Letters to Mr. Jones No. 6: 1st-Round Options in the Romo Super Bowl Window
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Dear Mr. Jones,
As I mentioned in the last letter, I believe this is the most important off-season for the team in the last 10 years and probably for the next five at least. Given the age of Romo and the makeup of this team, it is entirely possible this offseason may define your legacy. This team's current nucleus may be your last good shot to win the title.
I am writing these letters because I want you to be remembered as a successful owner/GM in your own right who managed to capture another Super Bowl before retiring rather than how Dallas fans paint you today—as an arrogant owner who ran off Jimmy Jones and never sniffed another Super Bowl after Jimmy's talent reserves were exhausted.
I thought we'd take a look at first-round options in this letter.
Local radio stations are have suggested there is a short list of players the Cowboys seem to be focused on as candidates in the first round.
Most of the local media suggest you have moved on from Stanford guard David DeCastro and now says the list of candidates you are considering likely consist of:
4-3 DT/3-4 DE Michael Brockers, LSU
4-3 DE/3-4 OLB Courtney Upshaw, Alabama
CB Dre Kirkpatrick, Alabama
SS Mark Barron, Alabama (allegedly your personal favorite)
4-3 DT/ 3-4 DE Fletcher Cox, Mississippi State
NT Dontari Poe, Memphis
While I admit to being intrigued by Barron too, as a former defensive lineman, the list frankly is an immensely uninspiring one to me.
There are a lot of guys who sound like they could be busts on this list.
The only good part of this list is that Texas A&M's project QB Ryan Tannehill is not also being talked about by the media to make it a grand slam of two-to-three year projects. With the exception of Barron, to me they all have the look of a potential wasted first-round pick for this team.
When looking at an ability to finish a pass rush, in my opinion collegiate sack numbers don't lie. You either have the burst to finish or you don't.
(Now that said, a closing burst is only part of the picture. I also acknowledge players also have to have the talent to compete at an NFL level too. Some small school players with substandard talent for the pros have good sack numbers too.)
Looking at this team from a glass-half-full perspective, the team is near Super Bowl contention. Viewing it that way, you should be looking for draftees who are ready to play and deliver the maximum bang to this roster in your Tony Romo Superbowl window—the next two to three years.
Drafting linemen who have talent but haven't shown the ability to break the 10-sack threshold at the college level is not going to help a team this close to Super Bowl contention.
I look at this list and am depressed. I see a bunch of Marcus Spears clones. Young projects. You don't need to be drafting guys to teach how to play at the NFL level or who need a few years in the weightroom or need a lot of coaching to even be contributors.
I am going to talk about the six guys on the list and eight more who I would argue should. I will also note what jumps out to me about each as a fan when I read the scouting reports online and hear the discussions on DFW sports radio.
Now I am not a scout. I haven't broken down game after game of these players. Some of the 14 players I only know from highlights I have seen. With that limitation it makes more sense for me to seek out experts. With that in mind I've tried to largely suppress my personal analysis of their play and to rely more on the consensus of those scouting reports I have found online.
These profiles are only meant focus on red flags as well as major positive and negative attributes, not as actual scouting reports. If readers want scouting reports, several will be linked for each prospect though.
I hope this may lead you to take a second look at your own scouting reports on these players and maybe open your eyes to some other options as you complete your draft board.
(And, by the way, as I mentioned last time, I am still all about picking up another first-round pick AND trading up a bit with our current picks.)
Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
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Let's start with the big, big longshot. What if Trent Richardson inexplicably slides out of the top six down to No. 14? Everyone seems to think he could slide, but opinions differ on when it would be impossible for a team to resist trading up for him. One would think 14 would be too low, but let's talk about it anyway.
The argument not to take him: He probably won't be there and if he is there, you already have an emerging star in DeMarco Murray. Richardson's running style could make him susceptible to injuries at the NFL level. Most NFL teams are now thinking you don't draft a RB in the first round as their careers as hard running feature backs only last through about one or two contracts (the hits just add up too quickly), while players at other positions can play with no erosion to their aggression into their mid-30s (three or four contracts).
