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Dallas Cowboys Draft Primer

Before people get too embroiled in Combine numbers and measurables and Pro Day times and draft books and whether a guy should be in the late first or the early second, lets get our facts straight.

Pro teams do not rate players the same way Mel Kiper and the other draft book gurus do.

1. Teams make up draft boards at least twice during the offseason.

The Cowboys guys were hard at work in draft meetings last week and are probably assembling their preliminary board. For all we know, they may have one completed already, based on college season tapes and data from the Senior Bowl. They’ll make another one after the Combine and Pro Day workouts are held.


2. Ratings are not relative.

Players are not rated relative to one another. In other words, the Cowboys don’t say, this guy is the 40th best player and this next guy is the 41st best player.

The staff will debate a players merits and then assign a grade that relates to a round and then rate players within that tier.  Let's say Dallas assigns 20 players first round grades this year.  If you could see their final board they would be rated 1-1 through 1-20, meaning first round, and overall position.  The next player on that board would get a 2-21, meaning he's the top rated player in the second round tier.

The ratings system does not change from year to year, which means…

3. The number of players rated in each round varies from year to year.

You never see 32 players get a first round grade. In some years, 22 players might earn that rating. In others, you might see only 15. I’m told that typically, you get somewhere from 18 to 20 players getting a first round grade.  Last year, Dallas gave out 21 first round grades.

Conversely, you may see more than 32 players get a third round grade, or a fourth round grade. This is the reason why a team might trade up or down from its position, because it feels it won’t get value in the spot where it picks. 

Look at this year.  Dallas' first selection comes at 51.  If this is a typical year, and there are say, 20 first round players, and there are say, 30 players assigned second round grades, then Dallas is looking at a scenario where the second tier could run dry right before they pick.  (2nd round "bubbles" I have been told, generally are bigger than first round groupings.  3rd rounders are even bigger, and so on.) 

In this scenario, the team will have to weigh whether to move up and assure itself a solid second-tier player, or whether to stand pat and hope quality drops to its slot.

This type of thing happens a bit. Jason Witten had a late first round grade in ‘03 and the Cowboys seriously considered taking him at the very top of round two. It was decided that Dallas needed a center and Al Johnson was the pick instead. One full round later, Witten was still available and Dallas got a superb value.

Similarly, Marion Barber had a second round grade in '05, when Dallas landed him at the top of round four. And Tony Romo had a 5th the year he came out.

This is why teams can work themselves into a hole trying to jump up and down to match their boards. Everybody has to pick. There are lots of teams in the last third of round one who won’t get players with first round grades. But ten teams can’t trade down. Somebody has to stay and take the best value.

4. Not everybody gets on the board.

Teams weed out players who don’t fit their schemes. They weed out players who are character risks. They weed out players who other teams might like but who they don’t.

A source told me, “if you do your job right, you’ll likely only have 120 or so players on your board. People who haven’t seen this will think it’s risky and all your guys will get taken, but if you’ve prepared correctly, you’ll have guys available when you pick.”

I've been told that if you're prepared, you'll have players from that 120-130 player group still on your board after seven rounds.  It's then the organization's job to out-recruit other teams for those top guys.  There are several examples, but Romo remains the best example of this type of player.

We can infer what the Cowboys’ player profile are from the types of players they’ve been drafting lately. The player schemes are the same — Dallas will run the same offense and the same 3-4 defense its run before. It’s not going to start drafting completely different types of players because Bill Parcells took Jeff Ireland with him to Miami.

– We’re going to try and rate players in the same way here. I seriously doubt that I can find out which players are getting first round grades, but I can probably learn how many. And how many are getting second, third, fourth round grades, etc.

Figuring out the rest will be up to us.

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