NFC East: NFL draft
It started with defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli talking about Bruce Carter needing to toughen up and play with more confidence.
Then we had secondary coach Jerome Henderson saying everybody on the defense has to improve.
Matt Eberflus, the linebackers coach, said the strongside and weakside linebacker spots, presently held by Justin Durant and Carter, are open.
The statements from these men are fine, of course, because people need to be called out and challenged.
Yet, many of the people doing the talking were part of a defense that gave up a franchise-worst 6,645 yards last season.
The Cowboys also gave up 2,056 rushing yards, ninth-most in franchise history.
You could say the coaches can only do so much from the sidelines and you might also comment about the players working within the scheme.
In reality, if the Cowboys' defense doesn't improve in 2014, several of the people doing all the talking won’t be around to collect Jerry Jones’ checks any longer.
You see, the head coach, Jason Garrett, is in a contract year. And while Jones doesn’t believe in lame-duck statuses -- calling it a politician's word -- if the Cowboys fail to reach the postseason for a fifth consecutive season, it’s very difficult to believe the same staff and defensive pieces will return.
Marinelli is a respected coach in this league but after last season’s debacle you begin to wonder if he’s lost his fastball.
Players love playing for him.
Listen to him talk and you want to play for him.
In a bottom-line business, Marinelli convinced the front office to sign free agent Henry Melton as the new three-technique defensive tackle while coming off a torn ACL.
Defensive end Jeremy Mincey, a free-agent signing who underachieved in Jacksonville, is another Marinelli confirmation.
Marinelli loves second-round pick DeMarcus Lawrence's passion and measureables and has the hopes of inserting him as DeMarcus Ware's replacement at right defensive end.
And because of that there is an expectation for Lawrence to produce in his rookie year considering what the Cowboys gave up to get him, swapping second-round picks with the Washington Redskins and giving up a third to get him.
Of course, you expect Marinellis’ magic to continue with George Selvie (seven sacks from left defensive end) and Nick Hayden (16 quarterback pressures from defensive tackle) in 2014.
Selvie was signed in training camp when injuries began to pile up along the defensive line. Hayden was already here looking at a backup role until injuries forced him into the starting lineup.
Are Selvie and Hayden going to finally be productive players or just below average?
There’s the tricky situation at linebacker where Carter hasn’t been consistent while making the adjustment from a 3-4 scheme to a 4-3 scheme.
Marinelli called Carter out the other day at Valley Ranch, but are you really calling somebody out who got benched for poor play during the 2013 season?
This whole thing isn’t mainly on Marinelli -- it’s on a lot of other people at Valley Ranch.
When the draft ended last week, the Cowboys were praised in many circles for how well they performed. It was about defense and seven of the nine picks were for Marinelli’s unit.
The Cowboys made football decisions for a change, bypassing the flash of Johnny Manziel at quarterback, and getting the substance of tackle Zack Martin.
Adding backups for middle linebacker Sean Lee (Anthony Hitchens in the fourth round), depth for the defensive line (Ben Gardner and Ken Bishop in the seventh) and strong side (Will Smith in the seventh) along with a safety (Ahmad Dixon in the seventh) appear solid decisions.
None of it means anything if the main people on the defensive roster and men like Marinelli don’t make it work.
And while Jerry Jones is supporting the ideas of adding more playoff teams, the decisions made for his defense need to have substance in 2014.
The Pittsburgh Steelers selected Shazier at No. 15, sending a surprise to some considering the AFC North team needed help at cornerback.
With Shazier off the board, the Cowboys went to the best player available and snagged Notre Dame tackle Zack Martin with the goal of moving him to guard in his rookie season.
But with the Cowboys having invested a second-round pick in 2011 in Carter, it seems the team is trying to move on from him.
“I think this guy was exceptional, instinctively and he certainly was exceptional with his speed and as fast as Carter is,” Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones said of Shazier, who ran a 4.3 40-yard dash. “(Carter is) not that fast. Those combinations of things, probably give you more playmaking ability.”
Jones said defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli could have used Shazier with middle linebacker Sean Lee and as a solid 1-2 combo. Henry Melton, who plays the three-technique defensive tackle spot, would have protected the weakside linebacker in a sense to make plays one-on-one.
The reality is the Cowboys wanted to replace Carter with a highly-regarded first-round pick. Carter endured some injuries and was benched last season for veteran Ernie Sims. Carter had to get used to changing schemes, 3-4 to 4-3 and move to the weakside linebacker spot.
