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2017 NFL Draft: How Using A Tiered Big Board Can Help Clarify Cowboys Draft Strategy

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We look at the Top 110 players in the 2017 NFL draft and group them into tiers to better understand the Cowboys' options at each point in the draft.

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A little over a week ago, ESPN's Todd McShay proposed a ranking of the top 110 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 just one elite player (should be starter from Day 1 and project as perennial Pro Bowl players) in Myles Garrett.

That brings us to Tier 2 prospects, players McShay calls plug-and-play starters.

TIER 2
Rank
Player Grade
2 Jonathan Allen 94
3 Solomon Thomas 93
4 Jamal Adams 93
5 Leonard Fournette 92
6 Marshon Lattimore 92
7 Malik Hooker 92
8 Reuben Foster 92
9 O.J. Howard 92

It's safe to assume the players in Tiers 1 and 2 are completely out of reach for the Cowboys. None of these players will fall far enough for the Cowboys, and trading up for one of these top 10 prospects is simply too expensive.

Where it gets more interesting are the Tier 3 players, prospects that carry late first-round grades, as McShay explains. Note on the color code: Players who were invited for one of the 28 official pre-draft visits are marked in green.

TIER 3
Rank
Player Grade
10 Forrest Lamp 91
11 Corey Davis 91
12 Mike Williams 91
13 Haason Reddick 90
14 Derek Barnett 90
15 David Njoku 90
16 Garett Bolles 90
17 Christian McCaffrey 90
18 Kevin King 90
19 John Ross 90

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 around 20 players with a first-round grade on their board (as they've frequently had over the past years), then the 19 names above could be at least a rough approximation of the top players the Cowboys have on their board.

Assuming the pre-draft visits carry some weight (which they have in the past), McShay's ranking suggests Barnett and King could be the only players from the visitor list with a first-round grade. Of course, not everybody agrees with McShay's ranking. CBS Sports ranks King No. 33, Dane Brugler ranks him 44th overall, Eric Galko of Optimum Scouting has him ranked 64th.

But if we stick with McShay's ranking, Tier 3 shows players that, if they were to fall all the way to No. 28, the Cowboys should draft irrespective of need, simply because they would be the only players left with a first-round grade. It's particularly noteworthy that of the ten Tier 3 players, seven are offensive players. You may not want to hear it, but a dropping offensive skill player like Corey Davis, Mike Williams, David Njoku, or John Ross will destroy all your carefully configured mock draft plans. But a dropping offensive player may also offer another option for the Cowboys: chances are a team would come knocking with an offer for the Cowboys to trade down.

With a trade-down comes additional draft bounty. And that could open up a lot of interesting options for Tier 4 players, the meat-and-potatoes part of the draft for the Cowboys.

TIER 4
Rank
Player Grade ...
Rank
Player Grade
20 Dalvin Cook 89 34 Obi Melifonwu 87
21 Gareon Conley 89 35 Marlon Humphrey 87
22 Taco Charlton 89 36 Evan Engram 85
23 Takkarist McKinley 89 37 Alvin Kamara 86
24 Deshaun Watson 89 38 Tyus Bowser 86
25 Malik McDowell 89 39 Zay Jones 86
26 Charles Harris 88 40 Caleb Brantley 86
27 Ryan Ramczyk 88 41 Jourdan Lewis 86
28 Jarrad Davis 88 42 Marcus Maye 86
29 Budda Baker 88 43 Adoree' Jackson 86
30 Quincy Wilson 88 44 Jabrill Peppers 85
31 Mitchell Trubisky 88 45 DeShone Kizer 85
32 Tre'Davious White 87 46 Tim Williams 85
33 Cam Robinson 87

Barring a dropping Tier 3 player, Tier 4 is where the Cowboys' first-round pick is going to come from. Ten of the Cowboys' pre-draft visitors show up in this tier, and while a number of prospects from this list will likely be taken before the Cowboys are on the clock at No. 28, many of the prospects we've discussed over the last few months should be available for the Cowboys at No. 28 regardless.

One interesting thing about McShay's ranking is that just one QB (Deshaun Watson, No. 24) and two tackles (Garrett Boles, 16; Ryan Ramczyk, 27) are ranked ahead of the No. 28 spot. An early run on QBs could see at least three more QBs (Mitchell Trubisky, 31; DeShone Kizer, 45, Patrick Mahomes, 49) and one OT (Cam Robinson, 33) move up into the first round and push more prospects the Cowboys' way. In any case, this could end up a win-win for the Cowboys. Early demand for QBs and OTs gives the Cowboys more quality options, or could result in trade offers that potentially could give the Cowboys two picks in Tier 4.

With a little bit of luck,the Cowboys might still be able to snag a Tier 4 player wit their 60th pick. If not, there are still a lot of options for the Cowboys in Tier 5 where the Cowboys will find what McShay calls "middle- or late-second-round prospects."

TIER 5
Rank
Player Grade ...
Rank
Player Grade
47 T.J. Watt 84 55 Josh Jones 81
48 JuJu Smith-Schuster 84 56 Joe Mixon 80
49 Patrick Mahomes II 83 57 Ryan Anderson 80
50 Curtis Samuel 83 58 Fabian Moreau 80
51 Teez Tabor 83 59 Taylor Moton 80
52 Jordan Willis 82 60 Adam Shaheen 80
53 Chidobe Awuzie 81 61 Larry Ogunjobi 80
54 Zach Cunningham 81

If you take the Cowboys' pre-draft visit list as an indicator of their interest in a prospect, there's no reason why the Cowboys shouldn't be able to select their top two picks from that pool.

I'm not going to bother listing all the Tier 6 names (you can look at them here), and instead only list the five players on the list the Cowboys brought in for a visit.

TIER 6 (excerpt)
Rank
Player Grade
72 Damontae Kazee 78
74 Marcus Williams 78
79 Justin Evans 77
91 Tanoh Kpassagnon 75
101 Tarell Basham 72

If you don't like Todd McShay's ranking, you can do the same exercise with any other draft board. None of the others 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 (2013: 117, 2016: 149) 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.