After months of mock drafts, debates, conjectures, projections, and conclusions (us, the teams were busy doing the actual research) the 2013 NFL draft is in the books. In a strange draft class with few top tier players and many 2nd round talents, players that were mocked in the second and third rounds were drafted everywhere from the first round to the fifth. As zany as expected, the 2013 Draft was the first to see two tackles taken at the top and no running back going in the first, and a cluster of the top quarterbacks going late in the second day. It seemed teams were playing a pick ‘em by need in deep but murky BPA waters. Three linemen expected to go in the second or third rounds went in the first. At picks 19 and 20, the Giants and Bears picked their favorite of the second-tier linemen in Justin Pugh and Kyle Long. With virtually all the top tier prospects gone by 18, it could have been three in a row. Instead, the Cowboys traded down and added an early third round pick, which in this draft guaranteed a second round talent. By all accounts, the Cowboys got their top (2nd tier) choice of interior linemen. While the physical and mental upsides of this Wisconsin honored prospect have been identified, the pick will continue to draw harsh debates about the 2013 draft. Putting that aside, it seems the Cowboys were comfortable passing on Floyd or Reid, and trading down to guarantee four picks in the Top 80 in a deep draft.
Personally, I consider 1st round prospects (top tier guys) to be immediate starters on virtually any team, guys that fit perfectly into your system, have already excelled in college, and are NFL ready day one. I did not think any were left at 18 for the Cowboys. Personally, I had already mentioned that I saw little difference between Floyd and Sylvester, and the Cowboys concluded that an extra pick was of greater value than "reaching" for anyone at the 18th pick in the draft.
2nd round prospects are future starters. While they can compete for starting jobs against average incumbents and have the upside of 1st rounders, they often are only solid backups and/or rotational players for a year or two before becoming reliable starters. With the trade down, the Cowboys were hoping to get four such players in the 2013 draft. It is my opinion they came away with a whopping SIX!
Travis Frederick OC/OG
The Cowboys clearly needed the most help on the interior of their offense, so their first pick logically went towards the o-line where they took the top prospect available. With an impressive eight o-linemen gone by the Cowboys new first round pick at #31, the team seemed relieved and excited to get Travis Frederick. He will compete for any of the three interior-line starting jobs, and I suspect he will make Nate Livings an acceptably expensive (but reliable) backup for a year before being released in 2014. At worst, Frederick becomes the versatile game-day back-up at center and both guard positions his rookie year.
He has the physical tools to help considerably in the running game and anchor in the passing game against even the largest NFL defensive lineman. His intelligence will undoubtedly improve the oline's ability to pick up stunts and delayed blitzes (an area of weakness in 2012) and will also help him identify the proper chip-block to second-level progression in zone run-blocking schemes. Not sure why people are complaining. Frederick is exactly what the Cowboys oline needed, a potential starter in the interior and someone to provide some brains and toughness to the Big Uglies.
Escobar was considered by many the second-best tight end in the draft. After Eifert, Ertz was the most NFL ready, but Escobar is the most natural pass-catching tight end and has more athletic upside. While people will have a hard time complaining about Escobar as a second-round talent and potential starter, it did surprise most Cowboys fans due to the position at which the talent was added. However, Witten is not a young man, and Garrett has talked about the importance of fixing the Cowboys run game and implementing more two tight end sets. Escobar will be a matchup nightmare for defenses, should easily win the second TE job, and is clearly the heir apparent to Witten. In fact, here is part of a scouting report on the 6'6" TE...
He does a good job of getting clean releases from the line. He is big and quick enough to beat jams at the line of scrimmage. As a blocker, he still has work to do in this area but can get the job done. As he gets stronger and learns more, he should be able to become an effective inline blocker. Witten needs to focus on his lower body, as he can be bull rushed at times. He does a good job of blocking in the open field.
Possesses the skill-set to become a star receiving tight end at the next level...He will be a popular safety valve in which every offense he goes to. While he isn't the blocker he needs to be right now, he has the frame, length, and athletic ability to develop into a serviceable in-line blocker at the next level. With the NFL moving towards tight end centered passing attacks, a big, athletic tight end like Gavin Escobar will have plenty of suitors on draft day.
Terrance Williams WR
The Cowboys only had two proven wide receivers on the roster that could play on the outside. Williams provides a lot of athletic ability to the depth chart. He has the size (6'2") and speed (sub 4.5 forty) that NFL teams covet on the outside. He is a smooth runner that creates yards after the catch, but he's also willing to take hits going across the middle and laying out for a ball. While he went to a smaller program in a slump, he did exactly what you want from such a prospect, he was elite against his competition.
