrett brought up another point that fits in well with what Fisher reported above. He said that the team wants draftees that can play as quick as they can. I have a sneaking suspicion that someone has let his red haired nature out about the recent history of drafting and signing injured players, and this might have been him staking a little ground he plans to make a stand on this year. Perhaps I am reading too much into that, but he also talked about how players like Matt Johnson and Kyle Wilber did not contribute much last season and need to be a factor this year.

Outside the injury situation, I think the main thing is that the team wants an instant starter, ala Tyron Smith and Morris Claiborne, in the first, and players that can assume significant roles this season on offense and defense in the second and third rounds, like Tyrone Crawford. If possible, they would like to see some DeMarco Murray type players come in the second day of the draft, who would also contend for a starting job coming out of training camp, but that is not a requirement. It should be for that first day pick, however, and Dallas seems to have broken that code the past couple of years. Given all that, this shows why a quarterback is not going to be in that first or second round group for Dallas. Barring disaster, they would just be holding a clipboard for a while. That is something you may put a third or fourth round pick into, but not something higher, especially with the current crop. None of the quarterbacks available have "instant starter" written all over them.

Given the perceived depth of the players worthy of a second round selection, the team can hopefully get into the third round and find one of their second round targets still hanging around at 80 (barring trades). This is why I really, really want to believe Jerry about preferring a trade back. Given the precarious situation in the first, the best bet for getting max bang for the buck is in the second and third rounds.

I think you can get a very good sense for the way the team is approaching the draft from the statements in that press conference, some of which just reinforce things we have seen before (if we are willing to really look). But all plans have a tendency to only last until the first thing comes up to disrupt them. In the military, it was the saying that no plan survives the first contact with the enemy. In the draft, it is that the best plan can be totally screwed up by the teams picking ahead of you.

At least we will know for sure Thursday night.

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