Cowboys Draft 2012: Let’s Begin at the Beginning

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Update:  The most interesting crumb with this still-early Monday morning comes from the South Florida Sun-Sentinel’s Omar Kelly, who says Tony Sparano may become the OC for the Chiefs, who just made Romeo Crennell their new head coach.  (See the box.)

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We have plenty to discuss in this vital 2012 off-season.  Coaching changes — and from the Twitter-noise this weekend, it appears the Cowboys will make changes to their staff, especially on the defensive side of the ball.  Free agent signings, which will crank up at the beginning of March, and of course, the draft.

Let’s begin this year with a refresher on how the Cowboys draft.  We’re bombarded with information from a player-ranking sources these days.  It’s important when you look at this data not to be misled by round numbers — pun intended.

When you see draft analysts like Wes Bunting or Mel Kiper discuss player talent, they often discuss where they think a player will be chose.  This rating, however, does not compare to how many teams rate players.

Many NFL clubs, the Cowboys included, assign value based on how good and how quickly a player will contribute.  There may be 32 picks in each round, but this does not mean Dallas assigns 32 first round grades.  The team calculates how many players can be impact or solid starters and works accordingly.

This number changes year-to-year.  In 2008, Dallas gave 1st-round grades to 21 players.  In 2009, it was 23.  In 2010, the Cowboys gave out 24.  I’ve been told that 1st-round numbers usually fluctuate between 18 and 24.  This number and the draft order often determines how Dallas behaves in a given draft.  Often when it picked at the bottom of the round, the team has tried to move up and ensure it got a player with a 1st-round grade with its 1st-round pick, thus justifying a 1st-round contract.

I’ve been told, by Wes and other sources, that the 2012 draft won’t be as deep.  One reason I chose to work with Wes is that his rating system is similar to that used by teams like Dallas.  In the NFP system, players with grades 7.0 and higher are considered first-year starters.  Right now, Bunting has nineteen players 7.0 or higher, though that number will creep up a bit when the last juniors declare.

From a draft-gaming perspective, this suggests the Cowboys will do what they did in 2011, and stand pat.  They pick 14th, and are assured of getting a player with a 1st round grade.  If they get cute and trade down more than a handful of picks, they risk missing out on any player with a 1st-round grade, never mind getting one at a position of need.

Trading up is always an option in Jerry-World, but with so many holes in the starting 22, I think this option should also get small odds.   Dallas didn’t try very hard to land Patrick Peterson last season, though he would have been the ”splash” player Jerry loves so much.

I won’t know until close to draft time, but I’m guessing the Cowboys’ board will have somewhere between 18 and 20 1st round grades this season.  They’ve got a well positioned pick.  Now, can they get the right 1st rounder to fall into their reach?