The fifth-round selection of defensive end Ryan Russell by the Dallas Cowboys brings another unfamiliar name to the team, but after the halfway point of the draft, that is really more likely than seeing a widely discussed favorite show up. Russell was a player that did not have a very productive college career after his freshman year. However, that may have been more about what he was asked to do than his actual ability. He was brought in as a 4-3 end by Purdue, but the team switched to a 3-4 his sophomore season.
@OCC44 That is the kid out of Carralton. Great early in college but scheme change limited him. Has some great potential as an LDE— Birddog26 (@Birddog26) May 2, 2015
He has something in common with the fourth-round pick, Damien Wilson. He showed up nicely at the combine.
Russell had the 5th best 40-yd dash among all DL. Also ranked in the top 10 among all DL w/ his broad jump, 3-cone drill and 60-yard shuttle— Jordan Ross (@TheJordanRoss) May 2, 2015
He also was reported to have looked good at the East-West Shrine game. So there were some positive indicators on him.
This seemed more than just a coincidence, so I once again referenced One Cool Customer's series on impact players. In the defensive end edition, Russell turns up the "B" quadrant of players with low productivity but above average SPARQ numbers. He shares that quadrant with Owamagbe Odigihizuwa, Preston Smith and Anthony Chickillo, although he has a lower score than all of them. But since the first two were taken higher his selection seems in line with what would be appropriate.
More importantly, he is now the fifth visitor to Valley Ranch to be selected, making it a sweep in the top five rounds for the Cowboys. It is hard to not believe that this is not a consistent strategy for Dallas. Identify players you like, research them, and bring in a selection of possible targets up and down your draft board. Then, if those players that you have met with and are impressed with are there when you go on the clock, pull the trigger. It seems obvious that the team stuck with the board. Jason Garrett, in a TV interview after the fifth round, indicated that this was just what the team did, including the decision not to take a running back. They had players they felt were better for the team in all of the first five rounds.
On a related note, Brandon George of the Dallas Morning News stated that cornerback Marcus Peters did make it to Valley Ranch for a visit, but the team did not get a favorable impression of him. The visit is a dual-edged sword.
The team also made a big investment in the defense this year, with only the third-round pick going to offense. After the first five selections, they have two major splash acquisitions at the top and three role players rounding out things to that point. With only the two seventh-round picks to go, the Cowboys have stuck to their plan. The defense has key additions to make it better, particularly in the pass rush. Russell, Randy Gregory, and free agent signee Greg Hardy all have been brought in to help the most glaring need, the pass rush. And for the first time in years, the Cowboys eschewed any trades, sticking with the picks it had and letting the draft come to them.
It is a nice mix of spectacular and more pedestrian players. While we still have to see how everyone works out on the field, it does look like the team has used a carefully thought out approach to get as much out of its draft picks as it can.