It has taken a week to finally digest what the Cowboys did without the feeling of acid reflux burning in my stomach. After an entire week of reading analysis and watching video of the prospects the Cowboys selected the one realization that comes true is that there are a wide range of speculations on the evaluations of all 7 of the Cowboys picks in 2013. I have looked at various grades and analysis of the Draft picks and I have seen Cowboys draft grades range from B+ to D-. There are a few points of emphasis that need to be expressed before a true grade is given.
First point when reading any Draft analysis, is trying to decide on the theory of the Draft. The great Draft debate from the beginning of the Draft process until the end of time will always be drafting for NEED vs BEST player available. It is important to understand which philosophy the grader is coming from when analyzing and understanding their stance on the prospects drafted. The problem with many of the Draft analysis that I have seen is that the philosophies seem to get mashed together without a true consensus. The Cowboys Draft is a prime example of the confusion. People that have graded the Cowboys first round pick of Travis Frederick usually speak on how Frederick fills the Cowboys biggest need at interior line. If that is a true statement, then the drafting in the second and third round makes no sense because both Gavin Escobar – TE and Terrance Williams – WR veered off that thinking because they do not fill immediate needs of the Cowboys. By contrast, if an analyst feels drafting the best player available regardless of position is a philosophy, the Escobar and WIlliams picks look better, but the Frederick pick takes a big hit because it is hard pressed to find a draft board that had Frederick higher than 45, and most had him as a 3rd round pick at best.
The second point of emphasis for analyzing a Draft is deciding on the philosophy of the grader as far as expectations of WHEN the prospect will help the team on the field. Most analysts and fans will grade a draft based on immediate impact, or future production. Again there are varying philosophies, and the Cowboys jumped all over the board as far as their use of their picks. From the looks of the players selected, the Cowboys look to have gotten 2 immediate starters in the before mentioned Frederick, and with 3rd round pick JJ Wilcox – S. The rest of the players drafted seem to fill out the depth chart and provide the Cowboys with options for the future, without an immediate impact on the 2013 roster. Again, a strict adherence to a philosophy was not defined by the Cowboys, because they used their first round pick to fill a need for a starter at a need position, but yet they failed to grab a player for the front seven of the defense until their final pick in the Draft, and did not address their lack of a presence in the interior of the defensive line at all.
The third point of emphasis on the Draft is evaluating movement of teams throughout the Draft process. The most exciting part of the NFL Draft is always when teams move up and down the Draft boards to select the players they covet. Trades always involve a wide speculation because teams have to give up something to move up and analysts want to see fair value received when a team moves down. Again the Cowboys have a wide range of speculation on their Draft process. Most analysts say the Cowboys did the right move by trading out of the 18th overall pick, and when they chose Frederick with the 31st overall pick, the trade was affirmed, because the Cowboys management has said that was the player they coveted, and they took the calculated risk that he would still be there at 31 and they gained an extra 3rd round pick. Detractors and people that do not like the move back from 18 will point out the many players the Cowboys passed on with the move from 18 to 31, but if you take the management at their word that they liked Frederick all along, if they had taken him at 18 and did not get anything in return, the tune on the pick would have been even more toxic than it already is at 31. The other process when evaluating trades is to try and compare what was given up to other trades that were made during the draft process. When looking through that lens, the Cowboys really dropped the ball. They moved back 13 spots and gained only a 3rd round pick as compensation. Other trades evaluated such as Buffalo moving down 8 spots and gaining a second round pick, a swap in third round picks and a seventh round pick earlier in the draft shows that the Cowboys got less for moving 13 picks from the 49ers than Buffalo did from the Rams. Another trade to look at was New England, which moved out of the first round altogether with Minnesota, and they got much better compensation for the 29th overall pick than the Cowboys did for the 18th overall pick. The Patriots received a second round pick, a third round pick and a future pick in the 2014 Draft from the Vikings for their move.
The last emphasis that makes any Draft analysis difficult is a given fact that the grades reflect the present time and not the future projections. The true analysis of any Draft is not done on Sunday when all 7 rounds are finished, but comes three to four years down the road when all of the prospects have a chance to show themselves on the field. Draft grades at this point in the process reflect initial feelings of the analyst and where players fit in the scheme of the teams. This point of emphasis was shown in the 2005 Draft when the Texans chose Mario Williams over prospects like Vince Young and Reggie Bush. Many analysts were all over the place with some baffled by the pick and other saying the Texans hit a home run. Then following a rookie year where Bush was basically a depth chart guy on the Saints and special teams player while Williams and Young were contributing to their teams right away. Fast forward to the 2013 season where Reggie Bush is now in Detroit coming off two seasons in Miami where he gained nearly 2,000 yards in two seasons with Miami, Williams is in Buffalo where he had an injury plagued season and Vince Young is out of the league altogether. The point here is that analysts are quick to judge a draft pick and label them a stud or a bust, when the truth is usually somewhere in the middle, so the true Draft Grade has to be recalculated each year after the Draft to see how the various players drafted. In the Cowboys 2013 draft, the Cowboys draft grade will hinge on the production of Frederick and Wilcox as immediate starters, and what kind of production Williams, Escobar and running back Joseph Randle provide off the bench. If any of those three become focal points at their positions and the two immediate starters provide a significant long term impact, the Draft grade will certainly rise. At the same time, if any of the players mention fail to crack the line up and do not provide significant impacts on the field, then this draft will lose points and cause a lower grade in the years removed from this draft.
