As we're now only 10 days away from the real thing, I think most of the general public has had the wind knocked out of their sails when it comes to navigating this part of the offseason. The devious minds of the NFL have constructed a calendar that gives almost four months of major moves and shakes to teams that didn't have deep playoff runs.
Masterful, in fact. The Cowboys opened their season September 5th and it ended December 30th. 117 days. From December 30th to April 25th? 117 days. So if the regular season drags out for many when things aren't going well, it's safe to say a season's worth of speculation, spreadsheets opinions is even less exciting.
I get that, I really do. But man... these MockOne.net exercises are about as much fun as I've had in the offseason as I can remember.
Brandon Nall (@Empulse) has devised a wonderful exercise where he and his team of dedicated volunteers seek out some of the best draftniks and team-centric bloggers to steer the ship for each of the 32 NFL franchises. And when I say some of the best, I really mean it. #MockFive included names like Matt Miller, who's work is featured in Madden '13 and who is a former NFL front office man.
Miller wasn't the only big timer to join the fray either. We also had heavy hitters like Shane Hallam, Chris Hansen, Joe Goodberry, Alex Miglio, Scott Carasik and several more... To be asked back for a third straight stint with this particular collection of "All Stars" was a distinct honor.
The previous two versions, #MockThree and #MockFour were War Room editions. In Three, I was the Lead GM (A+) and in Four I was an Assistant GM (B).
That brings us to #MockFive, my solo mission. If you'd like to read up on the process I undertook in getting ready, it was a tweak of the big board I created in #MockThree. My board went about 160 names deep and we all know the target areas for the Cowboys. Dallas could find starters at OG, OT, DT, S, C and possibly LB, and could use backups at RB, QB and pretty much every other position on a team without a great deal of depth. So how did things break down? Glad you asked.
Both of the elite guards were off the board when Warmack went 11 and Cooper went 16. The Steelers snatched up Vaccaro to leave me on the board with really only two options.
I threw out word that I was looking to bail from 18, but found no takers as teams in front had snatched up the "trade for" targets. I couldn't move, but I was far from "stuck".
With the 18th selection in the #MockFive NFL Draft, the Dallas Cowboys select... DT Sheldon Richardson, Missouri.
This happened to us in #MockFour as well; my guards were gone when the Rams grabbed Cooper and we were left with one of the three well-rated DTs (Floyd in MockFour). I've had my eyes opened over the last couple weeks and the fact that Richardson had better production than Floyd makes me think he'll be the better pro. Here's my writeup of the pick:
The Cowboys are able to grab the #9 player on their board and bolster their defensive line rotation with a stud in Sheldon Richardson. Richardson will slide right into the 3-tech role and use his high motor, constant fight to penetrate as part of Kiffin's 4-3 scheme. As a true RKG, Jason Garrett is going to love getting this player in the fold to help anchor the next generation of Cowboys defenders. His addition allows the Cowboys to now have three dynamic players at the DT position along with Ratliff and Hatcher, who are both getting up there in age and will benefit from less snaps. Richardson has uncanny instincts off the ball and combined with great hands will be making life miserable for guards and centers for years to come.
I attempted to trade up to pick 23 and an early 4th, using 47 and next year's first rounder for Tank Carradine. The counter offer was for me to include a 5th and drop the second pick coming back from a 4th to a 6th. Couldn't do it.
Tank Carradine was long gone (27), and sure enough Warford (41) and Reid were gone by the time we hit Pick 43.
I decided to go with:
With the 47th selection in the #MockFive NFL Draft, the Dallas Cowboys select... OT Terron Armstead, Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
We're Free! The Cowboys have brought on board the replacement for right tackle Doug Free and he's a long ways from the sloppy, frumpy player that manned the spot last season. Armstead is a small school beast that dominated the post-season, Shrine and Senior Bowls. He's extremely fast and powerful, and after proving he could compete with players from upper echelon schools, he then dominated the combine in almost every statistical category. The Cowboys finally have athletic bookends that can move.
Armstead was rated 25th overall on my Big Board as high, second-round value. Now there is a fair question over whether or not Armstead will need to bulk up before he makes an impact in the game; but I don't agree. It may not be pretty, but can it be worse than the performace Free turned in in 2012? Probably not by much.
The safety ranks were thinning out as well as Swearinger, Elam, Phillip Thomas and Bacarri Rambo were all gone. Linebacker Jamie Collins and After shopping the 80th pick, I finally had a bite that I was interested in reeling in. The Tampa Bay Bucs GM targeted a CB he really liked and told me around Pick 72 if he was still on board then we'd pull the trigger. That was a long 8 picks, but it went through and we made the trade:
If you value a "next year pick" as 50% of it's value in the current year, I lost about 7 trade value points, which is highly insignificant. I moved back 8 spots in the 3rd where I wasn't completely sold on the values left, added a 4th rounder and moved up 12 spots in the sixth... I think that's a great deal.
With the 88th selection in the #MockFive NFL Draft, the Dallas Cowboys select... RB Marcus Lattimore, University of South Carolina.
Of course, there is concern over two ACL injuries, but Marcus Lattimore's amazing recovery earns him this spot in the 3rd round. Lattimore was well on his way to being the sole first round back of the draft and his pro day performance showing Adrian Peterson-like recovery means that Dallas is getting the steal of the draft. Combined with their soon-to-come fast-paced offense, Lattimore will be an unstoppable force paired with DeMarco Murray and the outside weaponry of Dez and Austin.