The argument to take him: The fourth highest grade in the draft per NFL.com. Murray is injury prone as all get out, and Richardson could be a runner with the potential impact at an Adrian Peterson-level. Richardson is viewed as a back who can do everything you need a back to do. A one-two punch of Murray and Richardson would be devastating to opponents and would eliminate most injury concerns at the position. Dallas would be better able to grind out wins late and keep their defense off the field. That just helps your defense and reduces the chances of a Romo injury.
Conclusion: You may not want to go that way, but it would be tough to pass on Richardson in the very unlikely instance he slides that far. I think this would also be an acceptable scenario in which to trade down as the value of the pick would be maximized. If Cinci would give Dallas picks No. 17 and No. 21 in some reasonable deal for both sides (1/14 and next year's second?) in order to take Richardson, Dallas should trade the pick. Another option would be to try to trade Murray and next year's second to Cinci for the No. 17 & No. 21 picks, although I think it would be more like Murray for one of the No. 1's would be the best deal you could land.
David DeCastro, OG, Stanford
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Listening to local media, the former favorite for the slot may not even be on the Cowboys radar.
The argument not to take him: NFL teams value guards lower than they do positions like CB and DE. This draft has quite a number of potential immediate contributors at the latter positions. There is the real possibility that DeCastro may be slightly overrated.
Everyone is wowed by how high he consistently graded out vs. college competition and how aggressively he plays the game—he truly dominated at that level—but if you look closely there are some critics who point out real flaws in his game that are likely to be much more apparent at the pro level.
He gets overaggressive at times and spends more time off balance and on the ground than a player of his caliber should. The critics also suggest he needs to get stronger. The criticisms in scouting reports paint the picture of minority report pushback from some scouts who disagree with the consensus idea he is a surefire pro-bowler in three years.
The argument to take him: The 6th best player in the draft per NFL.com. Will he be there at 14? By all accounts, he is the best, most ready to play guard prospect in quite some time. Scouts admire him as a technician and a fiery player. He works hard on and off the field. His teammates love him.
Dallas is looking at starting an undrafted player who was likely to be replaced in Cincinnati due to poor play and a former seventh-round draft pick and career backup from Carolina with the unfortunate nickname "The Turnstile."
DeCastro represents a significant and immediate upgrade. He went to Stanford, so you know he is smart. He can pull effectively which a lot of guards cannot. He plays hard with an aggression and intensity that would really help here in Dallas. Adding him could change the entire culture on your OL.
Former Cowboys guard Nate Newton said that playing with a guy like Erik Williams who played at a high level and left it all out on the field made Newton elevate his game. DeCastro plays with that kind of aggression. Playing on a line with a guy like DeCastro could have a similar impact on the very talented and promising Tyron Smith, not to mention Doug Free.
If you have three above-average linemen, it very much helps your ability to keep Romo upright, control the clock (keeping your defense off the field and fresh, making them look and play better) and to hold onto leads by running out the clock.
Most scouts suggest he could stand to get bigger and stronger, which to me is quite a good thing. It suggests he isn't the product of steroids. He isn't going to wither into a different, lesser player at the pro level like Tony Mandarich did.
Conclusion: You yourself said, "We probably wouldn't prefer (to take an offensive lineman)," with regards to the idea of drafting DeCastro at 14. That may be short sighted. In fact, I would argue it might make sense to trade up a few spots to ensure you get him.
Consider what kind of value the 14th pick (or the 11th or 12th) represents from year to year. Most scouts think DeCastro will be an multiple time pro bowl participant.
That is a home run value for the #14 pick. Not taking him hits me as bemoaning the fact that he isn't a grandslam value. That seems like a very unrealistic approach to the draft. Drafting a very good interior lineman who inspires his teammates seems like one of the more impactful additions Dallas could make on draft day.
Melvin Ingram, DT/DE/OLB, South Carolina
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Next is South Carolina's pass rusher Melvin Ingram.
The argument not to take him: You like other DLs and OLB's better. Ingram, on the wrong team, asked to do things that are beyond his skillset, could define the saying "jack of all trades—master of none."
The argument to take him: The ninth best player in the draft per NFL.com. Ingram is apparently the Swiss Army knife of pass rushing DL prospects. Scouts say he is a DE but also say his skillset and build is unique enough to allow him to excell as a 3-4 OLB or a 4-3 DT as well. That kind of flexibility would be immensely useful in Dallas.
