It's fun to make predictions about the draft and then argue about them. If you haven't tried it, you need to take your shot on OCC's Mock Draft post. And if you don't have your own picks, join in the voting to pick your favorites.
But this is just an early intellectual game (one I hope we get to play again as more things fall into place). At this point, there are so many things that we don't know. And that applies for the people who will be doing the real drafting as well.
Before draft day, there are many things that will be done by the Dallas Cowboys staff. When you are making your mock picks, or just generally joining in the discussion about who the team should take, remember some of these things, and how they might affect your own ideas about the draft. If you are at all like me, you will have a lot of respect for all the work and preparation the coaches and management have to put into all this.
A look at these things after the draft
For us, it can be a bit agonizing during this part of the off season because there does not seem to be much going on. For the coaches and staff, I am sure they are already wishing they had more time.
I will admit this is all my concept of what is happening, but I think that something sort of like this is definitely going on.
Of course we know that the staff is pouring over video and evaluations of all the free agents and draft candidates that they are interested in, but since both those events are in the future, one thing I think is taking a large amount of time is the self scouting and analysis. The team has to look at the players it knows it can retain (everyone basically except the unrestricted free agents) and decide what it has.
This is going to strongly influence who the team goes after, of course. The whole retention/free agency/draft process is composed of moving parts, and every movement in one area affects those possible or preferred in others. This is where Jason Garrett is the center of the universe, because everything in essence flows though him. He is the one who deals primarily with Jerry and Stephen Jones. He is the one who has to serve as final arbiter between offensive and defensive needs. He has to gather the recommendations of the assistant coaches and the scouting staff and make a final decision. And, if all the previous comments are to be believed, he is the last word in the war room before the card goes up with the pick on it.
I see the evaluation breaking up into three main areas. The first is the offensive skill positions, where Jason is the most knowledgeable and likely most comfortable. I am sure he will sit down with individual position coaches one on one, but having been the offensive coordinator last year, he already has a pretty good idea what the evaluations are. And in a rare situation, these are pretty much the areas of the least pressing need for the team. So his main focus in this time is going to be the other two main areas.
First is the offensive line. Here I would think Jason is going to sit down with Bill Callahan and Mike Woicik and take a long, hard look at what the team can do with the players it has. Callahan and Woicik have one thing in common in their resumes, and that is to develop and maximize the talent they have. When Hudson Houck left and Callahan came in, there was a sea change. Houck greatly preferred working with veterans and was very hesitant to put younger players in the game. Callahan is the opposite, favoring young players he can train and improve.
This is going to be a crucial call, and how well they do in making it will have tremendous impact on where the team spends its free agent dollars and its draft choices. While Derrick Dockery and Montrae Holland are both UFAs and may move on, there is certainly a valid argument that neither of them or Kyle Kosier should be looked at as realiable solutions for the offensive line. The real question is how many effective interior linemen does the team think it can develop from Phil Costa, David Arkin, Bill Nagy, and Kevin Kowalski?
Some question the ability of Callahan and Woicik to make any great difference with players, but that is really what they were hired to do. I am confident that they are able to greatly improve their charges, and the Yuglies are the best case on the team for that kind of improvement. I am almost certain that at least one of the current interior linemen will become a solid starter, and I think that the most likely scenario is that two of the starters this fall will come from the current roster, and that they will play at a good, effective level. Not necessarily all pro, but certainly good enough to protect Tony Romo and open some holes for the running backs.
But the coaches have to make a decision on how many they think they can count on, and how confident they are. I would think that if David DeCastro is sitting there at 14, he should be chosen anyway, since he seems a near certain upgrade over anyone currently on the team. But if he has been taken, or if the combine changes the evaluations, or if the team has managed a really good upgrade through free agency, the draft day decision has to be based on that.
Of course, Callahan is limited a bit in that he only has video and the evaluations of the other coaches to go on. But I think he can handle the task, especially with Jason in his ear.
The other big area of evaluation for Jason is the defense, and the needs here are so numerous that the question is which need do you fill first? I have to believe that Jason has promised Rob Ryan the majority of the picks. Assuming that the team is getting a compensatory pick for Stephen Bowen, I would believe that Rob has demanded at least five of the picks, if not six. And he needs them.
Once again, Mike Woicik has a place at the table here. If there is another group of players that I am optimistic, if guardedly so, that can improve, it is the defensive line. I would particularly think that Jason Hatcher, Sean Lissemore, and Josh Brent have some unrealized ceiling, and there is also a wild card in Robert Calloway, who was stashed on the practice squad.
Now if there is a lot of confidence about developing the biguns on both sides of the ball, the team may be able to focus its energy on the areas where there are not as many options for development, the secondary and linebacker. And even in the secondary, there is a possible ray of light, thanks to the rules under the CBA. Mike Jenkins is undergoing four to six months of rehab for his shoulder surgery - and that means he has full access to the team facilities, and Woicik has full access to him. (Hat tip to Birddog26 for pointing that out.)
But the need for more talent in the secondary is still inarguable, and it would be very hard to pass up on a top flight edge rusher, either. Both would fill crying needs for the team, and it looks like cornerback is deep this year in the draft. After that, safety is big, but difficult given the lack of options, and inside linebacker needs at least a depth pick.
Other needs, like a developmental quarterback, can also be addressed, but I would think those would come after the big problems already listed are handled.
I am not trying to predict the outcome here so much as I am trying to point out the way that things may not be the way they appear from the outside. Whatever the team decides in the period before free agency, it is highly doubtful they are going to be very forthcoming about it so as not to tip their hand in free agency or the draft. Which is only smart.
Once the current players have been evaluated and the team has a view of what it has, then the free agency period will be next. Outside of Laurent Robinson, there are no UFAs on the team that it should fear losing, and I would hope to see at least a couple of needs addressed here, possibly a veteran center and maybe a cornerback or safety, if the price is not too high. Hopefully, they will also avoid players with too many miles/not many seasons left, or stick with short term deals if that is the only option.
Along those lines, I think that Jerry and Stephen Jones have a few key things to do in these discussions. They are:
Sit down. Shut up. Listen. And go figure out how to pay for what the team needs.
Have fun playing with mock drafts and arguing the value of players. Putting a slate of picks up is easy for us. For Jason Garrett and company, it is going to be the result of hours and hours of hard, grueling, and hopefully productive work.