RR: Let me start off by thanking Dane for taking the time to chat with us. As you all know, I placed Dane at the very top of my most recent annual "scouting the scouts" rankings. At the time, I wrote that he "consistently provides deep insight in what I find to be the most comprehensive - and outside the group-think box - player profiles available anywhere outside of an actual NFL war room." And that was before his superb 2015 draft guide came out (hit the link to get one if you haven't already).
Rabblerousr: Dane, welcome and thanks for joining us. As you know, I consider you the best in the business, so this is a rare treat for me.
Dane Brugler: I appreciate the kind words and glad so many have enjoyed my work. It's what I live for 365/24/7 and I can't thank everyone enough for the support over the years.
RR: Well, you have certainly found your calling. Alright, my first question has to do with the Dallas front office generally. It seems that, in the last five years or so, they have been much more successful in the draft. Do you agree with that assessment?
DB: I do think the Cowboys have been more successful outside of the early picks - and they need to be in order to compete. The stars of the ‘90s teams were first rounders, but many of the role players who had substantial impacts on winning multiple Super Bowls were found in the later rounds of the draft. And while the Cowboys have an impressive batting average in the first round in recent years, the mid-to-later rounds is where depth is built.
RR: I agree. They really seemed to ascribe to the "stars and scrubs" mentality for too long - and it killed them every time they suffered any significant injuries. What has changed? How have they managed to do a better job adding depth to the roster?
DB: I think Will McClay's ascension up the ranks is something you can point to as a reason behind the improvement.
RR: How is McClay seen in league circles? Do other teams identify him as the reason the Cowboys have developed one of the league's better and deeper rosters?
DB: Will is very highly respected and I've never heard a negative word about him from other organizations. And that's not just lip service because I've heard teams trash other team's executives or decision-makers. The Cowboys are lucky to have him because I do think his influence can be felt in the last few drafts.
RR: McClay's ascension neatly coincides with Jason Garrett's tenure as coach. Are these connected? How much do you think Garrett has to do with the uptick in the Cowboys' drafting success?
DB: I'm not sure it was some master plan for it to work out the way it did, but it quickly became evident that McClay (scouting) and Garrett (coaching) at the helm of each department would work well. Both are very organized in their philosophies and beliefs and that cohesive thought process allows for smart decisions when stacking the draft board and developing talent. Both are also great at not needing to be the loudest person in the room, but always listening, allowing their coaches and scouts to have substantial input.
RR: Speaking of Garrett, one of his watchwords in recent drafts is "discipline." What do you think he means by this, and do you think they behaved as a "disciplined" team last weekend?
DB: I don't think anyone would disagree that discipline is a crucial part of any successful organization, including in the NFL from the top (ownership, front office) and on down to the coaches and players. Prospects who show discipline are more NFL ready and prepared to be professionals, which is what any head coach, especially Jason Garrett, wants from draft picks. In terms of a team having discipline on draft weekend, that includes not panicking and sticking to the draft board.
RR: One of the results of that discipline seems to be the ability to "let the draft come to them." Certainly, this was the case in rounds one and two.
DB: I thought they did a masterful job of letting the draft board fall to them in the first round and luckily for the Cowboys, Jones fell to No. 27. If he didn't, Gregory might have been the pick in the first round, but they end up getting him in the second, which is a savvy job of playing the draft and maximizing the value without panicking.
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RR: On the other hand, it appeared that they might have been, as David Moore says, "disciplined to a fault." The downside of being patient is letting guys they liked get snatched out from in front of them in rounds three and perhaps even four and five. Was this your impression as well?
DB: In the third and fourth rounds, you wonder if they felt like that luck would continue because they didn't make any moves to trade up for a specific target, which was surprising.
RR: Why do you think they opted not to go up and get a guy they liked?
DB: I think, at the end of the day, the Cowboys were happy sitting at their picks because they felt comfortable that a player, like Chaz Green, would still be there at No. 91 and there wasn't a player, like a running back, they loved enough to trade up and go get. And who knows, maybe if a player like Duke Johnson made it to pick No. 80, Dallas was planning on trading up for him. But he went at pick No. 77 and a third and fourth round pick likely weren't enough ammunition to go get him in the top-75.
