Judging Top Cowboys Draft Picks: Part 2
There have been passionate arguments that Ezekiel Elliott and Jaylon Smith were inspired draft picks and equally passionate arguments that the team has gone plain crazy and just wasted all this draft capital on reaches and projections. Most of the loudest voices have spoken about the top two draft picks…. Since I’m no scout, I don’t claim to have knowledge of the benefits of a guy taken at the 10th pick in the 4th round over another at the same position picked at the 23rd pick in the 6th. To be honest, I just don’t care that much about either of them unless they play for the Cowboys.
Lucky for all of us here at YDCFF, you don’t need to get your scouting from me. We have three top scouting minds in Cas, Al and Mike. What I try to do is apply my own brand of logic to all that I have seen and heard and give a perspective that might be interesting to a few of you.
Since the first and second round picks for the Cowboys draft are the ones that seem to be getting all the attention I will stick with those and allow my far more qualified partners to educate you and I on the rest of the draft like in Al’s article here:
Before we go any further, lets frame this discussion to make sure we are speaking the same language. Most analysts preach ad nauseum about how the best teams draft the Best Player Available (BPA) and not for need and then publish grades the day after the draft based almost solely on whether a team drafted for need or not. We are more intelligent than that so we won’t get caught up in that garbage. We are also intelligent enough to know that need and scheme fit are factors that EVERY team uses to create their draft board order even if they don’t want to admit it. With those things in mind, let’s look at the logic (or lack thereof) in the top selections in the Cowboys 2016 draft.
Today we will discuss the controversial second round pick.
Jaylon Smith is a transcendent talent at linebacker. His ability and versatility make him one of the best linebacker prospects in the last 10 years. This is not up for debate here or anywhere else really. On New Year’s morning this January, Jaylon Smith was, by far the best prospect for the 2016 NFL draft and most likely would’ve been chosen in the first two picks of this April’s draft. That night it was doubtful that a team would select him in the first TWO days of the draft. This happening to someone that seemed to be as good of a person as he was a player is definitely sad and I was hoping that the young man got an opportunity with a team. I did not think the Cowboys could afford to spend that kind of draft capital on a red-shirt, much less a red-shirt that might never play to his prior capabilities again.
Another truth about the way teams view the draft is that after the first round, need begins to play tricks on their draft boards and push up less talented players because of a hole in the roster. Yesterday we discussed three position of need for the Cowboys. Now we’ll explore how those impacted their decision to eventually take the risk with Jaylon Smith. These positions are edge rusher, cornerback and quarterback. We also need to look at anyone other than Jaylon Smith that were value at that point in the draft. So let’s look at each of these position groups from the 2016 draft to see if we can make sense of where the value of the Cowboy’s pick would fall in comparison:
The top of the second was where the real value for edge rushers fell in this year’s draft. From everything I could gather, it sounds as if the Cowboys agreed with that assessment and planned to take Emmanuel Ogbah or Kevin Dodd with the third pick in the 2nd round. But, as they say, “the best laid plans of mice and men”. Alas, it was not to be. I would have been happy with Ogbah as a scheme fit but I wasn’t as sold on Dodd being more than a one-hit wonder that benefitted from the attention offenses paid to Shaq Lawson. The only other edge rusher that seemed to fit at the top of the 2nd round was Noah Spence and no one could blame the Cowboys for staying away from another kid with a habit he couldn’t shake. Dependability and availability would always be an issue with a past like Spence’s and the team is dealing enough of that in the defensive line room already. With Ogbah & Dodd gone, any other rusher would not likely have had much impact in 2016 and would’ve had limited long-term upside.
In the second round, the Cowboys had an opportunity to look at all five of the cornerbacks that were taken. This is where knowing what the team likes in a position becomes important to understanding the decisions they made. The Cowboys tend to like longer/taller corners and their aversion for small school players in the first two days of the draft under Will McClay has been well documented on this site and others. This would eliminate three of the five corners right away as Mackensie Alexander and Cyrus Jones are both undersized and James Bradberry played at Samford. Alexander’s running mate at Clemson, T. J. Green was drafted as a developmental, raw prospect after playing on offense for much of his career. That sound familiar to you (Wilcox anyone)? I don’t think the team is looking at that option in the 2nd round. That leaves us with Xavien Howard. I am not sold that Howard will be more than a height/weight/speed prospect and his film left a lot to be desired if I was picking him to be a starter for this team by 2017. In fact, I believe his floor is too low and his ceiling is not as high as his workouts would suggest. Not a ringing endorsement to take need over value here.
