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Looking At Draft Needs For The Dallas Cowboys

It's the draft season. Until April 26th, we are going to drown in a sea of mock drafts, draft boards, and draft wish lists. Numbers from combines and pro days are going to be examined, compared, dissected, filleted, chopped and julienned to try and sort out where players should go in the draft, and who the Cowboys should be looking to take.

That is the supply side of the unique economy of the NFL draft. Under the BPA theory, you just take the whoever is the highest remaining player on your board.

But in reality most draft choices are based not only on BPA, but on the needs of the team, which is the demand side of that economy. And of course, the BPA thing is not always so clear cut. Most people think that Andrew Luck is the automatic first pick of the draft - unless you listen to Jemele Hill at ESPN, who thinks the Colts should use that pick on Robert Griffin III and his shiny new Heisman Trophy. And if you just don't like ESPN, or still are living in the 1950s and think women should never talk about sports, Tony Dungy agrees with her. So when you get into the later rounds, there may be a variety of players to choose from of roughly equal value for the team.

So I am not going to talk about who is available. Frankly, there are many voices here at BTB that have more intelligent things to say about that than I do. I want to take a look at what positions the Cowboys should be going after, and I want to try to come up with a way to rank order them.

Follow me after the jump to see if I make any sense.

A lot of people put up lists on draft priorities for the team, but I have not seen anyone go through the roster position by position and compare the needs. This is my attempt to do just that. I am trying to keep it simple, because I really don't know of a metric that will give you a quantitative way to compare the value of a nose tackle to a tight end for the team. It is subjective, and this early into things, it is also likely to be subject to great change as things go along. I will look at who is on the team now and try to make some guesses based at least loosely in reality on who the team may retain. Then I am going to put a number on that position, using this scale:

  1. Gotta get someone. No question.
  2. High priority. A definite need.
  3. A need for the team.
  4. Not pressing at this time - but if a real steal is there, it might be worth a late round pick.
  5. Do not use a draft choice here in 2012.

I don't know if anyone else will like this, but I was wanting to set up some way to discuss the draft where we can contrast our opinions. And I have never done this before, so it is an experiment I wanted to try.

So, without further ado, here is the position breakdown. I am looking at all positions on offense and defense, and assuming that specialists will not be part of the draft equation. Each position will list the current depth chart, plus any players on the IR that are likely to be available for the next season, in depth order, and then I'll give my reasons for assigning a number.

Quarterback Tony Romo, Stephen McGee, Chris Greisen.

Tony is the starter. Period. McGee is now the backup, but there is no clear evidence that he is the QB of the future. Greisen was just a body for the last game, and I am assuming Jon Kitna is gone (with our thanks for his contributions).

And here is the first thing that may stir up some controversy. I think the team needs to look long and hard at drafting a quarterback to develop. UDFAs who become starters are very rare, and losing your starter can ruin an entire season (see: Indianapolis Colts) or mess up a good thing (see: Houston Texans). I have always believed that you need three quarterbacks on the team. Dallas can go out and sign another graybeard to be a backup - but when do you start to develop Tony's eventual replacement? Unless McGee suddently turns into Matt Flynn, the team needs to take a shot, I believe.

Draft Priority: 2

Running back/fullback DeMarco Murray (IR), Felix Jones, Phillip Tanner (IR), Sammy Morris, Chauncey Washington/Tony Fiammetta, Shaun Chapas

I lumped these together because I see both positions the same: I think the Cowboys have their players for 2012 in place. Morris and Washington were basically emergency fill ins, and I fully expect Murray, Jones and Tanner to be the three players starting the season. I also expect Fiammetta to be the starter next year, unless Chapas should surprise everyone and take the job away from him. If the coaching staff wants someone else to look at, I would expect them to go FA/UDFA.

Draft Priority: 5

Tight end Jason Witten, Martellus Bennett, John Phillips

This is the first point at which there is a big uncertainty. Witten is still a top one tight end in the NFL in my opinion, and even if he sees some decline in effectiveness, I do not think it would be enough to, in any way, threaten his starter status. But Bennett is a UFA, and also a bit of an enigma as to his value to the team. I am in the camp that thinks he is doing exactly what the coaching staff wants him to, which is block. And at about the midpoint of the season, he seemed to become a much more reliable receiver. The draft pick that was used on him is immaterial at this point. The question is whether the team is going to resign him or not. If they don't, they will make a lot of people who thing Martellus is hot garbage very happy. But I think they will, because I think his price is going to be very reasonable.

Draft Priority: 4

Wide receiver Miles Austin, Dez Bryant, Laurent Robinson, Jesse Holley, Kevin Ogletree, Dwayne Harris, Andre Holmes, Teddy Williams, Raymond Radway (IR)

The joker in this deck is Robinson. This guy may be an expensive UFA to resign, but he also may be worth it. I am basing my priority here on the belief that Jerry Jones will work something out and keep him. There are a lot of free agent wide receivers out there this year, and if Laurent goes, I think the team could get another quality replacement if it can't find enough talent in the pool they have. I am hopeful that Ogletree will be gone. I think Jesse Holley may be better than most people realize, based on the fact he caught everything that was thrown at him this year in limited action. And Harris, Williams and Radway all have varying degrees of possibility. You might be able to argue that this should be one number higher - but not with the other needs the team has this year.