Ingram may be undersized at DT, but he played there in the SEC and rolled up 10 sacks his junior season in that role. His skillset at a pass rusher is apparently somewhat unique in this draft. He has the lower body strength, quickness and explosive change of direction that has a lot of scouts thinking he can be very effective as a pass rusher at DT.
He could play 3-4 DE or 4-3 DT next to Jay Ratliff and give the cowboys the interior pressure that hasn't been there since La'Roi Glover was effectively chased out of Dallas by Bill Parcells. And if Spencer has a no-show game, Ingram has the long speed and pass rush polish to deliver pressure from the outside.
Conclusion: I think Ingram is another guy who gets Dallas closer to a Superbowl immediately. He would provide inside pressure and make your three current pass rushers more effective.
Mark Barron, SS, Alabama
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The first of the Alabama defensive trio is considered the best safety prospect in this draft by a wide margin and the only safety likely to go in the first round. Most thought he was more of a mid-to-late first-round pick a month ago, but after word got out that Dallas (and presumably some other teams) liked him a lot, his stock pushed him ahead of the other two tide players.
The argument not to take him: Currently Dallas plays a 3-4 and asks for a fair amount of coverage out of both of their safeties. Many scouts term Barron "solid in coverage," but most scouts point out a lot of weaknesses in Barron's coverage. Barron advocates invariably do not want to talk about his coverage and change the subject. That is a concern.
He was arrested for obstruction of justice. Even though it is a serious crime, it sounds like a minor issue in evaluating his character.
The argument to take him: The 10th best player in the draft per NFL.com. A very productive player in college. He was the QB of the defensive backfield at Alabama. If Dallas shifts back to a 4-3, Barron could dominate if used as a box player, like Dallas used Roy Williams early in his career.
He is considered a big hitter, a sure tackler, a team leader and a smart player who excels at reading QBs. He is widely credited with good hands and good instincts.
Conclusion: Barron would be the most skilled player among Dallas' safeties if drafted. The question is would Dallas modify their defense to limit his coverage exposure or would they throw him to the wolves like Parcells did to Roy Williams when he shifted to the 3-4.
Like Williams, Barron could be a star or a goat in Dallas depending entirely on how he would be utilized. If Dallas is willing to modify the scheme to make Barron mostly a box player, he could help provide leadership and playmaking and help Dallas's playoff chances in the Romo window.
Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State
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Fletcher Cox is a good SEC DT prospect some have likened to former Cowboys DE Greg Ellis. He was also thought of as a late first rounder until recently when news of teams like the Cowboys liking him has reporters talking about him as early the top eight.
The argument not to take him: The Junior from Mississippi State is the kind of guy scouts fall in love with—that is always a red flag. If you read his scouting reports they say he plays the run better on the perimeter but lacks the edge speed to finish. He gets lost in double teams on the inside and needs to get stronger.
In other words, he is not ready to be a plus starter as a 4-3 DT or 4-3 DE yet, so by default he must be a 3-4 DE, right?
He seems like another guy who we can try to teach how to be a good NFL starter. I read his scouting reports and think this was a guy who should have gone back to college, gotten stronger and dominated the SEC as a senior. He sounds a few years away. The guy had five sacks last season. Greg Ellis? Please.
The argument to take him: NFL.com has him tied with Michael Floyd as the 11th highest rated player in this draft. To his credit every scouting report says he is a high motor guy who showed a lot of character under adversity in college.
Conclusion: I actually think any guy who gets these kind of reviews is a pretty safe pick long term. It is entirely likely he becomes a good NFL starter in a few years, but today is he any better than the guys we already have on the roster? Does he help in the Romo window? I doubt it.
Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis
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Dontari Poe is a big guy who fits what most teams want at nose tackle: a big strong lump who can take up two blockers.
The argument not to take him: He may not be there. Poe has had the kind of postseason that makes scouts and GMs lose all perspective. He is a 350-pounder who runs a 4.9 and is the strongest player in the room. It is entirely possible a team above the cowboys falls in love with Poe. The team that gets him would get a CUSA second team all-conference pick. That will just kill some fans.
Most scouts do not consider him that good of a player today. Most mention he gets off balance and that his understanding of the game, his technique and the position do not appear that ingrained. Some scouts say he takes not just plays off but games off. Others are more charitable and point to some possibly correctable technique problems that limit Poe.