Back up/Developmental QB
If you don’t believe there were any great quarterback prospects in this draft (I don’t), then you would have to think the 4th best quarterback and below would not be worth an early 2nd round investment. We discussed in part 1 that this is a terrible draft to need a franchise quarterback and yet the top three quarterbacks of this bunch were already off the board. Does anyone, outside of the Jets complex, think that Christian Hackenburg was worth a 2nd round pick? A quarterback taken in the first or second round should have enough talent that they are at least your back up even if they don’t have the knowledge or the reps. I don’t think that applies anyone in this draft other than the number one overall pick (Goff).
None of these 2nd tier quarterbacks are clean enough at 34 overall. If the bust potential for 2nd tier quarterbacks that were pushed up to the first round is high, expecting an even less talented signal-caller to contribute in year one is just absurd. So, no QB prospects left worth the 34th pick.
Anyone (other than Jaylon Smith)
Over on the team’s website, resident scout Bryan Broaddus went through his logic on where the team should have gone with pick 34. He eliminated Spence for the same off-field reasons we discussed above. He checked Myles Jack off his list because of scheme fit. The team didn’t appear to believe that he would hold up as the Mike linebacker and wasn’t willing to move Sean Lee back there. What he was left with was the stout middle of Alabama’s national championship defense. Their two defensive tackles and their middle linebacker. Both of these tackles would have been first round picks ten years ago but, because they are both seen as run stuffers, even the 3-4 teams aren’t drafting 2-down tackles that high anymore. Worse, from a scheme fit, neither are the quick twitch players that Rod Marinelli has convinced the Cowboys to seek. That takes them out of the running to me.
Broaddus settles on the very talented Reggie Ragland as his alternative to Jaylon Smith. My problem with this is that Ragland isn’t a starter over Rolando McClain in 2017. He is also limited to being a two-down defender as he is not expected to contribute in pass defense. Best case scenario is that Ragland is your starter in 2017 but can’t play nickel which makes up 60% or more of all the team’s defensive snaps. Or worse, he gets stuck on the field chasing pass catching running backs and tight ends when teams are in their base offense. He just doesn’t fit what this team looks for in their linebackers anymore.
So where does that leave us? I believe that the Cowboys best choices at this point were: a defensive end that might not be able to control his demons enough to stay on the field (already got one of those); a very talented linebacker with a degenerative knee condition that was too small for the position they wanted to play him; and an even more talented linebacker that would probably have to redshirt this year with the risk that he might never fully recover. Knowledge of the team’s past leads us to their reasons for the present day pick.
Spence was simply too much to swallow at 34 after pick 60 from the 2015 draft just blew up in their faces. Myles Jack would face the same situation that required the team to move Sean Lee from Mike to Will with his size and knee issues. Except now the Will is already occupied by none other than Lee, himself. In Jaylon Smith the team looked back and saw the risk they took when they picked an ultra-athletic linebacker from North Carolina in round 2 a few years back (Bruce Carter). While that wasn’t a rousing success, Carter was able to be productive here. You have to understand, the Cowboys brain trust doesn’t think they missed on Carter because they didn’t evaluate his talent properly. They believe they missed because he lacked football intelligence and the passion to improve. These are areas that NO ONE thinks Jaylon Smith is lacking. While the risk is higher fro Smith than Carter the team saw a much higher reward with more talented player who has all the intangibles to believe that he will once again maximize his potential.
As I said in part 1, there was only one healthy player in this entire draft that could reasonably be considered one of the top 5. The only other player that could reasonably be considered a Top 5 draft prospect at his position in the last 10 years is Jaylon Smith. In a draft devoid of moret than two true game changers, the Cowboys rolled the dice twice to acquire both of them. Just because I wouldn’t have done it doesn’t mean I don’t hope like heck that those dice don’t turn up snake eyes!
Let me know what you think about the second pick of the Cowboys draft and my thoughts on it.