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Cowboys 2012 Draft Grades

Morris Claiborne reacts to the Cowboys draft grades.
Morris Claiborne reacts to the Cowboys draft grades.

The big event is finally over. After hours and days of draft coverage, I am officially worn down. The NFL Draft has truly become a magical event for die-hard football fans. This draft was a dramatic affair that toyed with everyone's emotions. What I really love about the BTB fan base is that people actually cared about our late-round draft picks. Usually by that point in the draft, the casual fan will have lost interest, but over the weekend I was really impressed by our community for their passion late in the draft.

Not everything went our way, some big names were passed on in favor of players the Cowboys war room was obviously higher on. I know I was disappointed in some of the picks, but I am willing to give them a chance. Even with that in mind, I still have to grade them according to what I would have preferred.

The funny thing about grading a draft class this quickly after the draft is that you can look back on this in a few years and laugh. Some players are going to come out of nowhere to be studs, a fine example of that would be 5th round draft pick Brandon Carr. There will be some big names who bust too, that is why grading drafts is a relative unknown early on.

The NFC East really made their presence felt in the draft. I think every team, for the most part, had a pretty solid draft. The only team in the Beast that truly didn't have a fantastic overall draft was the Washington Redskins. Don't get me wrong, landing a franchise quarterback is fantastic, but the rest of their draft was pretty weak in my opinion. It looks like the Giants and Eagles killed the draft. Both teams really stocked up on good talent on each side of the football. The Giants landed three players that scare me, David Wilson, Rueben Randle and Jayron Hosley. The Eagles really loaded up on defense and I expect that unit to be much improved next year.

Enough about the rest, let's talk about the best...

Morris Claiborne

Never saw this one coming folks, this was a truly dramatic moment for the Cowboys and Morris Claiborne. When a team lands their 2nd rated player with the 6th overall pick, you made a fantastic move. When I began preparing for the draft process, I never contemplated the idea of the Cowboys getting Claiborne. One day I was having a chat with One Cool Customer, and he suggested the idea of trading up for the LSU cornerback. After getting the idea from my German ally, I penned this article.

One of my fellow front page writers, OCC, brought up an interesting idea today. What happens if LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne falls in the draft? Would the Cowboys be willing to deal up for him? I think it is a real possibility if he does indeed fall out of the top five. It all depends on what the Tampa Bay Buccaneers do with the 5th overall pick. They signed cornerback Eric Wright today, but Aqib Talib faces a possible suspension from the NFL. The St. Louis Rams hold the #6 pick, and have been rumored to be willing to trade down again.

If Claiborne falls to the Rams, it wouldn't shock me to see Jerry pick up the phone and offer them a deal. Last year he did not conduct a single trade in the war room, and it must have driven him insane not being able to make a trade. If the right opportunity presents itself this year, he may have to pull the trigger. The new rookie wage scale doesn't make trading up as risky as it used to be. After a great start to free agency, the Cowboys are setting themselves up to be in a great position in the draft.

Prophetic? Maybe, but I would never take any sort of credit for "predicting" that trade. This was just a hypothetical I threw out there back in March, it was highly unlikely that it would ever come true, but it did. Jerry Jones should get the credit for this pick because he is ultimately the one who calls the shots in that war room. Of course Stephen Jones, Jason Garrett and Rob Ryan have major input in the decisions, but this is Jerry's team. He is the owner and general manager, so at the end of the day he is going to sign off on any decision this team makes.

The Cowboys ignored and underestimated the problem at the cornerback position the past few years. They desperately tried to sign Nnamdi Asomugha last year in free agency because once Rob Ryan got there, he probably realized he had a problem brewing in the secondary. In a few short months, a problem that has plagued the team for years has been erased.

Claiborne is the type of cornerback you can build your defense around. His ball skills are some of the best I have seen out of any cornerback coming into the draft the past ten years. The scary part is that he is still going to improve his technique. He is a young player that has the skill set to grow into a Charles Woodson or Darrelle Revis type of cornerback. Now I am not just saying this because he is a Dallas Cowboy. Morris could have went to the Eagles and I would be writing the same positives about him.

