Cowboys mailbag: Big board feedback

I didn’t mean to go so long between mailbags, but it happened.  So, rather than cry about it, let’s get down to business.

Last Thursday, I put out an experimental big board of the first 7 batches of positional breakdowns I had for next month’s draft.  I am not sure it was a great idea, because I am still building a case for many of these players and trying to continue to study players who are so close to each other in quality.  Of course, the more you study further game film – I try to look at 3-4 games (about 200 snaps) of each player, but then it expands to 5-7 games (about 350-400 snaps) with further study – the more differently you may feel about the player.  This leads to morphing your opinion a bit and then that can lead to a conflict between where he appears on your board and where you were on him when you wrote his profile back in February or March.

This is a constantly evolving process, but if there was one thing missing in past years from my preparation for the draft, it was recording how I felt as the process went along.  But, this year, I have a jumbo notebook that is jam-packed, and then I am trying to get as much of it on paper as possible.

So, if you have not seen the big board, please take a look at it by clicking here.  I plan on moving these around further as we go, but I wanted to construct my very first board as a starting point.

And, here is a reminder from the entry: My goal is to put a board together that is ranked and written from a "hypothetical Dallas Cowboys perspective". Therefore, players will be credited for being players of interest for the Cowboys and debited for not being fits. However, this is based almost completely on my feelings and homework about the players – not the Cowboys scouts or personnel department. I am not reporting sources telling me who they like. Rather, I am placing my work against what I believe the Cowboys need.

And that, of course, means that I am not simply ranking players based on the "this guy is better than this guy" rationale, but also adding in plenty of slanted view from the perspective of the Cowboys.  I can’t stress that enough.  Also, since it was missed a bit, this is only the positions that have been completed – I have looked at the 7 most likely position groups for the Top 2 picks for Dallas: QB, T, G, DE, DT, LB, S and have ranked the top 40 prospects accordingly.

Ok.  So, now that you have looked at my board and now that you understand the logic, let’s go back to some of the feedback from you the reader – otherwise known as our email bag.

Here is the first one:

the ranking of Su’a Filo doesn’t seem to reflect what you wrote in your guard breakdown. Did something push him up? – @CoreyGrodner

And this one which is similar about the same basic issue:

you’re really against the grain on Yankey. I’m on board with Mettenberger. Am I the only guy that wants Chris Borland? – @geopaschall

The basic idea is that on my rankings, I really had some guards I liked a ton and they both would fit with what the Cowboys are attempting to build.  The two guards at the very top of the list were both featured back in Episode 9 when we broke down that position in depth.  David Yankey from Stanford and Xavier Sua-Filo from UCLA.

Both players look like the types of players that I would see as first round talents and reasonable picks in the middle to bottom half of round 1.

Upon first look, I absolutely ranked Yankey higher for what likely is my #1 reason to do so for an interior blocker – that he seems much less likely to get bullied back into the QB like certain light-in-the-cleats guards and centers we have know in the past (Costa, Arkin).  I think it is vital that a man in the middle of your line can stand his ground against defensive tackles and inside linebackers as a top priority.

However, I do realize that my grading system might need some updating, because of the way the sport is changing which as far as guards and centers go, it seems to value mobility over brute strength on a very high level.  And, after talking to some people, I did adjust here for the reason that I am not the Cowboys GM (Oh to be!) and thought I should have a list that tries to think like they do.

My personal sensibilities value Yankey over Sua-Filo, but when you look at the combine athleticism tests, Sua Filo wins the 40 yard dash (5.04 to 5.52), the 20-yard shuttle (4.44 to 4.90) and the 3 cone drill (7.60 to 7.84) over Yankey each time.  Sua-Filo grades more athletic in his movement skills on every test and if that is what Bill Callahan, Jason Garrett, and frankly, most offensive linemen in the NFL who believe in the zone blocking offensive line that values feet over muscles, then I better adjust my thinking accordingly.

By the way, Yankey as a 1st Rounder seems like a long-shot for most people.  He has not been graded well by most observers, but I am standing pat.  I like the player and even if he does slide, check back in a few seasons and let’s see who was wrong.  I think he will be a stud guard in the NFL.

To continue George’s queries about Mettenberg and Borland, I would argue that Mettenberg is one of the more controversial studies in this draft, but if I need a stand in the pocket and look to fire the ball downfield, it would be the LSU kid very highly.

Borland is a player I really have liked over the years at Wisconsin, but I will confess that I question quite a few things about his game, not limited to merely his 40-time, his health, and his size.  He can really play, but you do wonder if he is a player who has a hard time making the transition to the NFL where the players around him are the best in the world.  He was exceptional in the Big 10, and I have heard the many comparisons to other white linebackers, but we better be careful when we play that game.  For every one or two who make it big on Sundays, there are dozens that don’t who never get mentioned in the conversation.