Given his technique issues, it is entirely possible that you could get a player who gives the same value in the third round. You would be paying a premium for a fast 40-time.
The argument to take him: Given his talent, the NFL has him as the 14th highest rated prospect in this draft. If you read the scouting reports they do suggest that he may be able to be the traditional NT quite effectively at the NFL level. He is a hard worker in the weight room. Also his stats may be misleading to a degree as teams just ran away from him and at lesser players.
Conclusion: Scouts and teams are falling in love with him because they imagine that with some technique work he can not only be a blocker absorbing NT but also a threat in the pass rush with his strength and 4.9 speed.
With the list of things scouts say he needs to work on, that is probably not going to happen, but he could easily be the speed bump Dallas needs in the middle on rushing downs to succeed as a 3-4 defense. Poe is not the most impactful player Dallas could draft, but as a part time player there is a reasonable chance he could actually help Dallas in the Romo window.
Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina
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Quinton Coples is considered a Mario Williams-esque talent but not nearly as good of a player.
The argument not to take him: Teams question his heart and his drive from play to play. If you have seen any pictures of his body language, he looks like an uncoachable ass but is that just perception?
This is one of the more damning reviews I have read about a player...it sounds like Coples has major problems at each of his potential spots.
The argument to take him: He is ranked as the 16th best prospect in the draft by NFL.com despite the questions scouts have about his fire. He can rush the QB from multiple spots. Coples had 10 sacks as a DT as a junior. He had a senior year at DE that disappointed scouts. It should be asked if scouts are being harder on him because he isn't the dominant 4-3 DE his dimensions and ability suggest he should be.
It is possible he may still be developing at end.
Conclusion: He could be a dog waiting to bust or his value could be strongly undervalued by scouts who maybe are being premature in evaluating his play at end. If your scouting department hasn't pronounced him to be a total dog, Coples could be a good fit for Dallas's needs. He could be a spot player on passing downs.
Being able to role out Ware, Ratliff, Coples, and Spencer in a four man front on passing downs would be salty. It would move the Cowboys closer to super bowl contention in the Romo window and would offer a lot of flexibility in the future. I would strongly prefer a less risky pick though.
Courtney Upshaw, OLB, Alabama
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Some scouts love Courtney Upshaw.
The argument not to take him: The 18th best prospect in the NFL draft per NFL.com. At this point it starts to look like a reach to take a player like this at 14.
He is another player that may be overrated if you read between the lines on the scouting reports. He is a 3-4 OLB prospect who may be taken advantage of in space at the next level.
The thing about looking at players on top collegiate defenses is figuring out if their weaknesses were masked playing with other top players—or if they were the reason those defenses were elite. With Upshaw there appears to be something of an argument of the former. Many scouts point to his lack of height and trouble shedding taller blockers.
We already know per Jerry Jones that the Cowboys use Anthony Spencer differently than DeMarcus Ware. While Ware is sent after the QB, the Cowboys heap more containment and working in space responsibilities on Spencer. If Upshaw is the pick, he is the pick to replace Spencer.
Working in space doesn't appear to be the best part of Upshaw's game. There are some questions on him vs. the run on the outside. Will he be able to work in space at the NFL level? He sounds like a square peg for a round role. How are Dallas fans going to feel if the net result of burning the No. 14 pick is to get a replacement for Spencer who is effectively no better than Spencer in that role?
Some radio talk in Dallas has said Upshaw is not considered a very smart man. I have heard him interviewed and while his language is a little unpolished and he does a lot of canned football talk/"coach speak," he doesn't sound like a dummy. You would know if there is any truth to that. That deficiency has kept linebackers off the field in the 3-4 era in Dallas.
Upshaw has weight issues and is a little slower than you'd like. When you consider the quality of Alabama's secondary, he may not prove to have the closing burst of elite OLB prospects.
Then there is the off the field issue. The 2009 arrest for a misdemeanor charge of domestic violence/harassment may be insightful. I don't put too much stock into it in itself as reportedly the girl was coming at him, and he tried to stop her.
The girl's father vouched for Upshaw, so I think most teams who like his talent are writing it off as Upshaw suffered the predictable end result of messing around with the crazy. (It was in Alabama though—a football crazy SEC state—so maybe you can't take things at face value.)