We have landed some of the premier players at their position the last few years. Dez Bryant, Sean Lee, Tyron Smith, DeMarco Murray and Claiborne are all some of the best prospects at their respected positions. Three years running, the war room has taken a complete stud in the first round of the draft.

Grade: A+

Tyrone Crawford

At first this wasn't a pick that I was in love with, but I didn't exactly hate the pick either. There were some other big names left on the board, and we tend to get attached to some "pet cats" in the draft. After Brandon Worley and One Cool Customer wrote some fantastic articles breaking the selection down, and I went and did some homework, I came away feeling a lot more comfortable in drafting Crawford.

Mike Mayock has been a supporter of what the Cowboys have done recently in the draft, so it didn't surprise me to see him fall in line with the pick. Mayock spoke very highly of the Canadian defensive end when breaking down the pick for the NFL Network.

Mayock's take: "This is a good pick. He's the prototypical 5-technique in the 3-4 defense. He provides tremendous depth that the Cowboys want."

I agree with him, at 6'4 and 274 pounds, this is the type of prospect that can develop into a starter at the 5-technique position. What really sold me about this kid was that he is a pass rusher, not a run stuffing defensive end. We have too many of them on the roster and really needed to add a disruptive pass rusher who could push the pocket. He reminds me a lot of Jason Hatcher, which is a good thing. I expect Crawford to be a contributor far earlier in his career than Hatcher was, that is key. Having a defensive end like this should begin to open up plays for Jay Ratliff and Anthony Spencer.

Grade: B+

Kyle Wilber

This was a pick that I am not very high on. Personally, I would have went for another pass rusher. Wilber should immediately back up Spencer at the strong side outside linebacker position. Just because I am not very high on Wilbur, that doesn't mean it was a bad draft pick. The Cowboys are finally allowing Ryan to bring in his type of players for his defensive scheme. If this is a guy Ryan wanted, then so be it, take the type of football players you want Rob.

Wes Bunting did have some interesting things to say about Wilber, mentioning him as a potential 5-8 sack guy. 5-8 sack guy in the NFL? That is basically what Spencer is right now folks, so drafting a guy who could develop into that type of pass rusher in the fourth round makes a lot of sense. This was a name that began heating up after the Shrine game, so the Cowboys may have invested in a future starter with Wilber. It isn't the sexy name that I was expecting, but the measurables are there with this prospect.

One of my favorite NFL analysts is Charley Casserly. This is the guy who drafted Mario Williams, so when it comes to defensive talent, his opinion should be held in high regard. He loved the Wilber pick and talked about how he could be a good 3-4 OLB. Check out the video for more on the Cowboys improving their defensive via the draft.

Grade: C+

(Grade detrimental to future production, grade could turn in a B+ if Wilber turns into a decent pass rusher)

Matt Johnson

This was an intriguing pick that made me quickly hit up the Google search engine for "Matt Johnson". Honestly, I wasn't expecting much when I began researching the safety from Eastern Washington, but I came away impressed with his overall game. I got caught napping on this guy, never really heard of him until today. Johnson has upside and can potentially fight for a starting safety job down the road.

Birddog26 made me feel really good about this pick when he said this was one of his highest rated safeties in the draft. Knowing that there wasn't much of a difference between Notre Dame's Harrison Smith and Johnson truly was a relief. In the back of my mind is the 4th round failure from 2010, Akwasi Owush Ansah, another small school player who was dominant, but flamed out after just a few seasons in Dallas. Another player that came to my mind right away was fan favorite Andrew Sendejo. After watching him on tape, it is clear that Johnson is a better athlete and football player.

The one area that really stood out was his decision making, he has great instincts and reacts very quickly to the developing play. Johnson loves to hit, and that is a welcomed sight to see in the Cowboys secondary. When I saw that he had 15 career interceptions, that sold me even more because we know this kid has ball skills. This kid loves to play special teams.

