Cowboys' Draft Playbook: 1st Round & Beyond

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Sep 22, 2013; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys fans lift a flag with the star on it in the stands before the game against the St. Louis Rams at AT&T Stadium. The Dallas Cowboys beat the St. Louis Rams 31-7.Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Sep 22, 2013; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys fans lift a flag with the star on it in the stands before the game against the St. Louis Rams at AT&T Stadium. The Dallas Cowboys beat the St. Louis Rams 31-7.Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL uselessly extended the 2014 pre-draft process an extra 2 weeks, so let’s just get right to it with limited writer’s fluff…

EVENT:  2014 NFL Draft

DETAILS:  Thurs. May 8, 2014     6PM Central     ESPN / NFL Network




1) Every ranking, evaluation, comment, and prediction is seen through the eyes of the Dallas Cowboys.

For example, it doesn’t matter that massive 331 lbs. NT Louis Nix III has 1st round talent.  His package simply does not fit to the Cowboys’ defensive scheme.

Dallas plays a specific style 4-3 defense that requires quickness, explosion, and pocket pressure from their DT’s. Nix’s 2.5 sacks over 27 college starts does not fit Dallas’ 4-3 defense in the least.  He’s a space eater and ideal 3-4 NT, not 4-3 DT.

2) National media rankings are secondary to player rankings tailored to the Cowboys.

90% of the media in general has no real idea about a player beyond stats and highlight films.  Neither are useful without MUCH more information and context.

Looking at players most so-called draft ‘experts’ expect Dallas to select, they have no clue what’s up or down at Valley Ranch.

So remember when I speak of grades and rankings going forward, this is how the Dallas Cowboys value these players as fits for their schemes.


On we go to the 2014 Cowboys’ War Room…

The best way to start this process is going position by position according to the Cowboys’ greatest needs.  Then listing the player rankings and realistic possibilities.

I’ll close the article with a summary 1st round cheat sheet to easily identify Cowboys’ targets and scenarios for tonight’s big event.

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  • Rich

    Nice article. You do a great job of breaking down the options.

    • BradAustin

      Thanks Rich was a ton to write and keep straight. lol

  • SmartThinking

    Lots of good info here. Love your final prediction. Dallas needs to complete their Investment in first round O-line players by taking a day one starter who’ll be there for the next ten years. I like Martin because he’s versatile enough to excel at both RG and RT and not miss a lick. His first year between Frederick and Free will be a great learning experience for Martin and provide significantly better protection for Romo. Martin’s a good, smart fit for this team.

    • BradAustin

      Thank you. You’re 100% right. Glad to see you realize the offense goes as the OL goes. We are drafting Martin away from laying the hammer on opposing DL’s for years to come. Been waiting for this for several years now. :-) Great point experience also. It’ll be interesting to see how Leary and Fredrick elevate their games after a year under their belt as starters. The OL is only headed up in Dallas.

      • SmartThinking

        I’ve been lobbying on this site and others for Dallas to cement it’s offensive line since the season ended. It’ll take two/three years to fix the defense. If big Jones can get rid of Bernadeau altogether and demote Leary to a back up role by drafting two big, mean, fast, smart OG’s, I’d be ecstatic.

        Jones has started the investment with Smith and Frederick. He tried hard by paying Waters big money even though it failed. Two new Guards will protect Romo better and Murray will get 1,500 yards plus.

        It’s really just that simple.

  • Jim Ingram

    one or two solid football players each draft is way better than going to later rounds hoping to find a diamond in the rough with many picks. Take a look at recent history. But if you want a qb in late round, Dustin Vaughn of west texas a&m very smart and a hard nosed kid, easy to over look because he is low key, a year or two learning would pay off. just me thinking out loud!

    • David

      Keep an eye out for David Fales.

      • BradAustin

        Fales is interesting. Just when I question his arm strength and the extra loft he puts on a lot of balls that don’t need it, he throws a dart 25 yards down field. If he can make that thorw once at that velocity and angle, he can do it anytime needed. That’s correctable now that I saw he can make the throws harder and faster.

        The kid is tough and controls the offense well. Has much more mobility than they give him credit for. Curious how he will do under center and having to diagnose routes a little differently than the wide view his shotgun system gives him right from the snap. This is a curiosity as he seems to lock on his primary and tries to make that throw now and then when it’s not remotely open. It’s even harder to diagnose and find the open secondary receivers from under center. Then I watch 5 more plays and he disproves everything I just said but playing under center

        He’s confusing. Does things wrong and then does them perfectly. That’s a great thing as he is able to physically do what’s needed, just requires time to correct a few things and season. Which is something we can offer. Glad you made me pay more attention to him. .

        • David

          No problem. I have seen him play a ton as I live in San Jose and I have a few kids that coached that played with him. I think he would be a very good candidate to sit behind Romo for a couple of years and then step in.

    • BradAustin

      I agree. With the 3 tradeable 7′s and a fringe type pick in the 5th…All of those could be solid trade up chips in 3rd and 4th. I’m with you, I’d rather have 4 excellently positioned selections in the first 4 rounds than hold onto the 5-7th’s. In this draft that 5th just may come in handy though. There are a few more late WR’s that could come in and contribute now. We also need serious OL depth. I had no idea we had zero players at center or guard behind our starters according to the team’s roster on their main site. Definitely gonna at least have to get some bodies for the middle..

