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Cowboys Draft '10, Part Two: Do You Know What You Want, What You Really, Really Want?

(I love pregame warm-ups, not for the fanfare but to determine if the opposing team has a grading system for player procurement. When a team had a random selection of body types at the same position, this told me it did not have a grading system and just randomly picked players.)

-- Michael Lombardi, The National Football Post, 12-2-'09

Recent years have brought an explosion in draft-related materials.  When I started tracking drafts in 1990 you had your choice of three books -- the late Joel Buchsbaum's Scouts Notebooks for Pro Football Weekly, Mel Kiper's guides and the Ourlad's books. 

Now, there is no shortage of former pros and a host of semi-pro folks churning out data, and the demand continues to grow.  I've heard from people at one of the big sports sites that if they could cover the draft 365 they would have a captive audience.  Traffic at our site actually grows in the months which cover free agency and the draft. 

With so much free data now available, there's no shortage of names to kick around.  That said, are you aware that good organizations have draft boards that go only 100-120 names deep?  That's because those teams know what they want and winnow out any prospects who don't fit their profiles, for on-field or off-field reasons. 

The Dallas Cowboys know what they want.  Don't believe me?  Look at any position grouping on the team.  You'll see players who match Lombardi's statement.  The team's receivers all fit a particular profile.  So too the defensive linemen, and backs, and linebackers. 

If you want to have a better idea of who the Cowboys will draft, you need to understand what they look for. This will make you sound like Gil Brandt's son on draft day. 

I first saw this practice at work in the late '80s, when the DMN published the size and speed profiles for Jimmy Johnson's defense. J.J. had very specific requirements for his front seven prospects, since he ran a speed-based 'wide-end 4-3' that he imported from the University of Miami.  The DTs needed to be big, and didn't require speed minimums.  The DEs, on the other hand, needed to run 4.8 or better.  He often recruited big "tweeners" OLBs with pass rushing skills, bulked them up a bit and put their hands on the ground.  Tony Tolbert is the classic example of a J.J. DE; Tolbert played OLB at Texas El-Paso but added roughly 20 lbs. after he joined Dallas.

At LB, J.J. wanted players who ran at least 4.65, if not faster.  He didn't care about height, since his guys played stacked behind the line and chased the ball. 

This single piece of data made filtering Cowboys LBs in the J.J. era a snap.  My Scouts Notebook in '91 had over 80 linebacker prospects in it.  The Dallas speed requirement whittled that prospects list down to just 13 names, and the Cowboys took two guys from that list, Dixon Edwards and Godfrey Myles, in the early rounds that year. 

We're going to take the same approach here.  We're going to go position by position in the next couple of weeks and tease out the Cowboys' profiles.   There will be plenty of time of run names through it, and we will.  It will be much easier to sort through the many names you read about and see on broadcasts from the Combine if you know what the Cowboys really, really want.

I assure you, Tom Ciskowski and his guys do.

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