The long wait is finally over; it's NFL Draft Week.
We've covered just about everything and are now in the final throes of the build-up. Between Thursday and Saturday nights, all 32 teams will have exhausted their asset collection resources known as draft picks, and also brought into the fold those that escaped the last round with some modicum of professional freedom known as undrafted free agency.
For the Cowboys, there is still plenty of mystery; but some of the curtain has been pulled back on the process over recent years. Due to all of our various levels of obsession, we've gotten to the point where we've spotted more than a few trends in the way this team of ours functions. Some of the things we've picked up are now well-known; others are still a bit under the radar. We'll cover them all here so that you can start to sketch out in your mind what Dallas will be trying to accomplish this weekend.
1) The Cowboys first pick will likely be someone they brought in for a pre-draft visit; and they'll rely heavily on that list throughout the weekend.
This is common knowledge now, but that's thanks to the focus that O.C.C. and Rabblerousr have placed on things over the last few years. From what I can gather, visits for other teams rarely correlates to the haul on draft weekend, but not so for the Cowboys.
Bobby Carpenter, Anthony Spencer, Felix Jones, Jason Williams, Dez Bryant, Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick have all been pre-draft visitors; with Morris Claiborne being the lone exception. Dallas traded up for him in 2012 without inside insight. Draw your own conclusions as to how that has worked out to this point, and whether that will influence them this year. Now-a-days, every Cowboys outlet speaks this consistency as gospel.
2 ) When the Cowboys switch defensive coordinators, they avoid drafting heavy on defense until the coordinator gets the lay of the land. Then the next year...
I spoke on this trend last year and it held true. When Dallas brought Rob Ryan in to take over Wade Phillips' defense, they used three of the first four, and six of the eight picks on offense. When Wade took over the team in 2007, they traded back into the first round to nab OLB Anthony Spencer, but didn't touch the defense again until a pair of seventh-round corners.
Last year, Dallas used their first three selections (much to the chagrin of many fans) on a center, tight end and receiver, before turning their attention to the defense. Most notably, was that Dallas didn't address the defensive line at all during the draft. Undoubtedly, whether the right decision or not, this was to give The Montenelli a chance to evaluate what was in the fold.
In Rob's second year, they assaulted the defensive ranks; using their first four picks on that side. I'd imagine that most fans would be happy if the trend continues and Dallas pulls a similar move (with no reaches, of course) in 2014.
3) The Cowboys have made a habit of using their first round pick on the highest graded player at his position.
Dallas is stuck up; another trend I caught onto last year. Over the past few years, they seem to insist on leaving the draft and being able to say "Hey, we got the best (blank). Last year, Dallas was hot and heavy over Jonathan Cooper, but saw him snatched up earlier than any guard in recent memory. When the top safety also went off the board in Kenny Vacarro; rut roh Shaggy.
That led them to want to bail on the 18th pick so they could get good value on the guy they eventually got in C Travis Frederick. That sheds light on "reaching" for a guy they could've gotten later; they'd rather have the best one thing, than the third-best another.
Now, I'm sure this is somewhat flexible and specific to team profiles. Dallas doesn't favor smallish receivers, so I assume they favored Cordarelle Patterson over Tavon Austin. If you remember, Patterson would have been the "Frederick" pick if he wasn't snatched up by the Vikings.
This isn't a one year trend, either. Dallas moved up in '12 to get the best corner in Claiborne, snatched up the best tackle in '11 to get Smith, and moved up in '10 to get the best wideout in Dez Bryant. Heck, they even took the "best" change of pace back in 2008 with Felix Jones; ok, that's a little stretch of the theme.
4) Dallas has a concrete plan to move on from expensive contracts.
Both Rabble and I hit on this one last year. Dallas had a immediate financial plan all along and followed it to a tee. The team was faced with a myriad of heavy contracts where it was highly questionable that they would see a return on the investment. To manage future caps, Dallas made a concerted effort to get players in the pipeline that would be able to replace the expensive, aging players.
