Sunday, April 29, 2012

Draft Review

The draft was fast and furious this year.  The Cowboys came away with the consensus #1 defensive player in the draft.  And they managed to find depth at several other key positions.  I'm not going to fool myself and say this is the turning point for the Cowboys.  Every team got better over the weekend according to the draft experts.  We won't really know how good this draft was until we look back a few years from now.

But we can still look at the draft from the perspective of filling holes on the roster.  The Cowboys didn't find answers at every area of need but they did address most of the key areas of need.  I'm going to look at each pick and discuss how they fit into the Cowboys 2012 plans and beyond.

Morris Claiborne (CB) - 1st round:  This is obviously the key move of the draft for the Cowboys.  They gave up their 2nd round pick to move from the 14th pick to the 6th pick but the Cowboys got the best defensive player in the draft in return.  And Claiborne looks like he will immediately step into a starting role.  This helps the Cowboys this year because now they are loaded at the cornerback position.  And, long term, this frees up the Cowboys from giving in to the demands of Mike Jenkins and his ridiculous agent, Drew Rosenhaus.

Tyrone Crawford (DE) - 3rd round:  The Cowboys need all the help they can get on the defensive line.  Marcus Spears is great against the run but rarely gets pressure on the quarterback.  Jason Hatcher occasionally flashes some pass rushing ability but never on a consistent basis.  Most draft experts had Crawford going in the 2nd round and the Cowboys had him on their draft board as a 2nd rounder so landing Crawford was a steal.  Crawford will be on the field immediately in obvious passing situations and could develop into a starter if he improves his size and run defense.

Kyle Wilbur (OLB) - 4th round:  Crawford is a little undersized but he has a natural ability to rush from the edge.  He should be able to at least get some action spelling Anthony Spencer and Demarcus Ware in passing situations.  He'll need to bulk up if he wants to become a strong run defender.  He is a potential long term replacement for Anthony Spencer after the 2012 season but it looks more likely that he'll be a pass rush specialist who plays a reserve role for the next few years.

Matt Johnson (S) - 4th round:  Johnson is a natural playmaker at safety.  The Cowboys need all the help they can get at the safety position.  Johnson will immediately provide depth and likely also excel on special teams.  He played at a small school so we won't really know if he is a potential starter long term until he gets on the field with NFL talent.  Johnson has great ball skills and a good feel for the flow of the game.  He is a potential starter down the road but likely won't get much playing time at safety this season unless he surprises a lot of people at training camp.

Danny Coale (WR) - 5th round:  Coale looks like a real steal in the 5th round.  Watch this guy play and you can see he has a natural ability to get himself open.  And he also has great hands and pretty good speed.  Coale has a real shot to get on the field as the #3 receiver this year.  Either way he will be a good special teams contributor and a potential long term answer in the wide receiver depth chart.  I think Coale was the best value pick for the Cowboys in this year's draft.

James Hanna (TE) - 6th round:  Hanna was a starter at Oklahoma and flashed some special traits at times.  But he also looked terrible at times dropping easy passes and displaying poor blocking technique.  The Cowboys need help at tight end now that Martellus Bennett has moved on.  Jason Witten and John Phillips will get most of the playing time but the third tight end gets on the field every week for the Cowboys.  Hanna will get to learn from the best in the business practicing with Jason Witten.  He needs to be ready to play this year.

Caleb McSurdy (ILB) - 7th round:  McSurdy was a very good college player.  But he played at Montana so it is difficult to judge exactly what he'll be at the NFL level.  He seems to have all the traits the Cowboys want at inside linebacker except speed.  But he has good quickness and a good feel for the flow of the game.  McSurdy probably won't be any part of the depth chart at inside linebacker barring injury so he looks like a special teams player this season.  He could be a long term depth player at inside linebacker but his lack of speed will always make tight ends a tough matchup for him in the passing game.

I think most people were probably hoping the Cowboys would come away from the draft with at least two and possible three starters.  They definitely found one with Morris Claiborne.  But trading away their 2nd round pick handcuffed the Cowboys in terms of finding multiple starters for the 2012 season.  But, on the bright side, the Cowboys do seem to have found several players who will be on the field this season making big contributions to the team. 

Friday, April 27, 2012

Cowboys Fill Another Big Need in Round 3

So the Cowboys didn't do anything crazy today.  They had the #81 pick and they sat around for a round and a half and picked at #81.  And with that pick they took Tyrone Crawford, a defensive end out of Boise State.  Crawford is 6'4" and weighs in at 275 lbs.  That is a little small for a 3-4 end so I have to believe the Cowboys are thinking he can add some weight to his frame.