Draft Priority: 5

Offensive tackle: Tyron Smith, Doug Free, Jermey Parnell

I think everyone fully expects that Smith and Free are going to flip positions, and that will be a good thing. I am really excited to see how Tyron will do after a full off season of coaching and conditioning, given how well he did without it, and I think Parnell may benefit even more. But that is kind of thin. I think the team needs at least one more tackle, but this may be better addressed in free agency.

Draft Priority: 3

Guard/Center: Kyle Kosier, Derrick Dockery, David Arkin, Montrae Holland (IR), Bill Nagy (IR)/Phil Costa, Kevin Kowalksi

One of the most exciting things about the days after the end of the Great Suckitude was the clear signal that Jason Garrett was going with a youth movement on the offensive line.

So how do we end up with a 10 year and a 9 year veteran as our starting guards at the end of the season? Injuries played a part, but a lot of us are also wondering what is going on with David Arkin. Will he justify his draft position after the off season? I also feel that at least two and possibly all three of the old veterans will not be around next season. So it looks like we need some new blood here.

Draft Priority: 2

Cornerback Terence Newman, Mike Jenkins, Orlando Scandrick, Alan Ball, Frank Walker, C.J. Wilson

I think Jenkins and Scandrick will be back next year. I don't know about C.J. Wilson, but I would not be surprised to see the other three gone. Which makes this fairly obvious.

Draft Pritority: 1

Safety Gerald Sensabaugh, Abram Elam, Danny McCray, Mana Silva, Barry Church (IR)

Here is one area where the supply side affects demand, because the safety class this year is reportedly rather weak. The team is not likely to get much help here even if it wanted to. However, Sensabaugh, Elam and McCray are not terrible, like, say, the cornerbacks, and as I recall, Church was having a pretty good year before he went down. So hopefully the team will survive without much help here. My rating may be influenced by wishful thinking there.

Draft Priority: 3

Inside linebacker: Sean Lee, Bradie James, Keith Brooking, Bruce Carter, Orie Lemon

One Chuck Norris-approved stud in Lee. Two future hopefuls in Carter and Lemon. Two once solid players whose time, sadly, has passed. Five minus two leaves three. And I think the team needs four. But with the picks used in the last two drafts on Lee and Carter, this might be a hard sell as too high a choice.

Draft Priority: 2

Outside linebacker: DeMarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer, Victor Butler, Alex Albright

We all want DWare to just get healthy. The big issue here is good old Almost Anthony, as discussed in detail by Kegbearer earlier. I think it is generally agreed that the Cowboys need more pass rush. The question is where does it come from, OLB or the D line? I am going to go with the theory that the team will look for a second pass rusher at OLB this year, which drives the number here.

Draft Priority: 1

Defensive End Jason Hatcher, Kenyon Coleman, Marcus Spears, Sean Lissemore, Clifton Geathers

I almost did the line as a whole, but decided to break it out. There is a certain interconnectedness with OLB in that one of these positions needs to bring some more pass rush to the table. Given Rob Ryan's approach to defense, the answer to that may not be what we think. However, I like Hatcher a lot, and still think Lissemore is still growing into his position. Again, I am basing this number on the team going for another pass rusher at OLB, but if a real monster is available at DE, the numbers might switch.

Draft Priority: 2

Nose Tackle Jay Ratliff, Josh Brent

This is a very tough call. Rat is so good. But everyone keeps worrying about him wearing down. Here is another place the positions are a little connected, because you might not need a DE as much if the right NT came along. If you had one who could just put massive pressure right up the middle, it might even solve some of the pass rush issue. Plus, I don't know quite how good Brent is. This is one I may be a bit high on.

Draft Priority: 2

OK, a quick recap:

  1. CB, OLB
  2. QB, G/C, ILB, DE, NT
  3. OT, S
  4. TE
  5. RB/FB, WR

That actually makes it kind of simple. Seven draft choices, seven positions ranked 1 or 2. Putting a little subjective spin on the priorities within each ranking, and throwing in that you may need more than one at a given postition, I come up with this draft order, by position.

  1. CB
  2. Pass rushing OLB
  3. G/C
  4. ILB
  5. QB
  6. DE or CB
  7. NT, DE (if CB in 6), or CB (if DE in 6)

You can also use the ranking system to provide a little flexibilty while keeping the priorities straight. Obviously, if there is a monster stud OLB available in the first round who is clearly better than any cornerback, you flip those two - but you don't take a guard or ILB before you then address the CB issue. Once you get the 1's addressed, then you can adjust all the 2's to more of a BPA approach.

That's my take on it. I will now prepare for the slings and arrows.

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