The Cowboys are in an envious and difficult position in this May’s Draft. After the best season that post puberty-Ryan remembers, they are picking at 27 in the draft. While a sign of last year’s success, some would say that it leaves them in a no man’s land for draft strategy and predictions. But this front office staff has shown themselves to be the exact kind of people that I want guiding my team in this situation.
At 27, you’ve got no reasonable idea of who will be there when it’s time to pick. Three years ago, there was an early run on offensive guards and as a result, the offensive line prospects were picked over late in the first. That was unexpected, and never reflected in anyone’s mock drafts. The current Cowboys regime has shown an ability to quickly adapt to the current landscape—whether it be signing our own free agents, obtaining new free agents, trades—to acquire the right player at the right time. Also, I believe that picking at 27 forces one to use my preferred draft strategy.
The two predominant theories on the method to decide which player to pick are “best player available” and “drafting for need”. Both of you know the ideas behind them, so I’ll move on. They’re both right, and both wrong. Like so many things in life, you can’t just do it one way or another. A hybrid is the best way. Yes, you obviously want the best player that you can get, but not at a position that is in much better shape than a position that is filled with scrubs. But you don’t want to just pick for need, or you end up with a fourth-round quality guard taken in the first. You have to combine the two, which is what I’m going to try to do for my “Draft Guide”.
The Cowboys know what their needs are, just like we know—defensive line, secondary, runningback, backup tackle, linebacker, wide receiver depth (in no particular order). After they agree on the order of the need, based on their comfort level with the existing players at the position, you can have a big picture of your shopping list.
Then, they can grade and rank the players at the various positions, separately. Once those two sets of rankings are done, you combine them. Put the players in order for the most needed position, then the players in order for the second most needed position, and so on. By the grades, the personnel people will know who is in the top tier of linemen, or who is a clear step ahead running the ball, which will allow them to know when that need is basically picked over and the next need with value at 27 can be utilized.
It’s not rocket science, but it works. Yes, we need a runningback, but unless Todd G or Melvin Gordon are there at 27, I don’t think it’s the position to go with. We also need defensive linemen both to help Greg Hardy and Demarcus Lawrence stay fresh, but to add depth when Hardy is out. There are good guys for that in this draft, but maybe they’re all gone when we pick. The only way to know which need to pay attention to is to look at what the quality is at each position of need by severity. Find the first graded match for where you’re picking, and that’s the answer.
Moving to the players, because, let’s be honest: I won’t write anything else between now and the draft. I thought that working from home would allow me to play a ton of Clash of Clans and wax rhapsodic about America’s Team all day. Experience has shown neither to be the case. But, while I was coasting at my previous job, I commandeered many conference room hours and watched film on players. Not as many as I would have liked (or even “many” at all), but more than I watched last year.
I used draftbreakdown.com which is the go-to place for people to break down film. If you’re not receiving the all-22 of college games (and few people are, outside of team facilities), it’s the best substitute. It allows you to watch every snap that the selected player was on the field during the game that you selected. They don’t have every game for every player, but they have a lot. More than enough for a true draft blogger’s purposes. Not that I’m one of those, but still. The drawback is that it’s tv footage, which follows the football. It’s great for linemen, linebackers, and runningbacks, but not the other positions.
For instance, when I tried to evaluate cornerbacks, there was no way for me to determine that the receiver got behind the corner for a 20 yard gain because of the technique of the corner, or due to a bad coverage call by the defensive coordinator. Likewise, I had no way of knowing if that interception was a positive outcome to improper technique, or true talent. As a result, only one corner even has information listed from me. Seeing this, and knowing how few people actually get All-22 footage made available to them, made me take every media member’s skill position assessments with a grain of salt. Obviously the ESPN and NFL Network people have this, but I don’t think any newspaper writers or bloggers get access to this. Thus, how can I trust their grade of a corner or receiver? It doesn’t matter if they watched every game, they still wouldn’t have seen anything of note.
I also didn’t watch Todd G. It was pointless, I already know that his game footage is basically all highlight-reel stuff and would make me fall in love. I can’t read an MRI, so I have no idea if he’s going to be healthy. If he somehow falls to 27, I’m in a real pickle. I’d say to take him based on the possibility of getting a top 5 player at that spot, but who knows?
Below is who I did watch, and what I thought. For every player, I watched at least three games, and only the games against the best competition (power 5 conference opponents, programs I know are good—I don’t care how he did against Directional School Technical University).
- Always falling forward. Rarely lacks momentum to gain another yard or two while being tackled
- Reminds me of a younger DeMarco Murray
- Sees hole, hits hole.
- When able to hit his called hole/gap, he can get solid yards every time.
- Pile always moves forward. Reminds me of Lynch in that way—not quite as physical at all times as Lynch, but a pile mover.
