Cowboys 2014 Draft: A Preliminary "Little Board" and Some Thoughts

Demarcus Lawrence is one of several long, athletic DEs invited to Valley Ranch - Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports

What can last week's list of national invitees to Valley Ranch tell us about the Cowboys' draft plans? Plenty! Not only can we tell which positions Dallas is targeting, but also when they are likely to draft them, and what position profiles interest them. As we prepare for May 8-10, that's a lot of useful info.

Every year, after we receive the list of national invitees to Valley Ranch, I use them to create what I call the "little board." Why do I repeat this exercise each and every April? Well, as we witnessed with 2010's leaked draft board and its baby brother, the 2013 board (and have heard from sources like Bryan Broaddus), the Cowboys seek to whittle down the 450 or so eligible draftees to the approximately 120 names that adorn their final draft board. If we assume that they are legitimately interested in the 30 to 40 draftable players who have visited the Ranch (each year, the vast majority of the local "Dallas Day" invitees are UDFA types), we know between 25-35% of the players on the Cowboys' board. That's some good information to work with.

In addition, as our own O.C.C. demonstrated so clearly back in mid-February, by looking at which positions receive the most invitations, we can get a better idea about which positions Dallas is most likely to draft. In 2008, a total of eight corners and five running backs came to visit - and the Cowboys came away with two of each. In 2009, it was linebackers - Jason Williams was an at-large invitee and Stephen Hodge came for "Dallas Day." 2010: Wide receivers and offensive linemen, and they came away with Dez Bryant (all the O-linemen were snapped up very early). In 2011, they again invited a passel of "big uglies," as well as corners and inside linebackers. The result? Tyron Smith and Bruce Carter. In 2012, they invited six corners and eight offensive linemen, and came away with Mo Claiborne. In 2013, they targeted first- and second-round interior O-linemen, late-round linebackers and safeties, a strategy that produced Travis Frederick, DeVonte Holloman and J. J. Wilcox. The pattern is obvious.

Which brings us to this year's "little board." Although I'm not completely finished slotting all the prospects, a lot of useful information can be gleaned from this still-in-progress exercise. Here's the first iteration of the 2014 board (the names in italics are the three legitimately draftable "Dallas Days" players):

1 (16) 1 (trade back) 2 (47) 3 (78) 4 (119) 5 (158) 7 (229, 231, 238, 248, 251, 254)
OFFENSE
QB
RB
WR Josh Huff Mike Davis
TE
OG Zack Martin
Billy Turner
Gabe Jackson
Cyril Richardson Trai Turner
OT Jack Mewhort
DEFENSE
DE Anthony Barr Kony Ealy Scott Crichton Demarcus Lawrence Will Clarke Josh Mauro
DT Aaron Donald Timmy Jernigan Dominique Easley Davon Coleman
Ken Bishop
Kerry Hyder
Chris Whaley
LB Ryan Shazier Howard Jones
CB Lamarcus Joyner Brandon Dixon
SS Jimmie Ward
FS

A cursory glance at this board makes it evident which positions the Cowboys are targeting: on defense, they'll look predominately at defensive linemen, with a smattering of possibilities at other positions. On offense, it will be offensive guards and tackles (a fair number of Dallas' targets can play both) and late-round receiver depth. This is not to say that they won't take a player at a position not among these should the value present itself, but I think at least six of their eleven 2014 draft picks will come from these positions, and it wouldn't surprise me to see more.

Moreover, we can get a decent idea which positions they'll be looking at in which rounds:

Offensive Guard/ Tackles: rounds 1-4
Wide receivers: third day (rounds 4-7)
Defensive Ends: rounds 1-2
Defensive Tackles: rounds 1-2, also round 7

But there's also information on the types of player the team appears to want for each position. I'll have a "draft target" profile on each of these guys before the draft; for each, I have to type out what various draftniks think of them. This is at once a tedious and a highly instructive process. Not only do I learn a lot about the different prospects but, by preparing their profiles over a short period of time, can recognize similar phrases that tend to crop up among the players at a given position. What can be gleaned via this pattern recognition? It's clear that the Cowboys are going to be targeting a few specific types:

Nasty guard-right tackle hybrid types (with good feet): Martin, Turner, Mewhort and Richardson all played tackle in college, but scouts believe many or all of them will have to kick inside to guard at the NFL level - or, at least, be relegated to right tackle. But they have more in common: the scouting reports tend to praise them for having good feet (except perhaps Mewhort) and nasty dispositions. It's clear the Cowboys want to continue the recent OL build, and add big, tough guys who like to mix it up to keep the top of the pocket clean for Tony Romo.

Undersized, quick defensive tackles: Of the seven DTs currently populating the board, only one, Bishop, is over 300 pounds. In addition, none of them is taller than 6'3". As I wrote this time last month, the Cowboys' defensive tackle profile is quite clear: no guys taller than 6-3 and none heavier than 310 pounds, with exceptions made to weight in the case of exceptionally quick bigger men. The Kiffanelli system wants its DTs to win with quickness and leverage; we can see the body type built to do just that dispersed throughout this group.

Long, strong, athletic defensive ends with good to great first-step quickness: Unlike the defensive tackles, the DE group features a collection of guys with good length, measuring form 6'3" to 6'6" in height. All of the players have at least one scouting report praising their strength and ability to hold the point of attack. But they are no collocation of run-stuffers; these guys are also praised for their ability to fire off at the snap - which we know is a mandatory criterion for a Kiffanelli defensive lineman.

Late Rounders with athletic upside: As I noted a couple of weeks back, the Cowboys investment philosophy in the draft's final frames is twofold: small-school players with good size-speed numbers (see: Howard Jones and Brandon Dixon) or guys with a trait that will allow them to win one-on-one matchups (see: the group of seventh-round defensive tackles). These two categories of players theoretically have more growth potential and a higher ceiling (which can be reached with NFL-level coaching, it is thought) than, say, a multi-game starter for a BCS school who has athletic limitations. With a bevy of seventh-round selections in May, the team is paying extra special attention to finding athletes who can succeed at the NFL level at the bottom of the draft.

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If we can assume that the team's interest in these players is legitimate - and history suggests that it is - then we can fill out the remaining 100 or so spots on Dallas' draft board by looking at non-invitees who share these traits. I'll continue to fill out the board with these and other established profiles in mind. In the meantime, I'd love to hear from our members: which players, who fit these targets' profiles, might we add to the list of prospects who have their names on the wall in the Cowboys' War Room?

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