The Dallas Cowboys and the rest of the NFL will be heading to Indianapolis in the coming days to take part in the talent bonanza known as the combine. Some 330 prospects will be poked, prodded, measured and fully evaluated in what will prove to be the biggest job audition of their lives.
But, beyond the evaluation process side of things, the Cowboys need to identify players who can translate their skill into good play on the field. Sure, the 40-yard dash and the number of bench press reps provide some indication of skill level, but should they be used as the basis for projecting impact or productivity?
It's easy to be enamored by workout warriors but what the Cowboys need to accomplish and how they set out to do it will have major ramifications on their 2013 season. The hope of any franchise is to be able to come away with answers regarding prospects and how they might be a fit for their team.
The Cowboys are one of those franchises that needs to learn as much as they can about the prospects they are targeting. With limited resources due to a tight cap and only six draft picks, the Cowboys need to learn a lot things quickly.
Let's venture into the world of what the Cowboys hope to learn.
The Cowboys have some significant needs to fill heading into the 2013 draft. The two that headline this list are the offensive and defensive line. But which direction should the Cowboys go?
Many feel that going the route of selecting offensive guard Chance Warmack or Jonathan Cooper provide the Cowboys with the safest route and would stabilize their line for years to come while keeping Tony Romo upright.
Others feel that with a switch to the 4-3 defense and the potential of losing Anthony Spencer, the direction should be defense heavy. The Cowboys will need to field an aggressive and attacking defensive front and the question is whether they have one or not.
Deciding which direction to steer the draft starts with what management takes away from the combine. It doesn't represent the end all for the final decision but it represents a big piece. What will they do?
If the Cowboys elect to solidify their defensive line by adding an impact defensive end, will players such as Sheldon Richardson, Dion Jordan, Sam Montgomery and Ezekiel Ansah be available? Pass-rushing defensive linemen are at a premium these days and this draft will prove no different.
Going on the assumption that Dallas will lose Anthony Spencer in free agency and not have enough money to sign a Harry Melton or Paul Kruger, finding impact at the 18th pick could prove to be crucial. Luckily for the Cowboys, this year's defensive line crop features a deep talent pool, so there should be plenty to go around.
With the defensive line being so crucial to the execution of the 4-3 defense, the Cowboys really need to hit a home run with this pick. An impact should be there for the taking. Dallas must capitalize on one of this year's draft strengths and their weaknesses.
It's probably safe to assume that being a mediocre franchise for so long is due in large part to struggles on the offensive line. It's hard to think back to the glory days of the 90's where big Nate Newton, Larry Allen, Mark Stepnoski and Erik Williams took no prisoners and dominated their opponents.
But, when you neglect a vital part of the entire roster for so long and only put temporary fixes into place, what else would you expect? The Cowboys offensive line is a work-in-progress, but not all hope is lost. Tyron Smith is aboard and that's a start, but the Cowboys must resolve some major question marks.
At the combine the, Cowboys need to learn about Chance Warmack, Jonathan Cooper, Barrett Jones, Justin Pugh, David Quessenberry, Larry Warford and Brian Winters. These players represent a range of first-round to mid-round prospects who could factor into the long-term plans of this offensive line for years to come.
In the eyes of Jerry Jones, these players don't represent sexy picks, but it's time for this franchise to draw the line and build a wall of sustainability to protect Romo and pave the way for runners. The more they learn about the value of these such players, the faster they can understand their road map to the Super Bowl.
The Cowboys need to come out of this draft with at least one offensive lineman who can step in and possibly more for depth. The answers could lie in Indianapolis.
There appears to be a nice crop of safeties in the 2013 NFL Draft and you can be sure the Cowboys are doing their homework about this year's top prospects at the position. Players such as Matt Elam, Jonathan Cyprien, Kenny Vaccaro, T.J. McDonald, Zeke Motta, Eric Reid and Duke Williams would be welcome additions to a team in need of filling this hole on their defense.
The Cowboys have Gerald Sensabaugh, Barry Church (returning from injury) and redshirt rookie Matt Johnson, but is that going to be enough to run the Tampa 2? My initial reaction is no, based on their collective track record. The Cowboys really need to address this position with a younger prospect capable of patrolling the back end of this defense.
Depth was a major concern in 2012 and relying on Danny McCray cannot be an option for this franchise. At the combine, this has to be an area of special attention for the Cowboys even more, since there aren't enough resources to add a veteran in free agency.
It's time to get safe.
With 330 prospects on hand at the combine and even more who did not receive invites, the Cowboys need to cast a pretty wide net when building their draft board. 31 other cities face a similar dilemma, but the more efficiency used in this process, the better.
While the most common method of building a draft board is by best available player, there are some teams that focus more on scheme, level of competition, positions of immediate need and the prospects' schools. If you go with the best available player approach, which is most logical, the the combine could be crucial for the Cowboys in grading players.
The combine will produce some players who will test through the roof in Indy but, in the end, are low on game tape and productivity at the collegiate level. The Cowboys need to weed through this process and let the tape tell the full story, rather than relying mainly on strong performances at the combine.
