Dane Brugler is a smart NFL draft analyst and my favorite talent evaluator. He does a "big board" every year that I refer to a lot in the days leading up to the draft. He actually has four versions of it between the end of the regular season and the draft, with the idea of getting the most accurate version he can by the end. Here is how he describes what he is trying to do:
My draft board isn't a mock draft or a list prospects based on how I think they will come off the board on Thursday. My final board ranks the top-100 players available in this draft based on my scouting over the past year.
His final 2014 edition is now published. And it makes me very, very sad.
Here is why this is such a downer: Pick a name you really like for the Dallas Cowboys in the first round. Now go look at his board. And where is that name? In the top 15.
Dallas, as you probably are well aware, currently holds the 16th pick.
I do like Brugler, but I am really hoping many NFL teams currently slated to pick ahead of the Cowboys, or with even the remotest chance of trading to get ahead of Dallas, disagree with him. Because I really would like to have a player or two he has moved into his top 15 fall to the Cowboys.
Note the part about moving. There have been a few players that have really climbed the various boards, including his, in the past few weeks. And the three names that have probably climbed the most since the first of these rankings came out are Anthony Barr, Aaron Donald and Zack Martin.
Oddly enough, it seems like the big moves for all three of those names started about the same time people here at BTB and elsewhere started figuring out how nicely those players would work as first round picks for the Cowboys. My first impulse was to figure that somehow I had spread the insidious goatmouth effect to our entire site here, but upon further review, I think Bryan Broaddus at DallasCowboys.com may be the real jinx. He started touting all three of those names at least as early as anyone here did, and I think most of us writers admit to paying a lot of attention to what he says.
But it is ridiculous about how we have watched these players just climb right past Dallas. I am going on memory here, but when the first boards came out, I believe Barr was generally seen as being somewhere in the 10 to 15 range, Donald was late first round at best, and Martin was somewhere in the the second round. I know neither Donald or Martin had gotten into the first half of the first round on most draft sites. (I am referring to the boards that rank by talent, not by where players are expected to be taken.)
Now, Barr is firmly in the top 10 here, and may be one of the few elite players. Brugler has him at 6 in his list. Martin has vaulted all the way to 11, and Donald is just behind him at 12. Here are the writeups for the three.
6. Anthony Barr OLB, UCLA (6-5, 255, 4.66, 4SR)
A former running back, Barr moved to pass rusher last season and excelled at linebacker for the Bruins, totaling 41.5 tackles for loss the past two seasons. He needs to refine some technical aspects of his game, but his speed/strength off the edge is exciting.
11. Zack Martin OG, Notre Dame (6-4, 308, 5.22, rSR)
Martin manned the left tackle spot the last four years at Notre Dame, but he projects best inside where he could be a future Pro Bowler. Several teams still view him as a tackle, but regardless, he has the base, punch and smarts to start from day one in the NFL.
12. Aaron Donald DT, Pittsburgh (6-1, 285, 4.68, SR)
While Clowney received most of the publicity, Donald had the best Combine performance among the defensive linemen with a 4.68 40-yard dash, 32" vertical jump and 35 reps on the bench press. He's a prototypical 3-technique with disruptive ability.
I guess I should be a bit proud of my cohorts here for spotting the talent these guys have. Broaddus may have a lot more respect among the draftniks out there than I realize. Or maybe it just became obvious as time went on how good these guys are. All NFL teams are looking for talent, and evaluating that talent is the prime objective leading up to the draft. Maybe the rise of these three was just inevitable.
The problem is that it leaves Dallas with some difficult decisions to make. Based on Brugler, there is a bit of a gap along the defensive line after Donald goes. The next name of interest to Dallas is DE Demarcus Lawrence at 24, and then Scott Crichton is at 29. The Cowboys could be forced to go with S Calvin Pryor, who sits right at 16. And I hate to mention that one Johnny Manziel is only slotted at 27 here. As if Brugler showing him as likely to be available when Dallas goes on the clock is not enough, Skip Bayless stated: "The Houston Texans, with this year's No. 1 overall pick, will forever regret it if they don't take the Texas kid with the movie-title nickname, Johnny Football." If Bayless flatly declaring that Manziel should be the number one pick is not a iron-clad guarantee that he is going to slide some, I don't know what is.
So I find myself in the odd position of hoping that someone I turn to for good football information, Brugler, is off a good bit here. And I would prefer to see Bayless, whom I loathe, nail this one, because that would push someone I would rather see Dallas draft a little closer. (Understand, I don't think Manziel would be a mistake if Dallas took him, but I can list 10 or 12 players I would rather see wearing the Star based on what they would bring to the team.)
At least all this apprehension will be over in a few days. I don't think I can stand many more mood swings.