In the days before the 1989 draft, the Dallas Morning News printed a brief article laying out the templates Jimmy Johnson used for drafting defensive players. At first glance, the schemata looked superficial. But mated with a draft book, the templates made the process of weeding out pretenders from serious prospects a quick one.
Johnson profiled the players he wanted thusly:
DTs: had to be at least 290 lbs., preferably more. Their job was to be run stuffers. Tenacity was a must, but speed was not a concern.
DEs: Johnson wanted speed. Consequently, his ends had to run 4.7-4.8 or better. He had success at the University of Miami converting big linebackers to ends, so heavy linebackers who were tall, and had the potential to carry 265 to 275 lbs. were welcome. The poster boy for this project was Tony Tolbert, who played OLB at Texas El-Paso, but bulked up and had a stellar career as the strongside end.
LBs: Johnson wanted these guys to run 4.65 or better. Height was not a priority. Tenacity and durability were. And did I mention they had to be fast? The Cowboys scheme would protect these guys, so their ability to recognize and pursue was foremost.
DBs. Again, speed. Jimmy said he wanted four corners in his secondary, so that all of them could cover. So nobody who ran over 4.55 made the cut, for corners or safeties. The one time he went against type was when he drafted Darren Woodson in '92. Woodson had been a linebacker at Arizona State, but he was the fastest linebacker at the '92 combine (ran a 4.47 40), and his slight size -- for a linebacker -- made him a candidate to play safety. (Most conversions go the other way, with big safeties converted to linebackers.) It also didn't hurt that Woodson could cover anybody, receivers included.
You might be thinking, so what? So you've got speed scales for linemen, linebackers and DBs. What can that tell you?
Plenty. Once you start looking at draft books, which usually feature times from the Indianapolis combine, you will find that there are very few linebackers who can run a 4.65. In the 1991 Pro Football Weekly draft guide, for example, 81 linebackers were profiled. Only thirteen of them made the time cut. Dallas drafted two of those -- Dixon Edwards and Godfrey Myles.
Depending on the position, the time profiles allowed you to eliminate 80 to 85% of the names in your draft book and zero in on those players most likely to fit the Cowboys scheme. While Jimmy Johnson was doing the drafting, chances were almost 100% that the players he selected would conform to his published profiles.
Another aid was then-PFW editor Joel Buchsbaum's positional rankings. At the beginning of all his books, he would break each position down into five categories: overpublicized players, underpublicized ones, underachievers, overachievers and sleepers.
In the stellar '91 draft, many of the Cowboys' draft picks fit into the overachiever category (Russell Maryland, Bill Musgrave) or the sleeper category (Erik Williams, Godfrey Myles). This was not by accident. When Sports Illustrated followed Johnson in the week leading up to the '91 draft, they found his organization engaged in a process he called "grinding." Cowboys coaches and scouts would call former coaches and acquaintances of players Dallas was considering. These people were "ground" on character issues: was the player lazy? Did he take plays off? Would he play with an injury? Did he have personal problems the team should be aware of? The Cowboys found that these references were always initially reluctant to criticize their friend or former player, but would tell you the whole truth if you worked them hard enough.
As you might guess, the attention to finding overachievers diminished when Johnson left. One characteristic you will find in early Jerry Jones drafts is a tendency to go after players defined as "boom or bust." As older fans know, most of these picks went bust.
Finding profiles is not as easy under Bill Parcells. For the 2003 and 2004 drafts, you could get a sense of what Dallas was looking for -- on the defensive side of the ball. (His offensive schema are a little different from what the Cowboys drafted before, but there are more similarities than differences on that side of the ball.) The Cowboys were still playing the same scheme Johnson brought to the team in '89, so the players sought to fill defensive positions was the same.
However, standards are changing, now that Parcells is moving to a more 4-3/3-4 hybrid scheme. What's more, Parcells is no friend of the press. You won't find neat player profiles sitting in the Morning News sports pages, as you did in 1989.
So what's a draftnik to do? Rely on history, that's what. When we return for Part Four of this series, we'll look at the type of players Parcells drafted at his New England and New York stops for insight into his 2005 Cowboys plans.