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Why Teams With Good Scouting Will Win The 2017 NFL Draft - Even More Than In Previous Years

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A look at how five different draft analysts are ranking the top 15 corners and defensive ends in the 2017 NFL Draft.

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The title of this post may feel like a no-brainer, after all, doesn't good scouting always win the draft?

Of course it does. But the 2017 NFL draft may present a very special set of circumstances that make it even more important to get it right, especially for teams drafting in the second half of each round.

The Cowboys have two key positions of need going into the draft, defensive end and cornerback. You'd think that with needs as clearly defined as that, there'd be no more than a handful of prospects that would be considered as targets for the Cowboys. But that's not the case. At all.

Less than a week ago I looked at 50 different mock drafts to see whether a few consensus prospects would have emerged  as targets for the Cowboys in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft. But no such luck, as 19 different players were mocked to the Cowboys, of which six were corners and six were defensive ends.

What these mocks highlight is that beyond perhaps the top one or two guys, there is no consensus how the draft prospects rank after that. On average, about four corners and DEs each get picked in the first round, which means the Cowboys at No. 28 will likely be in play for the fourth-best DE or corner. But which player is that?

It's one thing if the people putting together mock drafts can't agree on a ranking for each position, but it's no different when you look at the rankings some draft analysts are proposing. I looked at Dane Brugler's 2017 NFL Draft Guide, Eric Galko's Optimum Scouting Draft Guide, Ian Wharton's Draft Guide, the PFF Draft Guide, as well as Scott Wright's ranking as found on draftcoundown.com. The table below summarizes the top 15 pass rushers according to each source.

Rank Dane Brugler Eric Galko Ian Wharton PFF Wright
1 Myles Garrett Myles Garrett Myles Garrett Myles Garrett Myles Garrett
2 Derek Barnett Jonathan Allen Solomon Thomas Derek Barnett Solomon Thomas
3 Takkarist McKinley Solomon Thomas Carl Lawson Carl Lawson Takkarist McKinley
4 T.J. Watt Jordan Willis Charles Harris Solomon Thomas Derek Barnett
5 Charles Harris Takkarist McKinley Takkarist McKinley Jordan Willis Taco Charlton
6 Taco Charlton Taco Charlton Jordan Willis Tim Williams Charles Harris
7 Carl Lawson Carl Lawson Joe Mathis Haason Reddick Daeshon Hall
8 Tarell Basham Derek Barnett Tim Williams Charles Harris Carl Lawson
9 Jordan Willis Daeshon Hall Derek Barnett T.J. Watt Jordan Willis
10 Derek Rivers Charles Harris Derek Rivers Taco Charlton Tarell Basham
11 Tyus Bowser Dawuane Smoot Dawuane Smoot Takkarist McKinley DeMarcus Walker
12 Tim Williams Tarell Basham Vince Biegel Deatrich Wise Trey Hendrickson
13 Tanoh Kpassagnon Deatrich Wise Taco Charlton Dawuane Smoot Tanoh Kpassagnon
14 Joe Mathis Keionta Davis T.J. Watt Trey Hendrickson Derek Rivers
15 Dawuane Smoot Tanoh Kpassagnon Daeshon Hall Ryan Anderson Dawuane Smoot

The only thing the five sources agree on is that Myles Garrett is the top edge rusher in this class, but it quickly gets murky after that. And the variability in these different draft boards is exactly why scouting is so important this year.

Take the case of Carl Lawson. Dane Brugler and Eric Galko both have him ranked 7th overall, which would likely make him a day two target. Ian Wharton and PFF have him ranked 3rd overall, which would make him a prime prospect and a priority for the Cowboys.

Or take Jordan Willis, a very popular player among Cowboys fans. Brugler and Wright have him ranked 9th overall, suggesting he would likely be available for the Cowboys at the bottom of the second round. The other three boards have him ranked 4th, 5th, and 6th overall, suggesting Willis should be a strong consideration at No. 28.

Both cases illustrate how little agreement there is this year on the talent. Perhaps it's because the players are very closely bunched, perhaps it's because the players are a tougher group to rank than normal.

And in this environment with a lot of ambiguity, teams with good scouting will prosper.

In a draft where there is a very real risk of drafting a guy at No. 28 who's a third-round talent at best, the ability to correctly grade players is key, especially when considering that roughly half the players picked in the first round will never do anything noteworthy in the NFL, as Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff explained last year.

"According to our most recent statistics that we drew on the first round, it’s less than 60 percent of those players that are starting," Dimitroff said. "I think it may have come in at 56 percent. So point being it’s not an exact science, we know that. There are so many other things that are involved in it. The first step is finding out whether that player has the adept skills on the field, of course. Many other areas that we’re looking into to make sure they’re fits in the organization. [Do] they have the mental capacity, they have the character capacity, and the team element that a team is looking for? Again, you’d better have a plan for the guys who are a little bit wayward in their approach. That’s alway been a big discussion point as well."

On to the cornerbacks, where our collection of draft experts can't even agree on who the best cornerback in the draft is.

Rank Dane Brugler Eric Galko Ian Wharton PFF Wright
1 Marshon Lattimore Marshon Lattimore Marshon Lattimore Marshon Lattimore Marlon Humphrey
2 Marlon Humphrey Tre’Davious White Sidney Jones Tre’Davious White Marshon Lattimore
3 Tre’Davious White Marlon Humphrey Gareon Conley Jourdan Lewis Gareon Conley
4 Gareon Conley Teez Tabor Fabian Moreau Teez Tabor Sidney Jones
5 Fabian Moreau Quincy Wilson Cordrea Tankersley Marlon Humphrey Tre’Davious White
6 Chidobe Awuzie Adoree’ Jackson Tre’Davious White Cordrea Tankersley Teez Tabor
7 Kevin King Gareon Conley Marlon Humphrey Desmond King Adoree’ Jackson
8 Jourdan Lewis Kevin King Adoree’ Jackson Adoree’ Jackson Quincy Wilson
9 Teez Tabor Sidney Jones Quincy Wilson Gareon Conley Chidobe Awuzie
10 Cordrea Tankersley Desmond King Cameron Sutton Sidney Jones Cordrea Tankersley
11 Adoree’ Jackson Cameron Sutton Corn Elder Quincy Wilson Fabian Moreau
12 Ahkello Witherspoon Cordrea Tankersley Jourdan Lewis Chidobe Awuzie Jourdan Lewis
13 Sidney Jones Damontae kaKzee Kevin King Ahkello Witherspoon Kevin King
14 Corn Elder Jourdan Lewis Chidobe Awuzie Corn Elder Rasul Douglas
15 Rasul Douglas Chidobe Awuzie Teez Tabor Kevin King Ahkello Witherspoon

A side effect of the different assessments outlined here, is that regardless of which player the Cowboys pick, somebody will inevitably call it a reach.

In the end, as much as we try to objectively assess the draft prospects leading up to the draft, we all listen to people we trust (more or less) to form our own opinions on these prospects. And if even these experts don't agree, where does that leave us?

Ultimately, there is only one draft board that counts, and that's the one the Cowboys built. We can only hope that their scouts did a good job in putting it together, and that they will stick to it on draft day. And with a little bit of luck, they might just find the right guys, even if we may not all agree with their selections at first.