Cowboys Nation: Let's go to the reader questions. We have some detailed ones today. One reader wants to know, are there any small school players being talked about as first round prospects?
Wes Bunting: No. The only one I think has a chance is Benny Ijalana from Villanova. I don't even count him as a small school guy cause he's a big-time player and he's from Villanova, they play good football there.
He could play tackle and be a really good guard some some team, but the thing that really hurt him is one, he's raw a bit and two, he suffered a sports hernia and is going to miss the Senior Bowl now, which would have given him a good chance to impress. I think that takes away his ability to move into the late 1st round. I think he's a solid early 2nd round pick.
CN: My readers are probably happy about that. I think they want as many 2nd round offensive line options as possible.
Also got a question about Florida safety Ahmad Black. A reader wants to know if he has the frame to get bigger or if he's maxed out physically?
WB: He's only 5'10'', and he's not a really big guy. I think he could add a little more girth and get up to 195. The thing is you don't want him losing any more speed bulking up because he's a bit limited in that already. He's got some man-to-man cover skills. I think he could play some nickel for you early and maybe become a starter later. I gave him a potential starter grade. He plays the way you want him to. He's got pretty good ball skills.
I like the guy. I wouldn't take him overly high, but I think he can carve a niche and contribute for a team fairly early in his career.
CN: Given that weight limitation, can he become an every down NFL safety at that weight?
WB: The thing is he's gonna have to play on the strong side too. He throws his weight around. He plays angry. I don't have any qualms about him if he's 5'10'', 195 lbs. because he beat plays with thump. He's got some explosion in his game.
CN: More questions about Florida players. I've been asked about Marcus Gilbert and Mike Pouncey. Now, you talked about Gilbert in our chat last week. This reader wants you to compare Mike to his brother Maurkice as prospects.
WB: Mike is a poor-man's version of Maurkice. He's not quite as athletic, not quite as fluid, not quite as physical and not quite as balanced or technically sound, with his hands or his feet, but he's good enough to start in the NFL as a guard only. I don't think he's a center and give you reps. I think he can create some movement, but when I graded out Maurkice some people were ready to kill me when he was the 4th overall guy on my list last year, but he was the best center I have ever seen coming out. I was going back and thinking this guy can't be that good. He was phenomenal.
Mike is good, but he's not as talented as his brother.
CN: This a multi-player question about offensive linemen from smaller schools. This reader wants to know about later round tackle and interior offensive line prospects. I'm going to read you the names one at a time and you can tell me what you think.
Let's begin with Chris Hairston (Clemson):
WB: He's a bit limited in pass protection, but he's got some snap and bend in the run game. I could see him being a reserve type right tackle in the NFL. I don't know if you want him starting but he can make a roster.
CN: Curt Porter (Jacksonville State):
WB: He was really overrated in my mind. He had a good game inside against Ole Miss that got him a lot of hype but I think he's raw. I don't think he's overly powerful, or fluid or rangy. I think he's more of a hyped-up small school guy. I gave him a free agent grade.
CN: Joseph Barksdale (L.S.U.):
WB: Barksdale is a nice athlete with good balance, which you like in pass protection, but he's a terrible puncher and he's soft. He gives off a soft attitude to his game and I hate tackles like that. I gave him a reserve/developmental grade.
CN: Derek Hall (Stanford):
WB: Hall's was a top defensive line prospect who made the move to offensive line two years ago. First-year starter. Gets a bit overextended in pass protection, needs to tighten up his footwork, but he has good enough range. He's a natural run blocker, good bend, good snap, creates pop with his hands, pumps his legs. He's only around 6'5'', 305, with the frame to get bigger and stronger. He's a nice mid-to-late round pick as a right tackle. I like the kid.
CN: James Brewer (Indiana):
WB: Brewer has chronic ankle problems. He's massive. I think he's really overrated. He struggles to re-direct. He's not real rangy. When you add up the ankle problems, I gave him a free agent grade. I wouldn't draft him, but some people really like him. I think he's a size guy. He's got some decent movement skills for a big guy but I'm not a fan.
CN: Lee Ziemba (Auburn):
WB: Zeimba is a seasoned starter. I believe he has Auburn's all-time record for starts in a career. He's not rangy enough or athletic enough to play left tackle in the NFL. He plays too high, rolls his hips and isn't dominant in the run game, and he's not gonna start at right tackle, but he's a nice swing tackle who could sub to either side if you have an injury but I don't think you can with him in the NFL if he's starting consistently.
CN: Derek Newton (Arkansas State):
WB: Newton's long. He looks like a bulked up tight end. He gets overextended with his footwork. I have him a free agent grade but he could get drafted late. It wouldn't surprise me at all. But he's a guy who needs a lot of work. He needs to bulk up. He looks really thin, especially through his lower half.
CN: Now I have a list of interior linemen. Here we go, Stephen Schilling (Michigan):
WB: Schilling is a guy who played right tackle and was kicked inside the last two years. I think he can start in the NFL. He's a good athlete, can get out to the second level. I was surprised that he lacked a great base and would get overextended and fall off blocks, but I think he has some natural fluidity. I think it was more of a case of him getting comfortable inside.
I don't see him as a day-one starter but two or three years down the line I think he can produce for you inside as a guard.
CN: Tim Barnes (C-Missouri):
WB: I love Barnes. He's a taller center but he snaps and fires off quickly. Great athleticism and pad level. He's fluid, and can mirror. Sticks to blocks. You can get under him at times because he's 6'4'' but I think this is one of the few potential starting centers to come out of this draft class.
