To start with, the 2013 NFL draft was on the peculiar side for the Dallas Cowboys. Beginning in the first round, it didn't seem certain that management, from owner and general manager Jerry Jones on down the pipe, was even on the same page.
While it was no surprise that Dallas traded down from their original 18th selection in Round 1, it was odd that the Cowboys didn't get more for that trade. Further, addressing the center position, while probably the right call, didn't seem to be appropriate at the Cowboys' eventual 31st selection.
I didn't expect to be projecting statistical values for so many offensive skill-position players in the aftermath of the annual selection meeting in New York City.
But the reality is that Dallas will get output from several players in this draft class, but maybe not for the positive reasons you might think.
This analysis begins with the fact that the Cowboys will likely not have a dominant defense in 2013. A unit that is either aging quickly or not known very well on the defensive line figures to have it's work cut out for it. Dallas is clearly going small and thin upfront and this will probably not pay off beyond Thanksgiving.
So the pressure will fall mostly on the Cowboys passing attack to put enough points on the board in order to take the opposition out of the running game and hopefully feed the game to defensive end DeMarcus Ware, the only proven and repeated playmaker upfront. If fellow defenders Anthony Spencer and Jay Ratliff stay healthy, Dallas may have something in their first year under new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin and his ''Tampa 2'' 4-3 alignment.
Or, the Cowboys may still not be able to stop the run well enough to keep opponents off the field which could mean early and possibly multiple-score deficits. This could easily create the formula for plenty of stats for the new offensive players who make up the bulk of the 2013 NFL draft for Dallas.
While there was some talent chosen on the defensive side of the ball, don't expect a whole lot from these rookies in 2013. They were chosen much later than the offensive guys and we're not exactly looking at the second coming of ''Doomsday'' upfront—at least I don't think so.
The selection of Wisconsin center Travis Frederick was disappointing for many Dallas fans, but it wasn't as bad a call as it may have seemed at the time. Center is a position that has been poorly manned in Dallas for many years going back to the days of Andre Gurode, who has to hold the unofficial record for snaps either over the quarterback's head or simply past his signal-caller.
Frederick represents a smart decision that has the phrase ''we had to do it'' clearly legible.
Did the Cowboys have to make that decision at the time they did?
But Frederick is a much smarter player than fans realize, and that intelligence will be tested immediately. Yes, his scouting combine and pro day workouts certainly hurt his draft stock, but let's remember that centers are not sprinters or standout athletes.
If the Cowboys have chosen the second-coming of Mark Stepnoski, then the results will be impressive.
But what's impressive for a center?
Let's start with running the football.
The Cowboys rushed for an embarrassing 1,265 yards in 2012. Adding to that embarrassment is that without rushing for 227 yards against eventual world champion Baltimore in October, that total could be much lower. Realize that the Ravens had never given up that many yards on the ground since becoming a franchise in 1996.
By comparison, Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith had more yards rushing by himself in seven of his 15 seasons in the NFL than Dallas had as a team last year.
Frederick has to help that total increase right away—but he can't block for numerous positions mind you.
Rushing yards: 1,400
Rushing touchdowns: 7
Average yards per carry: 3.8
If history ends up reflecting a poor draft for the Cowboys in 2013, the second round will likely be the turning point.
It doesn't really matter how good San Diego State tight end Gavin Escobar might be in the future. The reality is that Dallas already has a Pro bowl tight end in Jason Witten and also has 2012 sixth-round selection James Hanna, a definite pass-catching tight end who is ready to make a greater contribution in the Dallas offense next season.
Escobar is 6'6'' and weighs over 250 pounds—and he doesn't run well or block particularly well, especially in the running game. Yet head coach Jason Garrett, about to enjoy another season of on-the-job training in Big D, was smiling and handing out high-fives after this selection.
That reaction alone should have gotten him fired again.
On the bright side, Escobar catches the football very well, and he'll certainly bring another easy-to-find target for quarterback Tony Romo. This is not a bad thing since Romo will probably have to find guys pretty quick again.
SportsdayDFW.com quoted Escobar after the draft with the following:
I think the best part about my game is definitely my pass catching ability. I’ll catch everything, so the way that you can use me, you can move me around a lot. I can have my hand down in the dirt, you can move me out in the slot, I can be in the backfield. I’ve done it all in college and I’m ready to do it now.
Well, he won't catch everything because Witten will be doing most of that.