He went through anger management counseling to get the charges dropped. Is he done with crazy women though? Is he going to get himself into this kind of situation again? That is the bottom line to me as a Cowboys fan. I want to know he is done with that girl and that his current girlfriend is widely thought of as totally sane and drama free. Is she? If not, I wouldn't touch this kid.
Every guy has hooked up with crazy once in their life. Once is a learning experience, but you want to be able to count on the No. 14 pick to show good judgement off the field and stay out of those kinds of bad situations. With those charges in his background you really need to know, is this a guy who is drawn to drama due to a lack of maturity? To me, that is the bottom line for a guy we may not need.
You don't need a player who is going to get shot by his girlfriend. I am just saying, do your due diligence and see if it is a potential future problem.
It would be one thing if a player who was exactly what Dallas needed on the field had that in his makeup, but it doesn't seem like Upshaw is that round peg.
The argument to take him: He is by all accounts a good natural football player. Everyone also seems to agree he is much better on the field than in the workouts.
If used properly there is an argument that he would be a solid value at No. 14. The scouting reports all say he has great instincts, does a lot of things very well and delivers very good pressure. (He had 9.5 sacks last year and while he only had seven sacks as a junior, to be fair he missed two games.)
However, he is more of a power rusher. He is probably a better pass rusher than you would think just looking at the stats and dinging him to correct for him playing with a great supporting cast.
Most of the scouts use the word aggression in describing his game. Alabama fans love him, throwing out glowing comparisons to elite pro players like Von Miller and Cornelius Bennett.
He reportedly has some leadership ability on the field.
He seems like a guy who may lack the elite closing ability of a top pass rusher, but whose motor may generate a fair number of QB pressures. Although Dallas had a pretty good sack total last year, consistent pressure in Dallas was an issue.
A lot of the reports talk about his strength in controlling TEs and excelling vs. the run inside.
He is the poster child for a guy who plays hard, which would sell well to the fans in Dallas who think Spencer does not play hard.
Conclusion: There are admittedly arguments both ways on Upshaw. I think drafting him with the first rounder would effectively be a long-term move rather than a short-term one. He could be the heart of the defense for the next decade and Ware's replacement as the primary pass rushing threat down the road.
While the long-term value is almost certainly there, I am not convinced he would do more than split time with Spencer this year, and I am not convinced that utilized like Spencer whether the net results two or three years from now are going to be that much better.
Drafting Upshaw hits me like replacing a tire after 3000 miles—mostly pointless in the big scheme of things. Plus there is meltdown potential there. There will likely be safer picks out there at No. 14.
I don't think the risk vs. reward dictates a mid-first-round pick and given the holes on this team trading down to spend a late first rounder on him sounds like a mistake. In my opinion picking Upshaw really doesn't sound like it would push Dallas that much closer to the Super Bowl in the next two to three years.
I think for that little gain it wouldn't be worth more than a late first. Now if Dallas hadn't signed Dan Connor and wanted to draft Upshaw as an ILB, I'd be more receptive as I could see his skills be maximized there in an aggressive 3-4.
Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
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Kirkpatrick is now the third Alabama defender on the short list.
The argument not to take him: Ranked as the 20th best player in the draft by NFL.com. Most scouting reports note he gets turned in coverage a lot. That is not what you want to hear about a first-round cornerback.
There is a real question of how long he had to cover at Alabama. Are the warts there but were disguised playing for this defense? Also there is the question about the quality of receivers in the SEC. While there is no doubt that the SEC has the best talent overall, most of the time top receivers come from other conferences. Could it be that top high school receivers have no interest in playing in the SEC?
The guy has three interceptions in his collegiate career. Does Dallas really need another DB who doesn't generate turnovers?
There is the marijuana arrest. Kirkpatrick has a signed affidavit from the player he was with that Kirkpatrick did not know about the marijuana, but wouldn't he have something like that if he bought it with his friend? To me that is something a scout can believe if a scout likes Kirkpatrick's talent and wants the red flags to go away.
Again, the infraction is not a major one, but it does shine a spotlight on character that many scouts question. There seems to be a thought that Kirkpatrick is not the most mature guy, but he was kept in check by the Alabama coaching staff. He didn't improve his body much at Alabama. And he is a junior. Is that a guy you want to give millions to?
