I know who the Dallas Cowboys will draft in 2015. The information wasn’t leaked by inside sources or a rogue tweeter from Valley Ranch. Head coach Jason Garrett told me.
In fact, since the 2011 press conference announcing his hire, Garrett has repeatedly told anyone who bothers to listen. He was at it again a week ago with reporters following the 2015 NFL combine:
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"“There are some physical things that guys need to have, but… what’s behind that? How important is football to him? What kind of person is he? What’s his makeup? I just have a firm belief that the best players I’ve been around are made up of the right stuff. They have the right ability, I get that, but Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin – all those guys were elite, elite people, too. They loved the game, they wanted to be great players… We believe strongly in that, and you put those kind of guys together, and you do things the right way on a daily basis, that gives you a chance to win ballgames.”"
And here’s what Garrett said about it back in July 2011, just a few months after being named head coach:
"“When we won those Super Bowls in Dallas in the ‘90s, we had some very talented players, but I’ll go to my grave saying what makes Troy Aikman great is who he is, as much as the talent that he has. I can say that for Emmitt Smith, Daryl Johnston, go down the list, Darren Woodson, all the great players that we had on those teams, they were the Right Kinda Guys. They loved to play. They were talented, but they loved to play and they were great teammates. So we’re not living in the past, but we’re trying to recreate that model. So as talented a guy as you can get, who’s also the Right Kinda Guy, who can fit into your team and make the chemistry of your team right.”"
Remarkably consistent. Since Garrett began implementing his organizational plan, qualities such as character, work ethic and passion for the game have driven decision making in the Valley Ranch war room. When the experts put together their mock drafts, though, they focus largely on college game film, physical measurables, and team need by position.
That’s why the experts laughed at owner Jerry Jones when in 2013 the Cowboys traded down to take center Travis Frederick with the 31st overall pick. Frederick was a Day 1 starter as a rookie, and made second-team All Pro his sophomore season, but experts panned the pick because of Frederick’s poor showing in the 40-yard dash at the combine. Or some such nonsense.
Whatever noise you’re hearing and reading about who the Cowboys will take or should take with the 27th pick once they’re finally on the clock April 30, remember this: The Cowboys are looking for a Right Kinda Guy, and none of the experts can tell you who that may be.
"“There’s personal character, there’s football character, there’s work ethic, there’s passion for the game,” Garrett said. “All those things. We literally grade the players on that. We grade our own players on that, and we grade the players coming into the league on those things. You really have to dig and try to find out what this guy is all about. What makes him tick. Cliché to say that, but that’s really what we’re trying to do.”"
It must take a ton of research. Interviewing the player, talking with college and high school coaches, teachers, parents, teammates. Recognizing that everyone they speak with will have an agenda, and trying to discover the truth of the player and the person behind those agendas.
It’s just speculation, but perhaps Garrett’s lone first-round miss was a result of skirting that process. Cornerback Morris Claiborne was a surprise pick in 2012, when the Cowboys traded up 10 spots to nab the All American with the sixth overall pick. He is the only first-round pick of the Garrett era who was not invited to Valley Ranch for a pre-draft visit.
The other three first-rounders from the Garrett era – left tackle Tyron Smith, Frederick, and guard Zack Martin – all visited Valley Ranch prior to the draft, and all have since played in the Pro Bowl. The Cowboys have three first-round Pro Bowlers in the last four drafts – no other team in the league has more than two.
So the process appears to work, and deviation results in a Claiborne-type of mistake. While I may not know the name of the Cowboys’ next first-round pick, I know just about everything else that matters: He’s a guy who loves the game, has strong personal character, works his tail off to get better, and cares about being great. He’s another Right Kinda Guy.