Cowboys Draft 2012: Let’s Begin at the Beginning

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?

Rafael Vela
Started covering Dallas Cowboys @ in '95 and '96. Two more stops along the way and here I am. Senior Analyst for
Rafael Vela

22 Replies to “Cowboys Draft 2012: Let’s Begin at the Beginning”

  1. Watching the Bama/LSU game last night, I was watching for several potential draftees. 

    First, I was rather un-impressed with Courtney Upshaw.  Yes, he won the defensive player of the game award.   But his sack was a free run to the QB.  He was completely untouched.  But watching him, I saw little in the way of explosiveness or speed.  Didnt see the greatest hustle.  I really question how this guy is an upgrade over Spencer.

    I did like the play of Donta Hightower at LB.  Not sure if he’s coming out, but he looked a lot more like a playmaker than Upshaw.

    Dre Kirkpatrick may be able to cover.  But his tackling is worse than Newman’s.  I guess when you’re 6’3″ and can really turn and run, you get rated high.  But he is one of the least physical guys I’ve seen try to tackle.  Deion level tackling.

    Not that we need him, but Trent Richardson is a beast.

    There’s a whole bunch of guys on both defensive lines that have a chance in the NFL.

    I liked what I saw of Claiborne.  It was tough to see much as Honey Badger seemed like he was picked on a lot.  Also, tough to get a feel for the Bama safeties as LSU never threw past 10 yards.

  2. raf, before we start grading draft picks,how about grading players on the team this past season.Who does the brass like and who do they think will improve (especially young OL).Who do you think will be gone in the off season?

  3. I have always struggled a little with the concept of “value” in the first round. That is, not taking a player in the first round b/c there are none left who you’ve given 1st round grades.
    History proves this theory has holes. There are numerous examples of teams who pick way late in the first round getting good players. So, in my mind, there is value in the late first even if you only give 18-20 guys first round grades.
    The rookie rage scale further minimizes the risk of picking a guy a little too early. In the end, if he turns out to be a very good football player, WHO CARES. Mel Kiper may say we “reached” but if he turns out to be a player…..
    While assigning “round value” to picks and being cognizant of that during the process is very good practice, I don’t think it should be the proximate driving factor in draft day decision making.
    Dallas kept trading down two years ago in the draft largely b/c of this consideration I think, and it hurt them badly. They wasted a draft. Part of that was b/c JJ traded away a 1st and 3rd in that year’s draft, but part of it was this “grade by round” concept.
    At some point, you have to ask yourself,
    1.       “do we think this guy can step in and contribute now and/or make a push to be a starter more sooner than later?”
    2.       “will he be off the board when we pick again?”
    If he will be likely off the board in the next pick, take him NOW. No one will care later that you “reached,” if he can play. And if you don’t trust your scouts to make that judgment, well, fire them.
    In short, if their pick in round 2 comes up, and they have no one on the board with a 1st or 2nd round grade, take the top 3rd rounder on your board and live with it.
    The 14th pick will be relatively easy I think. Every pick after that, dallas needs to be careful of out-thinking themselves.

    1. one more thing, i hope the scouting department grades themselves. it is easy to do.

      go back and look at a draft after 2/3 years. look at where you had players ranked, and see if you were right.

      look for trends in later rounds particularly.

      where we right, where were we wrong? why? how do we get better?

      1. Absolutely!  Problem is, ordinarily, we never know how a particular scout rates the prospects, because such info is kept secret.  Too bad.  If the world knew, then the better scouts’ would get a well deserved raise.

        What is not secret is the guys picked high, but failed, and those picked in the middle and later rounds, but became stars.  For instance, Jimmy Johnson’s 1st year starter at CB, Larry Brown, named later as SB MVP, was picked in round 12.  These are the most interesting stories, and I’d love to see an annual assessment of each team’s draft losers and winners, considering only the players with at least 3 years experience.  

        What you see a lot more of, the day after the draft, is opinions and speculations about who won the draft.  No objection, but what you see after 3 years is so much more revealing.  Who really knew, just after the draft, how bad the Bobby Carpenter draft would be?  Or the Felix/Jenkins draft?  Or the Spencer draft?  

        You have to wait and see.

        1. i have no problem if the info is not made public, but i do hope its being done.

          i guess with turnover of scouting dept personnel, it can become a little academic, but still a worthwhile endeavor.

          my guess is, there is a little luck involved, but hell, give me a lucky guy every day.

          when being told of the fine qualities of a general, whom he did not know, napoleon once interuppted his briefer with a simple question about this unknown general, “yes, but is he lucky?”

  4. Raf,
    Going back to coach changes, Jerry admits some changes will come. It doesn´t say new coaches so, why not to think in interior movements?How about Jimmy Robinson promoted to OC?  I know he´s always been recievers coach but, given that Garret and Jerry want Garret in full control, it would make sense to me. If they get Sparano he wont like to play a role were Garret is almost in full command.Also, I think Robinson will be pass firendly, just like Garret. 

    Is Jimmy a god option?

  5. At pick #14, I think the Cowboys are in a prime spot to get a good player.  However, what worries me is outside of Matt Kalil and David DeCastro, this draft isn’t deep in “can’t miss” offensive line prospects.  This could cause a talented player like DeCastro to go higher (ie. 8-12) than what is normally expected. 

    I’m a Melvin Ingram fan, but I’m curious to see how he actually times out and performs in position drills at the combine.  You have to remember that he mainly played with his hand down at S. Carolina, but will likely have to make the change to OLB in the pros. I also don’t think he’s the most physical player at the point of contact.  He reminds me a bit of Robert Ayers (former Tennessee Vol, now Denver Bronco).

        1. Then CB or pass rusher in rd 2.
          A quality G will be available in rd 3.

          NT Dontari Poe, 6′-5″, 350 lb, might be available at our pick #45 in rd 2.  If he’s for real, he would move Ratliff to weakside DE, who then becomes our 2nd pass rusher.  At NT, he is neutralized by constant double teams.

  6. While I am generally against trading future picks, considering we are in year two of rebuilding, what are the chances of the Cowboys doing so in order to nail two first rounders this year (I am looking at you, New England)?   

    1. Great in theory but given that, talent-wise, we are not 1 player away from winning the SB, I wouldn’t do it.  However, if we have a first round rated player sitting there (AFTER we pick in the 3rd round), then, I don’t mind paying a 2013 2nd rounder for a 2012 3rd rounder.  First rounders are too valuable for this team now.

      This brings up another thought – Raf, at this point in time, where does Wes think of the depth and strength of the 2013 draft?

      1. There is never a reason to trade future high draft picks.

        We traded our no.1 for Roy Williams and missed out on Clay Matthews.

        You never know who is going to be there in the 1st or 2nd round on draft day.

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