Dallas Cowboys: 2012 NFL draft

I have no idea what the Cowboys are doing

April, 28, 2012
4/28/12
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The one thing I'll say is I thought the Dallas Cowboys had to make this just about a defense-only draft, and so far they have. They have made four picks, all have been defensive players, and they just wrapped up the fourth round by taking strong safety Matt Johnson from Eastern Washington. I'd love to tell you something interesting about Johnson, but I just don't have anything. Our Scouts Inc. rating service ranked him the No. 72 safety available in this year's draft, and his scouting report page on our site is blank. I found him on Draft Scout, which ranked him the No. 16 strong safety in this draft and says he's been rising on boards this spring. Kid ran a 4.53 in the 40-yard dash at his pro day, which I'm sure opened some eyes. He's 6-foot-1, 212 and made the Big Sky's preseason all-conference team. He was a very productive college player, with 17 interceptions in his career.

So I don't know. The Cowboys have scouts and they have coaches and those guys know what kinds of players they like and look for. There's no reason to take a guy in the fifth round that everybody else likes if you find something you like about a guy much further down the list. Perhaps Rob Ryan sees something in Johnson that he believes will ultimately make an impact.

My issue is that the Cowboys have drafted three straight head-scratchers. Tyrone Crawford, Kyle Wilber and now Johnson are all guys who appear to be long-range projects if not (in Johnson's case) outright fliers. And they used their first-round and second-round picks on one player, albeit the best defensive player in the draft in cornerback Morris Claiborne. For a team that had as many needs at as many positions as the Cowboys did going into the draft, I'm just not sure they've done anything since early Thursday night to make their 2012 team better. We may look a few years down the road here and say they built a monster championship defense with their quirky picks in this year's draft, but in the instant-analysis period, it's hard to understand what they're up to.

Explaining myself on the Claiborne trade

April, 27, 2012
4/27/12
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Morris ClaiborneJerry Lai/US PresswireThe Cowboys traded up to draft former LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne Thursday night.
One of the reasons I love Twitter, as part of my job, is that I believe this blog needs to be a constantly ongoing, evolving discussion about these four teams, and Twitter is a useful extension of that. Case in point: Thursday night, the Dallas Cowboys make their trade up in the draft to pick Morris Claiborne. I write a quickie reaction post saying I don't like the trade (the trade, not the player, mind you), and my Cowboys fans on Twitter are very upset about it. Hey, I get it. I rained on your parade. You're sitting there with the best defensive player in the draft and I'm telling you they made a mistake. I understand the reactions. Completely.

But overnight, and this morning, my conversations with you all on Twitter have helped me crystallize my thoughts on this matter. And rather than continue to try and explain them in 140-character snippets, I figured I'd do a blog post explaining my reasoning in a more in-depth fashion than was permitted by an instant-analysis post filed from the frantic floor of Radio City Music Hall. So here goes.

PODCAST
ESPNDallas.com's Todd Archer reviews the first round of the draft and looks ahead to the rest of the weekend. What grade do the Cowboys get for moving up to No. 6 for LSU CB Morris Claiborne?

Part 1 Listen     Part 2 Listen
First of all, I love the player. None of my criticism of this move should be construed by anyone as criticism of Claiborne himself. I believed the Cowboys needed to draft the best defensive player available to them, and they drafted the best defensive player available to anyone. It is my opinion that Claiborne will be an excellent player for Dallas. I think he'll be the best corner on the team by Halloween, and if not for the wrist injury that's going to cost him the OTA portion of the offseason I think he could have been that even sooner.

The problem, of course, is that I don't know how good he'll be, and neither do the Cowboys and neither does anyone else. High draft picks bust all the time, and sometimes they're guys who looked as though they couldn't miss. That's why, in most cases, it's important for teams to be careful with their picks -- to try and get as many good-looking prospects as possible, especially in the early rounds, as a hedge against the possibility that one or a couple of them don't pan out. Sure, there are teams that find themselves in position to make bold moves to jump and go all-in for one player. But I don't think this year's Cowboys are such a team, and that's why I wouldn't have done what they did if I'd been in their position -- no matter how much I liked Claiborne.

