Friday, January 29, 2016

1/29/16 - Cowboys Mailbag - DMN

Let's dive right in to your reactions, questions, concerns, and queries from another week of football.  Please be reminded that if you wish to read/review any of the many draft profiles already completed in this space, you may at the following link that is positioned right here.  
And now, to your Emails:
Q: Do you expect Dunbar to return to DAL next season? - Jon
A: You know, this is a good place to start this week, with this question and the next revolving around the free agent situations that face the team.  Unlike last year where the free agents that would hit the market were named Dez Bryant and DeMarco Murray at the top of the list, this squad might be the least stressful that the team faces here for a bit.  First, on the topic of Lance Dunbar. 
As is the case with anyone on the list, it should be noted that there are often 2 levels of free agent aspiration.  1) fair market value or 2) maximize every last dollar opportunity.  We are purely guessing what each player wants to do, but when healthy, Dunbar might be the type of guy who could get a pretty enticing offer.  However, to be fair, he really needed a great 2015 to make his value soar and when he was hurt in the 4th game of the season and lost for the year, that plan went out the window.  
The good news for him is that the Cowboys loved him.  And missed him.  And depending on who you ask, there is at least a moderate sized belief that if they would have had him, they could have survived the famine of offense much better this year - even with Dez and Romo hurt.  I am cynical there, but it sure didn't help the situation.  Let's be honest, the concept of Lance Dunbar is much more impactful to this point of his career than the reality of Lance Dunbar.  They have talked at length on making him a real weapon and their version of Reggie Bush/Darren Sproles and the real devastating wildcard that is too fast to defend underneath.  But, in 4 seasons, he has never had a season of more than 316 yards of total offense (2014).  That isn't much production to get excited about.  Yet, they still think he can be that guy.
Now, there are a million miles to travel in this offseason and there are ways to replace Lance Dunbar in the draft for sure, but I really do feel that they want to keep him and with his knee still on the mend, I am sure that can happen.  He needed a big year to maximize his deals and he got hurt, which means his best offers will be much smaller and his best chance will certainly be right in Dallas.  We should wait and see, but I think he will be here in 2016.
Q: Would you be willing to look at the free agent class to see who we are going to attempt to keep? - Rob in Sachse
Sure, Rob.  Let's look at the list.  
Morris Claiborne, CB - This one is tricky for sure.  My first inclination is that the Cowboys and Claiborne both want to go in a different direction.  But, they might also be close to the end with Brandon Carr and with Scandrick returning and year 2 of Byron Jones, they might be able to survive a complete overhaul with a drafting of a corner or two in the spring.  But, if you use picks on corners, they have to be near the top of the draft and then you are running to stand still with the roster upgrades.   It seems to me that you have to keep one or the other.  I am thinking they keep Carr - because it still costs a lot of dead money to cut him loose.  So, my first impression of the spring is that Claiborne is gone.  Like Mike Jenkins before him, they picked a corner in the first round and anticipated he would get a 2nd contract to lead the defense past his 30th birthday.  Then, when the time came, they really never wanted to even offer a deal for the 2nd contract.  Unlike Jenkins, they paid beyond premium prices to Claiborne.  This one is a pretty painful miss. 
Greg Hardy, DE - Confusing for sure, because his price has really dropped.  But, all signs say they are done.  We may never know the level of headaches that he presented everyone around him, but Jerry, Stephen, and Jason have all had a chance to say anything about their desire to keep him around and all 3 have passed.  I am not thinking they want Hardy back in their room.
MacKenzy Bernadeau, G - He was a very useful part around here and seemed like a solid pro.  But, they have finally pushed him out by acquiring so many young OL.  Last spring it was La'el Collins and Chaz Green.  I assume they will keep Ron Leary and let Bernadeau walk.  But, I am sure he can catch on somewhere because he was a nice utility player with his positional versatility on game day.
Rolando McClain - LB - I have mixed emotions on the run of Rolando McClain.  At times he was great, but in both years, it seems like as the season goes on, his effectiveness fizzles and he looks slower and less durable.  I would not say it is out of the question he returns, but it sure seems like they are ready to turn the page and either add a rookie stud in the draft or promote from within with the candidates they have taken in 2014 and 2015.  He teased, but the consistency just doesn't really seem possible.
Jeremy Mincey - DE - Good pro and I have no problem keeping him around.  But, it would be at a low rate and low snap count.  He is good depth to have around and he plays hard.
Matt Cassel - QB - Not bloody likely. 
Lance Dunbar - RB - See the answer above.  I expect him back.  
Kyle Wilber - LB - I have always felt I like Wilber more than the Cowboys do.  I assume he would also value from a change in scenery and maybe a 3-4 defense again (as he was drafted for).  He is solid depth, but maybe not above the minimum here.  
James Hanna - TE - Another player I think I like more than the Cowboys.  I never understood the Gavin Escobar pick because I never saw him do anything better than Hanna.  That said, he can now leave and while the Cowboys need a Tight End, I am not sure they will give him much of an offer.  I might be reading this wrong, but I assume this part of the 2012 draft is also gone.  
Jack Crawford - DE - Here is one that I think might be staying.  I think they really like Jack Crawford for their defensive rotation.  He can stay if he wants, I am sure.  Good motor and fine productivity when he gets a chance.  
Robert Turbin - RB - Here is a big not sure.  I like him, but there are a lot of things to consider at RB.  
Others that are now unrestricted, but I am not sure will be offered:  Danny McCray, Tyler Clutts, Charles Brown, and Josh Thomas.  I suppose all could get a 1-year minimum deal late in the spring.
In other words, the 2012 draft class is pretty much down to Tyrone Crawford as we head into 2016.  Not great. 

