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Preparing for the Cowboys Draft, Part One

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"Nobody knows anything..."

-- Screenwriter William Goldman on Hollywood

Keep Goldman's words in mind as we head into the last month before the draft. Now is the time when the so-called experts -- many self-proclaimed experts-- crank up the rhetoric. It's also the time that the trade scenarios get bolder. Here are the first points to remember as the mock drafts begin to fly like passes at closing time:

1. Teams lie. You're going to hear a lot from teams now about players they like. Don't believe any of it. Use your better judgement to determine what a team needs. What positions have they not yet filled through free agency? This, more than anything will tell you who your team is likely to draft. Heard rumors that Dallas is interested in somebody? Unless it dates back to the combine or Senior Bowl week, it's likely disinformation.

Here's an example. For the past few years, the Cowboys have held a banquet the week before the draft where they bring in guys off their "short list." Some of these guys have been drafted by the Cowboys. Most have not. In 1998 the Cowboys had Penn DE Mitch Marrow in with two dozen other "prospects." The night before the draft, a Detroit paper reported that Dallas had a scout stationed outside of Marrow's agent's home, with a contract in his suitcase. It appeared that Marrow was a Dallas target, and many mock drafts that year had Marrow, a Mike Mamula-clone, creeping as high as the second round. It was all a smoke-screen; Dallas took Greg Ellis with the 8th overall pick and Marrow went to Carolina in the third round.

While this is lying, you hope your team is really good at it; teams are in competition for the same guy, and if your intentions are known, you can get burned. A team that also wants the same player can jump over you and scuttle your plans.

Lets go back to 1997. Dallas '96 playoff run had been cut short in great part because TE Jay Novacek's back had given out early in the season. It was fairly well known that Dallas was interested in a tight end, though they had plenty of other needs. Valley Ranch was initially coy with its plans, but a few weeks before the draft, Sports Illustrated featured a photo of Troy Aikman throwing passes to prospect Tony Gonzalez at a "secret" workout. Now, how secret is this workout if the biggest sports magazine in the country has it? And how responsible was Valley Ranch in providing the photo? The Cowboys were seemingly more interested in publicity than in drafting effectively.

The photo's damage was severe. The Kansas City Chiefs, who also coveted Gonzalez and who were already picking ahead of Dallas, moved up even farther to select him. Their explanation for the move? They wanted to make sure the Cowboys didn't trade ahead of them and take Gonzalez.

But wait, as those old Ginsu knife ads said, there's more. The Eagles, who were picking three spots ahead of Dallas, suckered Jerry Jones. There was only one other first round TE talent that year -- LSU's David LaFleur. The Eagles called Dallas and offered to swap places. They informed Dallas that another team was talking to them about moving up to get LaFleur. In reality no such team existed, but Dallas was desperate.

It shipped a first day pick to the Eagles to make the deal. Eagles officials crowed to the press that they had taken their rivals for a ride. A Dallas official, in a moment of unvarnished candor, told Mickey Spagnola, then of The Insider, " you have no idea how much more we were willing to give up to get him." Gonzalez has been the most productive tight end of the past eight years. LaFleur, who was rated below Gonzalez because of trick back, had his career cut short by new back woes. The Cowboys thereafter went from being the most draft-press- friendly organization to being one of the most deceptive ones. It started its propoganda banquet the very next year.

Loose lips really do sink ships.

2. Somebody always slips Take a good look at your top 10 to 15. Somebody on that list is going to take a long ride down on draft day. Sometimes it's for drugs. In '95, Warren Sapp was a top five rated pick, but slid to Tampa Bay at pick 12 after word leaked that he had tested positive for marijuana. Other times it's for behavioral issues. Many draft mediots were putting Randy Moss in the Cowboys' draft stocking back in '98, but they and 20 other teams passed on him, much to Minnesota's delight.

Other times, however, there is no rational reason for the drop. In 1990 Pro Football Weekly's Joel Buchsbaum rated Emmitt Smith the fourth best player overall, and his mock draft had Tampa Bay selecting him with the fourth pick. On draft day, Emmitt's 4.55 40 yard dash time dropped him to 17, where Jimmy Johnson greedily scooped him up.

In '98, Flozell Adams was consistently rated between the 12th and 15th picks in most mock drafts. When he fell out of the first round on draft day, Dallas happily selected him with the 38th pick.

For all its success in grabbing big droppers, Dallas has also let them slide through its fingers. In 1996, PFW had Texas DE Tony Brackens rated the 12th best player overall. On draft day however, he slipped, and slipped, and slipped, clear out of the first round. The Cowboys, who desperately needed an end to replace the broken Charles Haley, looked the gift horse in the mouth at pick 30, traded down seven spots with Washington and settled for the immortal Kavika Pittman.

This year, Dallas is well positioned to benefit from more slips, having the 20th pick and the 42nd. If it keeps its composure and doesn't get cute, other teams' mistakes could help Dallas back to prominence.

Because it happens every year. Though your friends and the "experts" will tell you that they are certain Braylon Edwards and Derrick Johnson will be long gone by pick 11, or that Mark Clayton is too small to be worth the 20th pick, you'll be certain of the one sure thing about Draft 2005.

Nobody knows anything.