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Cowboys 2012 Draft: How Good Is Dallas At Assembling A Draft Board?

Lost amidst all the recent additions and subtractions from the Cowboys' coaching ranks was a bit of news that may prove to have the most positive impact on the Cowboys fortunes in 2012 and beyond: the fact that the Dallas Director of Player Personnel Tom Ciskowski will remain with the team (of course, we were all over it here at BTB; KD covered it in yesterday's links post). Ciskowski been with the organization since 1992 (he was the guy who scouted and recommended Larry Allen); he took over the top scouting job after Jeff Ireland left for the Miami Dolphins following the 2007 season.

We can debate at length the impact (or lack thereof) that Bill Parcells had on the Cowboys organization; one fact, however, is indisputable: he did a masterful job of cleaning up (and cleaning out) what had been a moribund scouting department. He eliminated a lot of dead weight (I'm talking to you, Larry Lacewell) and promoted smart, steady,grinders like Ireland and Ciskowski. A lot of ink (and pixels) has been spilled over the Cowboys' draft-day struggles, but few, if any, insiders blame Ciskowski and his personnel team who, by all reports, do a superb job scouting players, assigning grades, and assembling the big board.

And it's not an easy job. Ciskowski and his guys have to sift through about 450 draftable players to assemble their board. No team's board has that many guys on it; typically, a team will winnow the total down to about 120 players for a seven-round draft. Obviously, many more than 120 players will be drafted (254 were selected in the 2011 selection party) but, since each team comes up with a distinct group of 120, there will still be plenty of guys left on each team's list as the draft winds down into the seventh round. What makes guys like Ciskowski so valuable is their ability to select the right 120 players, matching them to a particular organization's schemes and philosophy.

From that 120, most teams will really grind on a smaller number of players (usually about 40) that they are particularly interested in. This interest could be a matter of talent, character or because they play a position of need. Whatever the case, teams do extra homework on these players, guys on their "short list." For the Cowboys, a key aspect of this research are the annual "Dallas Days," typically held in the beginning of April. There are two of them, usually on consecutive days. For the first, the Cowboys invite collegians from all over the nation; for the second, they invite guys with local ties (such as Big 12 players or Texas high school products).

Make the jump...

In the past several years, there has been a very strong correlation between the Cowboys' Dallas Day invitees and the guys they have chosen. In a lead-in to last year's pick-em jamboree, O.C.C. noted:

In previous years, a good indicator of what the Cowboys were going to do on draft weekend was the amount of invites per position. The Cowboys were looking for a corner and a running back in 2008 and brought in eight corners and five backs. In 2009 they went looking for linebackers and found one. In 2010, the priorities appeared to be corner, receiver and a whole shopping list worth of offensive linemen. After only inviting three linemen in the two previous year, the Cowboys suddenly wanted to talk to eight of the big guys at once. The Cowboys did end up picking a lineman with the 179th pick in Sam Young, but that was perhaps not as high as their shopping list would have indicated.

Of course, O.C.C. provided a terrific set of tables to substantiate his claim. Hit the linky above the block-quote to check them out...

With this correlation in mind before last year's draft, I made up a "little board" in which I tried to slot the Dallas Day invitees by round, to get a clearer sense of what the Dallas braintrust might do. Let's take a quick walk down draft-day memory lane, shall we? Here's the "little board":

Pos Round 1 Round 1
(trade down)
Round 2 Round 3 Round 4 Round 5 Round 6 Round 7
OT Tyron Smith
Nate Solder
Anthony Castonzo
Gabe Carimi*
Derek Sherrod
OG Danny Watkins** Will Rackley DeMarcus Love
OC Mike Pouncey

Jake Kirkpatrick
WR Jon Baldwin Edmund Gates Cecil Shorts Andre Holmes
Jimmy Young
RB DeMarco Murray Bilal Powell Stevan Ridley Phillip Tanner
Pos Round 1 Round 1
(trade down)
Round 2 Round 3 Round 4 Round 5 Round 6 Round 7
DT Kenrick Ellis Ian Williams
DE J.J. Watt Christian Ballard

Kelvin Sheppard Nate Irving Greg Lloyd

Bruce Carter
Martez WIlson

CB Prince Amukamara Aaron Williams Brandon Burton
Johnny Patrick
Shareece Wright Korey Lindsey
SS Eric Hagg Da'Norris Searcy
FS Rahim Moore Johnathan Nelson
Colln Zych

True to form, the Cowboys' first three picks--Tyron Smith, Bruce Carter and DeMarco Murray--were all Dallas Day invitees, as was free agent wideout (and current practice squadder) Andre Holmes. Fifth-rounder Josh Thomas was a local invitee; he was joined on the local day by promising youngsters (and preseason stars) Raymond Radway and Phillip Tanner. Smith and Murray are clearly players; Carter flashed on special teams; Tanner ran hard and fought for extra yardage every time he touched the ball. All of this suggests that Ciskowski and gang are adept at assembling a draft board filled--in every round--with guys who can play.

And I think that extends beyond the guys the Cowboys actually drafted. A look at this "little board" confirms a suspicion that I had several times this season when watching other teams' games: a lot of the Cowboys' targets sparkled during their rookie years. In particular, I was impressed by how many mid- and late-rounders, guys like Cecil Shorts and Da'Norris Searcy, got a lot of snaps and made plays in 2011. To my mind, this speaks well about the job Ciskowski and his scouts do to identify talent across the board, at least in terms of the ol' eye test.

How well? Well, I want to compile some firmer evidence, which I'll share in a series of posts over the next couple of weeks. Each will offer a deeper look at one aspect of the Cowboys' 2011 short list, with the idea that we can learn a lot about the organization's baseline talent evaluation by how well the guys they targeted most pointedly played as rookies. As judging criteria, I'll consider, among other things, PFF grades, position on depth charts, Expected Points Added numbers, games played, and total snaps.

Interested in Dallas raw scouting ability? Keep your eyes peeled for some delicious statistically inflected pre-draft goodness in the coming days...

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