- Bad news behind this offensive line. Defensive coordinators will lose sleep if he gets to have these guys blocking for him.
- Impressive to see what he was able to do without a quality quarterback. That guy wasn’t very good.
- Not shift at all. He won’t make you miss consistently
- Not a home run threat
- No hole? Uh-oh. Not a creator.
- Can sometimes cut backside, but it has to be there. If the backside cut has a defender waiting, will fight to get back to scrimmage.
- Incomplete on pass catching and protection
- Wisconsin offense didn’t ask him to do either very often, so hard to tell how that will translate
- I think Gordon would be a beast behind this line. He seems to be sturdier than Murray, and will get you the 5-6 yards blocked almost every time. He moves the pile, and while he doesn’t always require two guys to take him down, the defense gives up a yard or so while tackling him. He won’t make the offensive line look better than they are, but on this team that isn’t needed. If he’s there at 27, and the first round-grade DE/DTs are gone, this is a pick that will serve dividends for the next five years.
- Looks like he has a nice first step
- 1.63 10 yard split in the 40
- Great measurables and a great physique
- Had a good combine workout
- Strong enough to push his blocker into the QB when he’s not able to get past him
- Able to line up at DT or DE/LB
- Didn’t show ability to switch to inside rush when outside wasn’t there
- Multiple times I saw his initial outside rush bring the tackle so far out, that when he was blocked and stopped he could have slid inside for open path to QB
- If the blocker gets his hands on him, it’s almost over
- If he can’t beat you with speed, he can’t beat you
- He can push the lineman back, but rarely saw him able to do it quickly and accurately enough to do anything but be a nuisance
- He looks very raw, at best a project player
- In no way should he be the Cowboys first round pick. I don’t even get the first round grade on him. He might develop into something solid, but at this point he’s a big fast guy without a lot of functional strength. Tackles or guards would simply need to get in front of him while pass protecting to win every time, he can’t fight anyone off.
- Never loses sight of the football
- Quick to disengage from blocker if ball coming at his gap or going east/west
- Rarely looked out of position in scheme
- Didn’t seem like the offense was succeeding because of something that he was doing wrong
- Might not always get the tackle or sack, but doesn’t try to play outside his responsibilities on that particular play
- Drew a good number of double teams
- Pad level may be a little high?
- Not blinding speed
- Quick, but not fast
- Not a lot of penetration
- Solid lineman, looks to have a good engine for pursuit, doesn’t give up easily. Drew a lot of double teams, but didn’t penetrate into backfield very often. I think he would make a solid 1 technique rotation guy, don’t see how he would project to a 3 technique in this scheme. As a result, I don’t see how a 1 technique guy is worth a first round pick.
o Too hard to scout cornerbacks w/o All-22
o What I saw though wasn’t stellar
- Quick, even for a Will linebacker
- Good in coverage, especially East/West
- Rarely saw a problem staying with RB out of backfield
- Able to cover WR running cross or In routes
- Good tackler
- Ball carrier rarely kept moving past him
- Didn’t see him give up any YAC
- When he knows where the ball is going, look out
- See ball, get ball
- Not asked to rush passer very much in Miami’s scheme
- When he did rush passer, didn’t fly through gaps consistently
- Never lost ground to blocker, but didn’t ALWAYS push his man back
- I don’t see him as a first round talent, to my highly untrained eye. Solid linebacker, but only played Will for Miami, so not a pass rusher. Tough to spend high on a guy who won’t consistently affect the quarterback. But, if he’s another player drafted in the third round, like Hitchens was last year, he can go a long way to helping the linebacking corps heal from the losses of Bruce Carter and Justin Durant.
o Small guy
- Quick, maybe even fast
- Not Todd G, with home run speed, but more than fast enough to play position
- 0-60 quick; top speed might not be the same as some, but doesn’t take long to get to what he has
- Rarely gets tackled for loss
- Often able to make guys miss and turn a poorly blocked play (Nebraska wasn’t great) into a positive or even great play. Doesn’t juke, but brushes guys off while changing direction. VERY effective, and a weapon that is transferrable to NFL.
- Can make it hard for smaller guys to take the NFL beating
- Pass protection leaves some to be desired. It didn’t look due to his size, but technique or coaching. Often looked late in moving to engage his guy. Might be due to not being able to see b/c of height, but I saw it happen on edge rushers. I think the coaching left some to be desired or the scheme was such that it took seconds to determine who to block. Also, Nebraska isn’t a high volume passing team, so he didn’t get a lot of reps to practice blocking
- He doesn’t have that big burst or bowl you over toughness that’s required to be taken in the first round as a runningback in the current climate. However, if he is available when the Cowboys pick in the second round, Abdullah is a pick that (like many runningbacks) would excel behind a quality offensive line. He gets (at least) what is blocked, and has the quickness and elusiveness to make Dallas a force on the ground again in 2015 and beyond.