RR: Johnson provides a nice segue to my next question. One of the weekend's big stories was the fact that the Cowboys didn't take a running back during the draft. What is your take on why they didn't?
DB: Definitely surprising. If Randy Gregory wasn't available at pick No. 60, would a running back have been the pick? Maybe. I think in the fourth round, the Cowboys strongly considered Jay Ajayi, but the doctors just couldn't sign off on his knee. After their options were wiped out, they didn't draft a running back just to draft one. The Cowboys stuck to their board.
RR: Do you see this as a mistake that taints what otherwise might be considered a good draft?
DB: I think it's too early to say it was a mistake. Obviously the front office and coaches believe in the offensive line and the backs they have on the roster. Let's see this play out; maybe it'll look like a mistake, but it's too early to say either way.
RR: Fair enough. Now I'd like to discuss the Cowboys third and fourth rounders, both of whom were a bit of a surprise - not in that they were drafted by Dallas, as both were clearly players of interest and fit the Cowboys' position profiles - but that both seemed to be drafted a round earlier than where we anticipated. Is this a fair assessment or are we undervaluing both Chaz Green and Damien Wilson?
DB: I thought both were drafted a round too early, but selecting at the end of each round, there is no guarantee either would have made it to the Cowboys next pick.
RR: Hmm...If they were drafted a round too early, why might that have been the case? I've heard one pundit say that, after round two, the Cowboys just went ahead and started drafting their later-round targets once the guys they had hoped would be there (i.e., RBs) were off the board. Is that a fair assessment?
DB: Green and Wilson weren't "later round" prospects so I disagree with that take. Let's say for example that Green had a fourth round grade and Wilson had a fifth round grade (I don't know, just my guess), there is a good chance their third round options were wiped out at pick No. 91 so they went with their highest rated fourth round player there (Green).
RR: When you say their third round options were wiped out at pick 91, are you referring to a running back?
DB: I'm sure they would have hoped that Duke Johnson or Ameer Abdullah fell to that pick, but it wasn't the case. And then the same thing in the fourth round, all the fourth round options on the board were gone, so they went with their top fifth round player.
RR: Interesting. Who do you think those other options might have been in round four? If we look at the handful of picks right before the Cowboys' pick at 127, we see guys like Josh Shaw (121), Kwon Alexander (125), Buck Allen (125) and Mike Davis (126) go off the board. Were these considerations or do you think the Cowboys might have had their eyes on other players?
DB: Buck Allen is the wildcard name there. I know the Cowboys brought him in for a visit and liked him. Would they have drafted him at 127 instead of Wilson? We'll never know. That's the beauty of the draft. Each pick creates a ripple that changes how the remaining picks play out. In the past, the Cowboys might have reached for a running back at 127 that maybe they had a 6th round grade on. They stuck to the board and got good value.
RR: Okay, back to the Cowboys third rounder for a minute. Would Green have been there at 127? Or do you think they had intel that another team would have grabbed him?
DB: I don't know if Green would have been there at 127. He was a tough prospect to project because based on ability, he was probably a top-75 player in this draft. But factoring in that he struggled to stay healthy and that put him anywhere in the middle round range. No one can say whether or not he would have been there at 127.
RR: Gotcha. Do you think the run on offensive linemen (as many as ten offensive tackles went off the board by the 91st pick) caused Dallas to take him a round before they wanted to?
DB: I'm not sure. I do know this was a weak tackle class in terms of depth in the middle rounds so it was far from a guarantee that he would still be available. That's why we saw several other offensive linemen (Rob Havenstein and others) overdrafted because if you don't get your tackle early, you weren't going to get one.
RR: Indeed. Its almost as if the fact that La'el Collins was off the board was the stone that caused a series of ripples that, by the time the third round cam, were pretty significant. You mentioned Havenstein. Once he went at the 57th pick, a bunch of other OTs went in rapid succession: Ty Sambrailo (59th to Denver); Jeremiah Poutasi (66th to Tennessee) and Jamon Brown (72nd to the Rams). That's a pretty nasty mid-third round run; it is any wonder they wanted to get their guy at 91?
Let's stop there for today, and pick this up tomorrow with a more specific conversation about Chaz Green...
DB: Sounds good!
Tomorrow, we'll have the second part of our conversation with Brugler, in which we discuss the Cowboys picks and look ahead to the 2016 draft.