Monday, May 2, 2016

The Cowboys 2016 Draft

I'm not a Cowboys fan, personally. I flirted with Dallas fandom as a young boy when my family moved back to Texas from Connecticut and it was easy enough to get on board with a team featuring Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin, Jay Novachek, Moose Johnston, and Larry Allen. I didn't know enough to hate them for being led by Barry Switzer.

My parents weren't sports fans of any kind though so I had no familial pressure to tether me to Dallas. That season (1995) I read a history book on the Pittsburgh Steelers franchise and when they met the Cowboys in the Super Bowl I promptly switched sides and rooted for the Steel Curtain. That decision cost me in that one but paid off 15 years later when I'd marry into a die-hard Steelers family. I never regretted holding back my heart from the Cowboys.

But I figure a lot of you suckers are Dallas fans so I thought I'd give some thoughts on their draft picks based on what I saw from them in college.

Round 1: Ezekiel Elliot

Aside from the concern that he might be a wild partier moving to a party town, I think Zeke was the NFL RB prospect in college football last year, at least the best one I've personally watched.

He's got it all, he's powerful in his cuts, he has great vision, and he can execute jump steps or bounce outside so he's capable of threatening multiple running lanes in a given scheme. Like I wrote the other day, I think this move is indicative of a "double down on our offense and ensure we have an over-powering feature" which I've argued is probably the best way to win in the NFL.

So yes, the Cowboys made the short-sighted, "excite the fans with a sexy choice" selection here, but there's an argument to be made that they got a 1st round-caliber player that can help them win immediately and fits a legitimate strategy.

Round 2: Jaylon Smith

I'd be willing to bet that tons of teams were hoping to draft Jaylon Smith in the 2nd round and then pat themselves on the back for having made a brilliant, long-term investment.

Jaylon Smith could be great for all the reasons Myles Jack could be great, he's a freak athlete who's good in coverage and makes it very difficult for opponents to find weak spots in the middle of the field with their drop-back passing game. Since the NFL is largely driven by drop-back passing, that's a really nice piece to add to your team.

Like Jack, Smith's athleticism doesn't really translate to him being a great pass-rusher but he's good against the run, playing the edge, or covering ground on pass drops.

Round 3: Maliek Collins

Now I don't know a ton about the Cowboys current roster, but here's where I start to second guess them a little bit because I do know that their QB depth chart goes:

QB1: Dude who keeps breaking the same bone over and over again and is approaching 40.
QB2: Dude who played his college ball at Boise State...just saying, that system made a lot of guys look really good.
QB3: Dude I've never heard of in my life.

I would have been looking to grab a guy that could sit at Romo's feet and learn/develop for a few years and I'd be trying to make that a priority. This draft had a few guys that were worth taking a flier on in the 2nd to 4th rounds such as Paxton Lynch, Connor Cook, and Christian Hackenberg.

Lynch is a fantastic athlete with all the right skills, question is just how he handles NFL progressions. There's no question of whether Cook can handle an NFL playbook or beat NFL man coverage, only whether he'll try to do so at inopportune times. Hackenberg looked like a future NFL star until James Franklin brought his wretched offense to State College and nearly killed him.

I don't know a ton about Maliek Collins save for the fact that he has great size and he was pretty effective both as a 2-gapper for Pellini and as a single-gap guy for Banks last year. Seems like a good player taken at a good time, I'd just have prioritized QB.

Round 4: Charles Tapper

Good for Tapper that he ended up getting a good draft placement after the Sooners bulked him up and converted him from a 4-3 DE (where he might have been great) into a 4i-technique 3-4 DE where his utility was blunted somewhat.

Tapper nevertheless managed seven sacks last year (often playing with Striker coming off his hip) at something like 280 and then was finally able to slim back down to a more appropriate 260 for the combine where ran a 4.59 40 and posted a 34" vertical.

That's explosiveness coming off the edge and from a dude that's proven he can handle trench warfare inside, Tapper in the 4th round may prove to have been a brilliant choice in the long-term.

Round 5: Dak Prescott

AKA the only QB left at this point in the draft. Here's my concern with Dak, he has a combination of skills that are very difficult to defend in college football but don't necessarily translate to the next level. He's a solid inside runner with enough speed (4.79) to do some damage and be able to get loose. He's also a solid passer that can do some stuff in the quick game or throwing off play-action.

This was true of Tim Tebow as well and he dominated in college before struggling in the NFL because it's not enough in a drop-back league to be "solid" throwing the ball. You need to at least be "good" if not "great."

Some of the few times that Dak handled a team that could handle the stress of defensing a spread with a good inside runner at QB who could also throw was when he played Alabama. Now, throw out the 2015 game because that Miss St OL couldn't block Alabama's front four AT ALL and I'm not going to ding a QB for failing to take down a defense that's sitting in cover 2 all day behind a blistering pass-rush.

When Dak was facing reasonable odds he actually showed the ability to see the whole field and throw with some anticipation. He's ultra-raw, but a glimpse at his 2015 season cut-ups reveals a much better passing prospect than I expected. He'll need a lot of time to cook in the oven but it's possible that he's a better take here than I initially thought after the Cowboys made it. No doubt he'll be working behind a better OL and with better WRs in Dallas (comparative to the competition) than he did in Starksville.

Round 6: Anthony Brown, Kavon Frazier, Darius Jackson, and Rico Gathers

I have no idea who this guy is and I'm pretty sure I've never watched an entire Purdue football game at any point in my life. I forget they even play in the Big 10. Best of luck to him.

I believe I caught Frazier against Oklahoma State last year in the season opener but he didn't leave any major impression on me. The Chippewas did a solid job containing Mason Rudolph and the OSU passing game, which is legit, but his role in that game was as a box safety.

He was good in that role and at 218 he's big enough to do it in the NFL, but it's hard to see him upgrading the play of the Dallas secondary.

I'm planning on moving to Ypsilanti where Darius Jackson played his college ball but I've not seen him at all. It's funny that the Cowboys would use another draft pick on a RB though after already dropping their 1st rounder on a position they could probably fill with bums off the street with this OL.

Drafting Rico Gathers in the 6th is like dropping a bucket of quarters on a slot machine. It's a little more expensive than you realize and there's a slim chance it will pay out in a major way. I'm not sure I believe he'll prove to be a TE, his shuttle time isn't great which is important at a position that needs to make quick, lateral cuts against linebackers that are increasingly athletic.

If he added some poundage maybe he could end up at tackle but it's a far cry to go from playing basketball to mastering running schemes and protections against the likes of Von Miller.

Overall the Cowboys seemed to do alright. The choice of Zeke is defensible, their defensive selections are all guys who can play and project well, and their QB of the future is a little better than I initially thought after reflecting on what I saw from him in 2014. The mix of long-term and short-term choices here was solidly done and thanks to past drafting decisions they're building on a strong foundation.

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