Draft 2012: Are the Juniors Really Better Then the Seniors?

In part one of this week’s chat with the National Football Post’s Wes Bunting, he looks at the underclassmen who have just declared, and whether one of them would be a better fit for Dallas with its first pick.

Cowboys Nation:  Which juniors have you graded in the last week who look like possible 1st round picks?

Wes Bunting:  I watched Trent Richardson’s coaches tape for the first time today, and he’s as good as everybody has said he is.

The one I watched who could be interesting for you guys is Fletcher Cox, a defensive lineman from Mississippi State.  He’s 6’4”, 295 lbs.  They play him as a 5-technique and a 3-technique.  He’s got a quick burst off the ball. He’s athletic when he’s asked to stunt.  He plays with a poor pad level, however.  He gets upright off the football.  Even when he got a step one-gapping, you could still push him past the football because he played so high.

He did much better as a 5-technique, especially on perimeter runs.  He was okay with the bull rush.  If he learned how to play better if he got his pad level lower.  We’re always talking about these one-gapping guys who could rush the passer, and I think he could do this.  He could be a fit for the Cowboys in that role.  I don’t like him as a 1st round pick.  I think of him more as a 2nd rounder.  I know some people has him as a top-20 guy.  I don’t think he’s that good, but I do think that as a 5-technique, he’s a guy who could start in year two or three.

CN:  Let’s move to the Cowboys 1st round.  They can go in a lot of directions depending on the Giants outcome.  If they lose, they could jump all the way into the 14-16 range, and that might be the best situation for this team going forward.

Say they wind up there, around pick 15-16.  Who could be there for them, given Dallas’ biggest needs of interior offensive line, pass rusher and corner?

WB:  As pass rusher?   [Courtney] Upshaw from Alabama.  I still think Bruce Irvin has a run up the boards in him.  He’s talked about as an early 2nd rounder right now, but I believe he’ll test well at the Senior Bowl and with the lack of top pass rushers, he’ll rise.

Nick Perry from USC is an interesting guy.  He’s just declared.  He’s got a good get off.  He’s a bit linear, though, especially when he has to flatten out.  As a complement to DeMarcus Ware, however, you just need to have a good motor, which he does.  Some dynamic qualities, which he has, and you need the ability to find the quarterback.  He’s also good against the run, so Perry might be in play as well.

None of these guys are in Von Miller’s or Aldon Smith’s class.  When he talked about Smith last year, I thought he would be a 15 sack a year guy.  He’s got 14 as a rookie.  These guys, Upshaw, Perry, they’re more in the Ryan Kerrigan class, 8-9 sack-a-year guys.

[David] DeCastro may be there at 14-15.  I think it’s possible to have a guard in the top 10, but both Pouncey brothers went in the 15-18 range.

CN:  Aside from DeCastro, are there any guards who merit 1st round attention?

WB:  It’s a nice guard class.  Osmele from Iowa State could slide into the late 1st, but I’ve talked to some scouts lately who have some concerns about him.  Not off the field, but as a player, so I’m not sure you can slot him into the 1st.

CN:  Let’s go back to the top pass rushers.  Let’s say Bruce Irvin runs as well as you anticipate, has a strong Senior Bowl week, and starts rising.  If you’re Dallas, and you’re at 15 or 16, who’s the better fit, if you want a dynamic rusher, Irvin or Melvin Ingram?

WB:  Oooh, that’s a good question.  I like dynamic guys off the edge and I know Bruce didn’t have the greatest senior year, but watching that guy get after it off the edge on his junior tape, I think I would take Bruce Irvin.  That’s thinking he comes in at 240-245.  He could come in at 225-230 and I’d have some concerns and drop down down the board.  Now if he weighs in at 240, and is flying in off the edge and causing fits, which I think he can do, I like him.  

This is nothing against Ingram.  I see other sites are starting to move him up.  I think Ingram is one of the most dynamic rushers in the draft.  I like him better than Nick Perry.  I just like the makeup and the demeanor of Irvin a little more.  When I watched his junior tape, he flashed like Von Miller.  And he played a 5-technique at 240 pounds.

CN:  You’re taking on offensive tackles.  And I imagine he’s the guy all West Virginia’s opponents targeted, so he was chipped a lot.

WB:  They also had a new coaching staff there.  These are things that can drop him down a draft board.

CN:  I’ve heard he had some off-field problems when he was very young.  Would that hurt his draft stock?

WB:  I just know he was from a tough family situation, from a tough area and he plays with a real buzz to him, like “I’m going to prove the world wrong, ’cause everyone said I couldn’t.”  I like that about him.

CN:  Can he hold the edge in the NFL if teams put a tight end opposite him and run right at him?

WB:  It’s not going to be his strength.  He would rather run around blocks than try and stack.

