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The Path To A Deep Cowboys Roster

Two lessons the Cowboys can learn from the Super Bowl champs that can lead to dramatic improvement.

Donald Miralle

Less than 48 hours ago over one hundred million people witnessed the biggest Super Bowl beat down since 2002, put on by a Seattle Seahawks team laden with late-round draft picks and undrafted free agents who have become Pro Bowl and All-Pro players, and a quarterback they picked in the third round. It is natural for everyone to look around and automatically point to the draft, saying that they only reached that level of depth and dominance by getting extremely lucky and hitting on those players later in the draft. However, I think that's a short-sighted view, which appears to put the success of an NFL organization largely on the shoulders of lady luck and makes it an impossible model to effectively follow.

To take a real look at how the Cowboys can effectively build a deeper more impactful team, you have to see a two-step process which is truly the cornerstone of every successful NFL team, not just the ones in Seattle who are hosting a parade this week.

First, you have to have a philosophy of what you want to be on both sides of the ball, and you have to draft players that fit that philosophy.

One of the biggest reasons the Seahawks were able to be so successful in the back half of the draft is the fact that they know EXACTLY what kind of player they want for each position. At that point they go out and find the players in the draft that fit those philosophies, whether its a size profile or skill set, and they take them in every round.

This is extremely important because your philosophies and schemes will be very closely tied together, and for your scheme to be successful it needs players that can properly execute their assignments within that scheme. In order for them to execute properly there will be certain traits that are required, these are the exact traits that you need to look for in guys you're taking in the late rounds.

One example of this philosophy/scheme based drafting in Dallas is the emphasis on "Quick Twitch" explosive, one-gap penetrating defensive linemen. Defensive line expert and new defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli emphasizes this type of rusher in his scheme. They care less about height or weight up front than other staffs, but they know they can be successful on defense, against the run and pass, with a group of defensive linemen that get off the ball and disrupt plays in the back field. This is exactly why they passed on Sharrif Floyd in 2013, and exactly why I predict that they will not draft a guy like Louis Nix or Steven Tuitt even though they are good players, and  you will see those names mocked to Dallas over the next three months.

The second, and I believe the most important part of this process, is the process of player development. Those guys drafted by the Seahawks in late rounds fit their philosophy but they weren't all pro level players coming out.  They needed to be coached and developed into the players they became.

In my opinion the future of this version of the Dallas Cowboys really depends on the development of relatively small group of players within the organization. Imagine if at least some of the following group of players are able to take the next step in 2014 and become solid contributors, or even stars in some cases.

  • Morris Claiborne, CB
  • Bruce Carter, LB
  • Matt Johnson, FS
  • JJ Wilcox, SS
  • Gavin Escobar, TE
  • Ben Bass, DL
  • Tyrone Crawford, DL
  • Terrance Williams, WR
  • BW Webb, CB
  • DaVonte Holloman, LB
  • Caesar Rayford, DL
  • Lance Dunbar, RB
That's 12 players, from seven different position groups, who were either drafted by Dallas, signed as an undrafted free agent (Bass & Dunbar), or traded for a late-round pick (Rayford). If some of these guys are able to take the next step this year, and live up to the potential that they are (or where at one point) believed to have, this team could get very good very quickly. People would be looking at the Cowboys organization talking about how many third-, fourth-, and sixth-round picks they have on their team making major impacts, and talking about how much better the drafting has been, and what a great job coach Jason Garrett has done at taking the next step as a head coach.

So who within the Cowboys organization is responsible for this player development. The easy answer, and the truth, are the Cowboys position and strength coaches. Guys like Jerome Henderson, Joe Baker, Matt Eberflus, Leon Lett, Ben Bloom, Derek Dooley,  Mike Pope, Gary Brown, Mike Woicik, Brett Bech, and Kendall Smith will be the most important people in the organization between May and September. The jobs they do with the players above, as well as the guys the scouts and Will McClay bring in through the draft, will largely determine the futures of dozens of people within the organization, and perhaps the legacy of guys like Tony Romo, Jason Witten, DeMarcus Ware and even head coach Jason Garrett.

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