Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Grading the Cowboys Draft

This past weekend's draft was as crazy a draft as I've ever seen with a record 34 draft day trades. The Cowboys came in with two first rounders after acquiring the Browns first round pick last year allowing the Browns to draft Brady Quinn. Expectations were high in Big D and it looks like Jerry Jones and the Boy's answered the call. Two days after the draft I reflect back on the Cowboy's selections and assign grades to every pick....

First Round

Pick #22 - Felix Jones - Arkansas RB – There was no question after the releasing of Julius Jones as a free agent, that the Cowboy's would be looking to the draft to find the perfect compliment to bruising back Marion Barber III. His 4.4 speed is a major plus for Dallas as they look to keep defenses honest on the corners while still pounding Barber down the middle. His 3,000 yards and 20 touchdowns at Arkansas show that he is able to produce in a two back system and doesn't mind sharing the load; in fact it may help in preserving both backs for the Cowboys. As a running back, he is fairly comparable to a Cadillac Williams who likes to bounce the ball to the outside with his first instinct. I think Jones will be an instant contributor in all facets for the Cowboys, most notably in kick returns. He is creative enough to vary his speed, set up the defender, execute a fake and then accelerate into the open. Jones should be an instant feature in the Cowboy's offense.

Pick grade – B - Good overall pick here, although I think Rashard Mendenhall was worth more of a look here. Also the first round worked out well with Jenkins at 25, but I couldn't figure out why they didn't wait for Jones at 28 since Mendenhall was still on the board and corners were more likely to be drafted.

Pick #25 - Mike Jenkins – South Florida CB – Immediately after getting their guy at RB, the Cowboys knew that their number one CB was still in reach and made a move up to get him at 25. Jenkins could very well be the best cover corner in this draft. Many fans will question this pick with the acquisition of Pacman Jones, but at this point we can't even be sure that Jones will be reinstated and even if he is, depth at corner has become a must-have for a successful NFL franchise. Jenkins has the perfect frame for a top corner and no one has questioned his 4.3 speed. He is undoubtedly best in press coverage and needs to work on run support in his first few mini-camps. Reports are saying that it's his leadership skills and work ethic may make him the best secondary prospect in the draft. I see him working as a first year nickelback and getting some reps in on CB late in games.

Pick grade – A+ - Ed Werder has reported for a couple of weeks now that Jenkins was the top CB on the Cowboy's big board and they ended up getting him with their second pick. CB depth was their biggest issue this offseason and Jones answered it in astounding fashion bringing in Pacman Jones and arguably the best CB in the draft. I'm not sure if there has been a better pick for the Boys in the last few drafts. You could say DeMarcus Ware, but I think that pick has only shown itself through his progress. This pick was smart and the best pick from the minute the card was turned in.

Second Round

Pick #61 - Martellus Bennett – Texas A&M TE – Personally I loved this pick. I felt like the receiving class was overrated and generally shallow and with the big names off the board, I don't feel like this pick would have warranted a receiver. Bennett is a huge bodied tight end who looks like an oversized WR. Regarded as the "most complete" prospect at his respective position in the 2008 NFL Draft, Bennett combines excellent size, strength and quickness to excel not only as a clutch mid-range receiver, but also as a devastating blocker. He started off at A&M as a two-sport athlete, earning a scholarship to play basketball as well as football. Speed seems to be the big red flag with Bennett, but I feel like his overall athleticism makes up for the lack of speed. With the trade of Anthony Fasano on Thursday, the Cowboys needed another tight end and they may have gotten an upgrade. Martellus is just too much of a beast not to be effective.

Pick grade – A – I thought this was a great pick. Yes, the Cowboys needed a receiver, but there just wasn't one to take here. I wouldn't have minded Limas Sweed or James Hardy, but they were both off the board. Instead, Jones grabbed a 6'6" tight end that could be a huge receiver like Antonio Gates. His immediate effectiveness will be his size and blocking ability.