One of the results of the move, as many of you have pointed out, is that the Cowboys -- who were utterly dreadful in the secondary last year -- now have one of the deepest and most talented cornerback groups in the league. With Claiborne joining free-agent addition Brandon Carr and holdovers Mike Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick, they have succeeded in turning a killer weakness into a strength. All of that is true, and given the manner in which secondary play sunk their 2011 season, I can understand the temptation to go over the top to fix it.

But there are other results of this move that are more detrimental to the Cowboys' offseason plans than Claiborne himself is beneficial. They still need help for the pass rush and the defensive line, and they could still use an upgrade at safety. Making this trade means they'll get to the end of the second round without having addressed any of those areas. Jason Garrett said just the other day that he believes you get your starting-quality players in the first three rounds. This deal means they've decided to use this draft to get only two of those instead of three. Given their many areas of need, in the short and long terms, I consider this unwise.

Also, there's a report out this morning that they're now trying to trade Jenkins. They're not going to get anything decent for Jenkins now. He's coming off shoulder surgery, couldn't stay on the field last year and, after they spent two picks on a cornerback Thursday night, everybody in the league knows Jenkins is an extraneous piece for them. They won't get good value for him. If they'd wanted to replace him, they should have traded him last week and then moved up to take Claiborne. This is a team that has totally changed its plan on the fly in the past 24 hours, and that's not a good way to do offseason NFL business.

One comparison many of you have used in arguments against me is the Redskins, who clearly gave up much more to move up four spots and draft Robert Griffin III than the Cowboys did to move up eight spots and draft Claiborne. The Redskins, you say, have even more needs, and therefore even more reason to play carefully with their picks. And that is also true. But every team's situation is different, and the Redskins' crying need to do something big at quarterback drove their decision. The Redskins absolutely had to make the trade they made to get Griffin. And as good a player as Claiborne is, and as bad as Dallas was in the secondary last year, they did not absolutely have to make a big move to go up and get him. Not in the same way the Redskins needed to address quarterback. Not even close.

Will any of this matter? Who knows? You can't judge a draft in the first 24 hours or even the first 24 months. If Claiborne is the next Deion Sanders, nobody will care that the Cowboys didn't make as many 2012 picks as they should have made. And you'll remember me (if you remember me at all) as the clown who ripped the pick when they made it. All I can do is sit here right now and read the situation as I see it. The way I see it, the Cowboys had no business using their first two picks on just one player who plays a position they already addressed -- in a major, costly way -- in free agency. That's not a great use of resources. And as much fun as it is to pick out the player you like most in the draft and go get him, it's usually smarter to view these draft choices as resources. The Cowboys don't have as many of them now as they would have had if they'd stayed put, selected one of the very good defensive players still available at 14 and held onto a potentially useful second-round pick. In my opinion, they don't have as many of them as they still need.

Cowboys need to keep it boring tonight

April, 26, 2012
4/26/12
12:19
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I was thinking this morning about the Dallas Cowboys' draft and I remembered the scene in "The Wire" in which Proposition Joe tells Stringer Bell that boredom is what kills more cops than bullets and liquor. "You keep it boring, String," he says.

Now, I know things didn't turn out so great for Stringer and Prop Joe, but I think this is good advice tonight for the Cowboys. The aspect of Dallas' offseason so far that has earned them so much praise is that it hasn't been flashy. Yeah, they spent big on cornerback Brandon Carr, but that was a matter of filling their biggest need with a free agent, and paying what top free agents cost. They didn't jump into the Mario Williams sweepstakes, or overspend on the top offensive linemen. They picked and chose players they liked at the positions they needed, bringing in lesser-known linemen to compete with the youngsters they already have. They have stayed patient, rather than jump out and make the big, headline-grabbing moves for which they used to be known.