When I look at a Draft, regardless of team and pick, I look at various formulas. In Rounds 1 -3, I like to get players that will provide a significant impact on the field in the very next season. I am not a big fan of drafting a player for depth, unless the current roster is almost near complete. In that case I look to drafting an equation of NEED over BEST player available. Obviously you would like the pick to fill both NEED and BEST player available, but that seldom is the case. As far as WHEN a player will have an impact on the field, I believe in rounds 1 – 3 that impact should be felt almost immediately. A player drafted in the first round should be an immediate starter, and the second and third round players should be rotational players that eventually take over the starting role from players on the current roster. My philosophy on the last point of emphasis cannot be projected until we are three to four years removed from the Draft, so only time will tell where this Draft ranks.
My Grade and Analysis
My grade for the Cowboys 2013 Draft is a C-
I have to admit I was initially outraged by the first round pick of Travis Frederick. Entering the draft process I thought of him as a late 2 maybe early third round prospect. That being said taking him in the first round was a big reach. I realize the Cowboys filled a big need on the interior of the offensive line, but I also downgraded the pick because I felt Barrett Jones – Alabama, was a better prospect for the Cowboys if they wanted to go that route. After the pick, I went out and did some more research on Frederick and began to see why he caught the eye of the Dallas brain trust. He is a strong load that does not get pushed back, and fits in the Dallas use of their offensive lineman. The major problem I have with Frederick, is his ability to get to the second level defenders in the running game. He is great on initial blocks, but getting to the linebackers and second level defenders was a struggle in the Big 10, and the NFL linebackers are much bigger and much faster with better ability to avoid blocks. This will be difficult for Frederick to get to, given his lack of overall athleticism. All that being said, I realized Jason Garrett is the head coach and since he seems to be allergic to the running game, it really doesn’t make much of a difference and Frederick will be a good pass protector.
Where the Cowboys lose a lot of points for me is in their second round pick, Gavin Escobar – TE. While I love the prospect, I do not like the fit in Dallas. Jason Witten is obviously the starter and he will be for years down the road provided he stays healthy. I also like James Hanna as a pass catching TE, but he needs to improve blocking skills to be a full time player. Escobar is a better blocker than Hanna, and a very good pass catcher, so he may get that second TE spot in the future, but with Witten already on the roster the TE position was not an immediate need to fill.
The Cowboys had two picks in the Third Round, consisting of Terrance Williams – WR and J.J. WIlcox – S. I will start with the later of the picks. Wilcox was a great pick in my opinion. Maybe the best pick the Cowboys made all weekend. He will fit perfectly in the new “Tampa 2″ scheme. He is a ranging safety that will provide the Cowboys to roll their coverage allowing him to have the deep half of the field covered on his side. As far as Williams, many are projecting him as the third receiver for the Cowboys, but watching much of his tape, I do not see where he will fit on the field for the Cowboys. At best he will be an outside receiver, allowing Miles Austin to move to the slot. I liked what I saw last year from Dwayne Harris as that type of receiver, so Austin would have been moved to the slot, where he is more effective. Williams is more of a straight ahead speed receiver, and his routes are not precise enough to deal with the amount of adjustments needed to be effective in the slot. Williams will also struggle with press coverage in the NFL with his lack of burst off the line of scrimmage. This pick could be the one that makes or breaks the Cowboys 2013 Draft, and until Williams shows something on the field, this will be a breaking point on the negative side.
In the Fourth Round of the Draft, the Cowboys got great value in B.W. Webb – CB. Webb was certainly one of the best players on the board at the time, and he can fit in the nickle corner and as insurance for the two big corners in Dallas. Webb seems to be NFL ready with great hands to disrupt routes from a slot receiver, so the Cowboys get major points for making this pick in Round 4.
Fifth Round pick Joseph Randle provides much needed depth at the running back position. Randle will have to improve his pass blocking to get significant time on the field as a rookie, but with the injury issues with DeMarco Murray, having a competent back up to carry the ball is definitely a good decision for the Cowboys. The only problem is since Jason Garrett seems to forget the running game exists at times in the games, in the middle of the 2012 season when Murray was injured the Cowboys went through a 4 game stretch where no back carried the ball more than 15 times, so the plays may be limited for Randle unless Murray is injured or he can catch the ball out of the backfield.
In the Sixth Round the Cowboys finally selected a player to help them in the front 7 of the defense. DeVonte Holloman – LB is a converted linebacker from safety when he entered school at South Carolina. He will be more of a special teams player early for the Cowboys that could thrive in the new defensive scheme to be a potential piece in 3 – 4 years down the road.
When looking at the Draft as a whole, the Cowboys seemed to jump between different philosophies. They used their First Round pick to fill NEED, but then in the rest of the Draft they went with the best player available regardless of position. The switch in philosophy is what makes this Draft class very perplexing. My biggest problem with the Cowboys Draft is that they did nothing to upgrade the Defensive Tackle position, which is already thin just by the switch from the 3 – 4 to the 4 – 3. They needed to get a significant player at the tackle position to anchor the defense and allow the secondary and linebackers to fit into their pass drops. They also need a disruptive tackle to take pressure off edge rushers DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer. Based on their First Round pick of Frederick to fill a need on the offensive line, I would have liked to see them continue to draft need in rounds 2 and 3 with a defensive tackle at either the Escobar pick or the Williams selection.
My grade of C- is heavily weighted on my own philosophy. I am very hesitant to call a player a bust straight off the bump of a Draft, and as stated before like to give 3 – 4 years before declaring a final grade for a draft. The Cowboys 2013 Draft certainly puts a test to many draft analysts, because they used almost every philosophy in making picks, and how those players perform will tell us which philosophy worked best.
This Draft certainly has varying reviews. The truth is, if you like the picks you probably gave the Cowboys a high grade, and if you were looking for the Cowboys to make a big splash in the Draft, you probably walked away severely disappointed. The proof will be in the pudding and we will see if the selections taken in 2013 can push the Cowboys over the .500 mark, or if they take a step back in the 2013 season.