Its been a while since I lived up to my moniker so, with the draft mere days away, I thought I'd offer up a little something to incite the masses. Before you sit down to read, consider grabbing a torch and a pitchfork, 'cause you just may want to storm Castle Rabble when you're through!
For months now, we've been riding high on the wave of David DeCastro's excellence. The Stanford guard has been touted as the best interior offensive guard prospect not only in this draft, but since Steve Hutchinson, the former Michigan standout who was selected 17th overall in 2001. By now, we know the score: DeCastro boasts good size, and great feet. He is a nasty player who prepares meticulously. He flourished in a pro-style offense, doing more or less what will be asked of him at the NFL level. He protected All-World Cardinal QB Andrew Luck and was a key reason the Cardinal rushing game was one of the best in college football.
Thanks to these qualities, the love for DeCastro here at BTB has been through the roof. For six weeks now, the FanPost pages and comments sections have been filled with odes to DeCastro, extolling the various facets of his game as a poet would the various virtues of a lover. Now, lest you think I don't like the player, I want to make one thing perfectly clear. I do like him. A lot. I think his tenacity and studiousness will be a big asset to the team, and that he will provide an immediate upgrade at one of the Cowboys positions of weakness.
These are compelling arguments for why the Cowboys must draft him. Added to this is the fact that the window of opportunity is closing for the team's core players, the now-aging vets brought in between 2003 and 2005. If the organization is going to give these noble warriors a chance at a legitimate Super Bowl run before its too late, they have to hit on their first three picks in this draft and in 2013. To do this, they must pick not only excellent players, but safe ones, RKGs whose work ethics and ability to develop they can feel certain about.
The 2012 draft's first round will be filled with talented players with a lot of question marks, and has more of these types than any draft in recent memory. One of DeCastro's virtues is that he's one of, if not the, safest players in this draft. His floor is very high, perhaps higher than any first rounder outside of the five or six "blue-chip" prospects (and I think its higher than several of theirs). But here's the rub: the reason he's not a blue-chipper is not only the position he plays, but the fact that his ceiling isn't as high as some of these other guys.
And that is what has stopped me drinking the DeCastro-flavored Kool-Aid. I'd like to encourage you to do the same so, without further ado, here is a list of reasons why the Cowboys shouldn't take the Stanford guard with the fourteenth pick. After the jump, of course...
Guard is not a premium position: In the first round of the draft, the most talented players are available. As a result, teams should draft the positions that are either most dependent on raw ability or at which there is a premium on having a talented player. In a pass-oriented league, those positions are: QB, WR, OT, CB and pass rusher. I call these the Positions of Great Import (POGI). Typically, these positions square off against one another, and either enjoying or suffering a talent disparity in these match-ups can strongly affect its outcome. For example, if your left tackle is being whipped by the opposing pass rusher, your offense is going to struggle to pass the ball, regardless of what the other ten players are doing.
Offensive guard is way down that list, after safety and just before fullback. Just because the Cowboys interior line play was substandard at times last year, particularly in frustrating losses to New England and Arizona (that frustration tends to exacerbate perceived need), doesn't mean that they need to spend a first-round pick on a guard. The Cowboys would be better served to find a talented player at a POGI, and get a guard later in the draft.
Athletically Limited: One of the key reasons that guard isn't a premium position is that it doesn't require the same degree of athleticism that other positions do. Guards operate in comparatively tighter spaces than do offensive tackles, for instance; they aren't expected to go "out on an island" and battle elite edge rushers in space. Why not? Because they can't. If they could, believe me, coaches would have them playing tackle. This begs the question: why was DeCastro playing guard in college? Couldn't he have survived on the outside, at least as a RT? Apparently, his college coaches - you know, the same guys that just resurrected the 49ers - didn't think so.
Look at the other top guard candidates: Amini Silatolu, Cordy Glenn, Jeff Allen, Brandon Brooks, Kelechi Osmele (and the list goes on) all played tackle in college, but will kick inside in the pros because they don't have the feet to compete with the DeMarcus Wares of the NFL world. The lone exception: Kevin Zeitler - and scouting reports insistently refer to his limited athleticism. All the rest of these guys played tackle because their college coaching staffs trusted them to go one-on-one with the best rushers their schedule had to offer. But not DeCastro.