This should continue tonight and this weekend. The Cowboys have eight picks, and they need them. What their roster lacked most detrimentally last season was depth, particularly on defense. This isn't the year to make a dramatic first-round trade-up. Somebody asked me this morning on Twitter if they should go up and get Morris Claiborne. They should not. I don't even think they should move up into the top 10 if that's what it'll take to get Mark Barron or Fletcher Cox, two guys who should be at the top of their wish list. I believe they will find a good defensive player at No. 14 who can help them, and I think their best bet is to sit right there, keep all of the later-round picks to help address that depth problem, and take whoever's the highest-ranked defensive player still on their board.

In the blogger mock draft Monday, this is what I did for Dallas, and the guy I took was Michael Brockers. Cowboys fans yelled at me. Said I copped out. That I should have made a bold move up like I did with the Eagles. But the fact is, the Eagles have 10 picks, including two second-rounders, and a deeper NFL roster than the Cowboys have. They're in position to move up to get Cox if they so choose. The Cowboys would be making a mistake.

This Cowboys draft must, as the last two offseasons have, reflect Jason Garrett more than it reflects Jerry Jones. Everybody knows Jones has the final say in the draft room. Everybody knows Jones likes the splashy move. But this isn't the year to trade up for Dez Bryant. Jones has said all of the right things about wanting Garrett to be in a position to succeed, and he appears to be making good on those words. He will need to resist temptation tonight and continue along that same path. The Cowboys need as much help and as many players as possible. No. 14 isn't a bad place to be sitting in this first round. They'll get somebody there who can make an impact, right away and in the long term. There's no need to make a rash move up and sacrifice later picks. Keep it boring, Jerry. Keep it dead boring.

Tony Romo OK with offense or defense

April, 25, 2012
4/25/12
9:40
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IRVING, Texas – A few years ago, Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones coined the term “Romo friendly” when discussing the team’s plans.

It applied to free agency, the draft and who was or wasn’t on the roster.

On Tuesday, Tony Romo was asked if he would like to see the Cowboys go after Stanford guard David DeCastro with their first pick. Certainly that would be a "Romo friendly" move, but the quarterback wasn’t biting.

“My attention is for anybody who is going to make us better,” Romo said. “If it makes our defense a dominant defense, I’m all for that. If it makes our offensive line dominant, I’m all for that. If it makes anything, I think that’s what you’re looking for. At this position, it is just about winning, so whatever is going to help us win. I think we have some intelligent people at the top who are doing a good job with that stuff.”

IRVING, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys have the 14th pick in Thursday's NFL draft. They need to use it.

This isn't the time to move up. Or down. The Cowboys simply need to stay put and select the best player according to their draft board when it's time for them to make their first selection.

Do that, and they're guaranteed to add a good player who can help a franchise that has been stuck in the abyss of mediocrity for nearly two decades.

Trading down is dumb. And, in this particular draft, unnecessary. Plus, there's nothing in the Cowboys' recent draft history to suggest they could take advantage of any additional picks they would acquire.

The eight picks they have right now will do the trick just fine.

Read the full column here.

NFC East draft podcast: Eagles

April, 25, 2012
4/25/12
9:15
AM ET
ESPNDallas.com's Calvin Watkins looks ahead to the NFL Draft and the needs of their division rivals.

Today he talks with Jeff McLane, Eagles beat writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Play Download

NFC East draft podcast: Redskins

April, 24, 2012
4/24/12
5:36
PM ET
ESPNDallas.com's Calvin Watkins looks ahead to the NFL Draft and the needs of their division rivals.

Today he talks with Mike Jones, Redskins insider for the Washington Post.

Play Download

Chad Hennings to announce 2nd-round pick

April, 23, 2012
4/23/12
3:02
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Former defensive lineman Chad Hennings will announce the Cowboys' second-round pick Friday as the NFL is bringing retired players to the microphone for the second consecutive draft.

Hennings played for Dallas from 1993 to 2000, compiling 27.5 sacks.

Charles Haley made the second-round announcement at last year's draft when the Cowboys took North Carolina linebacker Bruce Carter.