Part II of the mailbag right here, right now:
Q: Bob, if you could add 3 impact players in the 1st 3 rounds to give this team a shot in the arm...who would you add? - Rowdy
A: Rowdy, it is too early to have 3 rounds figured out. But, I am thinking I would want to grab my highest available QB at #4 in the 1st round. Wentz, Lynch, or Goff. It is time to take care of this as I try to keep Romo healthy for a few more years. Then, in the 2nd round, we have WR (Josh Doctson or Corey Coleman, maybe?) or DT or LB or perhaps even RB Derrick Henry from Alabama? In Round 3, there should still be a very nice option at pick #67. And there, I will be trying to grab another top player at one of those spots. This team should be able to get a very nice haul with their positioning and the strengths of this draft matching up with their shopping list. I will try to give you more specific names as I continue to work my way through this draft.
Q: How does a coach look at a (prospective) player differently than a scout? - Jack Burton
A: This is a good question and the reason I assume it is being asked was what I said earlier in the week on the DMN podcast "Ballzy."  Here it is "On how valuable the Senior Bowl will be for the Cowboys to determine if Carson Wentz is the right fit for the organization:"
"It depends who you ask. If you were to ask a coach they would say it's incredibly valuable. 'We get to basically ask him to do anything we want him to do over the course of an entire week.' Usually at a pro day, he'll be put through a workout, but as a team you're just kind of observing, and at the combine you'll get 15 minutes with him, but this is unprecedented to Carson Wentz that they don't have for Jared Goff and they won't have Paxton Lynch. You can bring the guy in for the personal team workouts, but this should be even better because you can put him on a field in 22-man drills, you can see him in a game carrying out your game plan. That's very very valuable. Now if you ask a scout, they'll recoil a little bit and say, 'Man, the worst thing that can happen sometimes is the coaches getting to meet some of these guys and suddenly thinking they're scouts.' "
I think scouts will tell you that they have a very rigid and exhaustive look at players through cold and calculating eyes.  Whereas a coach uses personal interaction, anecdotal data, and a much smaller collection of information to make their decisions.  Coaches are said to go on feel and scouts are said to have a real tested process.  Both sides will say their way is superior, by the way. But as to the question of how much benefit is there to having your coaches work with him, many will say it is big.  But, some scouts fear that coaches falling in love with Wentz will build a bias where they will not more fairly examine Goff or Lynch.  Tough to say for sure.
Q: If DeMarcus Ware plays another season, should we consider letting him go a mistake? Or is it already?
A:  Well, you are asking a DeMarcus Ware fan and someone who definitely has strong opinions about his body of work in Dallas.  I realize the breakup had to happen because it takes 2 to come to an agreement.  On one hand you want Ware only at the right price.  But, he sees himself as worth more.  Also, at the time, he might have been pretty bothered by the direction of the franchise, and going to play with a team that was coming off a Super Bowl seemed pretty appealing.  From the Cowboys standpoint, the idea of "not being able to afford" Ware and then turning around 12 months later and putting the same money on Greg Hardy is frustrating.
Basically, it seemed like it had to happen and the other element is that in Denver he did not need to be the #1 pass rusher anymore.  Instead of being constantly double and triple teamed, he would be the beneficiary of Von Miller being that guy.  He never had a book-end like Miller here and this has obviously made him a real stud again.  I am rooting for Ware, but I don't really think we can second guess his decision to try to go to a more advantageous situation rather than stay on a pay-cut.  
Q:  A couple weeks ago I didn't think there was anyone worth drafting in this upcoming draft. Now, thanks to the TV coverage -- and your Draft Profile Series -- there are some potential cornerstones out there at No. 4! Oddly, the build up for the draft is more exciting to me than the build up to the Super Bowl. Your thoughts? - Mark M
A:  Well, I find that this is a fantastic time of year to get to know the next wave of NFL superstars. I know some drafts are better than others, but you need not look further than the 2011 draft as to how quickly the NFL changes and how vital getting your drafts right truly are.  Look at the top 2 picks in 2011:  Cam Newton and Von Miller.  Then, Marcell Dareus, AJ Green, Patrick Peterson, Julio Jones, Tyron Smith, and JJ Watt are all in the Top 11 picks!  That was just 4 years ago.  The NFL is a sport that doesn't have much longevity - despite Brady and Manning and other exceptions - so the draft of a few years back can fill the league with guys who are running the league by the age of 25 or 26.
That means this current group - which I try to learn a new one each weekday until the draft - is another treasure chest of talent.  Some are household names now and some are not, but you can believe by 2018 or 2019, the teams that did well in this draft might just be the same teams getting ready to play in Super Bowl 54.  The wheels on the truck keep on turning.  And more specifically, the Cowboys should be able to find something really special at #4.  The real question is whether that player can be so good that you don't have to pick high again anytime soon.  Like the Panthers.  

