Cowboys' wow came early, needs later

April, 28, 2012
4/28/12
9:19
PM ET
IRVING, Texas -- After the Dallas Cowboys traded up to get Morris Claiborne with the sixth pick in the NFL draft Thursday, everything else was a letdown.

Not to the Cowboys, surely, but to fans and those who somehow become draft experts by watching five plays on YouTube.

[+] EnlargeMorris Claiborne
Jerry Lai/US PresswireAfter making a splash moving up to get LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne, the Cowboys stuck to their draft board.
Who’s Tyrone Crawford? How does Kyle Wilber solve the pass-rushing issue? Matt Johnson, a safety from Eastern Washington? Can Danny Coale play? Will James Hanna be able to be a full-fledged tight end? What is a Caleb McSurdy?

The calls for Jerry Jones’ resignation started in the draft when the team took players that were not highly rated by scouting services or the well-known gurus.

We’ll find out who is right or who is wrong eventually, but the instant evaluations can be somewhat tedious. At the close of last season, teams had 56.6 percent of their draft picks from 2007-11 remaining on their rosters.

The Cowboys had 54 percent. Minnesota had the best at 69 percent. St. Louis was worst at 40 percent. Jacksonville and New England had 47 percent.

For all the scouting and all the money, hitting on a player is slightly better than 50-50. So don't get too worked up just yet over guys at the back end of the draft.

Did anybody know that a seventh-round pick out of Auburn in 2005 that played three different positions would develop into an All-Pro nose tackle? Maybe Jay Ratliff did, but nobody else did.

If you just base the draft on the positions the Cowboys selected, they filled holes along the defensive line, secondary, tight end and wide receiver.

The Cowboys waited until after the draft to address the offensive line, in part because the team added two guards in unrestricted free agency (Mackenzy Bernadeau and Nate Livings), drafted three linemen last year (Tyron Smith, David Arkin, Bill Nagy) and had a college free agent (Kevin Kowalski) make the roster.

“We’ve spent some resources [on the offensive line],” executive vice president Stephen Jones said. “We’ll continue to look at it, continue to try to get better, but I think we are getting better.”

If Jason Garrett mentions high motor one more time, it will soon become a drinking game at most college fraternities. The selections had common characteristics: hard workers, studious, leaders, smart. Garrett loves those traits. Last year’s draft class, Garrett’s first, had the same thing.

Will Crawford, the Boise State defensive end, become the pass-rushing threat the Cowboys have lacked at defensive end? Can Wilber replace Anthony Spencer down the road? Johnson’s productivity makes him attractive, but can he handle the jump up in level of play? Coale has all the tools of a good slot receiver and Hanna can be a pass-catching tight end, but are they multi-dimensional at their positions?

Maybe.

But this draft is all about Claiborne. For now.

The Cowboys’ move to get Claiborne was bold. They got the highest-rated defensive player in the draft and the second-highest player they had rated on their board. In a division with receivers like DeSean Jackson, Victor Cruz, Jeremy Maclin and Hakeem Nicks, and quarterbacks like Eli Manning, Michael Vick and now Robert Griffin III, addressing cornerback was key.

Would you have felt better about a draft that featured LSU defensive end Michael Brockers and linebacker Bobby Wagner in the first two rounds, which appears to be the way the Cowboys would have gone without the trade, or Claiborne?

Claiborne was the best player at an elite position. Brockers offers little in terms of pass rush and Wagner would seem to be a redundant pick, considering the shape of the roster.

“He’s everything we want,” coach Jason Garrett said of Claiborne, “Physically, and it’s a premier position. And he’s the right kind of guy.”

Todd Archer

ESPN Dallas Cowboys reporter

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