ESPN blogger mock: Dallas picks Brockers

April, 23, 2012
4/23/12
3:01
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Things didn't work out exactly the way I planned for the Dallas Cowboys in the ESPN blogger mock draft Monday. Yes, the Eagles traded up to No. 7 to take Fletcher Cox, a player the Cowboys like a lot. But for the Cowboys I decided not to get into such excitement. First of all, they don't have the cushion the Eagles have with two second-round picks. And second of all, they need to add depth all along the roster, so I decided that if they traded they'd come away with more picks rather than fewer.

As the draft wound on into the middle of the first round, I was thinking my top Cowboys target, Alabama safety Mark Barron, would be there at No. 14. So when James Walker of the AFC East blog called on behalf of the Patriots and offered a first-round pick (No. 27 overall) and a second-round pick (No. 48), I said no. James pointed out that each side of the deal added up to exactly 1,100 points on the NFL draft trade value chart, and for a second I thought we should make the deal just based on that coincidence alone. But I held off, thinking Barron would fall to 14.

Little did I know, James was also talking to Mike Sando about the Seahawks' No. 12 overall pick. James offered Mike both of the Patriots' first-round picks (No. 27 and No. 31) for the No. 12 pick and a fourth-rounder (N0. 106). Guess I should have asked James for more, because that's a steal for Sando, who happily gave up the No. 12 and began making plans for what to do with his two first-rounders. James moved up to 12 and took Barron for the Patriots, and I started fielding offers for the No. 14 pick.

No one was interested, though, so when 14 rolled around, I took the player I believed would be the highest on the Cowboys' board at that point -- LSU defensive lineman Michael Brockers. What I like about Brockers for the Cowboys is that he's a more polished, NFL-ready prospect than is Dontari Poe (who would fall all the way to the Steelers at No. 24!) and that he's versatile enough to play any spot on the Cowboys' defensive line. He can play inside as a defensive tackle alongside Jay Ratliff when they line up in 4-3 sets. He can play end in a 3-4 (and allow them to move on from Kenyon Coleman or Marcus Spears if they so choose). He can spell Ratliff at the nose when and if they decide to move Ratliff outside. I just felt as though he'd appeal to Rob Ryan as a guy who could do a lot for him -- and do it right away -- in a defense that relies on constantly changing looks and fronts.

I thought about Poe, and Quenton Coples, and Stephon Gilmore, and Dre Kirkpatrick, and Courtney Upshaw. But in the end, I believe that, of the post-Barron choices, Brockers was the one that fit the Cowboys the best.

(NOTE: Stanford guard David DeCastro was also gone, at 11 to the Chiefs, but as you know I believe the Cowboys should be focused on defense in this round. And probably all of them.)

So what do you think, Cowboys fans? Did I get it right? Did I pick the wrong guy? Was I wrong to turn down the Patriots' offer? I eagerly await your feedback.

Blogger Mock Draft Live

April, 23, 2012
4/23/12
11:57
AM ET
Join our NFL bloggers as they give you their final predictions for Thursday night's NFL draft.

We'll go pick-by-pick until the first round is done, sharing analysis and taking your thoughts and questions.

We'll begin the draft at 1 p.m. ET. Join us via Twitter with the hashtag #ESPNbloggermock. See you there.

How trades could impact first round

April, 23, 2012
4/23/12
11:43
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ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay looks at how potential first-round trades could impact several teams, including the Cowboys.

Is drafting a quarterback an option?

April, 22, 2012
4/22/12
1:26
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The Cowboys are committed to Tony Romo.

He has two years remaining on his contract and if he has a strong 2012 season, the team is open to giving him a new contract. There are no signs the Cowboys would even draft a quarterback, especially with the team signing Kyle Orton in free agency this spring to become No. 2 on the depth chart.

Of course, the Cowboys have Stephen McGee, the third-string quarterback, who has struggled at times to develop.

But with every season, NFL teams are looking to improve every position on the roster. Jason Garrett has said it's good to have competition at every position.

Should drafting a quarterback in the middle rounds -- the Cowboys have two fourth-round picks -- be an option?