He had 6.5 sacks last year as a starter and 7 sacks the year before playing a reserve role.  So he can get pressure on the quarterback.  My concern with his size will be how well he can hold up against the run.  Time will tell.

So far it has been a defensive draft.  I still expect the Cowboys to pick up an offensive lineman or two and maybe even take a flier on a safety in the later rounds.  It wouldn't hurt to take a speed receiver either.  The Cowboys still have 5 picks to go.  They'll be busy tomorrow.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Cowboys Shock Everyone in the 1st Round

For the last several months there have been countless mock drafts.  And I can't remember any of them predicting what actually took place with the Cowboys 1st round pick.  The Cowboys gave up their 2nd round pick and their pick at #14 to get the Rams pick at #6.  And with that pick they took Morris Claiborne, the top cornerback in the draft.

I'm excited by the pick.  The Cowboys were aggressive and got the guy they wanted.  And they have now completely overhauled the cornerback position and transformed it from a weakness to a strength in one offseason.  That isn't easy to pull off.

Now the big question is what can the Cowboys do to get back into the 2nd round.  Claiborne was a great pick and should be a playmaker for years to come.  But the Cowboys need a lot more than one player to turn the team around. 

There are already some rumors that the Cowboys might package Mike Jenkins and one of their 4th round picks to get back into the 2nd round.  That would make sense especially considering that Jenkins is entering the last year of his contract and he is asking for big money. 

We'll see how it plays out.  If the Cowboys can trade Jenkins then great.  But if they can't then they are absolutely loaded at cornerback.  I definitely consider the first round trade and the pick to be excellent.  But that is just the first pick.  The Cowboys need to hit on 3 or 4 more guys to make this a successful draft.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Getting Ready for the Draft

It has finally arrived.  The most exciting part of the offseason has to be the NFL draft.  And with the Cowboys holding the 14th pick we likely won't have to wait long for the Cowboys to add someone to the team.  There are some scenarios where the Cowboys could trade up.  There are scenarios where the Cowboys could trade down.  And there are scenarios where the Cowboys could pick at #14.  That is what makes the draft so interesting.  No one knows what will happen until the draft plays out.

I'll be happy if the Cowboys pick a defensive lineman with their first pick.  I'll be happy if the pick is Mark Barron, the safety out of Alabama.  I'll be happy if the pick is a pass rusher.  I'll be happy if the Cowboys go with David DeCastro at guard.

My theory on watching the draft is to try not to get hooked on any one particular player.  Odds are stacked against you coming away from the draft or at least the first round satisfied if you lock onto one guy and expect your team to pick that player at all costs. 

The Cowboys have addressed most of their glaring needs in free agency.  But they need upgrades at countless positions on the roster.  And just because a guy gets picked in the first round he isn't guaranteed to be an impact player.  It seems like half the players drafted in the first round every year end up disappointing the team that picks that player.  This year won't be different.

I'm very excited for the draft to get going.  The only thing we really know going into tomorrow night is that Andrew Luck will go first to the Colts and RGIII will go second to the Redskins.  All of the mock drafts and predictions get thrown out the window as soon as someone in the top ten makes what is considered a reach pick.  It will happen this year.  You can bank on that.

I'm not going to pretend to know what the Cowboys are thinking about doing tomorrow night.  But I won't be at all surprised if they pick David DeCastro with the 14th pick if he is still there for the picking.  But I will probably come away from tomorrow night satisfied with the pick as long as Jerry Jones doesn't completely trade out of the first round.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Schedule Looks Tough This Year

The 2012 NFL schedule was finally released today. While the opponents and the home/away games were already determined months ago we did get a lot of new information in terms of the actual dates and times of the games.

It is definitely too early to try to make predictions for the season considering that the Cowboys aren't even done in free agency yet and the draft is a week and a half away. But it isn't too early to draw a few obvious conclusions about the schedule.

The season opener is a tall order for the Cowboys. We've known for quite a while that the Cowboys will play at the New York Giants to open the season on September 5. The defending Super Bowl champion is 8-0 since the NFL started scheduling the champion in the season opening game. I'm not saying the Cowboys can't win but the odds are stacked against them.

The good news is that the Cowboys get Seattle and then Tampa Bay after that. Those aren't automatic victories, but they are two of the easiest games on the schedule. Hopefully the Cowboys can get off to a better start this season.

The bye week comes early again this season. The Cowboys have their bye in week 5. Unfortunately that means the Cowboys have to go the last 11 games without a break. I'm not going to use that as any type of excuse if things don't go well for the Cowboys but it would be nice if they could get the bye midseason at some point.

