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Cowboys Post-Draft Q&A With Dane Brugler, Part II: A Look At The 2015 Draft Class

Dane Brugler, the greatest of all draft pundits, was kind enough to agree to a post-draft sit-down where we chatted about the Cowboys' organization, their draft process and their individual draft picks. Here, in part two of our two-part series, we discuss the 2015 draft class and take a look ahead to the next selection meeting.

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

RR: Let me start off once again by thanking Dane for taking the time to chat with us. In case you missed it, Dane sits atop the most recent edition of my 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).

In part I of our conversation, we discuss the team's broader draft philosophies and how the draft broke for them. We'll pick it up from there.


Rabblerousr: In part I, we finished by talking about the fact that a run on offensive tackles in the middle rounds caused several to be overdrafted. I think it's the lingering suspicion that Chaz Green was one of them that has so many Cowboys fans confused by the pick. What are your thoughts on Green? What can you do to assuage their fears that Dallas reached in the third round?

Dane Brugler: Well, Green plays like a seasoned vet. He's very consistent and tough, and has a quick set-up and demonstrates natural pass-sets with balance and body control. He needs to get stronger and refine his technique as a run defender, but his movement skills shine in pass protection.

RR: Wow, you make him sound pretty good. This makes sense; as you pointed out in yesterday's chat, barring his injury history, Green was a top-75 caliber player.

DB: Right. In my scouting report, my final line sums him up: "Green offers position versatility and has more strengths than weaknesses, but the fragile tag will be tough to shake as he repeatedly dealt with injuries over his career." So if the doctors gave him a passing medical eval then that substantially boosts his grade.

Want to read Dane's take on Chaz Green and Damien Wilson?
Click on the prospect's name and scroll down!

Chaz Green Damien Wilson

RR: Given where they drafted him, I'm assuming that the Cowboys' doctors give Green a pass. But one more question has been raised about him: how do we explain the fact that he split snaps with a redshirt freshman last year? If he can't beat out a freshman, how can he succeed against the big boys?

DB: The Gators line was a mess last year; he was in and out of the line-up just like a few others - including DJ Humphries, who was drafted in the first round. They were terrible on offense, yet had five offensive players drafted, including four offensive linemen. I wouldn't read too much into that.

RR: Okay, I won't! At this early juncture, it appears that the Cowboys want Green to be a gameday swing and eventually to replace Doug Free as the right tackle. Do you think he can be a starter in this league?

DB: I believe he can. Green has the athleticism and mechanics to protect the edge. The biggest concerns I have are staying healthy and whether or not he can develop his strength to be an overwhelming player in the run game. Green isn't a power player, that's not his game, but with improved mechanics (punch, coil, leg drive, etc.) as a run blocker, he can be more than adequate in this area.

RR: Well, if his success depends on a NFL strength and conditioning program, there's not group I'd rather see him work with than Mike Woicik and his crew. Earlier, we talked about the players the Cowboys might have missed on in the fourth round. Let's talk about the guy they did select. Many of us saw the Damien Wilson pick, and thought, "Big 10 player, round four" and immediately associated him with Anthony Hitchens.

DB: There are definitely similarities. Both are active with good play speed and a motor that is always revving. Both were productive and get the most out of their ability with a physical temperament needed for the NFL.

RR: At the same time, I would assume that categorizing Wilson as "the 2015 Hitchens" is unfair. How is he different than the Iowa product?

DB: Hitchens has a little better range and Wilson does a slightly better job in the middle of the field, using his diagnose skills to work through the trash, using his long arms to take on and work off bodies.

RR: So, even though they drafted Hitchens to back up the "Mike" (last year, of course, this was Sean Lee), it seems that Wilson is better suited to that task.

DB: I think so. For me, Hitchens fits best as a weakside backer while Wilson is ideal inside.

RR: In the fifth round, the Cowboys went back to the DE well and chose Ryan Russell. What did you think of the selection?

DB: Back in 2011 when I was scouting DT Kawaan Short at Purdue, this freshman pass rusher jumped off the screen and I remember writing his name down in my notes for future reference. He certainly passes the eye test and has smooth athleticism for the position, but isn't yet the sum of his parts, although there is untapped potential there.

RR: Yeah, his production the last two years is, to be frank, pretty dreadful.

DB: Unfortunately his development was stunted the last few seasons after Purdue moved to a 3-4 defense with a new coaching staff. He was out of position and looked like a different player. I'd encourage anyone to youtube his games from 2011 and you see the promise from a young freshman. Does that mean Dallas will be able to develop him? We'll see, but I can understand what they saw to draft him where they did.

RR: Well, lets hope that a return to the 4-3 will allow him to be the player that jumped off the tape back in 2011.

Want to read Dane's take on a couple of the Cowboys' late-rounders?
Click on the prospect's name and scroll down!

Ryan Russell Mark Nzeocha

RR: Okay, a couple of questions about round seven. By that time in the draft, it seems that teams have one of two choices: draft athletically limited players with a lot of big-conference experience or draft athletic players who were either didn't produce at a big school or played at a smaller school. If you were a GM, which of these two would you prioritize?

