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Mock exercise: Looking for the best “bang for the buck” for the Cowboys

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We think we have a good idea of what Dallas is targeting in the draft. But how they start will drive what comes next.

NFL: 2017 NFL Draft Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Mock drafts are fun. Many of us love to do them, and a lot of you like to read about them. They let us pretend we are Jerry Jones and see how good a haul we can get for the Dallas Cowboys.

The problem is, we are using them all wrong. According to what I understand, teams do mocks. A lot of them. The idea is not as much to see what names you can string together, but to figure out how the draft is going to fall to have a better feel for who will be available in each round. This is key in developing the strategy for the actual NFL Draft.

We are currently hotly debating who the Cowboys should take in the first round, or days one and two, or with all ten current picks. I wanted to do things a bit differently, run several drafts and use different approaches for each to see if it hinted at anything.

A bit to my surprise, the exercise did.

First, though, the basic rules for this have to be laid out. One thing that was definitely a goal was to see how picking position X in the first round would wind up affecting the later selections. Since we may have a really good idea of what the top priorities for the Cowboys are, that linked article served as the springboard. This analysis focused on the four positions posited as the ones that were likely for the first round, wide receiver, offensive line (with a lean in this case towards guard or players who could play that position in the NFL), linebacker, and defensive tackle. Due to time, the run had to be limited to eight drafts, with two each having one of the top four priorities at pick 19. The drafts were generated using Fanspeak’s mock simulator, with the same settings each time (four rounds, Fanspeak board and team needs, and classic setting). It was held to just four rounds, because another goal was to cover all four of the top needs before addressing others. Since Dallas currently has a comp pick in the fourth round, it also allowed one “bonus” selection. Trades were not considered. This was all about seeing how each round looked for the Cowboys based on what they had already addressed.

So here are the results (sorry about the lists).

1. D.J. Moore, WR, Maryland

2. Billy Price, G, Ohio State

3. Rasheem Green, DL, USC

4a. Darius Leonard, LB, S. Carolina State

4b. Levi Wallace, CB, Alabama

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1. Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU

2. Malik Jefferson, LB, Texas

3. Derrick Nnadi, DT, Florida State

4a. Taylor Hearn, G, Clemson

4b. Jordan’whitehead, S, Pitt

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1. Will Hernandez, G, UTEP

2. Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama

3. Tim Settle, DL, Virginia Tech

4a. Shaquem Griffin, LB, UCF

4b. Nyheim Hines, RB, NC State

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1. James Daniels, C, Iowa

2. Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M

3. Tim Settle, DL, Virginia Tech

4a. Shaquem Griffin, LB, UCF

4b. Nyheim Hines, RB, NC State

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1. Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise St.

2. Billy Price, C, Ohio St.

3. D.J. Chark, WR, LSU

4a. R.J. McIntosh, DL, Miami-

4b. Damon Webb, S. Ohio St.

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1. Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama

2. Deon Cain, WR, Clemson

3. Tim Settle, DL, Virginia Tech

4a. Alex Cappa, OT, Humboldt St.

4b. Shaquem Griffin, LB, UCF

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1. Vita Vea, DT, Washington

2. James Washington, WR, Oklahoma St.

3. Harrison Phillips, DL, Stanford

4a. Fred Warner, LB, BYU

4b. Nyheim Hines, RB, NC State

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1. Da’Ron Payne, DT, Alabama

2. Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M

3. Mason Cole, C, Michigan

4a. Shaquem Griffin, LB, UCF

4b. Dalton Schultz, TE, Stanford

Whew. OK, so some things that kinda jumped out.

In my view, the best results overall came from taking the future left guard in the first round. However, it was a strange quirk that to keep from really reaching in rounds three and four, I came up with the same exact players. I tried to vary it up a bit from mock to mock, but in those, Settle, Griffin, and Hines were just the best available players, based on what we have seen so far from the interest Dallas has shown and how the needs fell.

The worst drafts, ironically, came when the first pick was a DT. In particular, the guard position dried up fast, and that was also something of a problem in any of the drafts that did not address the position first or second. There are a handful of studs, and then it gets dicey. Unless the Cowboys have faith in Marcus Martin, or in moving La’el Collins, they have to really consider going guard early. In one case, there was not a guard prospect that even seemed realistic after round one - and that could be a very dangerous path for Dallas to go down.

Not too surprisingly, wide receiver was the best place to find value in any round. That argues against going there in the first, although the availability of Ridley in the second is surely a quirk of the board and needs used, rather than any kind of real reflection of how the draft will actually fall. But there were lots of other juicy options. (Having Kirk show up in a couple of place probably falls on me being an Aggie.)

Linebacker was sort of a wash, with some good options (to me) in all four rounds. Griffin was probably one player I may be too high on, but a lot of teams seem to be taking notice of him, and he may well be gone even earlier than this board had him.

And admittedly, Griffin, Hines, and Settle are all something of pet cat-type picks here.

If there were time, it would be interesting to see how other boards and team needs would have changed things. One oddity here was that Vea kept falling to the Cowboys, despite the board having him as the eleventh best player overall. That seems to reflect the lack of value placed on big DTs historically. Vea is such a unique talent that he could change someone’s mind well before Dallas gets a crack at him.

But this wound up showing some interesting things. And on a small scale, this is (I think) how the team actually tries to use the many mocks they will run in the lead-up to the actual draft. If you enjoy doing mocks, this is an exercise you can try if you have the time. If you come up with some interesting conclusions, the fan posts are an excellent way to share them with the rest of the readers. And you may well do a much better job.

The comments are also here for your feedback on this. It was an experiment that may or may not have a lot of realism or validity to it. Let us know what you think.