Question 1: Why is Jackson Jeffcoat in your top 40 when Trent Murphy is not? Isn’t the ideal 4-3 DE someone with strength and speed and who develops into the prototypical 6’4"-6’6" 275 player? Murphy had much better career production, was healthy, and his 6’5" frame appears like it can develop into the height/weight prototype much like Jared Allen did. Jackson is 2" shorter, has a slighter frame that may struggle to every clear the 260lbs, and has injury history. My impression only, and I have to admit that I read about the Jared Allen comparison before I looked it up, but they seems very similar other than Murphy having a bigger frame and Jackson being hurt. I also keep reading about Ware being smaller than ideal as a reason for his body breaking down. 

Quesiton 2: Is health/injury why the DT Easley out of Florida doesn’t make the top 40? MARK HENKES

Thanks, Mark.  Two excellent topics.  Jackson Jeffcoat versus Trent Murphy is a great place to start, and I will confess that at that point in the list, I did not spend too much time on this exercise until now.

There is no question that Trent Murphy is a better player and I think will have a better career.  Trent Murphy is a dynamic playmaker who is sliding in this draft for what he can’t do, but man, those things he can do seem really special.  Jeffcoat is the ultimate tweener, as even at Texas, they could not decide how best to use him because of his size.  They both can get after the QB, but truth told, Murphy can do more than that at a higher level than Jeffcoat.

So, why did I put Jeffcoat in the Top 40 and not Murphy?  Purely scheme.  I have never seen Murphy as a 4-3 player and therefore would not take him if I am Dallas.  They both weighed around 250 at the combine, so the guesswork is tricky.  But, Jeffcoat worked out with the DL and Murphy with the LB.  I should not be influenced by that, but I was.  I see Murphy as a LB and under that scenario, he better go to a 3-4 team to stay out of running with RBs too much.  Whereas I saw Jeffcoat as more of a 3rd Down pass rush specialist, like Victor Butler was here for a while.

Let’s be honest, neither of them check off the boxes for a 4-3 from where I sit.  If you were to tell me, Mark, that your plan (as Rod Marinelli for a day) is to take Murphy as a 4-3, beef him up to 270 and treat his rookie season as a bit of a redshirt, I will show interest in this idea.  He is the better football player, I just can’t see how he scheme fits for me.

Now, later this month, I am going to do a week where I cover nothing but players who fell through the cracks of my positional breakdowns due to early ranking discrepancies before the Combine and the spring season.  Injured players certainly apply here and my list so far will include the following players:

Dominique Easley, DT, Florida
Chris Borland, LB, Wisconsin
Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia
Marcus Smith, DE, Louisville
Joel Bitonio, T, Nevada

So, to answer your question, I simply didn’t get to Easley because there were too many mixed opinions.  But, now I concede that he belongs in the top 50 players for sure.

I like it. One thing I would say, Ive started to come around as Barr being a WDE. Let him pin ears back and go. Just a thought. – @landonmccool

This is what I enjoy about the draft.  Creativity!  Teams and people can look at the same prospect and see a different future vision of what that might mean.  Now, this is risky business if the investment is high up near the top of the draft, so you don’t want to get too crazy.  But, Anthony Barr, another UCLA product, is certainly a player that people love to dream about.  Part of that is a result of his career path that had him at RB until I believe 2012.  Think about that for a minute.  Now, in his profile, I spent lots of time on this type of discussion on this very topic:

Here is what I wrote:

He looks like a defensive end in a 4-3 to me, but I am projecting that he would put more weight and strength on his frame, because if I put him there now, it is going to be ugly against the run. But, man, you talk about a guy that a team rich in assets might want to mold and develop, you would start with anyone who made that many plays in a major conference just moments after he learned how to play defense. That is 74 explosive plays in about 25 games for an absurd 3 negative plays per game! He is on the ground a lot. He lacks enough strength to excel right away, and I just don’t know where I could put him in Dallas because he doesn’t look like a 4-3 LB in any way, but I can’t ask him to play DE full time – which is what the Cowboys need any 1st round pick to do.

So, as you can see, I had Barr downgraded, but I also saw the 4-3 Weakside defensive end as an option for him – basically, Anthony Spencer’s spot.  He just needs time.   I know my friend, Bryan Broaddus likes Barr as a SAM linebacker, which is less interesting to me, but Broaddus obviously knows his stuff.


Beyond that, there was plenty of feedback about Kony Ealy – who many of you thought I ranked too highly – and I will just say again that as far as 4-3 defensive ends who fit my prototype, he is about at the top of the list after Clowney.

Also, Scott Crichton is one that many of you have also discovered and like quite a bit.  I imagine DE is a place they will look to address, and if they can bag either of those in this draft, you should be pretty excited.  In fact, Crichton versus Ealy is a debate worth having if you want to go that way at #16.

Today and over the weekend I have been looking at the dozen or so Wide Receivers who could fit in the Top 2 rounds, and needless to say, once I get through that supply and the corners, the Top 40 will easily grow to Top 60, and we will have a new list to debate at the end of April.

Keep the emails, tweets, and feedback coming.