"I was on the punt team all four years and then on and off of kickoff and punt return," he said. "I loved being on special teams, then I got pulled off because I was a starter on defense and coaches wanted to save me, I guess. But I’m ready to be on anything coach wants me to be on. I’ll do anything. I’m excited to play special teams, and I want to be there, and I’m really passionate about playing special teams."

At worst, he will be a Bill Bates type of special teams ace, but I think the Cowboys may have something more than that here. Rob Ryan may have found his version of Jim Leonhard here with Matt Johnson.

Grade: B

Danny Coale

When this pick was announced, I shouted for joy on the open thread. Some of the BTB faithful thought I was being sarcastic, but I was dead serious. Ever since Laurent Robinson took his talents to Jacksonville, the need for a #3 wide receiver has been on my need list. I love Raymond Radway, and I think he has the potential to be a #2 wide receiver in the league, but his lack of experience and injury will be really tough to overcome. Dwayne Harris is similar to Coale, so at least one of them have to pan out right?

At his pro day, Coale put up a 4.37 40 yard dash and a 37 inch vertical jump. His 6.69 3-cone drill time show that he can be quick and shifty. This is the type of wide receiver that I have wanted the Cowboys to draft for a very long time. A slot wide receiver who is versatile, runs good routes, has good hands and possesses the quickness to make plays for Tony Romo.

Did I forget to mention that this kid can punt? He averaged over 43 yards per punt on 13 punts during his career at Virginia Tech.

His head coach and quarterback at Virginia Tech had nothing but high praise when they spoke about Coale.

"It’s tough to even describe Danny. He’s one of the greatest guys I’ve ever met in my life," said quarterback Logan Thomas. "He can do it all. He’s a punter, he’s a receiver, and the classroom is just another dimension of who he is and what he can do. It’s very nice to have a guy like that on our team. It makes not only the team better, but the people on the team better."

"He’s just neat," said coach Frank Beamer. "He really is neat. He’s really -- you look at him and he’s a really good football player. He’s smart, he understands the game, and that shows out there. I think he’s sneaky fast. He gets away from you before you realize he’s there. He’s just the total package. You feel so proud he represents Virginia Tech, and that he’s been with you here in your program for four years and what a delight he’s been. What a great representative he’s been, and how many big plays he’s been involved in here at Virginia Tech. He’s special, real special."

The Cowboys usually don't target are smaller guys and Coale stands in at nearly 6'1, so he is a little bit larger than the water bug types some wanted to see in Dallas. I predict that he will be the #3 wide receiver on the Cowboys by the end of training camp, that is how much I believe in this kid. This makes up for losing Danny Amendola a few years ago and Romo has a new target that is reliable, and also happens to have a fantastic set of hands.

Grade: A-

James Hanna

Seeing Hanna fall this far was pretty interesting because this is a legitimate tight end prospect. Losing Martellus Bennett will not be a huge loss because he never amounted to anything anyway. He was a blocking tight end, a very good one, but that was the only thing he could do well. You don't spend second-round draft picks on players like that, so learn a lesson from it Dallas and move on.

Moving on is exactly what they did. Getting a quality prospect at tight end like Hanna is the type of drafting we should have been doing all along instead of wasting a second on Bennett. One thing about Oklahoma guys, they produce some decent NFL players. Their kids are always prepared for the next level because Bob Stoops does a fantastic job of preparing his players for the the NFL.

Hanna will fit the H-back role nicely because of his athleticism and size (6'4, 252). He can actually catch the football unlike Bennett, now that is a definite upgrade in that department. He is more of a receiver than a blocker right now, but that is fine with me. I prefer adding a more polished route runner and receiver instead of another blocking tight end.

