As I noted in this series' opening post on Monday, the Cowboys have done yeoman's work this offseason. Between free agency and the draft, they added ten new players and then supplemented this haul with 15 or so UDFAs, several of whom look like they have a legitimate chance to make the squad. In the process, they filled some gaping roster holes: three of the four starting defensive line positions; key defensive front seven depth; depth along the interior OL. Nevertheless, there remain evident soft spots on the Cowboys roster - and others will develop during the season, or be created by departing free agents in February or March 2015.
How might the Cowboys address these soft spots as the front office continues to build the roster? Today, I'd like to take a (clearly, premature) look at the 2015 draft, to see what kind of players - and, mostly, at what positions - might be available to Dallas next
April May. Our annual "Building the Roster Series" will take closer looks at the 2015 draft's projected top players at positions where the Cowboys appear to have present and future needs. This begs the question: how can we possibly know this when most college teams haven't even established their starting lineups?
I'm glad you asked, faithful reader. The always-reliable draft pundits at CSBSports have come out with an early "top 100" ranking of players expected to come out next year. A proviso: I don't believe these are particularly useful in terms of individual player rankings; however, I do think they are telling about the strength of specific positions. For example, the 2008, '09 and '10 drafts had 3, 4 and 4 offensive guards, respectively, taken in the top 100 picks. In 2012, however, ten OGs were taken by the time the draft wound around to pick 101. Spikes such as this show that a given position is historically strong, which can - nay, should - impact draft strategies: looking ahead at these perceived positions of strength can help an organization make decisions about the current draft.
What I have done below is tabulate how many players at each position are projected by the folks at CBSSports to be taken in the 2015 draft's first one hundred picks with the position distribution that has actually transpired in each of the last five drafts. The strongest distributions by position receive asterisks; historic distributions receive the much-admired double asterisk:
A quick perusal of this table confirms that positional distribution is reasonably consistent from year to year, with predictable upticks - the 2011 defensive tackle and CB classes, for instance. However, there have also been a few exceptional positional spikes: in 2010, fourteen DTs (with Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy leading the group) were taken in the top 100 picks; 2011 and '12 each saw 10 OLBs taken in the opening century's worth of picks; 2013 saw sixteen CBs and nine safeties go off the board in in the same range. And most aberrant of all: in 2012, a full 10% of the top 100 picks were offensive guards.
What might be the positions of strength in 2015? At first glance, there appear to be three: running back, wide receiver and defensive end/ pass rusher (in the Cowboys' scheme, we can consider some OLBs as legit defensive end prospects). Although we had 15 wideouts taken in the top 100 in 2014, the other positions project to far exceed the totals from recent years.
As I noted above, positional spikes impact draft strategies. In recent years, the Cowboys seem to have taken this to heart. In 2010, they looked hard at OL and WR - both strong positions in that draft. In 2011, we again saw them tap three positions of strength: OT, CB, LB. 2012, it was offensive guard, the richest position in the entire shootin' match, and in 2013 they looked at a lot of linebackers and safeties, both strong positions. In 2014, we saw them invite a passel of OG types (some of whom player OT in college) and, if they had their druthers, they would have drafted two of them.
When a position is strong, and the majority of teams are drafting for need (which they are), it means that at these strong positions good players will drop. That's how Dallas ended up with Devin Street - who they had tagged as a third-round talent - and almost ended up with Trai Thomas later than they had him graded. When pursued over the long term, a strategy of drafting to positional strength yields greater value. In recent years, Dallas seems to have realized this, and strategized accordingly.
If this holds true, it promises to work out well for the Cowboys: potential positions of strength in 2015 correlate loosely with Dallas' positions of need. To wit: despite the infusion of talent onto the defensive side of the roster, our beloved 'Boys still have a soft spots along the defensive line (we must assume, no?), and, more glaring, at OLB, where they are thin on talent and Bruce Carter is slated to be a free agent. In addition, they may well wave farewell to DeMarco Murray at season's end. What better time to do so than in a year with a RB-rich draft? And, of course, the annual question: might this be the year to tab the guy to groom as Tony Romo's replacement? There certainly seems to be some likely lads on the board.
Who might be some viable candidates at these various positions? In separate posts between now and training camp, I'll take a gander at the 2015 draft's top players at a variety of positions, focusing especially on running backs and front seven players, while also taking a look at quarterback, our controversial position of continuing need.
After all, isn't watching other teams play more interesting when the players you watch are potential Cowboys?