Friday, January 22, 2016

1/22/16 - Cowboys Mailbag - DMN

This morning, let's answer some of your finest questions of the week!
Q: What do you think of getting Colt McCoy to back up Tony Romo? I think McCoy would have won 3-4 games and allow Romo to be completely healed before rushing back to play. -  Zeke 
Zeke, to me this is the move I would like to strongly consider if I want to look at a veteran free agent at the QB position to play backup.  Obviously, there are better QBs in free agency, led by the mysterious case of Denver's Brock Osweiler. I just don't see a scenario in which Denver let's him get out of there after all of the trouble taken in grooming him to replace Manning.  Then, there is Ryan Fitzpatrick, who we just saw last month play a pretty decent level of QB.  I assume his intention is to start.  There is also Sam Bradford and Robert Griffin on the market.  I imagine their price hopes and starting ambitions are still too high to take a QB2 job in Dallas.  Now, McCoy is in that next tier of QBs you would hope to take the job from Kellen Moore.  Colt McCoy, Chase Daniel, Matt Moore, or even former Scott Linehan backup Drew Stanton.  They are likely in the price range and in the spot of their careers where this could make some sense.  
As you know, I prefer we get serious about a QB at #4, so any of these moves might not fit my plan.  I am good with a QB up top in the draft and keeping Moore to be that bridge between draft day and when one of these young lads is ready to be Romo's backup.  That could be 2 weeks, 2 months, or 2 years.  
Q:  Say Dallas falls in love with Wentz but they don't think he's "worth" the #4 pick. Do they overdraft him to ensure they get the guy they want, or do they take the risk of trading down/waiting to see if they can get more players AND Wentz? - Matt Houston
Matt, if they "fall in love" with Wentz at the Senior Bowl and during the spring, then you take him at #4.  But, I suppose we all have different views on what "falling in love" means.  To me, it means you are convinced this could be your QB1 to open the 2026 season.  If you are working with a guy that you think could be your QB past his 30th birthday, then you don't screw around and risk losing him.  Quarterbacks are too hard to find.  Look at what Washington has gone through looking for a starting Quarterback since Mark Rypien.  He was the last time they had the same QB starting for them for 5 straight years.  1989-1993!  I am here to tell you that is not is what happens when you don't invest properly in QB.  Ask Detroit before Stafford.  Ask Chicago before Cutler.  Ask Jacksonville after Brunell or Tennessee after McNair.  Or Houston.  Ask Houston.  
The point is that if you think Wentz or Jared Goff or Paxton Lynch is "the dude", then you don't get cute.  you draft your QB and run for the hills.  I am not a big "trade down" guy.  I have seen that the team that gets the best player in a trade usually wins.  And that best player is found by going up, not moving back.  If you want a QB, trading up can blow up in your face.  But, trading down and hoping a QB of your dreams keeps falling so you can add another pick is dangerous and ill-advised.  
If I don't care which one I get, then I can start trading down.  If I don't think Wentz is all that great, then I risk it.  But, if they "fall in love" with the kid - think he can be a 23-year old version of Romo or better, then you take him at #4 and don't think twice.  
Q: Who would you say has been Jerry jones' biggest bust as a draft pick in his tenure with the Cowboys? - Stephen
The Cowboys have had some very disappointing draft picks since Jimmy Johnson has left town, so we have a few to choose from, don't we?  But, to the Cowboys great credit, they have hit home runs on just about all of their 1st rounders since 2010.  Dez Bryant, Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, Zach Martin and now Byron Jones all appear to be maximizing value in that top round.  Yes, JJ Watt for Tyron Smith would have been cool, but for the most part, there is little to 2nd guess about since 2010.  
Yet, likely the biggest disappointment of Jones' entire tenure - with all due respect to Bobby Carpenter, David LaFleur, and Shante Carver (A biggest bust cannot be a pick after the 1st round because the investment is quite a bit smaller.) - we need to look no further than Morris Claiborne.  Claiborne was a top pick at #6, yet besides never coming close to his hype actually required a pretty significant trade-up to get him.  It is one thing to pick a player that disappoints, but it is quite another to gamble other assets (in this case, the Cowboys paid their 1st and 2nd rounders) to get him and then he busts.  That was catastrophic and if it weren't for getting All-Pros in the 2010, 2011, 2013, and 2014 1st rounds, the trade would likely be talked about even more as the disaster that it was.  
It was said he was the best defensive player in the 2012 draft and perhaps the best prospect since Deion Sanders by the Cowboys brass.  Yet, in that 1st round, you find amazing difference makers on defense that would enhance any roster until 2020 - Luke Kuechly, Fletcher Cox, Dontari Poe, and Chandler Jones were all in that 1st round and if any of those players might have been the apple of the Cowboys' eye, you might argue that the trade was worth it.   Heck, Bruce Irvin, Melvin Ingram, Dont'a Hightower, Stephon Gilmore, and Whitney Mercilus were all in that 1st round, too.  Look at that list of defensive talent!  
So, Mo Claiborne is my vote for biggest bust for all of those many reasons.  I am not sure anything is that close when you consider all of that.
Q: What's the hardest part about evaluating college prospects in your expert opinion. - Hailey
Hailey, I will tell you that I am no scout or anything.  The only requirement to looking at prospects is time and the willingness to figure out what translates to the NFL and what doesn't.  But, I have seen that over the course of time, if you get to know these players well enough, it does seem pretty reasonable to often sniff out busts and fantastic players.  That said, like any experiment, it is probably important to try to keep track of how many players you get right or get wrong.  It is the most inexact science ever and there are many degrees of right and wrong.
If a guy is out of the league by 25 years old, then yes, he busted.  If he goes to the Hall of Fame, then yes, he had an amazing career.  But, what do we do with everyone in between.  For instance, is Bobby Carpenter really a bust?  Yes, he underachieved from what the hope was and he never became a starter in the NFL.  At the same time, he played 8 NFL seasons in a league where the average player lasts slightly more than 3.   That seems like a rather reasonable accomplishment given the odds.  
Regardless, the toughest position for me to evaluate is Running Back - because so much goes into a RB's success than just his own personal talents.  The thing I have learned in the last 12 months is not to undervalue a corner because he doesn't like to tackle or support versus the run.  Marcus Peters in Kansas City proved that really doesn't matter.  But, the more you spend a few hours with each draft prospect's tape, the more you learn every year.  I really enjoy it.  
Q: If the Cowboys somehow have another 4-12 year, does Jason Garrett get fired? - Nevil
Yes.  Absolutely, yes.  They cannot have another disappointing year.  The Romo clock is ticking, the natives are restless.  Now is the time for the Cowboys to bounce right back into contention.  They play in the right division for that to happen and have a reasonable schedule.  I would imagine, injuries or no injuries - a bad year would mean change.  Even with the contract payout he would receive.  