The Cowboys get 4 of their last 6 games at home. That is good news considering the struggles the Cowboys have had in December in recent years. But they also have the Redskins twice, the Eagles, the Steelers and the Saints in that same stretch of games. As usual the NFL did the Cowboys no favors in December.

As I just mentioned the Cowboys get the Saints late in the season. The game is week 16 to be exact. That means that any player suspensions from the bounty fiasco are likely to be over by the time the Cowboys face the Saints. I expect that this game will end up being moved to the Sunday night game if both teams are reasonably competitive this year.

The Cowboys play most of their division games by the time December rolls around this year. Last year the end of the season was loaded with NFC East games. But this year the Cowboys are done with the Giants in week 8 and they play the Eagles for the second time on December 2. The Cowboys do finish the season with an NFC East matchup at the Redskins.

One of the things I like the most about the schedule is that the Cowboys don't have many holiday games this season. Those games are always challenging for me since my family has to schedule around the games. But the Cowboys only play on Thanksgiving this season. And they don't have the usual NFL Network this game in December which is also usually a big problem since Time Warner Cable still won't get on board with the NFL Network.

Overall the schedule looks tough. It isn't a surprise, but it always seems more real when the dates and times are set. I know the schedule is tough based on strength of schedule rankings, but we won't really know how tough it is until about a month into the season when we find out which teams will be good in 2012.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Cowboys Still Need to Fill Holes on the Roster

By nearly all accounts the Cowboys have done a great job so far this offseason. They have managed to fill several of the most glaring areas of need. But there is still quite a long way to go if the Cowboys want to go from a non-playoff team to a Super Bowl contender.

Let's start on the defensive line. So far the Cowboys have done essentially nothing to improve the most important part of the defense. Sure, they gave Anthony Spencer the franchise tag but all that did was guarantee that the pass rush won't be worse than last year. But, outside of Demarcus Ware, the pass rush was nearly non-existent last year. Bringing Spencer back helps maintain status quo, but changes are needed if we expect to see improvement. The Cowboys can still make a bargain free agency signing or two to help shore up the defensive line and outside linebacker depth. But it seems more likely that they intend to pick defensive line/outside linebacker either the first or second round of the draft or both.

At safety the Cowboys did sign Brodney Pool to replace Abe Elam. But that is a minor upgrade at most. The Cowboys have been trying for far too long to find viable starting safeties. With Gerald Sensabaugh locked up long term at one spot it leaves the other position in flux. Depending on how the draft plays out it might turn out that Pool and Barry Church will share time while Sensabaugh plays full time. It is frustrating to see the same position handcuff the Cowboys defense year after year with no long term solution on the horizon. Maybe Barry Church is the answer but, if he were going to be an impact player, we probably would have seen some flashes of that by now.

Wide receiver depth has become a big concern now that Laurent Robinson has left for Jacksonville. There are some young players on the roster with potential but it is scary to think that one of those guys could be forced to step into a starting role early in the season with the injury history of Dez Bryant and Miles Austin. The Cowboys need to find a solid veteran in free agency who can man the #3 spot early in the season while either one of the young players on the roster or a draft pick can get worked into the offense. I'd like to see Dwayne Harris be the answer at the #3 receiver but he obviously didn't show enough during practice last year to warrant much playing time. Maybe a real offseason will do him some good.

The good news is that the Cowboys don't have nearly as many positions of need as they did heading into the offseason. They are set at middle linebacker with the signing of Dan Connor. And they have shored up the middle of the offensive line by signing Mackenzy Bernardeau and Nate Livings. I'm not sure that both guys are starters, but at least the Cowboys have gotten younger and bigger in the middle of the line. Now if David Arkin or Bill Nagy can improve over the offseason there might be some real depth on the offensive line for the first time in a long time.

Fullback seems to now be a position of strength with Lawrence Vickers on board to lead block for Demarco Murray and Felix Jones. I loved what Tony Fiametta brought to the table last season but he couldn't stay healthy. And Vickers is a much nastier lead blocker than Fiametta was. It is exciting to think what a healthy Demarco Murray might do with a big fullback and a real offensive line.

Heading into the draft I'd like to see the Cowboys get a defensive end and/or outside linebacker either in the first or second round, a safety in the first or second round, another cornerback, a wide receiver, and more defensive line/outside linebacker depth. At least the Cowboys won't be entering the draft with a bunch of glaring needs. I think defensive line is still a big need position but they have their bases covered everywhere else.