Can you say Dead Zone? I can; this is the period of waiting that drives us all to pull our hair out, or pull rumors out of our John Brown hind parts. Anquan Boldin, I’m looking at you! DeAngelo Hall, you’re still available. Pacman Jones, the Dallas metroplex could use some rain, so come on down. Anybody else want to come and play for the Cowboys for some magical mix of draft picks and players? Big Tuna, surely you can come up with a tasty rumor for Cowboys Nation to devour. We’re hungry; free agency was not a satisfying meal.
So much for the flights of fancy, let’s talk about something real, that’s the NFL draft coming up on April 26th. What’s a team to do? Here’s some of my observations for the Cowboys – and believe me, there’s nothing groundbreaking in what I’m observing.
The Cowboys needs are the subject of much talk. For me, the top two are cornerback and running back. I discussed both situations here and here. At that time, I was torn between which was the higher priority. I’ve come to the conclusion that cornerback is the highest priority for the Cowboys in the draft. Behind Terence Newman and Anthony Henry we really have no depth. In today’s NFL, you have to have a third corner that is essentially a starter given all the spread offense and passing teams you face on a week-to-week basis. Right now, the Cowboys options for that nickel corner are Alan Ball and Evan Oglesby, plus a few others. That shouldn’t inspire confidence in anyone. Ball is the subject of constant "we really like him" refrains from the Cowboys staff but he’s a 7th-round pick who never saw the field for significant playing time last season. Maybe he has shown them enough in practice to justify the confidence, but it’s more likely they like him, but not enough to thrust him into a starter’s role at nickel corner. Whatever the case, based on the early invite list to Valley Ranch before the draft – Aqib Talib, DRC, Antoine Cason – the writing is on the wall, the Cowboys are interested in drafting a top-flight cornerback. This is priority number one in the draft.
Next up, running back. Let me discern between this being a high priority need and the need to draft one in the first round. While I’d like to see the Cowboys use one of their first-round picks on a running back if they can get their hands on one of the projected first-round talents, they could wait until later in the draft to choose one. It’s a little different than cornerback where the drop-off in talent seems to be steeper than running back. The Cowboys could wait until the second round and hope a Jamaal Charles, Chris Johnson or Ray Rice or some other guy is still available. But it’s still a high priority that we walk out of the draft with a runner. Why? Because the only guy on the roster with any experience is MB3. Behind him, nothing. The Cowboys could sign a vet between now and the draft, they could be waiting out for the bargain shopper’s special, but if they don’t, it’s imperative they draft somebody who can be counted on to be a semi-starter that can spell MB3 without a major drop-off in talent.
While not everyone agrees, I think there’s a general consensus that the corner and running back are the top priorities. After that, or before that – depending on who you talk to – comes wide receiver. I can see that in some ways but as a high-priority it doesn’t register. I’m not blind to the fact that Terry Glenn may or may not be back to fill the #2 WR role in 2008. I also know that T.O. is playing under the last year of his contract and that both those guys are reaching their mid-30’s which is the worry-line for wide receivers. But here’s why I don’t think it’s a high-priority. If the worst-case happens and Terry Glenn doesn’t play in 2008, then the Cowboys could return the same set of receivers they had last year, and last year that group was part of one the best, most explosive offenses in the league and there’s no reason to think they wouldn’t be again. People like to bring up the playoff game and how with a hobbled T.O. it all fell apart. Well, to some degree that’s true, but a lot of that was human error (Crayton and Fasano dropping big passes) and some of that was due to the furious pass rush of the Giants. Also, the defense’s meltdown before halftime didn’t help. My point is that the same set of receivers could come back this year and we’d still be an explosive offense. Now, that doesn’t mean I don’t want to upgrade the receiver corps. Having a speedster to help stretch the defense opposite T.O. (a role Glenn used to fill) would be a good thing. Someone to battle Crayton as the #2 sure wouldn’t hurt – although, unlike a majority of Cowboys fans, I don’t have a problem with Crayton as the #2. His production throughout the season was very good for a "third option" because in reality he’s behind T.O. and Jason Witten in the pecking order. I’m not writing him off because he crumbled in the playoff game. So while I wouldn’t mind getting a young WR with some speed, I can live with the WR’s we have on the roster now. I’m also anxious to see what Isaiah Stanback can do in his second year now that he’s past the foot injury and has had time to learn the nuances of being a receiver.
Once you get past that, there are some other positions where we could use some help. Fullback comes to mind. Deon Anderson should jump into the starter’s role but behind him we only have a guy that was recently signed and who the Cowboys can’t be sure of as a regular should Anderson become injured or even to spell him on gameday. Adding one in the draft seems like a smart play. At nose tackle, with the recent trade of Jason Ferguson, we still have Jay Ratliff and Tank Johnson. But if the Cowboys have the notion of moving Ratliff back to defensive end, the natural position for him in my opinion, then they need to draft someone to rotate with Tank. Also, at safety, with the departure of Keith Davis, the uncertainty about Ken Hamlin’s long-term contract and the suspect play of Roy Williams in conjunction with his huge contract, the Cowboys might want to add another prospect at that spot. Finally, as always, you can never have enough linebackers in a 3-4 defense, so picking up another one is always a good idea in the draft.
There you have it. My thoughts on the Cowboys draft as it stands on this day, March 14th, 2008. Now it’s your turn. Thoughts?