Fourth Round
Pick #122 – Tashard Choice – Georgia Tech RB – I assume that with the pick of Jones in the first round, the Cowboys simply felt like Choice was the best available prospect and they still felt like a receiving prospect was a waste. Choice is a big back that runs hard and does not shy away from contact. He is very comparable to a LaMont Jordan or Tatum Bell in his running style. Injuries have consistently been an issue with Tashard and he'll need to work hard to stay fit and durable. Overall, I'd say he is more or less a big third down situational back that is more comparable to MB3 than complimentary to him.

Pick grade – B- – I didn't see this pick coming. I felt like it would have been more effective to grab a middle-level receiver here, a prospect on the offensive line or depth at DT, but apparently Cowboys fans are surprisingly ok with this pick. I guess I understand why they made this "Choice" here (yay for puns); with Julius Jones out and MB3 coming into a contract year, the Boys must have felt it best to get plenty of insurance at running back. If Barber goes down this year, this pick may look smarter as Felix Jones probably can't carry the load on his own.

Fifth Round
Pick #143 – Orlando Scandrick – Boise State CB – Scandrick is another one of those cornerbacks who make great plays on the ball. Very similar to the type of corner that Jenkins is in the way he goes after the ball and runs extremely well. Got a lot of experience at Boise State and will contribute immediately on special teams, in fact he was a special teams demon for the Broncos. The knock on Scandrick is his average tackling skills, again like Jenkins, but he makes up for it with his pass coverage. Had a number of off the field concerns, but if there is a team who obviously places potential over concern, it's the Dallas Cowboys.

Pick grade – B- - Without fully knowing what will happen with Pacman Jones, getting depth in the secondary was a good move for Dallas. If for some reason, Goodell does not reinstate Jones, or Jones is not as well conditioned as he once was, the Cowboys still needed to bolster cornerback depth. Scandrick is fairly similar to Jenkins and will make this team based on his special teams merit alone. Kiper projected him as a third round talent corner with some off the field red flags, so to get this guy in the fifth was a great value pick. I know we had other need areas, but I just feel like we will be pleasantly surprised with this pick.

Sixth Round

Pick 167 – Erik Walden – Middle Tennessee State DE – I'll be honest when I say that this was the only guy we drafted that I had never heard of and in this age's NFL draft that is not uncommon. Walden is a big bodied, relentless pass rusher who shattered MTSU's career sack record with 22.5 and is second in tackles for loss in MTSU's history. He is a finesse rusher and relies on quick feet and finesse moves over bull rushing. Pro scouts think that he can easily make the transition from end to outside backer in the 3-4 defense.

Pick grade – C – I don't know a lot about this kid, but it sounds like he has great potential and a big upside. I don't feel like a hybrid outside backer/end was our biggest need here. It may have been better to grab a lengthy WR prospect or a powerful DT to add some depth in the interior. In the same regard, I don't hate this pick, because I like big bodied speed rushers that can provide an outside rush and cause Eli & Donovan to make quick decisions.

OVERALL DRAFT GRADE – B+ If you would have asked me at the end of Day 1, I would have easily given the Cowboys and A for their selections. Grabbing both the running back they wanted and the supposed number one corner on their big board was a perfect one-two punch in the first round. Only Kansas City's ability to grab both Glenn Dorsey and Branden Albert made for a better round one in my opinion. Both Jones and Jenkins will make immediate impacts for the defending NFC Champs (yes, not the Giants). Grabbing Martellus in the second may just prove to be a diamond in the rough for both the Cowboys and All-Star quarterback Tony Romo. Day 2 of the draft wasn't as productive as the first, but I think the Cowboys grabbed some role players with great upside. I did believe however that after not taking a receiver in the first two rounds to play opposite of T.O., that the Boys would inevitably take a chance on one in the later rounds. Receiver was one of three glaring needs coming into the draft and was the only one that the Cowboys didn't attack. They got two running backs and snagged two cover corners, but no young guys to play out wide. I also thought that if you were going to focus on defensive help that some depth at defensive tackle was more pressing than a 3-4 hybrid. If they can get help from free agency in Texas Tech WR Danny Amendola and Stanford WR Mark Bradford, then these late round picks look even better. Overall, it was a great draft for Dallas and was leaps and bounds better than last years draft weekend.

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