He also seems like the ice to Dez Bryant's fire. After watching his press interviews, it became very clear that Williams is one of those rare receivers, the soft spoken but productive possession receiver with the ability to also stretch the field. The anti-diva, he won't complain about how often he will be targeted, but will strike at the heart of a defense that doesn't respect him. This pick provides insurance to Austin's hammy, a replacement for Austin when his contract inflates in the coming years, and improves the Cowboys three-receiver sets considerably, while also allowing them to bring Austin into the slot. On many NFL teams, Williams would be competing for a starting job, but will likely become the #3 in Dallas.
Make no mistake, the first three picks by the Cowboys were as Romo-friendly as anyone could imagine. Frederick helps against both the pass and the run, Escobar increases the passing threat of the 12 personnel and thus also the running game, not to mention adding another solid red zone target. And Williams helps the Cowboys passing game, both the WR depth chart and multiple receiver sets.
J.J. Wilcox SS/FS
Wilcox possesses all the physical traits of an NFL safety, combining a six foot 215 lb frame with 4.5 speed and 35 inch vertical. While he does not have a lot of experience playing safety in college, being a converted running back, in just one season he showed he understood how to play and eventually excel at the position. He doesn't shy away from contact (88 tackles in 13 games), and uses his experience playing on offense to understand how the defense is being attacked. While he may not win a starting job this season as he, Church, Johnson, and Allen fight for two spots, he provides a lot of upside and will also compete for the starting kick returner spot.
Like me, Mike Mayock seemed to like the pick.
""I love J.J. Wilcox. He'll play on special teams and he'll compete for the starting job and ultimately, he is a starting safety."
B.W. Webb CB
If Webb was a couple of inches taller and played at a bigger program, he would likely have been considered one of the best cornerbacks of this draft. Instead, he becomes a great value pick in the fourth round. His athletic measurables are at the elite level, combining 4.4 speed (once clocked sub 4.4) with an 11' broad jump and over 40 inch vertical. He has the ups to attack jump balls and defend tall receivers, but it's his ability to cover in small spaces and seamlessly turn his hips to go deep that will make him a great slot corner in the NFL. His 3.84 short shuttle and 6.82 three-cone are a testament to his elite agility. By comparison, #9 pick Dee Milliner had 4.32 shuttle and 6.95 three-cone. Webb also proved a ball hawk, grabbing eight interceptions his rookie year, and forcing the competition to throw away from him in later years. He is a willing hitter, though needs to improve as a tackler.
Webb becomes competition for Scandrick, but will likely become the second slot corner in dime packages and compete for the starting punt and kick returning duties where he is a shifty and dangerous weapon. As Scandrick's contract balloons and he becomes more cost efficient to cut, Webb should be ready to start as the slot corner and even backup Mo or Carr on the outside...despite his height.
Joseph Randle RB
Another Romo-friendly pick, the Cowboys add solid talent to the RB depth chart. A Murray clone, Randle is also known for his blocking and receiving skills (rare for rookie RBs) and is a powerful but fast one-cut runner. It seems almost certain he will become the #2 back and get game day reps to spell Murray, and though he too runs a little too high (again a Murray comparison in college) he was very productive and has the ability to become an every-down back in the NFL even though he was in a spread offense in college. Big 12 rushing leader and a work horse that avoided injuries, Randle solidifies the running back depth chart and as a fifth round pick is likely the greatest value of the day for the Cowboys.
That is six rookies that will compete for starting spots and will almost certainly see game day reps (and an athletic safety in an OLB body as the 6th round flyer). Every one of them has the potential to become a starter in a year or two. The Jason Garrett process seems clearly in tune with the needs of the team and building through the draft. So it should probably also not come as a big surprise that the picks seem to have the future of the team clearly in mind. In 2014, Livings will cost 4.3 mil against the cap, but if Frederick wins the job then Livings can be cut and free up 1.6mil from the cap. In 2015, Witten will be turning 33 before the start of the season. He will cost 8.5 mil against the cap, but can free up 3.3mil if he is cut or retires while Escobar is coming into his own. In 2015, Miles Austin will turn 31 the summer before the season starts and count 9.6mil against the cap, but if Williams is ready to start the Cowboys could cut Austin and free up 4.5mil from the cap. In 2015, Scandrick will count 7mil against the cap, but will free up 3.4mil if cut because Webb wins the nickel corner job. In 2015, Murray will need a new contract, and if he asks for too much or proves injury prone, Randle will be waiting in the wings.
Second round picks are supposed to compete for starting jobs, provide the team with game day reps as rotational players, primary backups, and/or special teams players; but most importantly, they should have the potential to become reliable starters in a year or two. It seems to me that the Jason Garrett Cowboys just added six of those players in the 2013 draft. And all of them improve the team in 2013, while also providing options in the next few years when some key veterans become old and cap-friendly to cut. With so much second-round talent added to the team, I find it difficult to give this draft anything lower than a solid B...but only time will tell.