And yes, because you deserve it, even more emails on the Cowboys and football issues..
Q: In looking at current as well as past analysis of quarterback prospects, two main traits seem to separate the ones the ones at the top of the first round and ones selected later (assuming measurables are similar): good decision making and pocket presence. Is this a fair statement? How would you rate the top three in this draft in terms of those characteristics? Also, in your opinion is it worth the time to try to develop a QB prospect that lacks either of these two traits but has the measurables (such as Cook or Hacklenberg)? - Keith
Keith, I don't disagree with good decision making as a top one.  Pocket presence is certainly a key, but I would suggest that unless a guy is really bad in this category - UCLA's Brett Hundley comes to mind from last year - it is somewhat difficult to distinguish this capability with any degree of significance.  I agree with Pat Kirwan on many football ideas, and in his latest e-book, "Quarterback - the Toughest Job in Pro Sports", he listed the 5 attributes of a QB that should be analyzed.  1) FBI - Football Intelligence  2) Accuracy  3) Pocket Awareness 4) Arm Strength and 5) Leadership.
Now, surely, those each offer their own issues when trying to sort out how to measure it and it becomes much more difficult if you never get closer to them than looking at a screen, but I think I boil it down to two major spots if all other things are sort of equal.  For me, that is judgement and judgement.  On-field judgement - can I trust him to take care of the football and not make too many ill-advised decisions at ill-advised moments.  And, off-field judgement - can I trust him to take his career and his responsibilities as serious as possible.  In the words of Bill Parcells, we are not looking for a celebrity QB.  Handle your business in a professional manner and understand that the job of NFL QB is not for everyone who loves the party that goes with it.  This is a rare chance so understand that and take advantage of it.
Now, that feeling will cost me on a guy like Jameis Winston who violated both.  He showed poor on-field judgement at Florida State with more interceptions than any Top shelf prospect in years and he showed poor off-field judgement for a myriad of reasons.  Despite that, he appears to be doing fine for himself in year 1 and I am awfully impressed about how Tampa Bay has limited his poor decisions.  I would like to know more about how that happened, because he was throwing into coverage repeatedly at FSU.  But, overall, that is what I seek.  
For this group, all 3 QBs at the top have given good initial signs about how they handle the 5 Kirwan attributes and none have set off alarms in what I seek.  But, there is a long ways to April 28.  
Q: Most disappointing 2015 draft pick of the Cowboys goes to _ *drum roll* - Henrik

Henrik, that one is pretty easy for me.  Chaz Green was taken in the 3rd round to nail down tackle as a 3rd in year 1 and then maybe to succeed Doug Free by year 2. Well, that isn't going to happen as we never saw Green on the field in Year 1.  As you may or may not recall, he was hurt a fair bit at Florida, so for him to spend his entire 1st year out of service is certainly not great news.  

Green could still, of course, be something pretty nice, but that pick - #91 - was a pick that I had plenty of ideas for at the time.  The guy they wanted, most likely, was Iowa's Carl Davis who was taken the pick before at #90 to Baltimore.  I am not sure if the war-room panicked or what, but this pick came out of nowhere.  If you want to know, my notes indicate my next 7 at that spot on my board were the following:  Grady Jarrett, Jay Ajayi, Paul Dawson, Bryce Petty, TJ Clemmings, Xavier Cooper, and Steve Nelson.  Now, I still prefer all 7 to Chaz Green a year later, but we still don't know how good he will be.  In fairness to Dallas, they also didn't know they were about to get La'el Collins.  