And ask previous second-round tight end selections Anthony Fasano ('06) and immature Martellus Bennett ('08) how many passes are actually headed towards Escobar in 2013.
Clearly the Cowboys want to copy the New England Patriots offense, which includes volatile tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez—it's not like Garrett brings any originality to the Dallas offense, right?
So now it falls on Romo with what seems like limited improvements to the offensive line and possibly a move to a no-huddle oriented attack.
But there is obviously no clear intention of running the ball with contending conviction.
Yards receiving: 425
Touchdown receptions: 4
The wide receiver position was a greater concern than some realized, especially when considering the depth chart and also those horrible hamstrings and questionable hands of No. 2 wideout Miles Austin.
While the primary receiver in Dallas is unquestionably Dez Bryant, you just didn't have a whole lot where depth is concerned prior to the draft. Yes, Dwayne Harris has the potential to be the No. 3 wideout, but that's only potential and the third-year veteran out of East Carolina has all of 17 NFL receptions. Nobody else on the depth chart offers much to be excited about.
Well, those concerns are over.
Baylor wide receiver Terrance Williams should have never been available as late as the third round. But there he was, and the Cowboys now have arguably one of the most volatile wide receiver corps heading into next season.
Williams helped NFL 2012 Offensive Rookie of the Year Robert Griffin III become the second-overall selection in the 2012 NFL draft. In his final year catching passes from RGIII, Williams tallied 957 receiving yards on 59 receptions with 11 touchdowns.
More significantly, Williams was way better as a senior without RGIII while catching passes from Baylor quarterback Nick Florence. Last season Williams led the nation in receiving yards with 1,832 on 97 catches with 21 touchdowns.
Williams will probably make the most significant impact of the entire Dallas draft class this offseason. He's easily the top candidate for the No. 3 wide receiver slot and could quite possibly end up the No. 2 receiver for the Cowboys within the next two seasons.
Because the Cowboys probably won't run the ball much better next season than they ever have under Garrett's offensive influence, expect a big year from Williams. Factor in the reasonable likelihood that Austin misses a game or two and it's safe to say that Williams, a polished route-runner, will get plenty of passes thrown his way. At 6'2'' and running a sub-4.5 40-yard dash, he's a matchup problem no matter where he lines up.
Bryant, the No. 1 receiver, shouldn't have to worry about his job though.
Yards receiving: 550
Touchdown receptions: 7
Dallas finally addressed the defense following its third selection in Round 3. The Cowboys, with their second pick that same round, went with Georgia Southern safety J.J. Wilcox.
I'm not a big fan of this selection, but that's mostly based on the position rather than the player.
Wilcox is a tremendous athlete that brings some creative versatility—perhaps more than higher drafted safeties like Kenny Vaccaro of Texas or Eric Reid of LSU.
Likely a short-term drawback towards Wilcox impacting the Dallas defense is his lack of experience. He only played a single season of defense as he was a wide receiver his first three seasons with the Eagles.
But another area to pay close attention to concerning Wilcox is special teams. He averaged 25.2 yards per kickoff return last season, and his 40-yard dash time of 4.57 at the scouting combine gives him just enough to speed to possibly give Dallas a new weapon. Wilcox could be used on either punts or kicks as a rookie.
NFL.com's Mike Mayock offers the following assessment of this Dallas selection:
I love J.J. Wilcox. The Cowboys needed a safety. He'll compete for the starting job, and ultimately he is a starting safety.
But which safety—free or strong?
I'm guessing free safety is the future for Wilcox—but we might have to wait until 2014 to see this happen.
Kick Returns: 40
Kick Return Yards: 950
Kick Return Touchdowns: 1
It's hard to imagine the Cowboys making it through a draft without taking another cornerback. Absent the complete bypassing of anything in the trenches on defense, the fourth-round selection of William & Mary cornerback B.W. Webb doesn't make a lot of sense to me.
However, it looks like Dallas at least got a good football player here—even if Webb and other defensive backs end up chasing running backs more often than they do picking off passes.
Webb is a tenacious and strong cornerback that probably lacks a little in height and speed for the next level. At 5'10'' and 184 pounds, I can't say for sure that he's ever a starting cornerback in the NFL, but he does have lots of upside.
I'm thinking of a niche for Webb similar to that of Kenneth Gant back in the 1990s.