  • David

    Brad as always its good to read your articles because you do good research and know the Cowboys and their philosophies. For example the views of Jernigan and the almost no chance Dallas takes him in the 1st round because of him being a 1 tech. I will disagree with you on a few things however. Oner is I would not rate Ward over Pryor. I do not like Wards lack of strength and size and think it will be an issue at the NFL level. Im sure you have watched a lot of tape on him as I have and I do not like how he constantly lowers his head to make tackles. That to me is one a big injury concern and two not being a technically sound tackler. I still think Ward would be an immediate upgrade over all Dallas safeties but I would rather have Pryor. Secondly I hope the do not take Easely in the 2nd round for a couple of reasons. One is his injury concerns on his knees. Dallas has not exactly had great luck in this department with drafting injured guys in the 2nd round. Now if he slipped to the 4th or so then ok. Dallas has also has signed two interior D-lineman already and have two potentially coming back from injury. If Dallas did not have huge holes at several other spots I could see taking him there but thats not the case. And lastly you do not have Shazier as a top OLB target. This guy would be a massive upgrade over every LB except Lee. His speed and playmaking ability is great. I think this guy is going to be a pro bowl player for years to come for some team. This draft will be fun to watch because Dallas can go in so many different ways.

    • BradAustin

      Really appreciate the compliment. The debate over the best FS and Easley’s injury history are 2 subjects Dallas fans go back and forth on regularly. Pryor or Ward seems to be a preference choice. I really loved what I saw from Ward in all areas. The lowered head at times is a little dangerous, but he’s not missing the tackle and it’s quickly correctable.

      He constantly plays above his size, even when covering TE’s. I’ve never seen it as an issue in his effectiveness. Your points are understandable though. He reminds me of a non-traditional Roy Jones type of boxer. Many things he does are not textbook, but the guy continues to use them his and do his job well.

      The Senior Bowl was a big test, just like it was for Donald. Size questions with both. Both were likely the 2 most productive players there consistently. Pryor is right there with him and above on 90% of draft rankings. He’s traditional, has a complete game, but I noticed more open field mishaps than I did with Ward. Maybe I’m just shell-shocked from Heath and Wilcox last year. lol

      Both looked great on film, but Ward to me was like a junkyard dog that wouldn’t go away. Also he plays with attitude and physically displayed emotion after and before play starts. I really want Dallas to make the move from quiet, silent, passive leaders to guys with swagger and verbal excitement to rouse their teammates. Way too many silent warriors on this team.

      Easley is a tough one as injury is injury. Doesn’t matter how good someone is if he’s not on the field. It’s not preferable but you have to trust rehabbed players coming off injury in today’s NFL. There are just too many injuries to disqualify once they are rehabbed and healthy.

      This team is counting on a boatload of guys with injuries and has in the past. We trusted Church after an achilles tear and his starting SS. This year we will trust Crawford with the same. We trusted Leary with bad knee injury history at Memphis and he’s starting LG. Easley would be the same deal. Romo is off a back…Lee’s been out several games over 2 seasons. Even Melton is off a knee. Injury history just can’t shy you away from really good players.

      The list goes on and on for our team and across the league of players rehabbed and being trusted in crucial roles. I’d love to find just as good of DT with no injury problems (aside from Donald). But there aren’t any. I won’t forfeit the talent gap to avoid Easley and go with a lesser player like Jernigan who has a cleaner knee history. Either could get hurt next season.

      But it’s a preference choice to overlook slightly better players with more of an injury risk than some prefer. I do see the logic as Dallas is immersed in the injuries curse these days. I say if the Dr. says he’s 100%…let’s roll. We already have a capable 3-tech if Easley goes down. If he stays healthy and Dr. said he has every chance of doing so, he and Melton would be beasts together. .

      Thank you for the comments, all the points are vaild certainly.

  • Greg Boling

    Brad good article. I’m curious why Brooks from FSU is not a FS option for you?

    • BradAustin

      There’s definitely a lot I like about Brooks and several other players at different positions that didn’t make the list. Be hard to get all the possibilities in there. The thing that turned me off about Brooks is his inconsistency in tackling through attempting a strip over takedown on occasion, and other times has bad positioning in the open field. Many times he really excels at explosive tackling and the other negatives I just mentioned.

      It’s also hard to get a lock on his deep coverage skills when really tested as most times the opposing QB is heaving a prayer while he’s getting intense pressure. I saw him get 3 (didn’t see the other 2) of his low career total of INT’s by horrible, lofted passes. The only 3 games of film available were against Pitt, BC, and NC State. Of the 3 the only team that remotely tested FSU in the passing game was Pitt. Which was the game he was most inconsistent and had a little trouble with Devin Street even with QB Savage under heavy heat all day.

      That being said, the positives far outweigh the negatives. And most critiques I made are correctable on the next level. I wouldn’t be disappointed to spend a 3rd or later on Brooks. He does have talent and makes some amazing plays. I do think he’d have a decent chance of winning the FS spot right out the gates.

  • PaulTX

    You have to be pleased with that first pick Brad. Even afterwards hearing the play-by-play in the war room, it seems Dallas was doing things the right way.