The NFL Scouting Combine is a great opportunity for the Dallas Cowboys to quantify what their scouts have watched on film over the past year. As much as people want to dismiss the combine's value, the truth is that it allows for a scientific approach to the draft.
Certain drills matter more for particular positions, of course, so it's important to understand which metrics are predictive of success for certain players. While you might not draft a player simply because he excels in a particular measurable, you can certainly eliminate prospects based on a poor showing; when a running back checks in slower than 4.60 seconds in the 40-yard dash, for example, it's a good indicator that his odds of NFL success are minimal.
As always, there's plenty of news surrounding America's team in Indianapolis this year. Let's take a deeper look at some of the latest combine happenings and Cowboys-related rumors.
Unless otherwise noted, all combine results are courtesy of NFL.com.
On Friday, Rainer Sabin of the Dallas Morning News reported that the Cowboys were going to use one of their 60 combine interviews on Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. It's highly unlikely that Manziel will be available for Dallas in the first round, however, and it's also improbable the Cowboys would draft him if he were there, so it's an interesting bit of news.
Manziel is an intriguing prospect because, while some will have concerns about his sub-6'0" height, his hands are very large for his size at 9.88 inches, per NFL Network. In general, short quarterbacks with large hands (Brett Favre, Drew Brees, Russell Wilson) have been undervalued.
The problem is that Manziel isn't going to come cheaply. He'll probably be a top-10 pick, meaning teams aren't getting any sort of discount on his height. Furthermore, his hands are large for his height, but they aren't nearly as large as the aforementioned passers (all over 10.25 inches).
Manziel might be a great NFL quarterback, but he's riskier than a player like Wilson, who was drafted in the third round.
At 6'2", 220 pounds, Penn State wide receiver Allen Robinson has elite size for an NFL wide receiver. At the combine, he checked in 10 pounds heavier than what he was listed in college, which is awesome.
In my combine preview, I mentioned that I'd like to see Robinson run a mediocre 40-yard dash. The reason is that size is much more important for wide receivers than straight-line speed, but teams "pay" for speed in the draft. If Robinson ran a really fast 40-yard dash, he probably wouldn't offer as much value.
Robinson ran an official 4.60 40-yard dash. That was one of the slower times for a wide receiver. It's not horrific for someone his size, but it still would have been nice to see him in the 4.50-4.55 range. Anything in that area wouldn't have shot him up boards in the same way as some of the big receivers who ran in the 4.4s.
However, there's good reason to think that Robinson still has plenty of explosiveness to excel in the NFL; his 10'7" broad jump was the third-bet among receivers. The broad jump and 40-yard dash are strongly correlated, so that suggests Robinson is more explosive than his 4.60-second performance suggests.
Robinson is an elite prospect who might drop into the second round, but he really shouldn't. If that happens, however, he should be on Dallas's radar.
Along with Robinson, Vanderbilt wide receiver Jordan Matthews was set to be one of the more undervalued players in this class. His 4.46-second 40-yard dash time is important, because it shows how perceived changes in value can affect draft slot (and thus actual value).
At 212 pounds, Matthews' 4.46 40-yard dash is good, but there's not a dramatic difference between that and the mark Robinson recorded at 220 pounds. Of course, you'd prefer the faster player, all other things considered, but since weight is more important than speed for wide receivers, you can often acquire value on big pass-catchers with moderate speed.
Will Robinson be a better player than Matthews? It's really difficult to tell. In my view, both players are going to offer value, but Robinson is more likely to be severely undervalued after his lackluster 40 time. The difference between the two prospects highlights the idea that teams need to understand perceived value and game theory in order to properly identify and exploit draft inefficiencies.
It's not directly combine-related, but the agent for defensive tackle Jason Hatcher and defensive end Anthony Spencer recently said the Cowboys have "indicated they want both of them back," per Todd Archer of ESPN Dallas.
The chances of the Cowboys signing both free agents are low, but it's not out of the question that they could bring one back to Dallas. Considering their age and projected salaries, however, that doesn't seem like a smart move.
The Cowboys have some serious deficiencies along the defensive line, but it's probable that they'll find at least one starter in the first couple rounds of this year's draft. Further, they have Tyrone Crawford returning in 2014, and he could potentially play any position along the line.
The Cowboys are probably just testing the waters here, so don't hold your breath waiting for a deal for either player.
Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald is an interesting prospect, because he's a potentially elite player in a class that's relatively weak along the defensive line, making him a very popular choice for Dallas in many mock drafts.
Per Tom Osborn of My San Antonio, Donald had this to say about the Cowboys at the combine on Saturday: "They like the three-technique to just get off and make plays. They like him to penetrate. I feel like I will fit that scheme great."
Donald's thoughts on playing in Dallas are irrelevant to his chances of getting drafted by the Cowboys, but he seems to be correct in his assessment; his skill set would be a perfect fit in the Cowboys' 4-3 defense.
Donald was unimaginably productive at Pitt, totaling 29.5 sacks and 66 tackles for loss during his career. The primary concern that will cause him to fall is that he has short 31.75-inch arms, but you can overlook that some when you see such incredible productivity.
Furthermore, the aforementioned article also reported that Donald was scheduled to formally meet with Dallas on Sunday.