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Cowboys 2011 Draft: Laughing Through The Tiers

Might picking up LSU inside linebacker Kelvin Sheppard be incentive enough to trade down in round one?
Might picking up LSU inside linebacker Kelvin Sheppard be incentive enough to trade down in round one?

In my wanderings amongst the various FanPosts by our most excellent members, I found one to be so interesting that I thought it merited further front-page discussion. The post to which I refer is by the widely-known and much-respected Kegbearer, who penned a lengthy essay on Perception versus Potential, in which he looks at the most likely Cowboys’ draft strategies, taking into account the numerous variables in play as well as considering what Jason Garrett’s vision for his team might be. Whew, that's a lot to process.

But Keg does it nicely. The part that caught my eye, in no small part because of the handy-dandy chart he fashioned, was his ranking of the draft class by tier. This is an important exercise. So often, we talk about a player as a "first-rounder" without consideration of the very important grading distinctions between players--even among the guys we might label "elite" or "blue-chip." I have herein taken the liberty of reproducing Keg's list (thanks, Keg, hope you don't mind), because I think its a helpful and important way to talk about the draft.

See Keg's illustrious table after the jump...

Elite Tier

Top Tier

Top Tier

2nd Tier

2nd Tier

P. Peterson

N. Fairley?

V. Miller

D. Bowers?

AJ Green

R. Quinn?

M. Dareus ?

C. Newton ?

QB

B. Gabbert

J. Locker

R. Mallett

C. Ponder ?

WR

J. Jones

T. Smith ?

RB

M. Ingram ?

OT

T. Smith

A. Castonzo

G. Carimi

D. Sherrod

N. Solder

B. Ijalana ?

C/G

M. Pouncey

D. Watkins

 

 

DT/DE

JJ Watt

C. Jordan

A. Smith

A. Clayborn

R. Kerrigan

Phil Taylor

M. Wilkerson

S. Paea

M. Austin

C. Liuget ?

C. Heyward ?

C. Ballard?

LB

J. Houston

M. Wilson?

A. Ayers?

CB

P. Amukamara

B. Harris

A. Williams

J. Smith

FS/SS

Rahim Moore?

 

Positions of Need Only

 

OT

J. Carpenter

M. Gilbert

W. Smith

OT - OG in NFL

M. Cannon

D. Love

C. Boling

J. Pinkston

C/G

S. Wisnieswski

J. Moffitt

R. Hudson

 

 

 

Positions of Need Only

 

DT/DE

P. McPhee

L. Guy

K. Ellis

J. Sheard

D. Nevis

LB

K. Sheppard

C. Matthews

B. Carter

M. Foster

C. Carter

CB

C. Marsh

C. Brown

R. Carmichael

FS/SS

A Black

R. Sands

D. Williams

D. McDaniel

J. Jarrett

M. Gilchrist

Q. Carter

 

As you can see, Keg has created several tiers. If you have been paying attention to ESPN or the NFL Network at all since season's close, you recognize the names in the "elite" tier. As I have discussed previously, this tier is, by consensus, about eight players deep--which can make things a bit sticky for the team picking ninth. Ideally, Dallas will find a player from this tier at a position of need when they come on the clock: Patrick Peterson or Von Miller; perhaps Marcell Dareus or Robert Quinn.

If not, they'll either pick a guy from the next tier (thus not getting good value) or trade down. Indeed, this latter plan seems to be the one that interest and excites most of the members who have responded to O.C.C.'s superb draft series. The question is: what level of player might the Cowboys be trading down into? If we look at Keg's chart, there seem to be a healthy amount of prospects in the next tier, such that trading down would essentially place them within a cluster of similarly-ranked players.

But wait. Earlier this week, Wes Bunting, who, for my money, is one of the very best draft pundits out there, released a similar set of tiered rankings. Buntings list is more detailed than Keg's; he broke 96 prospects (enough prospects to fill the first three rounds) down into 11 tiers. The key is that the prospects are not equally distributed. As might be surmised, there are few prospects in the highest tiers (the top two tiers each consist of three players), while tiers 10 and 11 have fifteen players each. Every NFL war-room will engage in a similar ranking analysis, in order to better ascertain where talent dropoffs occur within players ranked in the same round.

The Cowboys will be consulting this when they are weighing the benefits of staying put at number 9 or trading down. Lets assume that their rankings are identical to Bunting's (a wild assumption, I grant you). Bunting's first three tiers are as follows:

Tier 1 (rookie starter; premier player)

WR A.J. Green, Georgia
CB Patrick Peterson, LSU
WR Julio Jones, Alabama

Tier 2 (opening day starter; featured player):

DE Robert Quinn, North Carolina
OLB Von Miller, Texas A&M
DT Nick Fairley, Auburn

Tier 3 (rookie starter; becomes featured player):

RB Mark Ingram, Alabama
DE Aldon Smith, Missouri
OT Tyron Smith, USC
DE Da’Quan Bowers, Clemson
DL Cameron Jordan, Cal

Going by this, if Dallas stays at # 9, they will definitely get a player in the first three tiers. To my mind, if a player in the first two tiers, at a position that is remotely a need, becomes available the Cowboys almost have to snap him up. The tricky part lies in what they should do if the first two tiers are gone. Do they stick or trade back? How far could they trade back and still get a third-tier player? Is an extra third-round pick (a guy in Bunting's tenth tier, say) worth moving to the fourth tier?

In order to get a sense of whether that last tradeoff might be worth it, here are the players (only at positions of need) in the fourth and tenth tiers:

Tier 4 (becomes quality starter in rookie season):

OG Danny Watkins: Baylor
OT Gabe Carimi: Wisconsin
CB Brandon Harris: Miami
CB Prince Amukamara: Nebraska
OL Stefen Wisniewski: Penn State
DE Adrian Clayborn: Iowa
DL J.J. Watt: Wisconsin
DE Cameron Heyward: Ohio State
OT Derek Sherrod: Mississippi State

Tier ten (potential starter with one deficient skill area that will be difficult to overcome):

C Tim Barnes: Missouri
OL Clint Boling: Georgia
OG Stephen Schilling: Michigan
LB Quan Sturdivant: North Carolina
CB Johnny Patrick: Louisville
CB Brandon Hogan: West Virginia
FS Chris Culliver: South Carolina
DL Lawrence Guy: Arizona State
CB Brandon Burton: Utah
ILB Kelvin Sheppard: LSU
OT James Carpenter: Alabama
SS DeAndre McDaniel: Clemson

Obviously this is a deeply speculative venture. But speculation is the stock-in-trade of the pre-draft season, so let's proceed with a couple of possibilities. Which of the following would you prefer:

Tyron Smith or Gabe Carimi and Brandon Burton?
Cam Jordan or J.J. Watt and Kelvin Sheppard?
Danny Watkins and DeAndre McDaniel?

Obviously, the permutations are endless. What say you, BTB Nation? Do you stay at nine? Is there a trade-down combo platter that looks particularly delicious? What wold you like to see on the menu come draft day?