The drop-off at guard isn't steep: Unlike other positions, where there is a steep decline in quality after a handful of first-rounders, there are several second-round guards to be had, all of them on the above list. No, they don't grade out as high as DeCastro, but the difference between their grades and his is less than between, say, that of Fletcher Cox and Devon Still. One of the reason for this is....
...DeCastro's Ceiling: As mentioned above, the former member of the Cardinal's floor is higher than many if not all of the other prospects in the draft. However, I think his ceiling may be lower than that of other players at his position. There are several reasons for this. The first is coaching. At Stanford, as suggested above, DeCastro received as close to NFL coaching as a college player can get outside of Tuscaloosa. His technique is refined; he has been part of a pro-style training program, and he has learned to study as a pro does.
Unlike DeCastro, small-conference players have enjoyed none of these advantages. Once a Brooks or Silatolu has NFL-caliber coaches helping him to refine his technique, spends some time in a professional offseason program and discovers how to prepare, his game will take a significant leap forward. In short, DeCastro is much closer to his maximum potential than the other candidates, but they have much more room to grow. Given that Silatolu, the former Midwestern Stater, with none of DeCastro's polish, is currently being discussed as a guy who could jump into the late first round, how good (nay, great) might he be in two years, once he's had a chance to hone his game to the degree that DeCastro has already?
Not a Power Player: Given some time in an NFL building, aspects of Brooks's or Silatolu's skill set might well catch up to DeCastros. But there is one aspect of their games that already exceeds, and will almost certainly eclipse, that of the Stanford star: power. Although they are almost unanimous in their praise of DeCastro, scouts concede that he doesn't generate tremendous movement in the run game and sometimes struggles to anchor against interior rushers. Wes Bunting, who rates DDC as the third-best player in the draft, writes that he lacks "elite anchor strength.: and "Can be overpowered a bit at the point of attack vs. the bull rush." Moreover, he "displays good hand placement, but not a real jarring pop at the point." DeCastro is strong, but not powerful; he doesn't generate the tremendous hip snap that Silatolu does, and probably never will--he simply isn't as genetically blessed. As a result...
---Not every scout is enamored with DDC: in a recent edition of their draft insider web column, the fine gents at Pro Football Weekly quoted an NFL insider as saying "DeCastro is overrated. On tape, he is a good guard, but he is not special by any means. You love the kid, you love the work ethic, you love the makeup. But in a normal draft, you’d like to get him in the second." The second? As in round? I think this might just be overstating things a bit. But this source does bring up a good point. In a draft with precious few sure things, a Steady Eddie like DeCastro is going to get over-rated. Scouts have likely taken a step back from DDC; now I think its time for us to do so.
In late February, I wrote a post-Combine piece that contained the following:
David DeCastro might be the safest player in the draft; indeed, much-respected draftnik Rick Gosselin went on record this weekend as thinking so. Sure, guards have not historically been highly valued, but DeCastro might be different. Consider this: Wes Bunting maintains that he's the best guard prospect since Steve Hutchinson, who had a stellar career playing next to perennial All-Pro tackle Walter Jones....When Shaun Alexander ran for over 1,800 yards in 2005, a sizeable portion of that total was run behind Jones and Hutchinson. I don't think it would take too long for us to get used to seeing DeMarco Murray doing his best Alexander impression--and I suspect Tony Romo would adjust pretty quickly as well.
I want to be clear here: its not that I've changed my mind; I'd still love to see what Romo and a stable of Cowboys backs can do behind a left side of DeCastro and Smith. But I think that Dallas can allocate its draft resources more efficiently. In that same post, I noted that the strongest position in the 2012 draft's first round will be defensive tackle. For the Cowboys and their 3-4 scheme, this means defensive end, or "five technique." Offensive guard is not a POGI; 3-4 defensive end is, however, so long as the candidate can provide a little pass rush. If the Cowboys are convinced that one of the top DT-DEs is can pressure opposing QBs, and he's available (that guy is most likely to be Michael Brockers), I believe they'd be better served taking him in round one and looking for a guy like Silatolu in the second frame.
Okay, BTB, its pitchfork time. Go to the comments section and let 'er rip!