When the Dallas Cowboys traded up for Morris Claiborne, they sacrificed their second-round draft pick for the talented cornerback from LSU. As fans, we very rarely find out who the team would have selected with the pick they traded away. It made for an interesting topic when Jerry Jones revealed who the war room was leaning towards had they kept the 45th overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft.
This Dallas Morning News article was released last Friday, and when I read it, I became very interested by the player the Cowboys had their eyes on.
Asked about that scenario following the end of the third round Friday night, Jones struggled to think of the name of the player the Cowboys liked when the 45th pick was on the board. All he seemed to remember was that it was a linebacker.
About five minutes later Jones finally came up with the name: "Wagner."
That would be Utah State inside linebacker Bobby Wagner, who went 47th overall to the Seattle Seahawks. The 6-0, 240-pounder was ranked by many experts as one of the top five inside linebackers in the draft. However, it would've been somewhat of a surprising pick considering the Cowboys already have Sean Lee, Dan Connor and Bruce Carter, last year's second round pick, at that position. It would've marked the third consecutive year the Cowboys used their second-round pick on an inside linebacker.
Yet another inside linebacker? So if we had stayed put at 14, we would have drafted a player most of BTB had a lot of dislike for, Michael Brockers. If we didn't trade our second-round draft pick, the Cowboys would have selected Utah State linebacker Bobby Wagner. If that didn't set off a fire on here last weekend, then I don't know what would have.
Drafting another inside linebacker that high in the draft can be interpreted a lot of different ways. When I began putting some ideas down on paper this week, the Wagner situation stood out to me because this is actually very interesting. We are going to first take a closer look at Wagner and see what kind of football player he is.
Take the jump for Wagner goodies....Wagner left Utah State as an experienced football player, his presence will be missed there. In 2008 as a freshman, he started the last nine games of the season and never looked back. During his four-years as the starting middle linebacker, Wagner earned many awards and filled up the stat sheet. One area that stands out is his experience level. I can see why the Cowboys were attracted to him because he is the RKG they are looking for. Wagner was a two-year captain and leader on the Utah State defense.
His senior season he really began to rise on draft boards when he put up 147 tackles, 4 sacks and 2 interceptions. What I like about him physically is that he has the stout and muscular build that we see in good linebackers sometimes. His speed is off the charts, especially when he clocked in with a 4.46 40 yard dash at the Utah State pro day. The 39 1/2 inch vertical jump also points out that Wagner has some explosion as a pass rusher to his game.
Maybe The Cowboys Wanted Wagner As A Pass Rusher?
Wagner did have 28.5 career tackles for loss, but only 4.5 sacks. His job as the middle linebacker wasn't to be a pass rusher, but he does have upside there. What he does best is using his speed to make him a sideline to sideline player who can be a natural playmaker for the defense. Some felt that the Cowboys were possibly looking at Wagner as a pass rusher, but I just don't think that is true.
First off, the Cowboys just do not draft small pass rushers. They prefer the larger prospects with size and strength. Wagner is only 6'0, and 240 pounds, so shifting him over to the outside linebacker position in our 3-4 defense just goes against what the Cowboys usually do there.
If they were seriously looking at Wagner, I believe it was at the inside linebacker position.
What Did Wagner Mean For Bruce Carter?
This is where things start to get interesting. The more I look at Wagner on tape (If you haven't, I suggest you do because you will like what you see), the more I like him as a football player. I think he would have been a great fit in our defense, but the problem is we are starting to see a logjam of talent at the position. Bruce Carter is the man everyone, including myself, have been wanting to see for the 2012 season.
After learning of the Cowboys interest in Wagner, I began to start worrying about the second-round pick from North Carolina. Are the Cowboys beginning to lose faith as well? I hate to stir the pot up here, but why would the Cowboys invest another high draft pick at a position with three players there already? Something could be going on behind the scenes in the Valley Ranch facilities.
There is a possibility the front office and coaching staff are concerned that Carter is not progressing how they had imagined. Now to play the other side of the fence for a moment, Carter tore his ACL and wasn't going to make any real impact in 2011. What he had to do was work hard this past offseason and get back into even better football shape. Jason Garrett believes he is right on par with his recovery.
"The injury that he had at North Carolina is one that we’ve seen almost 100 percent of the guys come back from," Garrett said Wednesday at a pre-draft press conference at Valley Ranch. "We just felt like he was too good a player to pass up at that point, and we understood, our eyes were very wide open as to what his year was going to look like: He was going to start on PUP, we felt we were going to get a chance to see him late in the year as a teams guy. That’s what he’s been. And now in Year 2, he’d be competing for a starting spot. So his chronology is exactly what we thought it would be a year ago today."
Who Is More Talented? Who Is The Better Prospect?
Is Carter a better prospect than Wagner? That is debatable, they play different type of games. I would say Wagner is more of a "thumper" with speed. He is a very physical player that can also generate a pass rush. Carter looks like more of a read and react type of player due to his top notch speed. Both have sideline to sideline ability, but Wagner looks like the more physical player.
Both are phenomenal linebacker prospects, but Carter was once considered a first-round pick, while Wagner never was said to be a top 20 pick like Carter was. In my opinion, Carter wins this battle, but I believe that Wagner will become a very good NFL linebacker, very soon.
Carter Needs To Step Up This Year
It's so early in the year to be saying this, but it looks like Bruce Carter needs to really grow into a good football player in just his second NFL season. Talent wise, this kid has all the tools to become one of the better linebackers in the game. Of course, reaching that talent and playing to your potential is a whole other scenario.
Maybe the Cowboys just wanted to stockpile the inside linebacker position with talent, or maybe they aren't comfortable in Carter starting this year. It is also possible that Wagner was the best available player on the Cowboys board had they stayed in the second round. Whatever the reason, we still need to see our guy succeed here in 2012. The starting linebacker position next to Sean Lee right now may be an open competition between Carter and Dan Connor.
Bruce Lee will be given every opportunity to materialize this year, and I desperately want to see Carter and Lee on the field at the same time. If Carter can begin to fully recover from his injury, his lack of NFL experience last year and grasp Rob Ryan's complicated defensive scheme, then we will have found another starting linebacker for the next ten years. If you asked me a few months ago if I felt Carter was a lock for the starting role, I would have said yes, but I am beginning to worry about him now.
The potential draft selection of another talented inside linebacker makes me worry about Carter's development. I still believe in him, but there is some concern now. We will have to wait until training camp and the pre-season before we can get a closer look and assess the situation any more in detail. Until then, godspeed Bruce.