The NFL draft is a favorite topic for football fans right now, since it is the next big event, and pretty much the biggest one until training camps open long months from now. Mock drafts are multiplying and people are claiming pet cats (although not me - the power of the goatmouth is securely locked away). Contentious debates about what players are better than others rage.
For the Dallas Cowboys, the needs are many and the draft picks, sadly, rather few. With combines and on-campus workouts for the scouts still to come, the positioning of players is a pretty sketchy thing at the moment. But some idea of the numbers of players who are legitimate prospects for the draft, particularly the first two or three rounds, are starting to emerge. Based on past history, the Cowboys are going to go into the draft with their own board, containing maybe a hundred names they have interest in. This will likely be heavily weighted to reflect the needs the team has.
There are two philosophical approaches teams can take, best player available (BPA) and position of need. As with most things in life, neither of these is likely to be followed exclusively. I am one of many who figure the team will go with BPA at position of need. My read is that the offensive and defensive lines are neck and neck for which the team needs the most, with safety coming in third place.
I also am one who thinks the first three rounds are the ones where you need to get it right. From the fourth round on, things are getting a bit hit and miss. Those first hundred or so players off the board are where a team is going to make or break their draft.
Based on early returns, this is an excellent year for defensive linemen, a good year for offensive line, and a typically sketchy one for safeties. While it is still early, I got to wondering how the available talent pool matches up with those top three needs.
Since the ranking of the players is still tentative, and outside rankings are not necessarily in line with what the teams come up with, I am using current draft boards as a guide. I looked at my two favorites, Drafttek and CBS Sports. They don't agree, of course, and don't even use identical ways to break the players out by likely position in the NFL. But I was able to come up with some rough numbers for comparison. I looked at those three positions of need, took all the available candidates in the first 100 players in each, and came up with this average projected distribution of players by round.
|Position||Round 1||Round 2||Round 3|
The thing that immediately jumped out to me was the number of defensive linemen projected to be first round talents. Although there are certainly going to be some shifts between now and draft day, that number is likely to stay pretty big. All three rounds project to be pretty strong here.
Offense line is not as good, but still solid through the second round. Things thin out a bit in the third round. Safety is weak again, something of a chronic condition in the past few years.
So pretend for a moment Jerry Jones has taken inspiration from the headlines and has just hired you to become the GM of the Cowboys, figuring if the Pope can step aside, so can he. How do you spend those first three draft picks to get the most for the team? (Assuming you stand pat with the draft choices the team has now.)
I think the indications are that the team should lean for defensive line in the first. With that much talent, this is the best position to get a really good player. If you want to protest that the team needs to be leaning towards BPA, I would counter that BPA is going to push the team in this direction as well. The odds are better that the BPA is going to be a defensive lineman than any other position.
And the first round leans towards DE, which may be even better news for the Cowboys. As some of the savvier people looking at the team have noted, such as rabblerousr, the team has several good DT options already on the roster, but very few that fit the end profile. The first round is the place to shore up this area of need.
That would push the team heavily into the offensive line for the second round, which again lines up nicely with the available talent. There are as many or more good quality OL candidates here as there are just about any other position. Here, the talent leans slightly towards OT rather than G/C. Many would argue that this is the opposite of the direction the team needs to go. However, if you truly feel Doug Free is the biggest liability on the line, then grabbing the best tackle still on the board makes a lot of sense.
With the comparative dearth of talent at safety, I don't know whether the team is going to find one they would be willing to spend a draft pick on. This would likely free the third round pick up for another need, perhaps a running back. Now, if it were up to me, I would go back to the well here and get another linemen, probably on defense. As I said, I believe the first three rounds are where drafts are made or where they fail. Dallas needs to work on the trenches. And the 2013 draft is heavy with players that should be able to help there. I think the team will wind up going DL/OL the first two rounds. If not, they should reverse the order. Third round, I think they will do something different, but wish they wouldn't.
The best part is that numbers of lineman on both sides of the ball increase the likelihood that the Cowboys will find a big ugly as the best person on their board when they are able to go to the podium. This is clearly a year the team needs to avoid getting too clever. Stick with the basics, address the most crucial needs, and maximize value at the same time.