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Cowboys 2012 Draft: Playing The Scenario Game With Todd McShay

Todd McShay offers Notre Dame WR Michael Floyd as one of the Cowboys many first round options.
Todd McShay offers Notre Dame WR Michael Floyd as one of the Cowboys many first round options.

At some juncture during the draft season, teams gather in their war-rooms to play the scenario game. Every organization must be prepared for each possible scenario that might unfold: "If, by our pick, these three players are on the board, we will select player A; if these two players remain, we will pick player B; If these five players remain, we will trade down x spots and still get a guy we like." Given the unpredictability of the draft, it's very difficult, if not downright impossible, to target specific players in, say, the sixth round. At that juncture of the draft, teams are looking to pick up players with some kind of upside, almost regardless of position.

Its far easier to play the scenario game in the first couple of rounds. Lets look at the last two Cowboys drafts for examples. In 2010, Dallas had three players mid-first round grades on their short list and were determined to trade up should any one of the three begin to fall a bit. Two of them, Texas FS Earl Thomas and OG Mike Iupati of Idaho, were gobbled up at picks 14 and 17, respectively. But Dez Bryant continued to fall until he was within striking distance. Jerry Jones struck, Bryant became a Cowboy and the rest is history.

Last year, Dallas targeted three or four players with early first round (i.e., blue-chip) grades who they were prepared to select with the ninth pick. When they went on the clock, two of those guys--Wisconsin DE J. J. Watt and USC OT Tyron Smith--were available. Because both were on the board, they entertained the possibility of trading back, where they could pick up a second-day pick and still get their guy. After contemplating the various permutations (and analyzing the offer on the table from Jacksonville), Dallas decided to stay put and select OT Smith.

Both of these scenarios--one a trade down, the other an "almost" trade up--were thought out well in advance by Jones, son Stephen and Dallas Director of College and Pro Scouting Tom Ciskowski. In 2010, if both Iupati and Bryant had been available at #24, they had a plan. In 2011, had Aldon Smith joined J.J. Watt and Smith as available players, they had a plan for that as well. The takeaway here is that, since the draft has so many moving parts, war rooms must prepare for every eventuality, or else they'll get caught with their pants down.

More after the jump...

On TV, the draft sometimes appears to be chaotic (all those trades!). But its a very well-rehearsed chaos; teams must play out ALL the possible scenarios that might unfold and have a viable set of contingencies for each. Within each potential pool of draftees, they know which player they will select or, if the pool is big enough, when they might trade down and still nab their guy. In advance of the draft, they will have called numerous teams to inquire about their interest in making a trade at given points in the draft, so that they have a good sense of where and when they can move up or down the draft ladder.

This preparation and resultant movement up and down the draft ladder is a key draft reality that mocks typically fail to take into account. I can see why, it's next to impossible to predict trades, each of which affects subsequent choices - but that is the mock draft's central shortcoming: mockers, unlike teams, don't account for multiple scenarios. At least they didn't until now. Today Todd McShay came out with his annual "Multi-option" mock draft (sadly, its a subscription feature), in which some teams (the Colts and Redskins) have fairly simple choices and others--the Rams, Chiefs and Patriots--have as many as five options.

As fortune would have it, the Cowboys are one of the teams with five scenarios. McShay mocks Memphis DT-DE Dontari Poe to the Cowboys, and then offers four alternate paths:

  • Scenario 1: Defensive line might not seem like the top need, but Poe is the kind of young, versatile talent defensive coordinator Rob Ryan would like to develop. And with Kenyon Coleman on the downside of his career and Jay Ratliff able to move to 5-technique/DE, Poe would bring some depth and flexibility to the defensive front.
  • Scenario 2: The Cowboys have been searching for some time for a versatile, do-it-all safety who can be a quarterback in the secondary, so Barron could easily be the pick.
  • Scenario 3: Bring in Floyd to provide QB Tony Romo with another weapon on the outside.
  • Scenario 4: Brockers is also an option to upgrade the defensive line.
  • Scenario 5: The Cowboys need to shore things up at cornerback, and at this point Gilmore would be a good fit.

To review: the Cowboys' five options with the fourteenth pick are, in order: Poe; Mark Barron; Michael Floyd (if Arizona picks a pass rusher; he has Floyd mocked to the Cardinals one pick earlier); Michael Brockers; Stephon Gilmore. If you're wondering about BTB favorites Fletcher Cox and David DeCastro, McShay has Cox going to Carolina at the ninth pick and DeCastro lasting until Cincy takes him at #17.

Whether or not you agree with McShay's final product, its hard to argue against his process. I admire his courage in taking on the dizzying array of draft permutations--a set of possibilities that only gets headier as the draft moves into the last half of the first round. The Cowboys, poised at # 14, sit at the gateway to this permutational frenzy, which is why this draft will, I think, prove to be the most exciting for Cowboys fans in some years.

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