It should also be noted that the next few picks included a RB in Matt Jones to Washington.  Buck Allen and David Cobb also went shortly thereafter if you wish they would have better invested in a young RB. But, enough of the 2nd guessing.  Let's give Green a chance to take Right Tackle over or at least show as a decent reserve in 2016.
Q: Which prospect were you the most right about? And which prospect were you the most wrong about? - Hailey
2015 draft?  Well, I feel great about suggesting Todd Gurley was the best offensive player in the draft, but maybe that was basic.  So I will suggest Arizona's David Johnson is maybe the deeper pick I am pleased about nailing.  Erik Kendricks to Minnesota has ben solid, too.  Wrong?  Well, there were a few.  Jameis likely is the big one.  I liked him, but I would have taken Mariota first.  I still would.  But, Winston will win rookie of the year, so I guess he is not worried about me.  Also, Arizona State's Damarious Randall was a safety in school (and not good) but Green Bay made him a corner and he was very good this year.  And I definitely thought Melvin Gordon would be better in Year 1.  
But, in all of these cases, right or wrong, it is only 1 season.  A career is much longer and we must show patience.  
Q: Who do you think Tony Romo's best offensive teammate has been in his career? My buddies debated this and I say it's Jason Witten. They like TO - Stan
Well, there is no question that I agree with you.  From 2006 until now, Tony Romo and Jason Witten have hooked up for almost 10,000 yards and 47 touchdowns.  But, your buddies have a reasonable argument for most productive over any 3 years.  Romo to Terrell Owens was amazing while it lasted.  We forget it because Owens was so impossible to deal with and there was always a rift.  But, if you separate 2006-2008, Owens accounted for just under 3,600 yards and caught 38 touchdowns.  During that same stretch, Witten had 2,850 and 12 touchdowns.   Witten had more catches, 241-235, but even that was close.  But, obviously, Owens was all about massive plays while he was here.  
So, big picture?  Witten.  Smaller picture?  Owens.  Sorry.  But that one is too complicated for a simple answer.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Playoff Seeds, Playoff Home Field Advantages Update

Since the playoff format has changed in 1990, we have been keeping track of success rates for each seed and for the home field advantage of higher seeds throughout the playoffs to get a good look at the big picture.

YearHome RecordAFC SeedsNFC SeedsSuper Bowl
19908-21* vs 21 vs 2**NYG over BUF
19918-21* vs 21** vs 2WAS over BUF
19925-52 vs 4*1 vs 2**DAL over BUF
19938-21* vs 31** vs 2DAL over BUF
19948-21 vs 2*1** vs 2SF over SD
19957-32* vs 51** vs 3DAL over PIT
19968-22* vs 51** vs 2GB over NE
19976-42 vs 4**1 vs 2*DEN over GB
19988-21** vs 21 vs 2*DEN over ATL
19997-31 vs 4*1** vs 2STL over TEN
20008-22 vs 4**1* vs 2BAL over NYG
20017-31 vs 2**1* vs 3NE over STL
20028-21* vs 21 vs 2**TB over OAK
20036-41** vs 31 vs 3*NE over HOU
20046-41 vs 2**1* vs 2NE over PHI
20054-62 vs 6**1* vs 5PIT over SEA
20068-23** vs 41* vs 2Ind over CHI
20075-51* vs 32 vs 5**NYG over NE
20085-52** vs 64* vs 6PIT over ARZ
20097-31* vs 51** vs 2NO over IND
20104-62* vs 62 vs 6**GB over PIT
20118-21* vs 22 vs 4**NYG over NE
20126-42 vs 4**1 vs 2*BAL over SF
20136-41* vs 21** vs 5SEA over DEN
20148-21** vs 31* vs 2NE over SEA
20156-41** vs 21* vs 2DEN over CAR
Totals175-85 = 67.3%

(** = Super Bowl Champion, * = Super Bowl Loser)

NFC: 14 Winners: 8 - 1 seeds, 3 - 2 seeds, 1 - 4 seed, 1- 5 seed, 1 - 6 seed

AFC: 12 Winners: 4 - 1 seeds, 3 - 2 seeds, 1- 3 seed, 3 - 4 seeds, 1 - 6 seed

Overall: 26, 12 - 1 seeds, 6 - 2 seeds, 1 - 3 seed, 4 - 4 seeds, 1 - 5 seeds, 2 - 6 seeds.

