The Cowboys go through dozens of mock drafts in the final days leading up to the draft, forcing every different permutation you can imagine, so they're not caught flat footed when their time comes on the clock.
What if there's a run on offensive tackles early? Who would they consider at 27? What if the draft skews heavy towards defense? What if there's an early run on receivers?
Most likely, they have to consider what would happen if all the players with first round grades are gone. Let's say, for argument's sake, that there are 24 first ground grades handed out. That's what Dallas awarded last year. And let's say, that they're all gone by pick 25. Is this the end of the world?
We often remark that the early 2nd round is rich in talent. And it is. Look at the top players there in any given year and chances are you'll see a group with better value than guys in the top 10 or 15 overall. What people frequently do is mistake the player taken at 33 as the top 2nd rounder.
In most years, the 2nd round, in terms of grade, starts at pick 23, 24, 25 or somewhere close. Dallas should then, in the worst case scenario, emerge with one of the players with the highest 2nd round grades on its board. However, the board at this point becomes much more fluid and need-based here, for one major reason.
I've been told that the differences in grades between players in the 25-40 range are often very slight. In cases like this, teams take players they need more. This creates some of the churn we've discussed before. Positions where supply is generally smaller, OT, DE, DT QB, and CB tend to rise. Positions which are somewhat easier to fill, RB, TE, OG, ILB, tend to fall.
Let's look at two recent examples of how this can work for or against your team. In '04, the Cowboys pick came up at 22, right on the 1st-2nd round fault line. The team had RB Stephen Jackson ranked highest, but had very similar 2nd round grades on Virginia Tech RB Kevin Jones and Notre Dame RB Julius Jones. These similarities factored into the Cowboys decision to accept Buffalo's offer of their 2nd and '05 1st for that 22nd pick.
To fans at home, it seemed incredible that Dallas would trade from the 1st into the 2nd, but if you viewed it on a board where all three were 2nd round backs, the move makes more sense. Jackson has had a much better pro career than Jones did, but the board dictated value. So did Jones' rookie-year play, though he could never replicated it.
Conversely, need-based picks worked in Dallas' favor in '08. They got two value picks with Felix Jones and Mike Jenkins, then were amazed when Martellus Bennett, a player in their 20s, with one of the highest 2nds they assigned, dropped all the way to 61. This value certainly factored into the team's decision to rebuff a trade offer for Bennett last year. They knew he would take time to develop, but were not willing to sell out their original rating on him.
The same formulas applies to the late 2nd, early 3rd. Where first rounds usually run about 21-22 players deep in most year, the 2nd round grades run a bit deeper, but not extremely larger -- it ranges 29-30 picks or so. This means the Cowboys pick at 59 will iikely see them choosing from players with early 3rd round grades.
This fault line around pick 50-51 may explain Dallas' decision to trade out of the 2nd in recent year. In both '07 and '09 Dallas saw Steve Smith and Max Unger go just ahead of them. In both cases the Cowboys saw players available with grades similar to those a dozen or so picks below, and were willing to move down to get extra picks.
This year's draft is supposed to be deeper, but how much deeper? Will there really be, say, 28 1st round grades this year, or will Dallas again see a situation where the players in both the 1st and 2nd round picks really gives the Cowboys choices among the top 2nd and 3rd rounders?
We won't know until the real picks start. In the meantime, take a hard look at the guys the mockers put at the top of the 2nd round,or the guys with 1st-2nd round grades. Look at the top 5-10 in that grouping. Do the same for the 2nd-3rd round guys.
These are most likely the prospects Dallas will have to consider.