Let's do some simple draft math.
Point One: The Cowboys pick 27th. With just six picks in their arsenal, it's unlikely that they will deal up, unless they can use a player like Marcus Spears as the fuel. They're not going to strip their numbers further, especially in this deeper draft.
Point Two: The Cowboys have assigned first-round grades to 25 players. Don't assume that you know who they are, because their grades don't always conform to the consensus of players you see on the more popular web sites. For instance, LeSean McCoy had a first-round grade last year. The Cowboys passed on him when he fell to the 2nd because they are already stocked at the position.
Which means that the Cowboys are not likely to see a player with a first round grade fall to them. The current fantasy among Cowboys mockers is finding a way to get a Mike Iuputi or Maurice Pouncey or Kyle Williams to drop to 27. It could happen, but the team isn't counting on it. What's more, the 1st round grades most likely to drop will be running backs and tight ends, positions Dallas will not draft.
So what's the team to do if it stands and selects?
It will likely take a player from the top of its second round grades. Which raises another point:
Three: Second round grades tend to be far more fluid, and picks here tend to go far more on need than you would think. You might have heard of certain players the Cowboys like but which the semi-pro mockers put in the 35-45 range. One of those guys may just be the pick.
Understand that the 1st round players the Cowboys like, could be gone by pick 22 or so. What does it matter if they take a guy many mocks put at 40? I've seen and have heard several times over the years from people who have drafted for a living that the difference from 25 to 40 is usually very small. If the guy at 27 has as high 2nd round grade and the guy you have at 35 has a 2nd round grade, and they're roughly equivalent in terms, teams will take the guy at 35 if he fits a need. This runs counter to the "horizontal-slotting" discussed before, but history is history. Once the 2nd round starts, needs seem to exert a higher pressure on teams' picks.
So, where does that place us? Keep rooting for a Dez Bryant, or an Iuputi or a Pouncey or an Odrick to fall, but if they don't, if say the 49ers go Iuputi and the Steelers go Pouncey and the Pats take Odrick, familiarize yourself with this short list of players who have visited Dallas, and who almost surely carry 2nd-round grades:
- Devin McCourty,, CB Rutgers
- Nate Allen, FS, South Florida
- Tyson Alualu, DL, Cal
- Vladimir Ducasse, OT, U-Mass.
- Morgan Burnett, FS, Georgia Tech
- Arrelious Benn, WR, Illinois
- Brandon LaFell, WR, LSU
- Chad Jones, SS, LSU
Every one of these guys would fit in their way. Sure, an Allen or a Burnett would be the biggest early-term guy, but think long term. You think a 4th corner, a McCourty, or a Kareem Jackson might not be the nickel corner or even the 2nd corner as early as 2011? Think a Tyson Alualu wouldn't help immediately? He can play the nose and with four DL on one-year tenders -- that's Spears, Bowen, Hatcher and Siavii to those keeping score -- he might be the starting LDE by '11.
The safeties need no explanation. Ducasse might earn the same argument, though I'm starting to see a variance of grades on him, with some mocks putting him at the top of the 2nd and others at the bottom. The WRs would also fit, but I think Dallas is hoping one of them falls to 59.
I think that if the desired wow picks don't wow us early on Thursday, we're looking at one of those top three names in the 27 spot. If one of them is the guy, don't reflexively deem it a reach. The Cowboys are technically picking in the late first, but on value they're likely picking at the top of the 2nd. Get better acquainted with those 2nd-tier guys, and adjust your expectations accordingly.