Some have argued you draft Kirkpatrick so you do not have to pay Mike Jenkins. Jenkins, a one-time pro bowler, will likely want a deal like the one Dallas gave Brandon Carr. The thinking is that if you draft Kirkpatrick you can cut bait on Jenkins.
That logic seems off. If Jenkins outplays Carr, it would seem to make sense to keep him and pay him a matching 10 million to be your number 1 CB. Cutting Scandrick would make up most of that salary. If Jenkins doesn't outplay Carr, the market will dictate his salary.
Is he really a starting CB in the NFL or is more of a CB/safety tweener who lacks the maturity to really make a niche for himself? A lot of bust potential there.
The argument to take him: He is dynamite bumping and controlling WRs at the line. He had a nice career at Alabama.
Conclusion: Some teams may consider Kirkpatrick to have questionable maturity. That and the problems in his game that need to be ironed out seems to be why teams above Dallas are looking elsewhere. Dallas has two mostly solid starting CBs and a reasonable third CB in Scandrick. Given the fact that Kirpatrick gets turned in coverage it is unlikely he will immediately be a dramatic improvement over either starting CB, so how much does he improve this team over the Tony Romo window?
Michael Brockers, DT, LSU
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Michael Brockers coming out of LSU really invites the Marcus Spears comparisons.
The argument not to take him: Ranked as the 23th best player in the draft by NFL.com. He would appear to be a weak value at 14. Consider his selling points. Let's start with his stats from last season. 54 tackles,10 for a loss. Two sacks. One forced fumble. One interception. Second team All-SEC. Do those numbers really excite you for the 14th pick in the draft? Or even if you trade down for the 20th-25th pick?
Statistically, Marcus Spears was a much more productive pass rusher in his last year in college and showed much more potential as an NFL DE. Brockers projects as a 4-3 DT. Scouts do not think much of his game rushing the passer. What is there to suggest this guy will ever give you even four sacks a season as a starting NFL DE in your 3-4? If you can't turn your talent into production before your draft day, it will likely always be an issue.
How mature is this kid? Is he really ready to bear down and work hard in the NFL? This is a young early entry who has only been a starter for one season. I think that kind of guy is more likely to be a bust of a draft pick.
The argument to take him: He is a big guy with good athleticism who does play better in big games. He is a former linebacker and that understanding of the bigger picture makes him a very smart DT. He understands what it going on around him and has a lot of talent. He plays fairly well vs. double teams and very well vs. the run.
A good coach can teach him to become an good pass rusher (at least that is the argument). While he doesn't finish as a pass rusher, he can generate pressure. In a couple years he will probably be a very solid starting 4-3 DT.
Conclusion: Unless Dallas is shifting to a 4-3 or has plans to play this guy at NT and shift Ratliff to end (no one with the Cowboys has talked of that scenario publicly), I think you are nuts to even consider this guy in the first round. Given this team's needs, I wouldn't even take him in the second (an irrelevant point as he won't be there when the Cowboys pick in the second).
You don't need another DL to just break even rushing the passer. If you are going to draft a DL, you need someone who either shuts down the run at NT (probably not Brockers as he is a bit undersized for NT) or delivers a pass rush as a 3-4 DE or a 4-3 DT immediately.
Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin
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Konz is regarded as the best center in the draft.
The argument not to take him: He is ranked as tied as the 28th best player in the draft by NFL.com. He would represent drafting for needs more than talent. Every year, there is a top center who merits a first-round pick. This year, that is Konz. He seems like a marginal first-round center with a fairly unusual injury history.
I am sure your doctors have evaluated him. I personally would shy away from taking him unless I was 100 percent sure that was in the past.
I think you can pick up an only slightly lesser center in the third who doesn't have that history. With his injury history, one would think he is underrated. Reading the reviews, I am not so sure he isn't overvalued as the centers in this draft aren't that great. No one seems to love this guy.
The argument to take him: He is a pretty darned solid center who is very accountable. That is a good mix.
Conclusion: If you were to say trade down the No. 14 pick to New England in a deal for their two firsts, this could be a respectable pick. Konz seems to be a ready to play at a major problem spot. While I think this is unnecessarily risky, bringing in a solid starting center would seem to move Dallas closer to Super Bowl contention in the Romo window.
Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois
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Mercilus was the nation's leading sacker last season.