Carter’s speed was thought to be an asset -- especially in pass coverage -- yet he struggled in that area at times last season.
“The ideal thing is to have Carter come on and be what he wants to be and what we want him to be,” Jones said. “And we hit right on the money here if we get the kinda guy we want out here.”
McClay, the Cowboys' assistant director of player personnel, was given the task of putting the draft board together and making sure the coaches and scouts were on the same page in terms of personnel.
And the man who makes the final call on all things Cowboys, Jerry Jones, gave McClay the highest grade possible for his work.
“From organizing the initial days, from the Senior Bowl all the way to the combine, the organization of the board, coordination with the coaches – I’m going over all that because I’ll break it down – and I couldn’t give him anything but an 'A' in every respect,” Jones said. “We all know how smart he is, but he’s got a unique perspective. He’s been around this game long enough. It really came to bear in that room. He made a significant, really a significant contribution to this being a success.”
The Cowboys made smart football decisions over the three days from bypassing quarterback Johnny Manziel, who was the top-rated player at the time of their selection at No. 16, to selecting Zack Martin, a tackle, who was the best player available.
In a draft where defense was needed, the Cowboys used all five of their seventh-round picks on defense. Upgrades to the defensive line were achieved when the team snagged defensive end Demarcus Lawrence in the second round and in Rounds 4 and 7 when Anthony Hitchens (fourth round) and Will Smith (seventh round) were selected to upgrade the inside linebacker spots.
Stephen Jones said despite giving up a third-round pick to move up in the second to draft Lawrence, it was worth it because the Cowboys picked up wide receiver Devin Street from Pittsburgh, considered one of the top receivers on their board.
There were little debates about players, and the Cowboys bypassed an opportunity to draft an offensive lineman in the middle rounds.
You could attribute the success of the draft to McClay and his staff.
“That may be his best trait,” Jones said. “He’s got great people skills. Everybody’s comfortable with him, but yet he’s real articulate. You understand clearly what he’s asking and what he’d like to get done. You put all that together and he did a great job. He had these coaches operating full bore as far as what they were doing, what he wanted of them. He coordinated.”
IRVING, Texas -- Demarcus Lawrence grew up in Aiken, South Carolina, and while there wasn’t a NFL team in the city, there was just one pro team to root for: the Dallas Cowboys.
When asked why the Cowboys are his favorite team, Lawrence said simply, “my dad. He’s the head of the household and somebody can’t stay in this house unless they are a Cowboys fan.”
Lawrence and his family got their wish when the Cowboys traded up in the second round to grab him with the 34th overall pick.
The Cowboys ranked Lawrence as the third best right defensive end in the draft behind No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney from South Carolina and UCLA’s Anthony Barr, who went to Minnesota at No. 9 overall.
“I felt like the Cowboys liked me a lot, but in the draft you never know where they’re going to go,” Lawrence said. “I’m just thanking God for everything and thinking Jerry (Jones) and the staff for trusting me.”
Despite only two seasons at Boise State, Lawrence was a playmaker. In 23 starts at Boise State, Lawrence had 20 sacks, 34 tackles for loss, seven forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
For his efforts last season, he earned a first-team All-Mountain West Conference selection.
The Cowboys like his pass-rush skills and the potential to replace DeMarcus Ware as the right defensive end. Lawrence played both end spots in college, but he's more suited as the pass-rusher in the Cowboys 4-3 scheme.
"I know it's some big shoes to fill, but I'm going to work my butt off and give it my all," he said. "I'm going to do all I can do to become the best and fill those shoes."
There are several mock drafts, ESPN's Todd McShay's and NFL Network's Mike Mayock, that have the Cowboys selecting Manziel in the first round.
Still, the possibility of drafting Manziel has raised speculation about the Cowboys' thought process.
"I mean anything is possible," Manziel said on Pro Football Talk Live. "I think all 32 teams are in play, you never know. Some of these teams, they’ve done way wackier things than that. For me it would really, really cool to go there, but not something I have stuck in my head. Jerry Jones has been extremely nice to me. He’s treated me very, very well and we’ve developed a little bit of a friendship over the past year and a half, just going to games or whatever it be."
Manziel has attended sporting events at AT&T Stadium, where he's met Jones. Manziel has also hung out with Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant recently, so there is a mutual respect from members in the organization, whether's its somebody in the front office to one of the players.
But it doesn't guarantee the Cowboys will draft Manziel.