His measurables are off the charts and he is a very good athlete. His 4.49 40 yard dash, 36 inch vertical jump and his 6.76 3-cone drill are very good numbers. It looks like we may have potentially drafted a tight end who falls under the new tight end category like Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski. We didn't just draft a blocking tight end here folks, we got Romo a weapon. writer and analyst Bucky Brooks broke down Hanna as a potential player at tight end.

Bucky Brooks' take: Hanna is a sneaky fast pass catcher with improving hands and ball skills. He could emerge as a dynamic No 2. tight end with the ability to create mismatches in space.

Pairing Witten with Hanna will be a fantastic way to open up the offense even more. This was a home-run selection for the Cowboys, a great value this late in the draft.

Grade: A+

Caleb McSurdy

Unfortunately, I am not totally on board with this pick. No offense to Caleb McSurdy, I am thrilled that your lifelong dream came true when the Cowboys drafted you, but it's the position you play that bothers me. With a few quality centers and defensive lineman left, I felt that was the direction we should have taken. Frankly, I am not really thrilled about any of his measurables either. His 4.97 40 yard dash is really slow, but according to some of his scouting reports, he may just be a case where he is football fast and doesn't test well in combine drills.

McSurdy isn't a player I am really familiar with. He went to Montana, and the only player there I actually followed was Trumaine Johnson.

Bryan Broaddus from the mothership actually appears to like the pick in his analysis.

How He Fits In: Not a hard player to find on film at all...has a nose for the ball....and is always around it...very aware to what the offense is trying to do to the way he plays with his hands...really impressed with his ability to drop and cover...will not be a liability at all in this area...type of guy that can stay on the doubt that he can help on all of the cover special teams, runs that well....

Sports Illustrated also had some positive reviews on their scouting report.

Smart football player who quickly diagnoses the action and rarely makes mental mistakes. Breaks down well, effectively uses his hands to protect himself and flows well to the action. Aggressive, consistent and hard hitting. Forceful up the field, efficient and keeps the action in front of him. Takes good angles to plays and consistently wraps up when tackling. Remains disciplined with assignments. Flashes skill in zone coverage.

Analysis: McSurdy was incredibly productive the past two seasons and displayed great development in his game. He's a two-down defender for the next level who could eventually develop into a starter at inside linebacker in a 34 alignment. He also plays with a special teams mentality, which increases his value.

After reading what a reliable former scout had to say about McLoving McSurdy, I really began to appreciate the pick more. Sports Illustrated is a really good draft source for reading information on draft picks and I have always valued their draft coverage. If McSurdy is as good as they say he is, then maybe we got something in the seventh-round draft pick from Montana. If I was running the war room, I would have went with a more polished player like Travis Lewis from Oklahoma, but I trust our scouts.

Grade: C-

(Graded so low because of the other names left on the board and the position, but I decided not to go any lower than a C- because of the positive reports from some scouts and scouting services.)

Overall Draft Grade: B

This was a good draft for the Cowboys, just not a sexy one after the Claiborne pick, which is okay because we added some players we really needed to get. Cornerback has been a problem for a very long time, and the Cowboys just landed a premier one with "Pick Six". Claiborne really could give this entire draft grade an A if he pans out, which he should. We will have one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL for the next ten years, so that should boost our grade in a few years.

I wanted at least three starters out of this draft, but we may only have two right away. Claiborne and Crawford should be instant producers on the field. Danny Coale is going to be considered a starter in my book because he should be our #3 wide receiver. With the heavy three-wide receiver sets we ran last year, Coale should see plenty of time on the field. James Hanna will become the passing threat in the two-tight end set that we lacked in Bennett. As for Wilber, Johnson and McSurdy, they will need to develop into players down the road.

The best possible outcome from this draft is that these defensive players turn into productive players who contribute sooner rather than later. Rob Ryan was finally allowed to get the type of players he wanted, this should continue in the next draft if he is here. I would like to see him get at least three drafts under his belt with this system of his, but time may not be on his side now. Jerry Jones must be patient with Ryan and allow him to continue stockpiling and assembling defensive talent for this football team.

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