The Cowboys draft is about to ramp up: in mid-April, they will host their allotment of 30 national invitees and hold the annual "Dallas Days" for local prospects. Immediately thereafter, the scouts and front office personnel will gather to build the draft board, slotting and ranking players.
At some juncture after the draft board is established, the team must gather in the war-rooms to play the scenario game. Every team must be prepared for each possible scenario that might unfold: "If, by our pick, these three players are on the board, we will select player A; if these two players remain, we will pick player B; If these five players remain, we will trade down x spots and still get a guy we like." Although it often appears during the live broadcast that teams are making trades while "on the clock," the vast majority of trades have already been agreed upon in principle in the days before. And here is the key: it's only by running through possible scenarios that teams can make those loose agreements.
The past two drafts offer salient examples of pre-draft scenario work at its best and worst. In 2012, you may recall, they received a call from the Rams in which St. Louis shopped the sixth pick. The Cowboys braintrust immediately went into overdrive, and they decided that there was only one player who was worth giving up that much to get: Mo Claiborne. If he was still on the board, they agreed, they'd make the deal - and that's what happened.
Last year, on the other hand, they neglected to consider every scenario. Dallas had the 18th pick and a list of prime targets: guards Johnathan Cooper (who went seventh to Arizona) and Chance Warmack (11th, Titans);defensive tackles Sheldon Richardson and Star Lotuleilei (13th and 14th, to the Jets and Panthers) and safety Kenny Vaccaro (15th, to the Saints). When Vaccaro went off the board, as they had decided upon after playing out possible scenarios, the Cowboys opted for a trade back with the 49ers that had already been fleshed out in principle (the 'Niners, as the Cowboys had the previous year, decided that they would trade up if the guy they wanted was still on the board. In this case, it was safety Eric Reid, and they pulled the trigger).
On one hand, Dallas was to be commended; they had clearly played out a (doomsday) scenario in which none of their first round targets (who are are a subset of the players to whom they give first-round grades) were available, and had put out feelers for a trade down should the draft play out that way. That's good work. However, due to laziness, oversight, poor communication, or some combination of all three, the team never played out the "what if Sharrif Floyd falls to us" scenario - and were (and continue to be) excoriated in the media for that failure. The lesson in the Floyd debacle is that, since the draft has so many moving parts, war rooms must prepare for every eventuality, or else they'll get caught with their pants down (indeed, it appears that Will McClay was promoted specifically to ensure that the organization's trousers stay around its waist).
On TV, the draft sometimes appears to be chaotic (all those trades!). But its a very well-rehearsed chaos; teams must play out ALL the possible scenarios that might unfold and have a viable set of contingencies for each. Within each potential pool of draftees, they have a very good idea which player they will select or, if the pool is big enough, when they might trade down and still nab their guy. In advance of the draft, they will have called numerous teams to inquire about their interest in making a trade at given points in the draft, so that they have a good sense of where and when they can move up or down the draft ladder.
This preparation and resultant movement up and down the draft is a key draft reality that the annual "running of the mocks" fails to take into account. As intelligent and informed fans (which, by virtue of your being on BTB, you are), it behooves us, therefore, to entertain as many scenarios as possible. For example, what do the Cowboys do when facing the "worst possible scenario"? I had a chance to witness this during a mock drafting exercise (run by highly knowledgeable fans from each team) to which I was privy. In fact, it was that exercise that prompted this post, so I'll share the first 15 picks with you here:
- Tight end and cornerback, along with quarterback, are positions where the team has already invested a lot of capital, and in young players. As a result, a first rounder is unlikely to start, and the team annually claims it wants to find starters in the premium rounds. So, although Gilbert, Ebron and Dennard are all excellent prospects, none would be likely to fit this criterion.
- According to Bryan Broaddus, the team sees Jernigan as a "one-tech" defensive tackle, and aren't likely to spend a first rounder at that less-than premium position.
- Although Martin is well thought-of, it's important to note that he's a guy whose best NFL position scouts can't agree upon. Is he an NFL-caliber OT? Or will he, with less than ideal length and lateral range for tackle, have to kick inside to guard? If I'm spending a first-round choice on a guy, I'd like to have a clearer idea about his position.