2016 NFL Draft Profile #8 - DeForest Buckner, DE, Oregon

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

2016 NFL Draft Profile #6 - Carson Wentz, QB, ND State

I have never been a scout or a NFL General Manager, but I am willing to watch a ton of football. By watching about 200 snaps of each prospect, we can really get a feel for a player and then know what we are talking about a bit better. It is no exact science, but the NFL hasn't quite figured out drafting either, so we are going to do the best we can.To read more about the 2016 NFL Draft Project, Click Here.
Carson Wentz, QB, North Dakota St - 6'6, 235 - RS Senior - #11
The exercise with considering the 23-year old Carson Wentz as an elite QB prospect is more of a test of your overall view about where we find Quarterbacks in general.  The best place to find elite talent is generally where elite football is played.  Yet, there are a number of examples that show the level of football that Wentz and his school have dominated over the last several years has given the NFL such franchise QBs as Joe Flacco, Steve McNair, and, of course, Tony Romo.  You could even include NFL MVP Rich Gannon and have more than a couple Quarterbacks that you would certainly like to have on your side.
Once you get by questioning his level of competition, you are going to generally find that Carson Wentz belongs in the conversation at the top of the draft.  He is big, athletic, confident, and capable of being the next guy at the steering wheel of a NFL franchise near you.
So much about finding that guy seems to be about luck in sports.  The San Antonio Spurs only had the top pick twice in their history.  It has almost nothing to do with them that those were the two years that David Robinson and Tim Duncan were going to be in the draft.  It just fell right.  It could have been Andrew Bogut's draft, but they were blessed with some good fortune.  Well, I am here to suggest that the year the Dallas Cowboys pick #4 might be the same year that there were 3 top QB prospects in the draft.  Lucky? In other words, if they decide to go down this road, there is almost no excuse for them not to get a blue-chip QB prospect.  Prospects can disappoint or fail, but the quality appears to be high in this group.  And Wentz is trying to prove it.
What I liked:  He has gifts.  He can make any throw and he can make it at almost any velocity.  I am not sure there is a prospect that can throw the ball harder or further.  He has a gun in the truest sense of the word.  Now, to make his skillset even more exciting, he can run as well as most QBs could hope to run.  This helps him if he were to keep it on a zone read or a 3rd down scramble, but moreso, it helps him move the pocket and keep a play alive.  He rolls to each side of the field and then has the mechanics to properly reset his body to fire a strike to the outside of routes to either sideline.  His motion is more compact than Paxton Lynch in that with Wentz, it often looks like a flick of the wrist.  It also should be said that his ball placement is top-notch.  He not only can hit receivers right at their facemask, but he also can deliver balls where only they can catch them.  He is an athlete who also seems to see the field very well.  He is in total control of the game.  It is tough to find labels for what makes a QB great, but Wentz seems to ooze the characteristics you are looking for when you seek "dude qualities" as Trent Dilfer puts it.
What I did not like:  This is a normal negative that accompanies a QB who can make any throw, but he definitely has a gunslinger's irrational confidence on some throws.  This guy will win games with his arm, but he better have a coach that will firmly instruct him when to not trust his arm, because he will also try to fit a ball into coverage and it will get picked off.  He doesn't throw a lot of interceptions, but again, when you watch him play you can understand why he thinks he can make any throw.  He can.  But safeties at the NFL are too good to touch the stove too often.  He will need to harness his enthusiasm early in his career.  This is normal when gunslingers go up in competition, but I am sure his rookie year will include this learning process.  He also makes throws that often put his receivers in danger from those same safeties. If you can make all of the throws, let's make fewer throws into danger spaces. I would also point out that he seems to take a fair number of direct hits in the pocket as he seeks a big throw.  I would prefer my QB not feel like he is invincible, because as we often say, the most important ability is availability.  The only way to stand up to QB hits in the NFL is to avoid as many as possible.
Summary and Potential Fit For the Cowboys:  I confess, after watching just about every play he snapped in 2015, I am really excited about Carson Wentz.  It is difficult to separate the top 3 QBs in this draft right now, because the spring process is a long one where we turn over every rock.  But as I sit here a week before the Senior Bowl - where the Cowboys are trying to be his coach for a week - I can definitely see a scenario where the spring objective for the local team in the draft is to make sure that the FCS Championship game isn't the only time he visits Frisco, Texas. 
Wentz is a real interesting prospect who seems to have very few limitations.  It would certainly give you more confidence to have seen him carve up Top 20 college powers with routine, so I admit this requires a little bit of a leap of faith.  But, he was in massive games as a college QB at his level and definitely stole the show with regularity.  College accomplishments do not go with a player to the next level, but if the toolbox is full of fantastic tools that translate to the NFL, you should take him seriously.  And, I really do.