CN:  You talk about Upshaw and Perry being in the Kerrigan class. Talk about Irvin and Ingram, since I sense that to you they are the two best edge rushers in this draft.  Can they be double-digit guys in the NFL?

WB:  Yeah.  Irvin could one of the better pass rushers.  Ingram?  I like him as a rush guy.  They’re not the same physical prospects, Irvin and Ingram, but when I watch Ingram,  he’s so sudden in tight areas.  When I watch him change directions and that sudden, violent hand movement, he reminds me a bit of Aldon Smith.  And he plays around.  He stands up.  He plays inside.  He plays end, just like Aldon Smith.

Next:  Wes runs down a guard class which now has seven players in his top 40.

Rafael Vela

Rafael Vela

Senior Analyst Cowboys Nation.com at Sports Talk Line
Started covering Dallas Cowboys @ TheBoys.com in '95 and '96. Two more stops along the way and here I am. Senior Analyst for SportsTalkLine.com
Rafael Vela

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  • kameleon_o

    Hey Raf, I watched Illinois play UCLA and Whitney Mercilus looks like someone I’d like to have on my team. He plays DE but he’s basically the same size as Spencer. I’d bet he’d be available in the 2nd round but I have no idea if he translates well to OLB. He looks really athletic on the game film. What do you think Wes thinks about him??

  • cowboyny

    If the two stud lineman are unattainable, I am leaning towards taking a pass rusher over a cover CB. I would like to see the team not only sign a pass rusher in FA, but also taking a high prospect in the draft. Team absolutely has to generate more pressure up front. I really like Ingram and his ability to play multiple positions.

    • I would go after Campbell in FA and draft an Ingram in rd. 1.  You get a plus rushing DE and an OLB who can also line rush outside and inside.  You add two rushers to Ratliff and Ware.  If Hatcher adds rush, you’ve got a killer front seven all of a sudden.

      The problem with my off-season fantasy is that Calais Campbell appears on his way to re-signing with Arizona.  A story there on Christmas Day said the Cards had advanced to ”intermediate” level talks with his agent. 

      If he drags it out until the end of February and decides to test the market, he’s number one with a bullet on my list.  25 year old 3-4 DEs who average 7.0 sacks a season and can block kicks don’t grow on trees.  

      • Bluefin

        The thing that has killed me about the team the past two seasons is they haven’t even tried an alternative to Anthony Spencer in obvious passing situations.

        Spencer has 32 QB pressures over the last two years (14 in ’10, 18 in ’11) with one game to play per the DMN Cowboys blog.

        We’re talking about 1 pressure per game two seasons running yet Wade Phillips and Rob Ryan haven’t tried anyone else in a pass rushing role.

        I know Victor Butler isn’t Greg Ellis, but am I supposed to believe he’d be less effective than Spencer on third downs?

        If that’s true, Butler shouldn’t be on the roster.

        Why would it have hurt to let Spencer focus on early downs and try Butler out as a designated rush end in the Nickel for a couple of weeks this year or last?

        The pass rush was at its best under Wade when Spencer was used in exactly that kind of early down role and El played the rush downs.

        Butler (3 sacks, QB pressures unknown) plays less than 1/4 the snaps Spencer (6 sacks,  18 pressures) does and he’s often dropping into coverage when on the field.

        How could Butler possibly have fewer sacks than Spencer if given a chance only on Nickel downs?

        Playing fewer snaps would probably make Spencer a better player and more pass rush snaps for Butler couldn’t make the defense any worse in those situations.

        Why have two staffs settled for mediocre (at best) Nickel play out of Spencer the last two years?

        I remember Butler getting sat down last December for the home game against Philadelphia reportedly for not playing well enough on special teams.

        And Spencer gets a free pass as an utterly unproductive Nickel DE for two years?

        It just leaves me shaking my head.

      • Benjitsu

         speaking of next years free agents and your dream list,is there any way you could do a write up on that subject?

  • Milkshaker

    Living in ACC/Big East country, I’ve seen WVU maybe 8 times. I’m a Terp fan. Irvin killed MD in 2010 for 3 sacks — nearly killed the QB too — and was just a general terror. 2011 he was a non-entity. 

    Irvin doesn’t really have any pass rush technique. He lines up ridiculously wide and runs around the Tackle. Or the Tackle over-commits to the edge and Irvin hops inside. Mainly he is just out-athleting people right now. It’ll be interesting to see how he handles LB drills.

    I don’t believe he’s a guy who’s starting early. I see a situational rusher for at least 1 year and maybe 2. Maybe we sign Spencer and on passing downs Irvin comes in. We’d need a vet.

    I think Upshaw and Perry are much safer choices. Irvin is a swing for the fences. He won’t bust, but he may never develop a full game either.

  • Salman327

    So is Spencer pretty much a goner?

  • kameleon_o

    What does he think about Brandon Jenkins playing OLB in a 3-4??