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2016 NFL Draft: How Using A Tiered Big Board Can Help Clarify Cowboys Draft Strategy

We look at the Top 100 players in the 2016 NFL draft and group them into tiers to better understand the Cowboys' options at each point in the draft.

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

About a month ago, ESPN's Todd McShay proposed a ranking of the top 104 players in the draft, which covers the players he has a first-, second- or third-round grade on. In addition to the ranking, he conveniently separated the prospects into different tiers, which can be helpful when "predicting where players will come off the board during the first three rounds of the draft."

Such a tiering approach can be particularly helpful as we try to figure out what the Cowboys draft strategy could or should look like. Let's start with the first round, which McShay has broken into three tiers. At the top of the board, he has three elite players he expects to be "starters from Day 1 and project as perennial Pro Bowl players." Since McShay's ranking was published before the two trades at the top of the draft, I've taken the liberty of moving Jared Goff and Carson Wentz to the top of the list (they were previously ranked 10th and 9th respectively), and moved up Jalen Ramsey one tier.

Note on the color code: Players who were invited for one of the 29 official pre-draft visits are marked in green, players who had private workouts with the Cowboys are marked in orange.

Player Grade
1 (10) Jared Goff 92
2 (9) Carson Wentz 92
3 Joey Bosa
4 Laremy Tunsil 95
5 DeForest Buckner 95
6 Jalen Ramsey 94

The Cowboys almost certainly have these players graded differently, but there's a good chance those same six names sit atop their board, and with Goff and Wentz already fixed at the top, that eliminates the need to debate where exactly they are ranked.

I contend that of the four Tier 1 players still available, the Cowboys are only willing to spend the No. 4 pick on Jalen Ramsey. If the Chargers pick Ramsey at No. 3, the Cowboys will look to trade down, even if that may mean doing so at a discount. And if the offer is good enough, I also believe they will trade down even if Ramsey is still available.

If the Cowboys trade down within the top 10 spots, they'd still have their choice of Tier 2 prospects, players McShay calls plug-and-play starters.

Player Grade
7 Ezekiel Elliott
8 Ronnie Stanley 92
9 Vernon Hargreaves 96
10 Myles Jack 95

The obvious risk here is that while the tables suggest there'll be 10 players in tiers 1 and 2, the Cowboys' options may be much more limited than that. It's probably safe to assume that they have no interest in either of the offensive tackles, and we are hearing that Myles Jack is off their board.

Which means that if the Cowboys trade down, there's a good chance they'll trade into an area of the draft where the Tier 1 and 2 players of interest are gone, and they have their choice of the following Tier 3 players, prospects that carry late first-round grades, as McShay explains.

Player Grade
11 Jack Conklin 91
12 Reggie Ragland 91
Laquon Treadwell
Darron Lee
Jarran Reed
Sheldon Rankins
Shaq Lawson
Andrew Billings
Taylor Decker
Leonard Floyd
Joch Doctson

I'm sure we'd have reason to quibble over a few names that should or should not be in Tier 3, but if we assume the Cowboys have 19 or 20 players with a first-round grade on their board (as they've had frequently over the past years), and exclude Myles Jack, then the 20 names left could be at least a rough approximation of the top players the Cowboys have on their board.

Bryan Broaddus for example has Noah Spence (No. 5 overall), Paxton Lynch (7), Robert Nkemdiche (19), and Corey Coleman (20) in his top 20. If we were to include them here, Darron Lee (14), Jarran Reed (15), Taylor Decker (19) and Leonard Floyd (20) would be bumped to the next lower tier.

Assuming the pre-draft visits carry some weight (which they have in the past), if the Cowboys were to trade down, they'd need some luck to get Ezekiel Elliott or Vernon Hargreaves, but would likely stand a good chance of getting Sheldon Rankins, Shaq Lawson, or Laquon Treadwell.

With a trade-down comes additional draft bounty. There are a ton of possible trade scenarios for the Cowboys, but for the purposes of this post, we'll assume they get at least an extra second-rounder, which we'll assume to be somewhere around pick 40. That opens up a lot of interesting options for Tier 4 players.

Player Grade ...
Player Grade
22 Vernon Butler, DT 89 34 Mackensie Alexander, CB 88
23 Will Fuller, WR 89 35 A'Shawn Robinson, DT 87
24 Jaylon Smith, LB 89 36 Austin Johnson, DT 87
25 Von Bell, S 89 37 Noah Spence, DE 87
26 Eli Apple, CB 89 38 Karl Joseph, S 87
27 Paxton Lynch, QB 89 39 Ryan Kelly, C 86
28 Robert Nkemdiche, DT 88 40 Connor Cook, QB 86
29 Corey Coleman, WR 88 41 Kevin Dodd, DE 86
30 Germain Ifedi, OT 88 42 Kendall Fuller, CB 86
31 Kamalei Correa, LB 88 43 Adolphus Washington, DT 86
32 Chris Jones, DT 88 44 Emmanuel Ogbah, DE 86
33 Hunter Henry, TE 88

If the Cowboys package their 34th and 101st pick, they could conceivably move back up into the first round up to about the 28th spot, which would give them access to much of the top half of Tier 4, but it looks like the Cowboys have littl interest in giving up picks. In any case, they could clean up the rest of Tier 4 with the second-rounder acquired by trading down, or they could look at a full contingent of Tier 5 prospects.

Player Grade ...
Player Grade
45 Kenny Clark, DT 84 54 Braxton Miller, WR 81
46 William Jackson, CB 84 55 Joshua Garnett, G 80
47 Michael Thomas, WR 84 56 Derrick Henry, RB 80
48 Jason Spriggs, OT 84 57 Jerald Hawkins, OT 80
49 Keanu Neal, S 84 58 Maliek Collins, DT 80
50 Jerell Adams, TE 83 59 Willie Henry, DT 80
51 Sterling Shephard, WR 82 60 Su'a Cravens, LB 80
52 Hassan Ridgeway, DT 82 61 Nick Vannett, TE 80
53 Christian Hackenberg, QB 81 62 Will Redmond, CB 80

I'm not going to bother listing all the Tier 6 names (you can look at them here) for two reasons. One, the list doesn't contain a lot of names the Cowboys have interacted with. Two, I firmly believe they will pick a QB in the third round.

The market for QBs this year is probably overheating, which means the Cowboys will likely invest their third-round pick in a QB prospect they like, but who may not be around on the third day of the draft anymore. And with the interest the Cowboys have shown in Dak Prescott, I believe he'll be their target in the third round. The Cowboys brought in Jacoby Brissett for an official visit and also had a private workout with Brandon Allen, so those guys may also be on the Cowboys' radar. Here's where the three rank on various big boards:

McShay CBS SB Nation Drafttek Great Blue North Gil Brandt
Dak Prescott - - 143 169 98 96 81
Jacoby Brissett 76 213 181 200 135 64
Brandon Allen - - 183 190 161 - - - -

If you don't like Todd McShay's ranking, you can do the same exercise with any of the other draft boards in the table above. None of them are as neatly divided into tiers, but they'll give you a good idea of who'll be available where as well.

The Cowboys use two boards in their war room during the draft. The Stack Board lists the 130 or so players the Cowboys usually have on their draft board in order from 1 to 130 and can be used if there is a tie between players based on their grades. The Position Board, as the name implies, ranks the players by position.

There's not much time left until the draft starts, and as you start thinking about a big board, or as you look at other people's boards, see if you can identify any tiers. They'll be a good starting point as you whittle down the names to arrive at a more manageable shortlist.

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