Lattimore is every thing I want out of a RB and I'm not afraid to take the gamble here, specifically because of the extra pick I acquired in the trade down, plus he was ranked as my Top 4th round prospect, 105th overall. However, the way the board was falling, I doubted he would be available when I got back on the clock and I thought that some of my other targets would be. I rolled the dice and strayed a little from my board.
As the board after the 88th pick showed, I was really getting into the territory of supreme value. I had three quarterbacks that I figured would be great developmental projects that would allow Dallas to move on from Kyle Orton, save cap space and possibly recoup a pick in next year's draft. They were Zac Dysert (Miami of Ohio), Tyler Bray (Tennessee) and Matt Scott (Arizona). Dysert (77th) was part of the reason I traded out of Slot 80.
I tried to trade up for Bray and actually engineered a move but he was snatched up before that pick came on the clock. I still decided to make the trade because there were so many targets that had slipped in my eyes.
After Bray went off the board, I still had 7 highly regarded prospects that I really liked and had a pretty good chance at snagging two of them with picks 4.11 and 4.17. Brian Winters, Brian Scwenke, Shamarko Thomas, Devin Taylor, Zavier Gooden, Sanders Commings, Andre Ellington and Le'Veon Bell were all still available at this point.
Once I was on the clock, I had to examine the needs of the teams from 4.12 to 4.16 and figured that I had to take the guard at this point and hope the safety was there.
With the 108th selection in the #MockFive NFL Draft, the Dallas Cowboys select... OG Brian Winters, Kent State.
The perfect ZBS guard for the Cowboys transition. The former tackle will slide inside, literally. He has great legs that continue to churn after getting his long arms on defenders. Good hands and leverage. Tough guy, plays with an attitude. Investment for Tony Romo as he should start from Day 1 and gives Dallas a third young stud along the line with Smith and (drafted) Armstead.
With the 114th selection in the #MockFive NFL Draft, the Dallas Cowboys select... S Shamarko Thomas, Syracuse.
Bob Sanders 2.0. I love Shamarko Thomas and finding him with my second fourth rounder is a gift. He's a highly athletic safety that can lower the boom while playing the new-age, modified hybrid safety role.
I had grabbed five targets that I really liked and think all can contribute immediately to the Cowboys. That by itself makes this a pretty great draft haul. My issue is that I had so many players left on my board that I really liked. I took back to the trade winds and was able to move back from 5.18 with a little creativity and haggling.
With the value that I saw remaining on the board, I decided to roll the dice and pick up two six rounders in exchange for my fifth and swapping my 2014 4th rounder for a 2014 5th rounder.
With the 171st selection in the #MockFive NFL Draft, the Dallas Cowboys select... DE Lavar Edwards, LSU.
Ranked as a 2-3 rd prospect by Rang/Brugler, Edwards has plenty of potential as a 4-3 edge rusher. Extremely quick off the ball, he has the physical tools to be a disruptive force along the line. A little raw in his rush moves, he is the perfect piece of clay for Cowboys D-Line coach Rod Marinelli. A steal this late in the draft as he was buried behind Mingo and Montgomery.
Defensive tackle, offensive tackle, backup running back, offensive guard, safety and a developmental pass rusher. That's a good haul right there. With one pick remaining, I had a decision to make. Do I worry about my grade, or do I go with a player I think will bear out as being a steal? I could try and fill a remaining need by going for a linebacker or backup quarterback, or I could try to hit a home run and choose a player that I felt had the best remaining potential on the board. I chose the latter, even though I knew my grade would suffer.
With the 181st selection in the #MockFive NFL Draft, the Dallas Cowboys select... RB Knile Davis, Arkansas.
If you believe in the talent level of Lattimore and Davis the way I do, aren't the chances pretty high that at least one of them is able to make big contributions to the team in their rookie deals? Then flip that and imagine if you actually had a stable of DeMarco Murray, Marcus Lattimore and Knile Davis? You have a cheap, three-headed monster at running back, with the ability to actually have tradable assests at the position, something that probably would never happen otherwise. I couldn't resist.
The grades are in, and I'm thankful Chris Burke from Sports Illustrated took the time to look over our 32 mock drafts. As expected, I received a grade of a B as he really liked the picks of Richardson, Winters and Thomas and questioned taking two injury-labeled running backs. He also questioned the immediate readiness of Terron Armstead which is understandable.
Grades are subjective, so it's pretty silly to get up in arms over someone else's opinion of what you did before any of the guys take the field. Still, it was funny to see another GM get their injury player taken in the 5th lauded as their best pick, and Knile taken in the 6th labeled as my worst. To each his own, though. I ranked somewhere in the middle of the league.
A draft is never complete until the Cowboys have signed their UDFA's, so in that vein; here are the lists of undrafted targets that my front office would be immediately calling following the conclusion of the draft.
FB Zach Line, SMU; DE Stanley Maponga, TCU; OLB Brandon Magee; TE DC Jefferson, Rutgers; RB Mike Hill Missouri Western; WR Uzoma Nwachukwu, Texas A&M; CB Vernon Kerney, Lane; OLB Kenny Tate, Maryland; OT Braden Brown, BYU
So, what are your thoughts? You can view the entire #MockFive exercise, here.