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2011 NFL Draft: Rick Gosselin Releases His Top At Each Position

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At the beginning of the month, the Dallas Morning News' Rick Gosselin posted his annual top five players at each position. At the time, I announced my unremitting respect for his work as a draft information guru. The primary reason for this, I noted, is that he doesn't watch film or grade players himself; rather, he has long-established connections to every NFL war-room, and has built up a lot of trust over his many years on the job. As a result, his stuff is a synthesis of what all teams are doing, so he's unlikely to give away any one team's rankings--and, by extension, their possible draft strategy. Consequently, he gets real information from teams, with less subterfuge and smokescreen than they give other pundits. In fact, I have heard reports of teams using his annual "top 100" list, which he releases a day or two before the draft, as a comparison tool to check their own boards against what the league thinks.

Late last week, Gosselin released an expanded list (sadly, all his content is subscription-only); now, he gifts us not only with the top ten players at every position but risers, fallers and sleeper candidates as well. As before, I thought it might prove instructive to see which guys most likely to become Cowboys make his lists (and which don't ) and where they are slotted. Although we can't yet compare positions (we can't determine whether the fifth-best corner is more highly ranked that, say, the fifth-best running back), the Goose's top ten does give us a clearer sense of what NFL teams--as opposed to amateur draftniks--think about players.

Due to the increased length of his list, I'll include almost exclusively the players that the Cowboys seem to be interested in: 

OFFENSIVE TACKLE
1. Tyron Smith, Southern Cal                        
2. Nate Solder, Colorado                                
3. Anthony Castonzo, Boston College            
4. Gabe Carimi, Wisconsin                              
5. Derrick Sherrod, Mississippi State                 

Falling: Demarcus Love, Arkansas

The top five haven't changed since Gosselin's last list. And the fact that all of the top five have been invited to Valley Ranch is a very clear indicator that they seriously intend to draft an OT in round one. Also interesting is the fact that one of their other invitees, DeMarcus Love, has dropped right off the table. I thought he might go in round five; now, I might just bump him down a round.

Check out the top players at other positions of interest after the jump...

GUARD                             
3. William Rackley, Lehigh                               
4. Ben Ijalana, Villanova                                                            

The interesting development here is that Ben Ijalana had replaced Georgia's Clint Boling as the fourth-rated guard. This would indicate that a preponderance of NFL teams are looking at Ijalana more as a guard than a tackle (although several of them may think he could kick back outside after getting some seasoning at guard). But, since guards don't tend to go as high as tackles, a player like Ijalana could be available at the top of the third round. This bodes well for a team desperate to bolster its offensive line without having to spend its first two or three picks to do so.

CENTER
1. Mike Pouncey, Florida                                                     
7. Jake Kirkpatrick, TCU

No movement in the top five. An OC of Dallas interest, Jake Kirkpatrick, sits at the seventh spot. I wonder: do they have him rated where Gosselin does?

OUTSIDE LINEBACKER
1. Von Miller, Texas A&M                                                 
3. Martez Wilson, Illinois                             
4. Bruce Carter, North Carolina                                   
8. Kelvin Sheppard, LSU                            

This is where the list of invitees to Valley Ranch gets interesting. Its clear that the Cowboys want to reinforce their ILB corps, where two grizzled veterans are backed up by an injury-prone Sean Lee and...nobody. What's curious is that three of the candidates they have tagged are generally thought to be outside linebackers. To my mind, this is a clear indication of the kind of linebacker profile they are looking for: quick, agile playmakers like Lee, who can diagnose and run, and who aren't a liability in coverage against backs and tight ends.

Also, Aldon Smith, who has recently been rumored to be in competition with Tyron Smith for Dallas' top pick, is nowhere to be found--according to this list, most NFL teams see him as a DE (Gossilin has him fourth).

INSIDE/MIDDLE LINEBACKER              
4. Nate Irving, North Carolina State                                        
9. Greg Lloyd, Connecticut

Two more guys in the conversation at inside 'backer for the Cowboys. Unlike the above group, both look to be more thumper types than sideline-to sideline guys. Scouting reports say both are two-down players who are likely to be exploited in the passing game.

CORNERBACK                
2. Prince Amukamara, Nebraska                           
4. Aaron Williams, Texas                                   
7. Shareece Wright, Southern Cal        

One of the fascinating storylines I'll be following during the draft will be which defensive backs the Cowboys draft. They have shown interest in first tier guys (Amukamara; Williams); second tier guys (Wright) and guys unable to crack Gosselin's top ten (Korey Lindsay, Brandon Burton and Johnny Patrick). Its clear that they want to draft a corner--but where?

SAFETY
1. Rahim Moore, UCLA                                      
9. Da’Norris Searcy, North Carolina

As with corner, the Cowboys seem to have a safety candidate in almost every round. Here, we have the top-rated guy as well as a second- or third-day guy. I know its a mediocre safety class at best, but I'm having a devil of a time getting a handle on Dallas' strategy, other than the fact that they do seem to want to draft a safety.

Other Valley Ranch invitees: DeMarco Murray and Bilal Powell are the 8th and 9th rated RBs; Jon Baldwin (3rd) and Edmund Gates (6th) both show up on the list as do JJ Watt (3rd) and Christian Ballard (10th). This speaks to the strength of the DE class. At other positions, the 10th rated player is in jeopardy of not being drafted; at DE, Ballard is likely to go high in the second round.

And speaking of DE's, Clemson's Da'Quan Bowers, who has been in freefall of late, still comes in at number two at the position. This means he might just sneak into the top eight, which is great news for Dallas, who need the league to keep drafting guys who don't fit their player profiles, allowing them to gobble up the top guys on their board.

Because Gosselin gets his stuff directly from teams, he tends to dispense information fairly late in the process (as evidenced by this list coming out now, when the Mel Kipers of the world have their top ten lists out in February). Stay tuned; as draft season progresses, I'll keep my eyes peeled for more gold from the Goose--and, of course, we'll give you all the inside dope when he releases his top 100 a day or two before the draft.