Thursday, June 9, 2011

KD's NFL Draft Grades - Dallas Cowboys

Jerry Jones has never shied away from drafting poorly, and he's been stuck in a rut the last few years. The Cowboys have a lot of talent for a team that ended up picking in the top 10 of the Draft. Just look at the last few years picks outside of Dez Bryant, the 2009 class in particular. Losing Tony Romo to injury was the final nail in the coffin for the Cowboys in the 2010 season, and it prompted Jerry Jones to do something he'd not done since purchasing the team in 1989. He drafted an offensive lineman in the first round. It wasn't Florida C Mike Pouncey, who tweeted that he'd be surprised if he wasn't Dallas' pick at the 9th overall spot. That honor went to USC T Tyron Smith. Dallas added more pieces, but were they the right ones?

1st round, 9th overall) Tyron Smith - T - USC
The first tackle to come off the board lasted a while in 2011 as compared to other years. There wasn't an elite prospect like a Jake Long or Joe Thomas nor was their a pretty good prospect like Russell Okung or Trent Williams. This year's tackle class was deeper, but it's ceiling wasn't as high. Ironically, Smith is a natural right tackle despite having elite athleticism and several draft experts have said he might have a difficult time transitioning. A pair of former Oklahoma Sooners, Jammal Brown and Trent Williams, made the same move with minimal experience on the left side at the collegiate level.

How he fits in: The Cowboys O-line was a disaster last year. Alex Barron single-handedly cost them the season opener. Doug Free held his own on the left side, but with Marc Colombo's injury problems, Free might be better suited on the right side of the line. Or, they may insert Smith at his natural right side spot and groom him slowly to take over the left side down the line, as the Ravens did with Michael Oher (though Oher was a left tackle at Ole Miss).

Outlook: Smith is very athletic and was even a bit undersized at USC. In the pre-draft process he put on some weight and got himself to 6'5" 307lbs, which is big for him. He also has amazingly long arms at nearly 37 inches, which will help keep bigger defenders from getting their hands inside on him. Smith is a nice pass-blocker, but due to Matt Kalil's presence at USC, Smith rarely faced the best pass-rusher on the opposition. He'll certainly earn his lumps at the NFL level at the beginning, but he should be a solid starter at either tackle spot for a long time in the NFL.

2nd round, 40th overall) Bruce Carter - LB - North Carolina
Jerry Jones has a fettish with drafting 'tweener linebacker propsects. Brandon Williams, Sean Lee, and Victor Butler have all been drafted recently, though all three were probably best suited for a 4-3 defense. Bruce Carter was the best of the 'tweener types this year. At 6'1" 241lbs and DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer entrenched as starters, Carter will have to make his hay in the middle. Keith Brooking's best days are long behind him, and the Cowboys really like Sean Lee to take over next to Bradie James, that is unless Carter can beat him out. Carter is recovering from a torn ACL he suffered in late November last year. His health will determine whether or not he's able to challenge Sean Lee for a starting spot. I'm still puzzled by this pick as Carter was certainly a better fit for a 4-3 defense.

3rd round, 71st overall) DeMarco Murray - RB - Oklahoma
Again, I'm not sure where Jerry Jones is going with this pick. Marion Barber is slowing down, Felix Jones isn't a quality starter, and Tashard Choice just isn't quite where he needs to be in order to be a starting running back. Murray, who is very similar to Jones in a lot of ways, is a solid runner and a terrific receiver out of the backfield who is great in space, but, he's very injury prone. I don't think he's got what it takes to be an every-down starter for Dallas, but if they can find a way to get him touches, he might be akin to what Leon Washington was to Thomas Jones when they were both with the Jets.

4th round, 110th overall) David Arkin - G - Missouri State
The Cowboys continued to try and upgrade their O-line here, and I like the pick. Left guard Kyle Kosier's been hurt and he's headed towards free agency. He's also on the wrong side of 30. Arkin plays with a nasty demeanor and has adequate size and feet to step in for Kosier at left guard. Despite coming from a small-school program, he's got ample experience and showed very well in the East-West Shrine game against better competition. He's also got experience as a tackle, so he could be a swingman in a pinch, but his true home at the NFL level will be at guard.

5th round, 143rd overall) Josh Thomas - CB - Buffalo
The Cowboys needed to upgrade their depth behind starters Terrence Newman and Mike Jenkins. Orlando Scandrick has played well, but the Cowboys have asked too much of him at times, and he and Jenkins are both prone to getting beat deep. Thomas profiles as a nickel back at 5'10" 191lbs, but he comes with plenty of experience having played in 47 games. He's not shy about mixing it up against the run having racked up 202 tackles. He's a guy whose best football is still ahead of him and he might be able to challenge for a starting spot in a few years.

6th round, 176th overall) Dwayne Harris - WR - East Carolina
Dallas has two outstanding threats on the outside in Miles Austin and Dez Bryant, but aside from Jason Witten, they don't really have anyone that is a threat between the numbers. Martellus Bennett has been a dissapointment, so Dallas tried to address a need here. Harris is a thickly built guy at 5'10" and 203lbs. He was extremely productive for the Pirates over the last two years catching 184 passes and 17 TDs. He cranked out an 1,100 yard effort as a senior. He's also seen some time at running back and is a pretty good blocker in space. He'll get an early crack at the 3rd wide receiver job, though I expect Dallas to bring in some competition via free agency.

7th round, 220th overall) Shaun Chapas - FB - Georgia
Chris Gronkowski's not as good as his brother in New England and the Cowboys brought in some competition at the fullback spot to try and revamp their running game. Chapas is a sizeable player at 6'2" 247lbs and was a 22 game starter and played in 49 total games in his career with the Bulldogs. He's a good straight ahead blocker and is big enough to stymie bigger linebackers at the NFL level. Chapas is a decent goaline reciever, but wasn't overly productive as a receiving threat. He'll have to show he can contribute on special teams to stick, but this is one training camp battle that will bring out the best in either Gronkowksi or Chapas for the Cowboys.

7th round, 252nd overall) Bill Nagy - C - Wisconsin
Purely a depth pick here. Nagy was a career backup for the Badgers, but earned a few starts as a senior, but most of which came as a TE in Wisconsin's jumbo package. He made a start against Indiana after Wisconsin's stud C Peter Konz (a name to keep an eye on next year) was injured. Nagy's got good size and has played guard and center. He's 6'3" 318lbs, but with only 11 career starts at a few different positions, he's a longshot to make the roster unless the Cowboys really start unloading some of the veterans they have along the O-line.

Overall Grade: C-
It's hard for me to discern what the Cowboys acutal draft strategy was. Clearly they intended to upgrade their offensive line, and I think they did a good job of doing that with Tyron Smith and David Arkin. Bruce Carter could become a nice player, but I think he's better suited for the 4-3 than the 3-4. The rest of their class just seems to be kind of scattered. DeMarco Murray just doesn't seem like a good fit as he's too similar to Felix Jones. Josh Thomas could prove to be a nice pick, but I think there were better options at CB out there on the board. They also didn't address their defensive line at all, and the Cowboys run defense wasn't very good last year. They've got a couple of free agents pending the new CBA, and the talent they have surrounding Jay Ratliff is marginal at best. I think Dallas accomplished their primary objective, which is nice, but the rest appears to me like they threw several darts at wall.

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