Webb was highly active during his four years prowling the Tribe secondary. As a redshirt freshman in 2009, he chalked up eight interceptions and would finish his collegiate career with a total of 11. After his alarming performance in '09, opponents clearly stopped throwing his way nearly as much.
But Webb also brings potential as a punt returner as he brought a kick back 91 yards for a score against Delaware last season. Webb was considered dangerous enough that opponents began to kick the ball away from him to avoid catastrophe.
Webb is an interesting player that could have probably been selected earlier if not for the fact that he played for a small school.
Dallas has starting corners Brandon Carr, 2012 first-round pick Morris Claiborne and Orlando Scandrick. We might not see Webb in a key role on defense right away, but he'll almost certainly be involved in nickel and dime packages, provided the Cowboys can create a few of those.
Whether it's on defense or special teams, Webb could very well make the biggest game-by-game impact of the entire defensive draft class.
Passes Broken Up: 6
Punt Returns: 35
Punt Return Yards: 350
Punt Return Touchdowns: 1
Since the Cowboys were so intent on addressing an offense that was already pretty good at moving the football, it might have been a good idea to draft a running back earlier. They ended up with a good ball-carrier, but I'm not sure that Oklahoma State tailback Joseph Randle is the guy I would have gone with.
Randle comes from a high-powered offense with the Cowboys and certainly has talent. But is Randle a complete back in the NFL?
I don't know about that.
It's pointed out previously that Escobar was the 47th player selected in the second round. The player taken right after was Michigan State tailback Le'Veon Bell, the back that I had mocked to Dallas a couple of times.
This could hurt later on.
Randle provides little to anything in terms of power, which is not to say that Dallas needed to draft the biggest back they could find. But the Cowboys needed to be looking for a long-term future at running back, and I don't care that passing is heavily marketed towards NFL fans these days. This selection should have partially addressed red-zone scoring, which I don't believe it did.
Incumbent starter DeMarco Murray, another college product from the state of Oklahoma, hasn't proven that he can stay healthy though an entire 16-game schedule. Murray's contract is up following the 2014 season.
Randle is another back who's taller than the average running back at 6'0'' and also brings a slimmer frame weighing just over 200 pounds. His 4.63 second 40-yards dash at the scouting combine doesn't exactly show the breakaway speed that Murray has when healthy. The former Sooner was two-tenths of a second faster at the scouting combine in 2011.
For a franchise that has boasted the likes of Tony Dorsett, Herschel Walker and Emmitt Smith over the last 30-plus years, Dallas has a recent, yet lengthy, run of less-than-stellar runners that don't generally hang around too long.
Compare those names above to the likes of Troy Hambrick, Julius Jones, Marion Barber and Felix Jones. There's a single 1,000-yard rushing season between each of those guys.
Murray hasn't crossed 1,000 yards either.
Nothing tells me that Randle will change that pattern—neither does Murray for that matter.
Randle's college production is not questioned.
But rivaling that production in the NFL is a big question.
Rushing Attempts: 145
Rushing Yards: 580
Rushing Touchdowns: 4
Receiving Yards: 160
Receiving Touchdowns: 2
With the recent announcement that 2012 fourth-round pick Kyle Wilber will be moving to defensive end from outside linebacker this season, the strongside linebacker position was again looking rather thin.
This highly ill-advised decision could open the door for South Carolina linebacker DeVonte Holloman, a 6'4'' and 243-pound former safety—yes, safety.
Just last season Holloman moved closer to the line of scrimmage and certainly didn't disappoint in compiling 55 tackles, eight for a loss, a couple of sacks and three interceptions.
Holloman actually has the frame to get bigger, and wherever he ends up playing, there's a pretty good chance that sooner than later he'll be included amongst Dallas' other starting linebackers Sean Lee and Bruce Carter.
Until then, Holloman will probably see plenty of special teams play as his athleticism could allow Kiffin to get creative. The Gamecocks have become more and more known for defensive talent in recent years and Holloman could be the latest to emerge in the NFL.
While the new 4-3 alignment won't hand out sacks to linebackers like the trashed 3-4 did, Holloman is a guy that can frequently be sent on blitzes with the expectation that he'll make it to the quarterback.
I can't quite project Holloman as a starter based on the presence of veterans like Ernie Sims and Justin Durant, but I believe he'll see some action as a rookie even in the event he doesn't land a starting job in 2013.
Tackles For Loss: 2
Forced Fumbles: 2