Ever since the idea started to float around that the Cowboys could pick up a 1st-round receiver, I've been stuck on it. Cordarrelle Patterson, in particular, has me hoping that Jason Garrett, Derek Dooley and Tony Romo are all lobbying for another weapon in the passing game.
No, I'm not saying we need to move on from Miles Austin. I want to keep him around. I just think that Patterson is an ideal developmental prospect as an outside receiver, and could benefit immensely from the likes of the coaching trio (Garrett, Dooley, and Robinson), having Tony Romo throwing balls to him, and having Dez and Miles to learn from. We've got some awfully fertile soil in which to ripen this raw receiver.
It was suggested to me, however, that there simply aren't enough targets to go around. Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, Miles Austin, Dwayne Harris, James Hanna, Cole Beasley, Danny Coale and Anthony Armstrong all need to get their looks, first, don't they? Beyond those first three names, I'd say no, they don't. Get the ball to the open player, and field the players most likely to get open.
To answer the question, though, how many targets are available? Let's take a look.
After removing Tight Ends, Backs, and Tony Romo (yes, he apparently caught a pass last season) from the data, this is our team receiving breakdown. Speaking of 2013 specifically, I don't believe that Patterson (or any potential draftee) will be any threat to Dez' or Miles' playing time.
That leaves 66 receptions (113 targets) up for grabs, and I honestly don't care if it means someone will be forced out of the picture. Competition only leaves room for the best. If Danny Coale and Cole Beasley want a spot on this team (and every other player, for that matter), they'll have to earn it, every year, in the preseason. No one is irreplaceable, and no one prevents you from drafting at their position.
209 passes were completed to Tight Ends and Backs in 2012, as well, and I wouldn't be upset if the distribution slid more in favor of the Receivers in the future.
This doesn't address the first issue, however. We want the first-round pick to come in and contribute right away.
How much contribution should be expected from our 18th overall pick, though? You may hear the occasional generalist say, "Top 20 Picks must be DAY ONE STARTERS!" This is true, on average, but is a serious logical misrepresentation of our situation. Yes, the 18th pick is a 'Top 20 Pick.' The average 'Top 20 Pick' is pick 10.5, though, and the 18th pick isn't nearly as valuable as that. For all intents and purposes, 'Top 20 Pick' should actually mean picks 16-20, because picks higher than that wouldn't be called 'Top 20.' Tom Brady's a Top-32 Quarterback in this league - follow my logic?
That said, let's take a look at the 16th through 20th picks in the past three drafts, and hopefully gain some ground on which to base our expectations.
|Pick||Player||2010 Starts||Player||2011 Starts||Player||2012 Starts|
|16||Derrick Morgan||0||Ryan Kerrigan||16||Quinton Coples||2|
|17||Mike Iupati||16||Nate Solder||13||Dre Kirkpatrick||0|
|18||Maurkice Pouncey||16||Corey Liuget||13||Melvin Ingram||2|
|19||Sean Weatherspoon||5||Prince Amukamara||0||Shea McClellin||0|
|20||Kareem Jackson||16||Adrian Clayborn||16||Kendall Wright||5|
As it turns out, the 16th-20th overall picks have contributed in vastly differing amounts to their teams in their rookie campaigns. Of note is how little 2012's class saw the field compared to 2011 (and remember, Amukamara missed a lot of time with a broken foot). Taking the three years as a whole, it appears that you should expect to get, on average, a half-season of starts from the 18th pick. The problem is that it will more likely be either a whole season or a couple of games as an injury fill-in. There really seems to be no standard for first-year participation from a 'Top 20 Pick.'
If we're looking for starts, however, we ought to look for a player that could, at 18th overall, potentially be the best we'd have at the position. That seems possible at Guard, and maybe Center, as well as one OLB spot and either Safety position. At any other position, the pick would likely end up as a rotational player.
In all cases, these are positions we'd rather not endure 'rookie mistakes' at. I don't expect the Cowboys to find an immediate starter along the offensive line in this draft for exactly that reason. Even Tyron Smith had a tough couple of contests as a rookie - and, really, a couple of bad games is what we're currently enraged about on our offensive line. Mackenzie Bernadeau had a couple of bad games as a Guard (let's not talk about his play at Center...), and Doug Free had some forgettable outings at Tackle. I don't think there's a rookie at 18th overall that's going to be mistake-free for 16 games.
Safety is a legitimate potential starter, especially because the incumbents are a former UDFA and a Redshirt 4th-rounder, no matter how much the coaching staff likes them. Still, Eric Reid may be a better option in the second than Vacarro at 18 (for his history with Claiborne).
The SOLB in our new 4-3 is essentially a half-time player, leaving the field in Nickel situations. It seems unlikely that the Cowboys want to invest a 1st-round pick at the position.
Now, how does a Wide Receiver sound? We wouldn't be forced into using him in spots where he would struggle, due to the strength ahead of him on the roster. He may prove to be a more effective returner than Dwayne Harris. He can see the field, even as a decoy, and stretch defenses vertically. Best yet, unlike a defensive player, the opposition cannot force him onto the field and then attack him. Consider that a corner may be forced into action if the opposition plays 4- and 5- wide sets, and subsequently attacked, while a receiver only comes out when you ask him to.
I believe Cordarrelle Patterson gives the Cowboys a chance to develop a 'Top 5 Pick'-type of receiver out of their 18th-overall selection. Of course, I also believe that, having Derek Dooley on the staff, there's no way that Patterson would bust if the Cowboys selected him (Coach Dooley would not recommend the selection of a doomed player, or so I hope).