CN: Let's stick with that before we got back to the names. If you say it's a short list for centers, how short a list?
WB: Under five guys. I'd say around five guys.
CN: Clint Boling (Georgia):
WB: Has some experience at tackle. He doens't do anything overly well. He tightened up his footwork this year. I could see him potentially being a starter who runs more of a zone scheme cause he can't really drive somebody off the football. But he showed some athleticism at tackle this year. In the pros, I think he's that guy you want swinging at guard and tackle. I see him as a mid to late round pick, but I don't have convictions on him though.
CN: Keith Williams
WB: He had some pop inside. He's big and stiff, struggles to really sit into his stance, but he can win for you in the run game. He's heavy handed, heavy base, but as good as he is in the run game he really struggles in the pass. He gets upright. He's not really fluid. If you can protect him inside, he can win for you in the run game. I like him a bit.
CN: Alex Linnenkohl (C- Oregon State):
WB: I like Linnenkohl. He's undersized, but he's got good technique. He can slide well in pass protection and get out to the second level. He's one of the centers who I think has potential. He's gonna grade out more as a reserve, but he could fight for a starting spot down the line.
CN: Another center, Brandon Fusco (Slippery Rock):
WB: He was overrated in my book. You want to see guys dominate at the small school level. I thought he was good, but I didn't think he was anything special. I gave him a free agent grade.
CN: Will Rackley
WB: Rackley played some tackle for Lehigh. He'll kick inside, has the frame to play inside. Has some natural athletic ability, some natural power. I thought going into the year he was more technically sound than Ijalana, not the same caliber athlete though. I think he's a late round developmental athlete.
CN: Jake Kirkpatrick (TCU):
WB: Some people are somewhat high on him. I didn't think he was anything special. He was a bit of an overachiever for TCU. He played tough and could stick to blocks but wasn't overly fluid in pass protection. I could see him getting drafted late. I don't remember if I gave him a reserve grade but best-case scenario he's a backup in my book.
CN: Another question which tilts towards small-school guys. I was asked about mid to late-round running back. Are there any players, they don't have to be small schools, but unsung guys who fit the Cowboys templates. They want complete backs, so we're not talking about a poor-man's Dexter McCluster. They have their speed back in Felix Jones. I think they want guys who can catch and block and run between the tackles with some shake and some zip to reach the corner.
WB: This isn't a good year for small school backs. I went over that list a couple of weeks ago and it was poo. There was no one. The kid from UMass who has gotten some attention wasn't a starter there and wasn't even the best back there.
The guys I like who I think are good fits for the Cowboys are Delone Carter from Syracuse. He's like 5'9'', 220, runs low, runs hard between the tackles. I like him. Roy Helu from Nebraska as well. He's in the same mold. He's a no-nonsense type runner.
Bilal Powell from Louisville fits that mold. So does Da'Rel Scott from Maryland. All four of those guys grade out about the same. They're gonna be there in the mid rounds. I think they're gonna make rosters and I think they give you just as much as a guy like Daniel Thomas, who's gonna go a lot higher, but I think they're just as good, if not better.
CN: Let me wind it back to the Fairley/Jordan comparison because I was asked if there are any other DEs who can rush the passer as 5-techniques, like those two?
WB: Adrian Clayborne maybe, and perhaps Alan Bailey, but I see Clayborne more as as left end in a 4-3 and Bailey as an inside rusher and he's really raw. Heyward, the Ohio State guy, he's not a natural pass rusher. He's a power guy who can overwhelm and he can play the 5-technique. Same with Marcell Dareus. He can be physical, but he's not a great pass rusher.
Jordan is the one guy who I think can be physical and can rush from the 5-technique, so I would say no, not to his caliber.
CN: You raise an interesting question about Heyward because he faced Demarcus Love in their bowl game and I got some feedback from readers claiming that Heyward did well against Love. Did you see it? Can you comment on them?
WB: I haven't seen it but the one thing I have to warn people about Love is that under Bob Petrino, Arkansas plays a weak-side/strong-side system where they flop their tackles, and Love always plays on the weak side, so he's lining up at left tackle and right tackle.
Now, that adds versatility but it's like having a switch hitter, you're asking him to bat righty and you're asking him to bat lefty. There's two different types of footwork and Love is more comfortable playing on the left side, where he's played left guard and left tackle, as opposed to the right. He struggles on the right.
Now, I haven't watched the tape, but this is a guy [Love] who gets overextended on his kick slide, and against a guy like Heyward who wants to get into your frame and overpower you, when you get overextended, you lose your base and you lose your power and I can see Heyward giving Love a hard time. Now, I think he's a better guard, 'cause he can play compactly and he has a jolt in his hands as a run blocker, but if he's playing on the right side, I can see Heyward giving him a lot of trouble. That doesn't surprise me at all.
CN: You did say last week you were confident Love could play on the left edge.
WB: Yeah, but he's a work in progress, who would take some time, so I can see his team getting impatient with him and letting play guard instead. I think he would be a better guard than tackle but he's an impressive athlete who can get to the edge and he's got a snap in the run game and that's what I like to see.
CN: Should we look for you list this week? Early next week?
WB: I sent 500 player reports over on Monday and they're putting them into the system. I have another 50 seniors I need to send over. They're written up, they just need to be forwarded and I need to finish the juniors up and it will be ready to roll.
I imagine everything is loaded. We're just waiting for these juniors to declare so we know who to put in.