Biggest Questions Dallas Cowboys Must Answer During Draft Week
The Dallas Cowboys have a number of big questions they need to answer before heading into the 2014 NFL draft. With a lot of holes and a limited number of early picks that can be spent on true difference-makers, the main thing the Cowboys need to do is prioritize what they want. Which positions are most vital and which prospects are true options, especially in the first round?
Another task they’ll need to accomplish is running through different scenarios to make sure they’re prepared for everything. That might have helped last year when they were unsure if they should draft Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd.
With that said, let’s take a look at five more questions the Cowboys need to answer during draft week.
1. What Are We Willing to Give Up to Trade Up in the 1st Round?
There are two very real scenarios in which we could see Dallas move up in the first round: if UCLA outside linebacker Anthony Barr or Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald fall out of the top 10. They’re such obvious talents at positions of huge need that it could make sense for Dallas to trade up (just a few spots).
The reason the Cowboys can’t move up more than a handful of spots is that they aren’t really in a position to give up their second-round pick. There’s no way they could get into the top 10 without that as ammunition. Giving up a third or, preferably, a fourth and a couple of late-rounders would be ideal.
2. Is There Any Way That We’ll Draft a Quarterback Early?
There’s almost no chance that Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel will be available at pick No. 16. But what if he is?
Owner Jerry Jones is reportedly enamored with Manziel, according to the New York Daily News. There’s a lot to like. The most important thing is that Manziel was super-productive in college. He threw for 7,806 yards and 63 touchdowns in two years, averaging 9.1 yards per attempt. Manziel also ran for 2,162 yards and 30 scores.
Ah, but he’s too short. Think again. As I showed at Rotoworld last week, hand size matters more for quarterbacks than height. With 9.875” hands, Manziel will be fine (and accurate) in the NFL; his 68.9 percent completion rate at A&M is more evidence of that.
So should Dallas consider Manziel if he falls? Absolutely. This is an elite quarterback option who shouldn’t get out of the top three picks. If you need to sit him for a few years behind Tony Romo, then so be it.
3. Do We Need an Upgrade at Wide Receiver?
The Cowboys would be wise to upgrade the wide receiver position—not because Terrance Williams is a weakness as the No. 2 option, but because Cole Beasley is a problem as the No. 3. He doesn’t get up the field and can’t consistently score, which is a bad combination. By drafting a wide receiver early, the Cowboys could potentially move Williams into the slot (and Beasley out of the top three) for a wide receiver trio that would legitimately scare defenses.
But does Dallas feel the same? There are a number of potential No. 1-type receivers who could be available in the second round—Penn State’s Allen Robinson, Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews and Fresno State’s Davante Adams—and the ‘Boys should strongly consider that sort of talent in that range.
4. Which Late-Round Running Back Has the Highest Upside?
Joseph Randle isn’t the heir apparent to DeMarco Murray, who could be out of Dallas as soon as next season. The Cowboys need to address the position, but they don’t need to do it early in the draft. At a position as dependent as running back—meaning production isn’t influenced by skill as strongly as at other positions—it makes sense to minimize the cost.
A late-round running back can contribute right away, and if he’s from a small school, that’s even better.
Georgia Southern’s Jerick McKinnon fits the bill. At 5’9”, 209 pounds, McKinnon has run as fast as 4.37 in the 40-yard dash while jumping 40.5 inches vertically and 11’0” in the broad, via CBSSports.com. Those are elite numbers. When the cost is low, teams should seek upside, and fewer backs have a higher ceiling than McKinnon.
5. Are We Going to Draft the True Best Player Available?
Every team seems to say that it drafts the true best player available, but that’s highly unlikely given the way the draft tends to unfold. We know that it’s not true for Dallas, as evidenced by the Floyd debacle in 2013.
It’s fun to say that all a team needs to do is draft the top player on its board, but there are a lot of problems with such a strategy. First, it ignores position scarcity. Does it really make sense to draft the top player when there’s one ranked just behind him who is also scarce and can’t be replaced in a later round (or in free agency)? Just as drafting the top position of need “no matter what” is shortsighted, so is a pure best-player-available strategy.
The truth is that a pure need strategy, although far from ideal, is actually better than a best-player-available strategy. With the need approach, teams are at least fairly certain what their main needs are and which are most pressing. But there’s all kinds of uncertainty in the draft; how does a team know that their best player available is really the best player available? They don’t.
The thing about the draft is that teams are competing with 31 other organizations trying to do the same thing in uncovering value.
When a player is ranked really high on your board but he’s still available, that’s awesome, but it probably means he’s an outlier in your rankings, and thus necessarily being overvalued. That alone isn’t a reason to not draft someone—all other things equal, drafting the top player available is good—but the problem is that “all other things” typically aren’t equal.
Those two ideas—position scarcity and the uncertainty inherent to any set of rankings—are why “best player available” is a rigid, suboptimal draft strategy. Ultimately, the Cowboys should weigh both their board and their needs; the larger the need, the more you can move down your board, and the higher a player on your board, the less he needs to play at a position of need.
In drafting that way, the 'Boys can create a natural buffer to account for the fact that their board isn't infallible.