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Preparing for the Cowboys Draft, Part Five: What is Parcells' Type?

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In previous entries, we've discussed the profiles that Jimmy Johnson used to build the mini -dynasty of the early '90s. It was based primarily on speed, at least on the defensive side of the ball. With defense being a top priority for Bill Parcells and the Cowboys this offseason, can we tease out any consistent player profiles from his past drafts? The answer is yes. Parcells has certain physical and psychological qualities he looks for in a player. Some overlap with Johnson. Many do not.

1. Parcells is not as speed obsessed: When you examine the defensive players he drafted in the '90s, you will not find the hard devotion to the faster players at every position. Willie McGinest is listed at 4.7 in his '94 profile, which makes him fast for a defensive end, but he is the anomaly, not the rule. ILBs Ted Johnson and Tedy Bruschi were both timed at 4.8. FS Willie Clay, who was not drafted by Parcells, but who started for him in Super Bowl 31, timed at 4.72 in the '92 combine. CB Ty Law, Parcells' first pick in '95, only ran a 4.63 at the combine, though he improved it to 4.53 at his Michigan college day. If speed is not the primary criterion for screening players, as it was for Jimmy Johnson, what factors are?

2. Parcells values football players: Look at all the key players who helped Parcells make the Super Bowl in New England, and those who have been successful picks for the Jets and Cowboys and you will find the same terms over and over again. They include: intelligence, durability, competitiveness and the ability to make plays. Take a look at these profiles, and you will swear they've simply been copied from the same template:

  • Willie Clay, FS, 1992 -- "Smart, heads-up athlete. A playmaker. Good ball athlete who picks off a lot of passes....Overachiever who plays beyond his athletic ability."
  • Ted Johnson, ILB, 1995 -- "Top competitor....will play through pain. Special-teams personality. Is a football player in the John Madden sense of the word....a big, tough overachiever who makes a lot of plays and gets better every year."
  • Dave Wohlabaugh, C, 1995 -- "Fine work ethic. Plays hard and competes....overachiever..."
  • Al Johnson, C, 2003 -- "Aggressive, quick and agile...is a leader who is smart, explosive and intense..."
  • You've probably noticed the word overachiever comes up a lot. As with Jimmy Johnson, many of Parcells' successes have come from identifying and selecting guys who understand the game and play it full tilt. That does not mean Parcells is perfect. Far from it. But most of his mistakes have come when he has taken gambles on athletes rather than players. He is prone to do this more in his early seasons with a team. As I pointed out in part three of this series, Parcells tends to take fewer risks as time goes on, at least with his higher picks.

    If you have a draft book in front of you, or are reading one online, don't obsess over sizes, though Parcells does favor bigger linemen, linebackers and safeties. Don't obsess over 40 times and vertical leaps. Focus on the personality profiles. Look for signs of football skills -- good instincts and quick reaction times. Look for a strong work ethic and dependability; look for an ability to play hurt. Look for guys who are physical, since Parcells wants his teams to outmuscle their opponents on both sides of the ball. And lastly, look for the ability to make plays. The guys who fit these profiles, and have qualities mentioned in earlier posts (players from big programs, for example) are the people who are most likely at the top of the Valley Ranch draft board.

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    You've also probably noticed that I've omitted the profiles of some of Parcells' best picks, guys like Curtis Martin, Ty Law and Tedy Bruschi. Take a look at their draft-book profiles and you will understand:

  • Curtis Martin -- "Natural runner with fine skills. Sees the cutback lanes and makes good reads at the line... average size and speed. Lacks top end speed and durability. Runs a little upright... Summary: has run skills and durability, but may not have size, speed and durability."
  • Ty Law -- "Durable three-year starter. Good athlete. Strong build... Hard to evaluate true man-on-man coverage skills because he played so much soft zone. Is not a speed burner. May not be fast enough to cover man-to-man in the NFL."
  • Tedy Bruschi -- "Terrific player who may be better suited as a pass-rushing end in the Canadian Football League than the NFL because of his size, but he might be a situational rusher and might even be an inside linebacker in some schemes."
  • If you were relying on just a draft book or two for your information, you would have no clue that Curtis Martin would become a sure Hall of Famer, that Law (whom Pro Football Weekly rated as a fourth rounder) would be an outstanding first round selection who has been rated the top man-to-man corner the past few seasons, or that "CFL prospect" Bruschi would turn out to be the heart of the Patriots three championship defenses.

    Draft books can be just as flawed as Jerry Jones' or Bill Parcells' worst drafts. What's more, if you look at the same book year after year, you'll notice that certain draft experts make the same mistakes over and over again. If you recognize them, and the common mistakes all media draft experts make, you can get closer to an accurate view of what the NFL war rooms, the ones that really count, are thinking. In part six, I'll examine the holes in Pro Football Weekly's draft analyses of the '90s, and ask for similar assessments from readers who use other guides.

    Copyright, 2005 by Rafael Vela