"I went to A&M, redshirted, and sat behind [Ryan] Tannehill and learned a lot," Manziel said. "There’s guys that [have] been in the league and know a lot more than I know going in. If I need to sit and learn from them for a year or whatever the case may be, then I’m openly willing to do that if that’s what’s best for the team. That’s all I care about."
Usual disclaimers apply: I respect -- nay, revere -- the work Kiper does on the NFL draft. I don't think there's anyone who knows more about it, and I don't believe there's anyone who works harder to make sure that's the case. He's a machine, and nothing I write that disagrees with anything he writes should be taken as any kind of slight against the man, his work or his abilities.
The Giants have not selected a linebacker in the first round of the draft since Carl Banks in 1984.
Carl Banks. In 1984.
That's 30 years, during which the franchise has been run by basically the same people and under the same philosophy, and it's not a coincidence of history that it's been that long. Especially in the salary cap era, during which teams set their priorities and only allocate high-end resources (meaning big free-agent money and high draft picks) to those positions they feel deserve them, the Giants have consistently undervalued the linebacker position and sought to address it with bargains. Even more recently, as passing offenses have evolved to dominate the game, the Giants (and many other teams) increasingly spend more time in nickel defenses, which require only two linebackers on the field if you're a base 4-3. The Giants simply do not believe linebacker is a position worthy of a first-round pick, so they don't pick linebackers in the first round.
Is Mosley good enough to break that trend? Maybe. Did the extent to which Jon Beason revitalized their linebacker corps this year underline the importance of a high-energy field general at that position? Possibly, but it's worth noting that they only spent a seventh-round pick to get Beason, and that fact actually kind of supports their belief that they can get linebacker figured out without spending major resources on it.
So count me as a doubter that they'll pick Mosley at No. 12.
I think they should take the best available offensive lineman there, given the extent of their short-term and long-term needs on the line. Someone like Michigan tackle Taylor Lewan, should he fall (which he doesn't, in Mel's mock). But others will correctly point out that their bigger line needs are at guard and center, and can be addressed in Rounds 2 and 3. So what's most likely, in my opinion, is that the Giants take someone like Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans or North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron if one of them is there, to supply Eli Manning with a fresh new weapon on offense. Or they could go defense and snag someone like Florida State defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan or Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. Those picks would be much more in keeping with the Giants' drafting philosophy than would Mosley.
And hey, you never know. They went 11 years without drafting a running back in the first round before taking David Wilson two years ago. And they went 13 years without drafting an offensive lineman in the first round before taking Justin Pugh last year. So sometimes trends don't last. But this trend is at 29 years, which puts those others to shame. No offense to Mel or to Mosley, but I have a hard time imagining this.
For example, Mel has quarterback Geno Smith going to the Philadelphia Eagles with the No. 4 pick. But what happens if the Raiders take Smith at No. 3? Well, you can make that happen, and when you do you see that the Eagles' pick becomes cornerback Dee Milliner. Further down, the Dallas Cowboys' pick at No. 18 has changed from Sylvester Williams to Kenny Vaccaro, and the New York Giants' pick at 19 has changed from Desmond Trufant to Alec Ogletree as a result of the changes along the way.
You can also change which teams pick at which spots, effectively simulating draft trades if you like. I'd suggest bookmarking it and going back to it whenever you're bored in the next seven days before the first round finally happens. And yeah, it's Insider. No apologies here. Buy it.
As for the rest of our division, draft position depends on the results of tonight's game between the New York Giants and the Dallas Cowboys. If the Giants win, ESPN Stats & Info tells us, the Cowboys would pick 14th and the Philadelphia Eagles 15th. If the Cowboys win, the Eagles would pick 14th and the Giants would pick 18th.
The draft position of the winner of tonight's game will depend on how far they advance into the playoffs.
Anyway, for those of you in the division whose teams are eliminated from playoff contention, I present the current 2012 NFL Draft order, as it would stand if the season ended right this very minute, according to ESPN Stats & Information:
1. Indianapolis Colts (2-13)
2. St. Louis Rams (2-13)
3. Minnesota Vikings (3-12)
4. Cleveland Browns (4-11)
5. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-11)
6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-11)
7. Washington Redskins (5-10)
8. Miami Dolphins (5-10)
9. Carolina Panthers (6-9)
10. Buffalo Bills (6-9)
11. Kansas City Chiefs (6-9)
12. Arizona Cardinals (7-8)
13. Philadelphia Eagles (7-8)
14. Seattle Seahawks (7-8)
15. San Diego Chargers (7-8)
16. Chicago Bears (7-8)
The tiebreaker is strength of schedule -- i.e., if you have a weaker one, you pick higher. The Redskins' opponents' combined record is a pretty poor .476, which looks as though it would allow them to jump any or all of the three teams in front of them if they lost to the Eagles on Sunday and those teams won. So they could get up as high as No. 4, potentially, which would greatly improve their chances of drafting Baylor quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III if that's what they want to do.