This is a huge part of the draft process that fans tend to gloss over (as well as the interviews and things we aren't privy to). Asset management is a lot more than stockpiling draft picks. Dallas had an impending need to replace Miles Austin's bad contract. Enter a receiver (Patterson target, Williams executed). Jason Witten probably won't see the end of his deal in 2018, get Gavin Escobar in the pipeline ASAP. Concerns over whether or not the Number 2 corner you signed to a Number 1 deal will live up to it after just an ok first year? Get a young guy in there.
So, what positions could the Cowboys be looking at in 2014 with expensive marks on the ledger? What about the 3-tech with an expensive three-year option the team could quickly move on from? How much confidence do you have in last year's rook to eventually replace that expensive corner that still hasn't proven his financial worth? What about the quarterback coming off two back surgeries? Maybe it's all the way out there, but what about a receiver as insurance should they not see fit to hand over a new contract to their star wideout?
Dallas made a big dent in this category last year, but don't be surprised if this theme pops up again in 2014.
5) Dallas would prefer to use it's first round pick on the Money 5 positions.
"The Money 5" is my term for the positions of greatest importance, the ones that cost the biggest bucks to sign as free agents. It makes perfect sense for Dallas to want to pay controlled, wholesale numbers for positions that are the most expensive on the retail market. That's the quarterback, left tackle, defensive end, cornerback and wide receiver.
Now the interesting twist is how the importance of the center and safety positions have grown over the recent years around NFL circles; and sure enough those were two primary focus areas for Dallas last year. Of course, in the Montenelli, the 3-tech is just as important as anything else out here. This is the least firm of all the rules, but don't be surprised to see this play out as well.
Additionally, I wanted to take a look at a bit of positional history for the Cowboys over the last ten years. National Football Post ran an article looking at the draft history of NFL teams over that period. Looking at aggregate data in three major categories, Offense/Defense Splits, Player Positions, and Source of Draftees, they highlighted where certain teams trend heavy or light. They reported on the extremes for each category and occasionally, Dallas' profile arose.
· Only four teams (Bears, Cowboys, Saints, Texans) did not draft a QB in the first three rounds during the 10-year study period
· The Broncos drafted three QBs in the first three rounds and seven overall- Their apparent strategy is to draft a QB in most years
• The Cowboys and Jaguars each drafted only one QB in the last 10 years
Think about that for a second. The only team in the above group that has an "elite" QB is New Orleans. Even the teams with All-Pro and even Hall-of-Fame signal callers are spending resources on the quarterback position. But not Dallas, team led by a signal-caller with two back surgeries in the last calendar year. Still, many fans still thinks they should ignore the need another season. Le Sigh.
· The Ravens drafted significantly more linebackers (19) than any other NFL team- 13 of those were selected in the final four rounds
· The Chargers, Cowboys and Steelers drafted the most linebackers in first three rounds with seven each- The Bears, Browns, Dolphins and Vikings had the fewest with two each
• The Chiefs and the Jets drafted the fewest LBs overall with six each
Yes, the Cowboys have an affinity for the linebacking position; and they still only have an oft-injured Sean Lee to show for this "dedication" (though Bradie James was more than serviceable). Dallas finds itself still with a question mark next to Bruce Carter's name. To be fair, the count does include two edge rushers (DeMarcus Ware, Kevin Burnett, Bobby Carpenter, Anthony Spencer, Jason Williams, Sean Lee, Bruce Carter) but is countered by the fact that in a 3-4, there are only two "true" linebacker spots.
The categories where Dallas wasn't singled out also gives some insight into the team's thinking by way of omission. Dallas did not show up as an extreme case in any other positional category, and also avoided being typecast when it came to Offense/Defense Split and Source Drafting. Separated by the early rounds (1-3) and the late rounds (4-7) Dallas didn't heavily lean one way or another in the amount of picks spent on offensive or defensive prospects. Also, they didn't take any more of a low risk/high reward stance (high percentage of smaller school picks) than many Cowboys fans may have thought.
Of course, it's still all a crapshoot. Outrageous talent available can quickly supersede any of these trends at any point in the draft. However, don't be surprised if a lot of these rules start to come together as the draft class is being shaped for the Dallas Cowboys.
SB Nation Draft Show for Thursday's first round, BTB will participate at roughly 11:20 PM EST.