Friday, January 15, 2016

1/15/16 - Cowboys Mailbag - DMN

Another week gives us another bag full of questions from you our faithful readers in the ol' mailbag.  Let's get through as many as we can here:
Q:   RGIII, Johnny Manziel, Jared Goff, Paxton Lynch. Rank these from most ideal to worst for the Cowboys as a backup QB next year. -- Uri
Well, Uri, this is 2 completely different categories of acquisition.  The first 2 are damaged former first round picks that are at similar, yet different spots in their careers.   The other 2 are top prospects in this draft and while they are very exciting players who could potentially be that guy, the fact is that it would require the Cowboys to give up their biggest draft asset in years and years to pull the trigger on the guy.  So, let's examine each one here:
Griffin is the veteran you would want most.  He is 25 and unlike Manziel, seems to understand what is required of him to be a professional QB1.  There is so much to this, but the first step is understanding that anything else in your life cannot be a priority if you want to do this for a living.  Wide receivers or corner backs can live dual lives, but for the most part, you will find that your general superstar QBs in the NFL live very boring and/or anonymous public lives outside of football.  Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, and even Tony Romo and that group either don't go out hardly at all, or do so in a way that TMZ doesn't know nor care about it.  They also haven't used the bullet in their gun of being seen as party guys or borderline alcoholics in the first place.  Griffin seems to get all of this and then handled himself this season in the face of controversy like a pro.  Now, can he still play?  Can you trust his body?  Can his head still handle the pressure of NFL defenses asking him to take a hit to make a play?  The physical toll on his knees and body have been tremendous for a player his age and the hopes would be that this year has gotten his body right and his head right, too.  However, Griffin also might be high on the list of teams who desire a starter and he has to know if he comes here he is still a backup for now.  That may not be appealing for a player who sees the clock is ticking and that he has just wasted a year in his prime in Washington.
Manziel is not appealing to me in the slightest.  I had hopes for his career, but at the age of 23, he doesn't appear to "get it" which can mean a number of different things, but they all apply.  I wish he understood what his job requires and I wish he understood how rare his talents are and I wish he realized how many top prospects wasted everything because they were young and dumb.  I really think he has a lot of talent inside him, but he is not willing to sacrifice the life for the job.  That is his prerogative, but the road is paved with guys who make similar choices and then live the rest of their lives with regret.  I wish this made more sense, but I don't believe I would pick Manziel at this point of his life over just about anyone.  Not here.  Not this organization and the full time party that Dallas and Cowboys' football could mean to a guy like that.
Now, to the draftables.  Both Lynch and Goff are fantastic prospects.  I need to finish my Goff write-up, but I already know his quality and have no doubts I would take him if he is still there.  Lynch is someone people argue a bit more about, but I think Lynch is pretty special and is worth a top pick.  Here is my profile of his fine work.  So, if you want ideal, the idea must be to get your stater for the next decade after Romo, but that will be expensive.  I would do it, but just understand the costs involved.  And, as many of you understand, there are no guarantees when you take a college prospect.  But, understand, this is football.  There are no guarantees anywhere.  See the 2015 Cowboys.
Q: When Dez Bryant went out it was too easy to limit Jason Witten's production. Time to draft the next Hall of Famer? -- Mark
Time to draft the next hall of famer to play tight end or time to draft the next hall of fame-caliber wide receiver who will never get hurt?  
This was a rough year and it certainly shows how a receiver is made much better when someone else is attracting coverage.  For every time Dez Bryant has helped Jason Witten, Witten has also helped Bryant get open.  They are both coverage magnets, although at this point of his career, we have to concede 82 is not quite the same challenge he was in 2007 to cover.  He simply is not going down the seam on linebackers as much anymore and that makes him easier to account for. But, yes, if Dez is there, Witten has a much bigger year because now Dez is drawing the safety and there are easier numbers elsewhere on the field.  Romo's arm threatening the whole field also makes things easier underneath for Beasely and Witten.  Too many things killed the passing game this year.  In order, Romo, Bryant, and even Dunbar all went down - in the first month - and brought this machine to a grinding halt.  
Q: Bob, Do you see Randy Gregory as a break out player this Lawrence...or is it gonna be one more year before we see something like that? --Rowdy
Yes.  I really expect big things from Gregory in Year 2.  It is odd, of course, to have a rookie pass rusher excel in year 1.  Only 3 rookies had more than 5 sacks in 2015 and none of them were the premium sack guys taken high in the draft.  Washington's Preston Smith (pick #38) from Mississippi State was the league leader for rookies with 8.   Minnesota's Danielle Hunter from LSU (pick #88) was 2nd in the league with 6.  And then, Baltimore's Za'Darius Smith from Kentucky (pick #122) finished 3rd with 5.5 sacks.   This shows you that rookies don't get 10 sacks.  It almost never happens.  
Now, the fact that Randy Gregory and DeMarcus Lawrence both had freak injuries that pretty much ruined their rookie years has nothing to do with this.  It is just an added on issue that doomed things even further.  I never lost much faith in Lawrence and his 2nd year put him right on the map as a very strong player.  Now, Gregory must do the same thing.  He hardly made a play all year and never looked right after looking fantastic in the preseason.  It happens, and you try to shake it off and move on.
The real question for me is whether they can play them both together in normal down and distance spots and whether that makes the defensive line too light and easy to run against.  The Cowboys still need a stout defensive end on the strong side to stand up to physical runs and while Jeremy Mincey and Greg Hardy are that type, they both are free agents.  So, it will be interesting to see how the Cowboys see this group.  I know most fans will want those two kids starting at each end, but I don't think Rod Marinelli and the front office will like how small that makes the front, especially with smallish linebackers behind it (and even smaller defensive tackles).  You don't want to be undersized up front and the Cowboys risk that at the moment.
Here is even more sifting through your queries from this week:
Q: Have the Cowboys decided where Byron Jones will play? If safety does that make CB a higher priority than, say DE (assuming Hardy is not coming back)? Or do you think they should go for one of the two highest rated QBs left to them (cannot imagine the Browns will not go for a QB with their pick ahead of the Cowboys)? txnva
This is a good one that I am not positive about at this time.  As we look at the ideas for the top 2 picks, the ultimate destination of Byron Jones is a key component in this discussion.  I would argue that cornerbacks are the main priority, so if he is a top corner (potentially) we should encourage that.  But, I have wanted the Cowboys to address safety for so long.  I feel that we could make a list of mediocre safeties around here for the last decade and see that this is a mistake of the Cowboys to constantly under-value the spot.  This safety class has some real impressive players, but the best safety, Florida State's Jalen Ramsey is either your pick at #4 or he is gone before you get another crack at it.  He is special, but that is a huge investment (and, of course, many see him as a corner, too).  
I don't wish to spend too heavily on defensive end again, but as I have said, starting Gregory and Lawrence together is too very undersized weak side guys who might make you vulnerable to the run game.  It would be nice to have a 290 lb guy on the strong side who doesn't mess around, but the cost for that is right there with a great corner.  I think at DE, I might like to get something done with Jack Crawford and then maybe work around a rotation at DE with Ryan Russell and whoever else emerges without any massive investment at that particular spot.  
But, for me, at the moment, if Goff/Lynch are there at #4, I just don't see a big argument against it.  I know fans don't want to invest so heavily in a guy I don't want to take a snap in 2016, but 2 thoughts:  1) there is no single investment that could pay off more than a young QB that is that talented and 2) the Cowboys were able to snag 3 1st round talents in 2015 with Jones, La'el Collins, and Gregory.  This put them in a spot where they have stockpiled and it puts them in a position to invest in the future.  I think it is the best play.