We look at five QB possibilities:

Brandon Weeden: His age, 28, scares some NFL teams, but that age for the two-year starter from Oklahoma State gives him an advantage because he's more mature than some quarterbacks.

Russell Wilson: The biggest problem with Wilson is height. He's 5-10 5/8, but the 23-year-old makes plays. In his senior season at Wisconsin, he completed 72.8 percent of his passes and threw 33 TDs and just four INTs.

Case Keenum: The Abilene, Texas, product was a four-year starter at Houston. He did a nice job of making throws out of the pocket and reading defenses. His pocket awareness is a concern, but that can improve.

G.J. Kinne: A Gilmer, Texas, product who transferred to Tulsa from Texas. Kinne battled a knee problem his senior season but started 13 games for Tulsa. He finished the season with 28 TDs and 12 INTs. One of Kinne's weakness is his average arm strength.

John Brantley: Tim Tebow's backup at Florida is athletic and can make all the throws necessary, yet isn't very accurate. Brantley completed 60 percent of his throws his senior season with 11 TDs and seven INTs during an injury-filled senior season.

Mel Kiper's 'Grade A' moves for NFC East

April, 19, 2012
4/19/12
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Mel Kiper Jr.'s latest mock draft goes three rounds deep, and for this particular exercise Mel is not predicting which teams will take which players. He's gone through and made the picks based on what he would do if he were running each particular team. He calls it his "Grade A" draft, which means the draft each team would have to have to earn a grade of "A." It's insider, so I'll give you the names but you'll have to pay to read the explanations. The comments here are mine.

Washington Redskins

Round 1: Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor

Round 3: Zebrie Sanders, OT, Florida State

As we have said here many times, if the Redskins start thinking offensive line once they've officially selected their franchise quarterback, they have the right idea.

Dallas Cowboys

Round 1: Mark Barron, S, Alabama

Round 2: Andre Branch, OLB, Clemson

Round 3: Justin Bethel, CB, Presbyterian

Defense, defense, defense. That's what the Cowboys need -- quality and depth at every possible defensive position. This would give them a safety, a pass-rusher and a cornerback. Cowboys fans would be overjoyed.

Philadelphia Eagles

Round 1: Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State

Round 2 (46): Zach Brown, LB, North Carolina

Round 2 (51): Dwayne Allen, TE, Clemson

Round 3: Kirk Cousins, QB, Michigan State

Chatter lately is that they might have to move up for Cox, but Mel says he doesn't have him rated high enough that he believes they will. He'd be their perfect pick, and Cousins in the third would be a nifty developmental QB prospect behind Michael Vick. A linebacker and a tight end in between -- Grade A indeed.

New York Giants

Round 1: Coby Fleener, TE, Stanford

Round 2: David Wilson, RB, Virginia Tech

Round 3: Donald Stephenson, OT, Oklahoma

Remember, this isn't what Mel thinks will happen, but what he'd do if he were in charge of the Giants. These are all need picks, and the Giants don't generally draft for need. These could also coincidentally be the best value picks at these spots, and if they are the Giants' draft would look great. But we'll see. I find it hard to believe they don't take a defensive player at all in the first three rounds.

Does Dontari Poe at No. 14 make sense?

April, 15, 2012
4/15/12
6:41
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Todd McShay's latest mock draft has the Cowboys taking Memphis defensive tackle Dontari Poe at No. 14, but history seems to say he's an unlikely pick.
video
Starting Thursday, the Cowboys can host prospective draft picks with local high school and college ties at the annual Dallas Day workout at Valley Ranch.

DeSoto native and Texas A&M running back Cyrus Gray will visit the Cowboys.

Gray, a 5-foot-10, 206-pounder, rushed for 2,178 yards and 24 touchdowns the past two seasons for the Aggies. But a stress fracture in his left shoulder forced him to miss the final two games of A&M's 2011 season and the Senior Bowl.

Gray ran a 4.47-second 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine and did some position work at Texas A&M's pro day.

Here's what Scouts Inc. had to say about Gray, a potential third- or fourth-round pick.

NFL Draft Scout also provides some insight.

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