The key to having a good draft is getting good value for each pick. The key to finding good value is drafting a player who is (a) a good football player, (b) a scheme fit and (c) being picked later in the draft than his talent would indicate.
Great football players drop in the draft because they have a trait that may scare teams.
For example, Vontaze Burfict went undrafted because there was a myriad of character and effort concerns despite the fact that he was a very good football player on the field.
Another example is when Russell Wilson wasn't drafted until the third round because many believed he wasn't tall enough to make it in the NFL as a quarterback, even though he showed he could compensate for his lack of height in many other ways.
There are numerous other examples of players falling because of character concerns and measurables. A vital part in finding value in the draft is finding players who do not fit the physical prototype, but the players' strengths allow the team to compromise in those areas.
For example, if a cornerback is short, does he have elite quickness that can make up for that lack of height? Does he have elite instincts to anticipate route combinations and make plays? If a player has both those traits, then his height shouldn't be much of a worry.
If the Dallas Cowboys can find these prospects and discern whether their scheme accentuates their strengths and can help hide their weakness, then there is real value to be had.
Florida State's Lamarcus Joyner is a prospect who has experience playing safety and cornerback. During his 2011 and 2012 campaigns, Joyner started 27 consecutive games at safety before moving to cornerback in 2013. Joyner's flexibility gives him great value to whichever team drafts him.
Joyner is often compared to Tyrann Mathieu because of his stature and flexibility to play both safety and cornerback. However, Mathieu had much better short-area quickness and the ability to change direction as evidenced by the fact that his three-cone drill time was almost four-tenths of a second faster than Joyner's. Mathieu's ability to have great short-area quickness helped launch him to the No. 3-ranked cornerback in Bleacher Report's NFL 1000 series.
While Mathieu's agility and quickness led to him becoming an elite slot cornerback, Joyner's strength and explosion make him a great free safety prospect. This doesn't mean Joyner couldn't move down to the slot if need be; it just means his athleticism better suits itself for free safety.
Joyner is ultra-aggressive, and that gets him in trouble from time to time, but it also allows him to make plays not a lot of players can. That is something the Cowboys sorely missed in recent seasons: not having a playmaking free safety.
Now why would a prospect like Joyner, who plays like a mid- to late first-round pick, be projected to go as a late second- to mid-third-round pick?
With the NFL teams looking to emulate the big, long secondary of the Seattle Seahawks, Joyner comes in on the opposite side of the spectrum. Joyner measures in at 5'8" and 194 pounds.
While the Cowboys already have a great slot corner in Orlando Scandrick, they are in desperate need of a playmaking free safety.
If Joyner is available in the third round, he would be a great value pickup for the Cowboys.
Coming into April, Clemson's Brandon Thomas was riding high. His stock was steadily improving, and he was projected to be a late first-, early second-round pick. That was before Thomas went to work out for the New Orleans Saints on April 8. During the workout, Thomas tore his ACL, and his draft stock has plummeted.
Before his injury, Thomas was a great prospect who had the versatility to play either guard or tackle. The Sideline Review's Lance Zierlein believes Thomas would benefit from a move inside:
The very first thing that jumps off the field at me is the NFL-caliber power in Thomas' hands and his punch. You can see defenders jarred when Thomas really gets into them and he has the strength in his hands to lock DEs up when he gets a good grip on them. Because of his height (6'3) and lack of length, he will likely need to move inside to guard.
Thomas has the position flex that the Cowboys love. The benefit of having a player with the ability to play guard or tackle is that the Cowboys would be able to carry fewer offensive linemen on game day, allowing them to go heavy at another position. Thomas is sort of a poor man's Zack Martin when it comes to his ability to play guard and tackle.
G/T Brandon Thomas (Clemson) had his ACL surgery today. Went well. Expected to be able to practice in season by some time in October.— Adam Caplan (@caplannfl) April 23, 2014
Thomas obviously won't be able to play most of this season. He will most likely be placed on the PUP list and then injured reserve by any team that drafts him. Therefore, any team that drafts him know he will likely "redshirt" the 2014 season.