DB: I would prioritize talent and traits. I'm looking for attributes that I can develop, players who weren't yet at their football ceiling, but showed flashes. There are enough free agents on the streets that I can go sign if I want low ceiling players to plug holes on my roster, so I'm not trying to hit singles or doubles, I want the home run and trusting my scouts to find worthy late round gems, regardless of where they played collegiately.

RR: I completely agree. And it seems that the Cowboys do as well, since they used their first two seventh-round picks to select two superior athletes (both scored at 90% or higher in SPARQ ratings) who, due to injury or inexperience, never managed to get a lot of good tape out there.

DB: I think it goes along with what I was referring to: draft traits. Scouting and drafting is about selecting players for what you think they can do, not what they've done. It takes projection and educated guessing - but that sums up scouting.

RR: You were talking about wanting to draft guys with high ceilings in the late rounds. So, what are the ceilings for their two seventh-rounders, Laurence Gibson and Mark Nzeocha?

DB: Nzeocha needs work in a lot of areas, something that shows on tape, but the raw athletic numbers are impressive. He's an older player and coming off an ACL, but it's clear he's not yet at his ceiling. And similar things could be said about Gibson - older player who needs work. You wish his talent and tape show more consistency, but the spurts are impressive. Scouting is just one part of drafting players. The second part is development and that's almost as important if not more important.

RR: You know, that's the aspect of draft evaluation that I think gets overlooked by people outside of the NFL. A team makes a draft a good draft by developing the players they pick. Which takes us back to the beginning of our conversation: yes, Will McClay has lent a great deal of discipline to the Cowboys draft process, but this coaching staff is doing a great job developing players, something that previous coaching staffs failed to do.

DB: And I think that goes back to the cohesiveness I was referring to. The coaching staff must be involved in the evaluation process so they have a good idea of the ingredients the scouting staff is picking out for dinner. Without that, the coaches might be stuck with ingredients that don't fit their vision, which is a recipe for disaster. But with the interconnected and organized process led by Garrett and McClay, the scouts are evaluating and drafting players that fit what the coaches can work with.

RR: Okay, on to the final pick. Tell us about Geoff Swaim. Where is his best fit? As an H-back? An in-line Y?

DB: I scouted two of his games and didn't type up a scouting report, but reviewing my notes and they were mostly positive. He probably fits best as a Y or "move" TE, a player who can block, but has the athleticism needed to run routes. He was mostly used as a blocker in Austin, but he tested well.

RR: That's interesting; for a couple of drafts now (ever since they let Martellus Bennett go in free agency) the Cowboys have been chasing a plus-blocking tight end. In 2013, it was Dion Sims and D.C. Jefferson; in 2014, they targeted C.J. Fiedorowicz. How is Geoff Swaim as a blocker?

DB: He's a physical player with his hands, both as a blocker and receiver. I was more shocked that they gave up a future sixth rounder to trade back into the draft than the player they drafted.

RR: I was wondering the same thing. Why might have the Cowboys have thought they needed to trade back into the 7th to take Swaim rather than going after him as UDFA?

DB: That's a good question and I don't really have a good answer. Obviously it guarantees he is a Cowboy as opposed to free agency where it's a crapshoot. He played in Austin, but is a California kid so no guarantee the attraction of the Star would have been enough to get him to Dallas.

RR: My final question looks forward, to next year's draft. I would think that smart teams have a draft strategy that encompasses not only the present draft but takes into account the relative strengths of the following year's class. From this early vantage point, what are the strengths of the 2016 draft class? And: is there any evidence that the Cowboys were looking ahead to those strengths when making decisions last weekend?

DB: It is very early, but there is encouraging talent in next year's class, on both offense and defense. If the Cowboys plan at running back with a committee approach backfires, the Dallas could be looking at the position in the first round next year. And two prospects stand out: Ohio State's Ezekiel Elliott and Alabama's Derrick Henry. Both are worthy of consideration and could be on the Cowboys roster if the run game struggles this year and the draft strategy of not targeting a running back fails.

RR: Yeah, I noticed that you mocked Elliott to the Cowboys in your "early forecast" - a fact that should please Cowboys fans, who have been imagining him wearing the star ever since the Buckeyes' impressive playoff run. Any other positions that we might keep our eyes on?

DB: Well, the other wildcard could be quarterback. In my 2016 very early mock draft, I had five quarterbacks drafted in the first round. Tony Romo is coming off a career year, but is not getting any younger and his long-term replacement needs to be discussed next off-season.

RR: Oh, I'd bet we'll talk about it plenty!

DB: I also love the potential of the young safeties that could be in next year's class. Su'a Cravens from USC, Jalen Ramsey from FSU, Tony Connor from Ole Miss, Vonn Bell from Ohio State and a few others. A lot of upside and prospects to like at safety.

RR: Some great names to file away. Dane, thanks again for taking the time to chat with us. You are the best in the business.

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