The Eagles' opponents' combined record is .500 and will drop when they play the Redskins on Sunday. Should they lose, it looks as though they might possibly be able to sneak into the top 10 if a couple of the teams ahead of them were to win. A victory against the Redskins likely would push the Eagles into the second half of the first round.
Meanwhile, anyone see me on SportsCenter this morning? I'll be back on around 12:15 pm ET, live from the Giants' training facility here in East Rutherford, N.J., in case any of my Giants-fan friends want to get a look at my smiling face.
Yeah, pretty much in heaven, right here.
On the topic of up-and-coming assistant coaches, which is the subject of next week's Power Rankings, Bcindc from Washington, D.C., (of course) brings up Juan Castillo, recently promoted from offensive line coach to defensive coordinator for the Philadelphia Eagles: "If he pulls off this d-coordinator job he is a lock for head coaching."
Dan Graziano: A fine point, Bc. The move Andy Reid made with Castillo raised eyebrows all across the league, and there's a reasonable chance it was just a case of Andy having wanted to hire Howard Mudd for offensive line but also keep one of his guys on the staff. But it's a heavy responsibility regardless, and if the Eagles show significant improvement on defense over the next couple of years, Castillo is likely to be looked at much more favorably on the coaching-prospect circuit. But he is 51 years old and has been with the Eagles for 17 years, so it's tough to call him an "up-and-comer." His résumé will look a lot more impressive if he has success all of a sudden on the other side of the ball, but I'm not sure he's anything like "a lock."
The Dude from Dallas thinks, "if the Cowboys struggle, it would be time to pull the trigger and draft a quarterback. An objective assessment of Tony Romo's career up to this point would lead one to believe, if no playoffs this year and he struggles, then there is no more argument for his 'potential.'"
DG: Well, The Dude, I saw that you admitted later in your note to being anti-Romo, and for me that's the only explanation for your thinking on this one. I think, if Romo struggles, you might be able to make a case for looking QB in next year's draft. But it's been quite a while since Romo has struggled. He was utterly brilliant in 2009, especially in December, which everybody used to say was his nemesis. And he was playing very well last year before his injury. I don't see any reason to think Romo will struggle, or that the Cowboys rank him very high on their list of problems and concerns.
Stefan from Sunnyside, N.Y., "just wanted to say congrats on the gig as a native of Ridgewood, New Jersey. Good luck!"
DG: Thanks, Stefan. Go Maroons.
st8prop from Atlanta (Really? Atlanta? What's the story behind that?) thinks the Giants should be careful letting defensive coordinator Perry Fewell interview for head-coaching positions elsewhere: "I am in the opinion that they should NOT extend Tom Coughlin's contract, urge him to retire and to let Fewell become the Giants new HC. I am a huge fan of Coughlin..but I think its time for new blood. I think the players we have now will respond a lot better to Fewell and I feel the Giants need a defensive mind at HC, since that has been the staple of the Giants since forever. Your thoughts?"
DG: My thoughts are that the Giants move very slowly and deliberately on issues such as this, but that another season without making the playoffs could put Coughlin in serious trouble. I don't necessarily agree that it should, and John Mara and the Giants aren't the kind of organization that would make a move simply because of pressure from the public. But Coughlin is going to be 65 when this season starts, and I wonder if another disappointing season might make it unnecessary for them to "encourage" him to retire -- i.e., whether it's something he might consider doing on his own. I also think, if that happens, Fewell will be a candidate for the job but not a slam dunk. The outside pressure (which, again, won't have as much influence as it might in other places) likely would be to hire a bigger name such as Bill Cowher. But again, lots of "ifs" here. The Giants should be playoff contenders in 2011, and a first-place finish likely would leave these decisions up to Coughlin.
Wayne from Fredericksburg, Va., wants to know if we're serious about doing an NFC East blog fantasy football league and wants credit for the idea if we do.
DG: As a heart attack, Wayne. It's been talked about before, and it will happen -- assuming the lockout ends and they actually play. And sure, if you want me to say it was your idea, I can do that.