I am pretty sure that I think he can be my #2 in my favorite scenario at this point.  Now, I reserve the right to change my mind here, but in my scenario, the Cowboys are going to get their QB high in this draft.  Let's say it is Jared Goff or Paxton Lynch.  Well, my scenario doesn't want them to have to play at all in 2016, therefore, Kellen Moore is my bridge until they are ready.  That could be 3 months or 2 years, but either way, I think Kellen Moore is the type of player that I can trust to be a solid #2 under Romo until Goff/Lynch is ready to take over.  
As I have said a number of times, the thing I value most in a backup QB is their intelligence and their ability to grasp the "do's and don't's" of the position.  I think Moore can do all of that, even though his ceiling is a #2.  I don't think you want him as a long-term starter, so the risk with my plan is Romo breaks his collarbone in Week 2 and is gone for 10 weeks again.  Moore is likely not going to go 6-4 if he has to fill in for 10 weeks, but he might get you 2-2 in a month.  The bottom line is that I am fine with giving Moore a real chance at the backup spot if you are drafting a QB high.  
Now, of course, if the Cowboys want a veteran like RGIII, then the need/use for Moore drops considerably.  So, it would be great to know what the plan is at Valley Ranch.
Q: There's a lot of talk about Manziel and RG3, but isn't Colt McCoy really the perfect back up for Romo? Intelligent, prepared, and can run the same offense as Tony. JAllen
I dont hate this idea.  He is also unrestricted and would sort of be a more capable version of Kellen Moore if he needed to play.  He made $1.5 million last year, but I assume is more than welcome back in Washington to backup Kirk Cousins if he should want to remain.  I am cautious to entertain every single former Big 12 South player because they are all quite popular in these parts, but the 29-year old McCoy certainly knows his role and also has proven capable in small doses to play QB.  In fact, a few times in Arlington, to be fair.
Q: What would be a realistic haul should the Cowboys trade back from the No. 4 pick?  Timmy Two Shoes
Timmy, that all depends on how far down you are willing to go.  There are a number of instances where a team has broken the bank trading back, but the only time you should entertain this idea seriously is if you are ok with any number of picks.  For instance, in 2004, when the Cowboys traded back with the Buffalo Bills, it was suggested that the Cowboys were fine with any of the 5 Running Backs that were on the board.  The 5 were Steven Jackson from Oregon State, Chris Perry from Michigan, Kevin Jones from Virginia Tech, Tatum Bell from Oklahoma State, and Julius Jones from Notre Dame.  I remember at the time someone on the inside suggesting to me the they were all about the same and the Cowboys would be happy with any of them.  But, and this was recorded on the radio at the time, I really wanted Steven Jackson and I thought he was a cut above the others.  The Cowboys could have had any at pick #21 but if they traded back to #43, the Bills would give them pick #144 and next year's 1st round pick, too.  It seemed like a great plan.  But, by the time #43 showed up, the four of the five RBs were gone and the Cowboys had to take who was left.  
So they could have had the best, but settled for the last one.  As of right now, Jackson has 11,000 yards, Perry finished with 600, Jones had 3,100, Bell ended up with 2,700, and Julius Jones actually had a nice career with just over 5,000.  The Cowboys did get the 2nd best player, but he was a mile (actually about 4 miles) behind Jackson.  I said then and I will say now, take the best of the bunch.  Now, not only did they get Jones, but they also got Sean Ryan and Marcus Spears, so the deal might not have been a complete disaster, but I assume if Steven Jackson is a Cowboys RB in 2004, they win more games over the course of his career as he is paired with Tony Romo.  That is a long way of saying, trade backs are not usually what we hope they are.
The one in 2013 is equally interesting for Dallas. That time, they decided to pass on Sharrif Floyd, the DT from Florida, to trade back and get Wisconsin's Travis Frederick and a 3rd that became Baylor's Terrance Williams.  This time, they got 2 solid starters (including one elite center) for a DT who is very good, but certainly not a dominating Floyd who ended up in Minnesota.  Anytime you can trade 2 starters for 1, you might have to think it through unless the one you pass on becomes all-world. It would seem the Cowboys did very well on this deal.