Over the last few days, we have diligently kept track of all the draft prospects brought in for official pre-draft visits as well those prospects scheduled to attend the Dallas Day event for local prospects on April 10 in Dallas. Along the way, we've had a few questions about the nature of these visits in previous years, specifically about the predictive value of the list in determining who the Cowboys will pick in the draft.
What we know is that the top picks in six of the last seven drafts all visited Valley Ranch as part of the Cowboys' pre-draft visits. Bobby Carpenter, Anthony Spencer, Felix Jones, Jason Williams, Dez Bryant and Tyron Smith were all brought in for pre-draft visits. That run came to a spectacular end last year when Morris Claiborne became the first Cowboys top pick since DeMarcus Ware in 2005 to not be invited to Valley Ranch prior to the draft. In fact, before the Cowboys drafted Morris Claiborne, they had no contact with him whatsoever. No visit, no workout, no call, no letter, no nothing.
The Claiborne trade cost the Cowboys their 14th and 45th pick. The Cowboys have said they would have drafted Michael Brockers and Bobby Wagner with those picks. Brockers was on the pre-draft visitor list, Wagner wasn't. Fourth-round picks Kyle Wilber and Matt Johnson were also brought in to Valley Ranch for a visit, as were guard Ronald Leary and CB Lionel Smith (who was signed as a UDFA but didn't make the team). That's four guys from the pre-draft visitor list, one more if you were to add Brocker. That's quite a lot.
Over the last five years, between two and four prospects from the pre-draft visitor list eventually joined the Cowboys (detailed overview here). So we know that the predictive value is pretty good when we look at the list after the fact. But is there something we can glean from the invitation lists ahead of time? To find out, we turn to the 2011 and 2012 visitor lists.
In 2011, the Cowboys invited every single offensive lineman drafted in the first round - with the notable omission of Danny Watkins (!) and Gabe Carimi - and landed their top-ranked guy in Tyron Smith.
But they didn't stop there. After looking at the five highest-ranked offensive linemen, their invite list suggests they were looking for linebackers in the second round. They invited four linebackers who had mid-second round grades, three of those linebackers slipped to the top of the third, while the Cowboys drafted the fourth, Bruce Carter, early in the second round.
Here's what that invitation list looked like (limited to invitees drafted in the top 100). I've added some coloring to make the observations about the OL and LB stand out a little more. Note that players marked with a (*) were invited to Dallas Day workouts and were not part of the national pre-draft invite list.
|1||2||Von Miller*||LB||Texas A&M|
|1||22||Anthony Castonzo||OT||Boston College|
|1||32||Derek Sherrod||OT||Mississippi State|
|2||34||Aaron Williams||CB||North Texas|
|2||40||Bruce Carter||LB||North Carolina|
|3||67||Nate Irving||LB||North Carolina State|
|3||72||Martez Wilson||LB||East. Illinois|
I think it's fair to say that the Cowboys were looking for an offensive lineman in the first round of the draft, and probably were looking for a linebacker in the second round - if the invitation list is anything to go by. If that is indeed the case, it's interesting to note that the Cowboys may have overvalued linebackers Irving, Sheppard and Wilson, as all three ended up going a lot later than the Cowboys' 2nd-round pick.
Of course, the Cowboys may have been planning all along to take a linebacker in the third, and were simply surprised to find Bruce Carter still on their board for their 40th pick. Even hindsight is not always perfect.
In 2012, it looks like the Cowboys went an entirely different route. Instead of carpet-bombing a specific position in the first round like they did in 2011 with the offensive line, this time it looks like they were ready to go BPA. In fact, a look at the 2012 invite list shows the Cowboys were uncannily accurate in slotting the invited players right around their 14th pick. The Cowboys invited players who were ultimately drafted 7, 11, 12, 14 and 17. You could make an argument that Mark Barron (7) probably went higher than most people expected, just like you could argue that David DeCastro (24) probably went a little later than expected.
But where it looks like the Cowboys were getting ready to go BPA in the first round, in the second round they probably were looking to repeat what they did with the OTs in 2011, but with interior guys instead of OTs and, because the position isn't as valued, invited every second round OL (except Kelichi Osmele) - and missed out.
|1||10||Stephon Gilmore||CB||South Carolina|
|1||12||Fletcher Cox||DT||Mississippi State|
|1||29||Harrison Smith||S||Notre Dame|
|1||31||Doug Martin||RB||Boise State|
|2||40||Amini Silatolu||OG||Midwestern State|
|3||92||T.Y. Hilton||WR||Florida Int'l|
The really interesting thing, at least for me, is where Harrison Smith (29), Doug Martin (31) and Courtney Upshaw (35) are positioned on this invite list. In his profile of Kawann Short, rabblerousr referred to this position as the "bend" a space right between a team's two picks, and a space from where teams hope a prospect falls to them.
Had the Cowboys kept their second-round pick, these are players the Cowboys likely would have taken had they fallen, and perhaps even traded up for.
With what we've seen from 2011 and 2012, let's now take a look at the 2013 invite list. Obviously we don't know where a prospect is going to be picked, but we probably have a general consensus of where they could fall, so I've tried to sort the invite list by round:
|1||Jonathan Cooper||OG||North Carolina|
|1-2||Damontre Moore||DE||Texas A&M|
|1-2||Jonathan Cyprien||S||Florida International|
|2||Gio Bernard||RB||North Carolina|
|2||Marcus Wheaton||WR||Oregon State|
|2||Phillip Thomas||S||Fresno State|
|3||Joseph Randle||RB||Oklahoma State|
|3||J.J. Wilcox||S||Georgia Southern|
|3||Sean Porter||LB||Texas A&M|
I could of course be way off with my projected rounds, but from where I'm sitting, it looks like with Warmack, Cooper, Richardson and Vaccaro, who could all be clustered in the high teens, the Cowboys are getting ready to go BPA at a position of need at 18. However, four players is a pretty slim BPA strategy, and carries a high likelihood of failure.
And this is where it gets interesting, because there seem to be a lot of players in the "bend" area between the Cowboys' first and second round picks. In case the Cowboys get one of their top four guys, they're probably hoping one of the guys in the bend falls to them in the second round. But perhaps the Cowboys are already anticipating scenarios in which they trade down into that bend, which is why they've looked hard at these borderline first-rounders.
A couple of other things stand out:
- Everywhere you look there's a safety waiting for the Cowboys. This is a position the Cowboys have carpet-bombed, inviting five players and only leaving out Matt Elam as a top prospect.
- There's a small cluster of guards who all have in common that they are very athletic, played OT in college and will likely kick inside to guard in the Pros. Add Terron Armstead (had a private workout with the Cowboys) to that list, and you have four names who could be the Cowboys second round pick. The next Cowboys rookie guard might very well be a second-rounder.
- Three wide receivers may not seem like a lot, but it is a lot when you consider the Cowboys' needs at OL and safety. Watch out for a dropping wide receiver in this draft, the Cowboys will likely try to catch him.
What are your thoughts on the players the Cowboys invited this year?
Here's an up-to-date list of national prospects, and you can find the latest names of the local prospects invited to Dallas Day here.