The '10 season has Cowboys fans in pain. Here are some top draft prospects who could ease the suffering.
Some teams have all the luck. The last time the Cowboys bottomed out, back in 1988, they got a Hall of Fame QB named Aikman as their reward. Compare that to the Browns, who got Tim Couch in the '99 "Year of the Quarterback," the Raiders, who paid a mint for top overall bust Jamarcus Russell, or the 49ers, who are still waiting for dividends from top overall pick Alex Smith.
We have miles of 2010 highway to travel before the final draft order is set, but in a year where the Cowboys have seen their playoff hopes crushed before Halloween they may, again, get some Luck. They're rolling in the top-5 today and thus find themselves in the early running for Andrew Luck, a QB many draft experts, including the National Football Post's Wes Bunting, rate the best in years. Today, Wes and I discuss the quarterback crop, and some top offensive tackle prospects:
Cowboys Nation: I got an excellent question from a reader last week about Wisconsin's left tackle Gabe Carimi. He noted that some draftniks rate him in the late-1st, early-2nd and others rank him in the top 12-15 overall. There doesn't seem to be a consensus on him. We all got a quality match-up on Saturday when he went head-to-head with Iowa's Adrian Clayborn, who's a solid top-10 guy. What did Carimi show you?
Wes Bunting: I have him as my third-best senior offensive tackle, after Mississippi State's Derek Sherrod and Boston College's Anthony Castonzo. I think he's a good enough athlete to play left tackle in the NFL, but I don't think he'll ever be a dominant pass blocker because he is a bit limited from an athletic standpoint. He's going to be a heck of a run-blocker for you. I think he could end up being a very average pass blocker. With that being said, I think you could start the guy at right tackle and if he does a nice job and establishes himself there, just leave him there.
He's going to win for you at the point of attack. He's going to drive people off the football and I think he's good enough to take on the left ends he'll face in the NFL. That's where I think he fits, to be honest.
Cowboys Nation: That's the impression I got. Wisconsin doesn't have any trouble running to his side. He was dominant when they beat Ohio State but when he was going against Clayborn, he looked good when Wisconsin ran the ball but when they passed, he looked to be hanging on some downs when Clayborn rushed the edge hard.
Wes Bunting: Clayborn's not a real explosive, flatten-down around the end speed rusher. He's a guy who wants to get into your body, use his hands and his violence and suddenness. With a guy like Carimi, that's where his game is at so Clayborn, it appears, just said, I'm a better athlete than you. I'm going to beat you around the edge. Carimi sometimes had trouble reaching him, and if he's having trouble with a Clayborn, imagine him against a Dwight Freeney.
That's how you have to think about it. We're not evaluating these guys as college players, we're projecting them against the Freeneys, the Mario Williams, the Demarcus Wares of the world.
Cowboys Nation: Where do you slot him then given his athletic limitations?
Wes Bunting: I think somewhere in that late 1st-round, early 2nd-round range.
Cowboys Nation: Assuming that Dallas finishes in the top ten, and that looks like a stronger possibility today, I think they're going to look hard for linemen in that 32-40 range and he could fall there, couldn't he?
Wes Bunting: Yes. I would put him in that mix there. I can see a team really falling in love with him but at the same time I can see teams seeing him as a right tackle only and just like Phil Loadholt two years ago, he was that one guy who one team had pegged; they were going to take him with the 2nd-round pick and he's going to start for them for the next 5-7 years. I think Carimi's a little better than Loadholt but I can see him being that same type of player.
Cowboys Nation: Dallas certainly needs a right tackle so they could find themselves in that mind set. Let's move to those other two offensive tackles you mentioned, Sherrod and Castonzo. Do they fall in a similar range? What are their strengths and weaknesses?
Wes Bunting: They're both better athletes, better pass protectors. Sherrod plays a bit high. He can get bullied at times but he's a strong kid, with good range off the edge. I love his balance and his ability to re-direct and mirror in pass protection. He's 6'5" and a little more compact than the 6'7" guys. He's also a nice space run blocker. He can get out to the 2nd level, he can break down in space. When he has to block a pitch he can slide out, plus he's got a bit more power than he's given credit for. He's very good in a zone scheme, but he's not as physical as a guy like Carimi. I do think he's the best pass protector of any senior in the draft.
Cowboys Nation: Can he play left tackle?
Wes Bunting: Yeah, he's a left tackle. I would take him with my first-round pick and plug him in on my left side.
Cowboys Nation: I imagine then he's going to rise, playing on the left side.