The argument not to take him: He is ranked as tied as the 28th best player in the draft by NFL.com. He is a one-year wonder and a junior. Is the maturity there? Is his game developed enough? He is not physically where he should be, and his recognition is not there yet.
The argument to take him: He led the nation in sacks in a conference the regularly produces a lot of NFL Offensive linemen. He did that without having developed a full repertoire of pass rushing moves. There is a good chance that this kid can be an effective pass rusher from day one and get a lot better in the NFL. He is credited with a great motor. Top pass rushing talent and a great motor generally translates to the NFL and quickly. And he has a sweet name.
Conclusion: Another nice target if you trade down. 14 may be to high to pick him, and there is the question of where to play him, but he may be a significantly better pass rusher when Dallas goes to a four-man line on passing downs than Spencer. He may not be high on the list, but I think a good argument can be made that he would move Dallas closer to Super Bowl contention in the Romo window.
Kevin Zeitler, G, Wisconsin
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Zeitler is a guard I like a lot in this draft.
The argument not to take him: He is ranked as tied as the 36th best player in the draft by NFL.com, a solid second-round grade.
The argument to take him: It should be noted that NFL.com uses a 100-point rating scale and that at this point the players are in clusters. There is not a huge difference in draft grade between the player you get at 28 and the player you get at 40. Konz and Mercilus got grades of 86, and Zeitler got 85. It would not be surprising to see Zeitler go at the end of the first round or at the middle of the second.
He has played against good talents in a good conference. Big 10 offensive linemen are usually pretty safe investments.
I like these excerpts from a scouting report a lot. "A perfectionist, Zeitler expects more out of himself than anybody else possibly could in the class, in the weight room and on the field....According to NFL Draft Report statistics, he led college football with 142 knockdown blocks and had 33 blocks that resulted in touchdowns, obviously a major reason Wisconsin had a per-game average of 44.62 points and 467 total yards, including 237 on the ground in 2011."
This is a guy who is already a very good collegiate player who works to play the game as it should be played. Some of his weaknesses may be fixable at the pro level with targeted conditioning.
Conclusion: Having this kind of perfectionist who plays at a high level on the offense is exactly what has been missing since Aikman retired. And his run blocking would really help us salt away games. This would move Dallas closer to Super Bowl contention in the Romo window.
Vinny Curry, DE, Marshall
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Curry has been the most consistently productive of the elite pass rusher in college football over the last two seasons.
The argument not to take him: He is ranked as tied as the 41st best player in the draft by NFL.com.
The argument to take him: Curry has the look of a very good pro pass rushing DE. High motor, good pass rushing skills, and the speed to finish makes him a very likeable prospect. Unlike the DL propects Dallas is looking at, guys like Mercilus and Curry's immediate contributions would be as pass rushers, not a run defenders.
That is an important distinction.
Dallas has a lot of bodies to throw at the ground game but few pass rushers. Curry could play in the four-down lineman set Dallas uses in rushing downs if Anthony Spencer is not significantly more consistent this year.
Curry has a second-round grade, but it is easy to imagine a team taking him at the end of the first. He gives you the same kind of pass rushing threat on the outside instead of Spencer that makes fans want Upshaw (Curry may be a better pass rusher), but the cost to acquire him is a lot more in line with the value of the contribution.
Conclusion: I think Spencer is underrated, but Curry could move Dallas a little closer to Super Bowl contention in the Romo window.
Jared Crick, DE/DT, Nebraska
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Crick has been a very good collegiate player in a top conference for his sophomore and his junior seasons before injuries stole his senior year. That is a very promising resume that has been overrun by injury fears.
The argument not to take him: He is ranked as tied as the 55th best player in the draft by NFL.com. He has injuries that have hurt his stock.
The argument to take him: Honestly, because of the injuries, I think it is far more likely he is a third-round pick, but all it takes is a run on defensive linemen and someone to buy into this kid personally, and he could go at the end of the first. He was very productive as a sophomore and junior and looked like exactly what you'd want in a 3-4 DE.
(On a somewhat related side note, Crick has probably the best collection of "throw his body at the ball carrier" photos on B/R of all the defenders covered in this letter. Really worth seeing.)
Conclusion: I hope behind closed doors the Cowboys are talking about this kid more. I think he is a ready to play 3/4 DE who could slide and be a nice value. I think he could move Dallas closer to Super Bowl contention in the Romo window.