Anyone remember Mike Mamula?
The endless debates surrounding Tony Romo on all levels continue to wage on. At, times the arguments against him are senseless, but at other times they are valid and justified. Romo ultimately will play a huge role in what happens this offseason on the financial side, but is it time to be thinking of his successor?
There doesn't appear to be another RGIII or Andrew Luck in this draft and I don't believe the Cowboys will even be in the hunt for a prospect to compete with Romo. But suppose there was some falling talent or the Cowboys are secretly keeping hush about a prospect they already like.
The way the Cowboys are constructed, along with the franchise's fondness for Romo, it does appear that signing him to an extension makes the most sense financially for the immediate future. It is very hard to argue that point, especially since Dallas is not in a position to draft an impact quarterback this year.
However, prospects like E.J. Manuel, Tyler Bray, Mike Glennon, Tyler Wilson, Matt Scott and Landry Jones could represent good value if they were hanging around the mid to late-rounds. I'm not saying this is going to happen, but how could the Cowboys go wrong? Any of the aforementioned signal callers should at least add needed depth while they are groomed for more action.
They should be leaving no stone unturned for any position and quarterback is no exception. Maybe Jerry Jones should look at the pre-Romo era as proof of how not planning for the future can result in three 5-11 seasons.
The Dallas Cowboys need to address the depth, the effectiveness of the depth and upgrading the running back position for a few reasons. DeMarco Murray, when healthy, is on the brink of becoming a special player, but he needs to make it through a season healthy to accomplish that.
Felix Jones' impending departure in free agency, along with his gimpy knees, provide the Cowboys with the perfect opportunity to address this position.
With prospects such as Stepfan Taylor, Montee Ball, Kenjon Barner, Giovani Bernard, Michael Ford, Johnathan Franklin, Ray Graham and Christine Michael on display at the combine, the Cowboys need to get familiar with these players.
In today's NFL, going with the two-back system seems more practical and beneficial to the overall health of the player and the offense. Too often, their rotation included fringe players like Phillip Tanner and Lance Dunbar. The Cowboys clearly suffered in games where Murray was injured as Jones was dealing with his own health issues and lack of explosiveness.
It's hard to project right now if there are any elite backs, but there is plenty of depth at this position. Either way, the Cowboys need to learn what these prospects could mean to their offense and if they need to stash away money for the position in free agency.
The Cowboys face two dilemmas regarding the law that unfortunately distract from and affect their football operations. The first is the tragic circumstances surrounding Josh Brent for intoxication manslaughter charges for the death of teammate Jerry Brown and the other is the recent arrest of Jay Ratliff for DWI.
Both predicaments have lingering effects, posing major roster implications for the Cowboys and maybe they need to think about a future without either player. With that being said, the Cowboys must address the need for a one-gapping nose tackle that could really fill a need and pay dividends in stopping the run.
John Jenkins, Brandon Williams, Jessie Williams, Star Lotulelei, Kawann Short and Sharrif Floyd could be targets that the Cowboys value higher than expected when you factor in the loss of Brent and Ratliff and the need to provide a solution in the interior of the defensive line.
A major decision the Cowboys will have to face is what to do about with Anthony Spencer. The 29-year old outside linebacker completed a standout season and is ready to cash in. But are the Cowboys major players or just playing games?
If he does return on a long-term deal, he will play defensive end in the new 4-3, while leaving a void at outside linebacker. DeMarcus Ware will play the other end position and that leaves very little remaining in the mix at outside linebacker.
While the Cowboys have time to ponder this decision, they may have to look for eventual replacements in the draft to fill this void.
Prospects like Khaseem Greene, Zaviar Gooden, Gerald Hodges, Jelani Jenkins, Arthur Brown and Sean Porter could be looked at as potential targets to solidify this position. The need for an impact defensive linemen is probably higher than linebacker right now but depth was an issue in 2012.
The Cowboys need to be better prepared depth-wise to sustain the injuries.
One of the most interesting topics concerning the NFL draft usually focuses on sleepers, small-school prospects and hidden gems. They exist in every draft and only a handful of franchises uncover these players. To be fully prepared for the draft, the Cowboys need to learn about some of these players during the combine.
Another cross section of players with character issues labeled headache players usually consist of a group of talented, yet troubled young men looking to restore their reputations.
In the 2012 draft, Vontaze Burfict and Alfonzo Dennard were two examples of how big talent combined with big trouble can leave you off the board or drafted in total obscurity. Would a player like the "Honey Badger" Tyrann Mathieu be of any interest to the Cowboys?
Possibly, but is Jerry Jones running a babysitting service or a football team? When you look at the stellar season Dez Bryant put together, it's easy to advocate making talent the overriding factor in the draft but his situation was close to going the other way as well.
There's a delicate line when determining the inherent risk concerning headache players and the Cowboys must establish how much off-field concerns will preclude them from making an otherwise-sensible selection.