However, the fact that the Cowboys could get a player with first-round talent in the sixth or seventh round is the true meaning of value. Picking Thomas is a low-risk, high-reward opportunity that could help bring the Cowboys' offensive line unit to an elite level once he is healthy.
Arizona State's Will Sutton was a true force at defensive tackle for the Sun Devils in 2012. Sutton dominated his competition by registering 13 sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss, according to sports-reference.com. Sutton displayed a quick burst, very active hands and great acceleration, which had many thinking of him as a potential first-round pick.
However, Sutton was asked to gain weight for some reason. He went from close to 280 pounds to reportedly 307 pounds in 2013. This weight gain severely diminished Sutton's play. In 2013, Sutton registered just four sacks to go along with 13.5 tackles for loss, according to sports-reference.com. Sutton looked much slower, and his endurance was much worse in 2013.
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This has led to Sutton's plummeting draft stock. He is no longer viewed as a potential first-round pick but more of a second- to fourth-round pick.
However, Sutton has begun to lose that excess weight in attempt to get back the quickness he had in 2012.
Will Sutton elected to weigh in at Marion Grice’s pro day today. 295 lbs.— Josh Norris (@JoshNorris) April 8, 2014
This gives many hope that Sutton can return to his dominant 2012 form.
Here is an example of what Sutton can do when he is at his optimal weight (5:12 black circle):
Sutton begins the play lined up at the 3-technique position. Sutton comes out of his stance as the ball is snapped and takes one subtle step to his right to set up the guard. Sutton then takes a sideways step to his left while swiping the guard's arms away, which gets the guard totally out of position. Sutton then accelerates and gets a hard-hitting sack on the quarterback. This play shows the biggest way that Sutton wins: great hands usage.
These types of plays are littered throughout Sutton's 2012 tape and very sparse in his 2013 tape.
Sutton fits in well in the Cowboys 4-3 defense as a 3-technique. The job of 3-technique in the Cowboys' scheme is to penetrate through the gap and wreak havoc in the backfield, something Sutton is very used to doing. Sutton has that "quick twitch" that Rod Marinelli is looking for.
If the Cowboys can get Sutton in the third or fourth round with hopes he is back to his old self, he will be a great value for the Cowboys. With the Cowboys planning on using their defensive linemen in waves, Sutton would get a lot of playing time in the base defense. However, Sutton's true value would come when they could put him alongside Henry Melton in the nickel defense and allow both to rush the passer and wreak havoc.
The University of Florida's Dominique Easley is one of the most talented players in the NFL draft. However, a torn ACL in September has dropped his draft stock from potentially top 10 to a second-round grade. Easley has torn his ACL in both knees, and it has led some to wonder about whether his knees will hold up in the NFL.
I recently wrote an article about how great Easley was when he was on the field (5:14):
Skip to 5:14
In this play, Easley is lined up at the 3-technique position. When the ball is snapped, Easley shows his elite burst off the line of scrimmage. While Easley is shooting into the A-gap, he flashes in front of the center. Because of the great get-off Easley had, the center does not have time to recover and can only resort to holding Easley. Despite being held, Easley still has the strength and power to get to the quarterback with the center still hanging on him.
Easley has elite quickness and hand usage, and he has the best initial burst out of any defensive lineman in this draft class.
Some see Easley as a better prospect than Aaron Donald based solely on tape:
Dominique Easley has just passed Aaron Donald as my highest graded interior lineman based on tape only at this point. .— Ryan Riddle (@Ryan_Riddle) March 24, 2014
Easley would fit in perfectly as a 3-technique in Marinelli's scheme. He would be able to utilize his great burst and versatility better than most coaches. Some think Easley could even play defensive end in a 4-3:
I think Easley's best position in NFL is at end. Won't be ready to play until June after tearing ACL. Moved well in pos drills at pro day.— Gil Brandt (@Gil_Brandt) April 21, 2014
This would give him added value to the Cowboys because they wouldn't have to take Henry Melton out to give Easley more playing time. Easley would be a great fit as a 3-technique who sometimes plays end but then plays alongside Melton at defensive tackle in the nickel.
If the Cowboys pick Easley in the second round, then getting a top-10-type talent like him is the epitome of value.