Wes Bunting: Yes, but he's not in the class of a guy like Russell Okung. You could take him in the top-10 if you really needed a left tackle, but I think he's more of a mid-first level player.
Cowboys Nation: And Castonzo?
Wes Bunting: This is a 6'7", 300 lb. kid. He's also a finesse player who can get bullied at the point of attack, but he's got a lot of range. He was a four-year starter at Boston College. He's a nice move/run player. He's a character kid, smart. I think he's up to be a Rhodes Scholar this year. All the intangibles are there. He's a safe pick. He's also going to be a left tackle for you.
He was the highest rated guy for National coming into the season. I don't think he's a blue-chipper, a guy who's going to come in an be an instant impact guy, but I think you can win with this guy if he continues to mature physically, because he needs more power at the point of attack, but he can mirror on the edge. He's a solid pass blocker.
Cowboys Nation: So you put him in the top 20?
Wes Bunting: He's a top 20-25 guy. Both these left tackles are probably in the 20-25 range, but they get pushed up, because people need LTs. I have Sherrod rated 4th overall, regardless of position, among the seniors.
That doesn't mean he's a blue-chipper, it just shows how weak the senior class is. Depending on the juniors who come out, he could be pushed way up. I want you to keep that in mind.
Cowboys Nation: This question always comes up, regardless of Tony Romo's health, but if we're projecting a top-10 Dallas pick, what about quarterbacks? You and I have talked about a couple of these guys. We talked about Ryan Mallett a couple of weeks ago when he struggled against Alabama. How does the top cluster of quarterbacks compare to the ones who were drafted a year, or two years ago?
Wes Bunting: I think Andrew Luck [Stanford] is your number one overall pick. He's a guy who has the "it'' factor, which is the most important quality. The physical skill set is there. I would put money in the bank and say this kid can win a Super Bowl for you. He's your number one quarterback prospect.
Then, you have two guys who are physically talented, but the biggest question is do they have that ''it'' factor? I'm talking about Washington's Jake Locker and Arkansas' Ryan Mallett. Mallett is banged up and he's strictly a pocket passer. Lethargic footwork. If you make him move his feet he really struggles. Some scouts really don't like him. But with his physical skill set it only takes one team and I think he's going to go high in the first round somewhere. Would I take him up there? Absolutely not, but I think some team will fall in love with him.
Jake Locker is really inconsistent. He's at his best outside the pocket. He's not the most consistent pocket passer but he shows flashes. He's struggled against top-level competition. He's struggled to go through his progressions consistently. His accuracy gets spotty, but physically he's got all the tools. He's spent his summers playing baseball so that's affected his ability to develop; there's still plenty of upside there.
He's one guy the Cowboys could look at, give him a year or two to develop. I think he's similar in many ways to Stephen McGee, who I really liked coming out
Cowboys Nation: I want to ask you one more question about Luck, because you talk about his "it" factor. I watched him closely against Oregon and in the first half there he looked brillant, but in the 2nd half, after his top receiver went out, he started forcing passes and was intercepted a couple of times on 1st down, which is one of Tony Romo's foibles. You've seen a lot more of him than I have, what makes you so high about his intangibles?
Wes Bunting: This will put that Oregon game in perspective. I agree, he did press a bit. But when that receiver went out, Luck is down his top two receivers for the year, his number one and his number two. So now he's throwing to his number three and his number four guys and with all due respect to Stanford, they're not a real deep skill-position team, and his number three and his number four are not real good.
He's on the road at Oregon, and he knows he's got to keep pace with Oregon because his defense isn't going to stop the Ducks offense. So right there, he's demonstrating that he understands the situation. That's an example of "it" to me. Has Stanford ever been a factor in a bowl game the last decade? Not really. This guy comes along and he gets them to a bowl game starting as a freshman. He's going to take them to another starting as a sophomore. If he were to stick around'another year, and he might, he could be one of the best quarterback prospects to come along since Peyton Manning.
Cowboys Nation: You think that highly of him?
Wes Bunting: He's absolutely the real deal. Of all the quarterbacks to come out the last five years, I would take this guy to the bank over all of them. I like him that much.
Cowboys Nation: So he could get the Eli Manning treatment, in terms of draft value, when he comes out?
Wes Bunting: Yeah, and he's a better prospect than Eli Manning. I would give up the farm for him, if I really needed a quarterback. He's one of the few guys taken number one who I would feel confident about.
Thursday: A look at Auburn's Nick Fairley, whose dominant game against LSU rocketed him to the top of the D-lineman list, and perhaps a spot in the top 3, overall draft value in the early first and second rounds, and a tip on Wes' upcoming big board.