Chris from Herndon, Va. (lots of Virginia postmarks in the mailbag this week!), is concerned about Trent Williams' work ethic in light of his absence from the Redskins' player workouts. Chris writes that "There were concerns over his work ethic when drafted and according to ESPN 980, 'multiple sources' say that this concern only grew through his rookie season.Have you heard anything about this?"
DG: Yes, before the draft, that was the big question about Williams -- would he be driven enough to translate his outstanding talent into success in the NFL? I spent some time with Williams in New York the week of the draft, and he struck me as a fairly laid-back kid, certainly not the most intense guy and a bit of a goofy personality. But I think a lot of the work-ethic stuff gets overblown at draft time, and I think it'd be foolish to put that label on a young man at this stage of his career. As I've written a few times, I read absolutely nothing into his or anyone else's absence from the workouts. These guys aren't insured against injury right now during the lockout, and if they feel better about working out on their own and taking less risk, I can't blame them for that. The Redskins people I spoke with last year liked Williams and love his potential. I'll give him more than one season before labeling him. And in terms of offensive line, he's probably the very least of their problems.
Finally, ak from Va. (can't make this stuff up), asks a question I literally get every single week and have answered more than once. But since people keep asking, I'll keep answering. The question is what the order of draft picks in 2012 would be if there's no 2011 NFL season.
DG: The league has not decided that, because, it says, it hasn't considered the possibility that the 2011 season would be canceled. That seems odd to me -- to have a lockout but not be willing to extend it indefinitely -- but a lot of this seems odd to me, and the NFL keeps saying there will be a season. It has not, to my knowledge, put a procedure in place for determining the draft order if there is not. To my knowledge, there's no reason to be sure there would even be a 2012 draft if there were no 2011 season.
Thanks as always for all the questions, and enjoy your summer weekend. I know I will!
The NFC East did pretty well in this survey, ranking second among the eight divisions for return (so far) on its investment in 2009 first-round picks. The Cowboys didn't have a first-rounder that year, but the Redskins took Brian Orakpo 13th overall, the Eagles took Jeremy Maclin 19th and the Giants took Hakeem Nicks 29th. All three have been strong contributors at least and outright stars at times, and all three look poised to get even better in the short term and the long.
The only division that fared better in these rankings was the NFC North. The Packers had two picks in the '09 first round and spent them on B.J. Raji and Clay Matthews, whom you may have enjoyed watching win the Super Bowl a couple of months back. The Lions picked Matthew Stafford and Brandon Pettigrew, two key cogs in their offense when Stafford is healthy. And the Vikings got Percy Harvin. The Bears didn't have a first-rounder that year, but I think it's safe to say that the North's haul beats the East's in terms of volume and because of the aforementioned Packers Super Bowl title.
The reviews on this could change over the next few years, of course, but for now you have to believe the Giants, Redskins and Eagles are happy with the way that 2009 first round went.
In other news, mock drafters from across the nation have been publishing their first-round predictions. On Sunday, the ubiquitous Mike Lombardi released his top-10 mock draft on NFL Network. The former Raiders scout tends to have a good feel for these things, so you should know that he has Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen going to the Redskins at No. 4 overall. Lombardi has the St. Louis Rams selecting Sam Bradford with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft.
One of our favorite mock specialists, SI.com's Don Banks, thinks the Redskins will likely select Oklahoma State left tackle Russell Okung if Bradford's off the board. Here's the Banks mock 3.0, which was released a little more than a week ago.
Mel Kiper has the Redskins selecting Jimmy Clausen at No. 4, but my cousin, Todd McShay, is still not sold on the Notre Dame quarterback. McShay agrees that the Skins will go with Okung.
Check in all week for our Senior Bowl coverage.
There will be some coin flips to determine the final order in the first round, but that won't affect the NFC East teams. Beginning today, I'll be in contact with the scouting departments from all four teams as they begin to prepare for the draft. Stay tuned for lots of draft coverage on the Beast.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
The NFL has expanded the number of players invited to the draft from six to at least 10, according to a Mort Report. In the past, the league has tried to identify the six players most likely to go early in the draft. This occasionally led to uncomfortable scenes in which a quarterback (Brady Quinn in '07) starts to plummet before our very eyes.
But now the league is interested in "compelling stories" who aren't necessarily top 10 material. The Beast will be staged just outside the ropes of the green room to bring you all the action. Jason Smith's entourage has agreed to bring me leftovers from the deli tray.