Call it rebuilding or retooling, the Cowboys continue the process that began back in 2011 with a clear vision and evident philosophy. Overpaid veterans must make way for younger players, from guys like Gurode, Davis, Newman, Ratliff, and even a star like Ware, the Cowboys have been willing to suffer some dead money and lost talent to improve the health of the team's long-term cap situation and roster make-up.
While they are willing to sign a few highly paid "young vets" each offseason, like Spencer (FA tag), Carr, and Melton, they have clearly shown their FA mentality to not overspend on most free agents and to find good deals on bridge players. Guys that can start if needed and reduce the "need" factor in the draft. They will also seek out the "untapped potential" opportunities, finding within the FA market and waiver wire guys that have the potential to find new success if given a chance to take "the next step" utilizing their talents in a different environment with a new coaching staff, and/or scheme.
While the Cowboys still have some priority needs and pressing issue at various positions, they have once again managed to allow for BPA to rule on draft days. While the Cowboys "Rushmen" depth is still the team's greatest need, they have insured over the offseason at least four players with starting experience will top the depth chart. High hopes ride on young players like Crawford, Bass, McClain, Rayford, and Wilson competing to prove themselves, but the team would surely like to upgrade the talent along the d-line. However, they don't have to reach at #16 if there isn't a prospect available to match those needs.
First, a breakdown of how I grade the needs of the Cowboys heading into the '14 draft:
Mincey, Hayden, Melton, and Selvie combine for 117 games started and the team has five young guys mentioned above that have shown some flashes of talent but are still developing. There is really no debate that this is the Cowboys greatest need, with too many positions where a talented rookie could compete for a starting role. But there is no reason to reach purely based on need and no guarantee that it will be the first-round pick.
The starting OL brought back respectable play to Dallas and is anchored by two, young up-and-comers, but Free is 30 and, without some kind of renegotiation, likely on the last year of his voidable contract. His replacement - and a reliable swing tackle - should be on the roster in '14, but Parnell has not yet proven to be that guy.
The interior line lost Waters, Livings, and Costa, is now without any back-up with starting experience and could use some competition at the starting guard spots. Weems has some G/OT potential, but a long way from reliable. The Cowboys could certainly draft the BPA for o-line at #16 if there isn't a higher rated DL.
Lee is a pro bowl talent that has yet to play 16 games in a season. While Carter and Holloman have shown flashes, both are still more raw talent than established starters. Durant provides a veteran presence and Wilber may have found his ideal position for this defense, but the roster could use a talented rookie to compete for a starting spot.
On the surface, the three starting corners are locks as is one of the safeties. The final safety spot has three young players competing (and motivated) to take control. My money is on Wilcox, but the Cowboys could use a draft pick to compete for a starting spot among the safeties, and a corner talented enough to start on the outside in a year or two depending on what happens with Mo and Carr.
Similarly, the three starting receivers are locks, though Beasley is limited to his flashes from the slot. There is also competition with Harris at the slot, but the Cowboys could use a receiver capable of playing on the outside. They need competition for T. Will, keeping him hungry, and providing him and Dez some rest while being able to back-up either.
Tony Romo will be the starting quarterback, barring injury, for the next two to three years. The franchise contract virtually guarantees it, literally and figuratively. While Orton provides a strong one-year backup, Weeden provides a backup with some upside as a bridge player until the next franchise QB. As such, I think the Cowboys will not spend an early/mid pick for a QB. With so many other needs and a three-deep depth chart, they will instead use a late round pick. While the odds of paying off are slim, spending the resource of an early draft pick at QB in the next year or two might be avoided if some late round wonder learns from Romo and takes some big leaps on the practice field.
With Murray likely to get the lion's share of the rotation, Randle and Dunbar provide different tools to the committee. The Cowboys will likely spend a late round pick to bring in some competition. Like QB, the Cowboys can avoid spending an early/mid pick for a year or two and instead try to find some late rounder with upside as a project. Within the RB committee, another project, where a late pick can be used to find a seldom used, but talented, FB who can also become a dependable ST player.
So, my personal draft philosophy would be to sight the team needs and use them in the context of BPA to make the most of the resources I have available in each specific draft class. In this case, the Cowboys have a priority need at DL. When I look at my board during my first round pick, I will look at the highest rated players remaining and lean towards the positions of need as the BPA tiebreak. While I strongly believe in BPA, I am not a blind loyalist that thinks there is no debate about who can have a higher impact for your specific team despite being ranked three to five spots from each other in talent evaluation.
Now, DL is the only priority need, I would also look to spend multiple picks on this position group. Make certain, at minimum, one pick in the top three rounds lands in this spot (with BPA tiebreak) and another mid/late-round project, at minimum, is also drafted. In a perfect world, one of the top two picks will yield a player at a priority need to compete for a starting spot, while also getting great value at the position with a third-rounder sliding down to my fourth round pick...as I said, in a perfect world. The remaining top five picks would continue to target positions considered pressing issues in the BPA tiebreaks.
Evaluating and considering the depth of the talent at each position is also vital. An example in this specific draft class would be the wide receivers. With so much talent to be found throughout the draft, I would likely lean away from a WR in a BPA tie break with another position of pressing issue. Just a reminder, I would not go against BPA if there weren't similarly ranked players at the top of my board, just if they are ranked similarly. But if Sammy Watkins somehow miraculously falls to pick 16, I doubt there will be any other prospect ranked near enough for a BPA tiebreak.
Here are potential five-round mock drafts following these ranked needs and strategy (and to keep it interesting, assuming Aaron Donald is off the board):
|The Trenches||The Underdogs||The Surprises||The Unknowns||The Forced|
|T. Jernigan - DT||Z. Martin - G/T||M. Evans - WR||A. Barr - DE||K. Ealy - DE|
|M. Moses - OT||S. Skov - LB||J. Attaochu - DE||G. Jackson - OG||K. Quarles - DT|
|J. Bitonio - C/G/T||K. Martin - DE||B. Turner - OT||P. Desir - CB||T. Brooks - S|
|Telvin Smith - LB||K. Ladler - S||J. Ellis - DT||C. Reid - DT||J. Abbrederis - WR|
|L. Webster - DE||Manumaleuna - DT||M. Huff - FS/CB||D. Street - WR||J. Britt - OT|
|7th Round & UDFA||Target Projects||Like QB, RB, FB||& Pressing Issues||Not Addressed|
|(CB, S, WR)||(C/G, WR, CB)||(C/G, LB, CB)||(OT, LB, S)||(C/G, LB, CB)|
You will notice the team has more needs than they would (usually) have draft picks. I think this is true for all teams. NFL rosters are always a work in progress, and they will always have more additions they would like to make than they possibly can make. However, keeping them in mind and using late round, UDFA, and waiver wire moves (for jags and unknowns) to prospect for opportunities in those remaining needs should not be discounted. This team (and many others) has repeatedly shown an ability to find players that can contribute, and sometimes break out, that came from the ranks of the previously unwanted and unknowns.
So, what do you think of the evaluated needs and suggested strategy?
Which is your favorite mock draft?