Sometimes you learn just as much from the people who don't get in than from those who do.
In the case of Dallas' drafts, this fact helps zero in on legitimate draft candidates. Dallas is among the teams that uses a ''short board'' whittling down the 400-500 possible draftees to 120-150 serious players of interest. Last year, for instance, the Cowboys had 130 names on their draft board. Compare that to the draft books sold over the counter. Look at the National Football Post's site and Wes Bunting has reports on 638 players. Roughly 20% of them will get their names onto the Cowboys' war room white board, and onto those of other teams using short boards.
How do they make the cut? Let's look at last year, when fans got a peek at the team's list. After a weekend spent using image blow-ups, a large magnifying glass and copious doses of visine, I have deciphered the full board. This week, I'm going to break down the players who made the cut, and compare them to the full list of prospects in two major draft guides, the Sporting News Draft 2010 and Pro Football Weekly's 2010 Draft Guide.
Let's examine the offensive tackle position, since it figures prominently in this year's Cowboys' draft plans. Here's the full list of OTs who were on Dallas 2010 big board, with round ranking and overall ranking:
1-4 Russell Okung, 6'6'', 305 lbs.
1-5 Trent Williams, 6'5'', 306 lbs.
1-13 Bryan Bulaga, 6'5'', 310 lbs.
3-42 Anthony Davis, 6'5'', 325 lbs.
3-58 Roger Saffold, 6'4'', 312 lbs.
4-74 Vladimir Ducasse?, 6'4'', 326 lbs.
5-103 Sam Young, 6'7'', 305 lbs.
6-118 Jared Veldheer, 6'8'', 321 lbs.
That's it, boys and girls, just eight possible offensive tackles on Dallas' board. What's more, Ducasse drew a split decision in the amateur draft world. Half the services claimed he was a guard only, while the other half felt he could play at right tackle. That means just seven firm OT candidates.
Again, the ranking of these players explains why Young, the Cowboys 6th round pick, was the only tackle with a serious chance of being picked. By the time Dallas picked in the 1st, 24th overall, the top four names on this list were gone. The Cowboys took Dez Bryant, rated 12th on their board. When the Cowboys picked again at the bottom of round two, Sam Young and Jared Veldheer were the only OT prospects left. Sean Lee, a player rated 14th overall on Dallas board, was still around, so the Cowboys obviously went with him over the much lower-rated OTs. By the time Dallas came on the clock again, in the early 4th, Young was it; the Raiders had nabbed the small-school standout Veldheer five picks into the 3rd round.
In other words, the Cowboys OT board was threadbare by the time pick 70 rolled around. If this isn't further cause for Dallas to go OT high this year, I don't know what is. That aside, lets put up the top 12 picks from each of my two books and lets consider the guys Dallas weeded out. Tackle prospects who didn't made Dallas' board are in bold:
5. Ducasse 6. Bruce Campbell, 6'6'', 310 lbs. 7. Selvish Capers, 6'4'', 304 lbs. 8. Charles Brown, 6'5'', 300 lbs. 9. Tony Washington, 6'6'', 300 lbs.
(Saffold is considered a G by PFW)
2. Williams 3. Bruce Campbell
9. Selvish Capers 10. Ciron Black 6'5'', 331 lbs.
There are five OTs on this list who didn't make the Cowboys board, and a little digging shows why they didn't make the cut. Ciron Black, according to all the books, was a physically gifted four-year starter who relied too much on his size and showed little effort. He was labeled a boom-or-bust player and went undrafted.
Capers and Brown were both converted tight ends who were seen as undersized, underpowered tackles, who could take some time to gain strength. Both were viewed as players better suited for zone-blocking schemes like the Texans', the Redskins and the Packers. Capers was drafted in the 7th by the Redskins. The Saints took Brown at the bottom of round two, but as predicted, he spent the year on the bench. Like Tyron Smith, Brown played his last year of college ball at 285. Brown has had trouble adding weight, unlike Smith, who has grown to 310 and is expected to add more as a pro. Brown lists at 297 on New Orleans' depth chart today, and 300 lbs. may be his ceiling.
In other words, neither he nor Capers were good fits for the more straight-ahead style of running attack run in Dallas. Hence, they didn't make the board.
Washington had some serious off-the-field problems which caused knocked him off many teams' boards, including Dallas'. He went undrafted.
Campbell was perhaps the most discussed prospect last spring, after he blew up the Combine workouts. That athletic ''potential'' pushed him into the top 6 on both magazines boards. If you followed the draft online, you heard a lot of whispers that Campbell had 1st round workout numbers but only 4th or 5th round game tape. Dallas obviously didn't buy the hype and felt he was too risky a prospect for even a late-round grade. The Raiders took him but they picked Veldheer first, taking the Hillsdale College product in the 3rd, before drafting Campbell in the 4th.
What can we conclude from last year's board?
First, 2010 simply looks like a bad year for offensive tackles. When you look at the top ten guys who have red flags, either underwhelming game type, physical limitations or serious character concerns, you can't hammer the Cowboys too hard for not stacking or not reaching. There were a handful of quality talents, but the Cowboys pursued much higher players and therefore got no chance at even a Division II guy like Veldheer.
On the size-speed-pedigree scale, it seems Dallas wants guys 305 or bigger. It avoids players who seem bulked up, or maxed out. Guys who are converted tight ends should not be dismissed out of hand. Doug Free started out there, but has now bulked up to 320 lbs. Look at a players frame and growth to see if he's a Charles Brown type, whom the Cowboys saw as too risky, or a Tyron Smith type, who may be Dallas' first pick later this month.
Given what we know, here's an assignment: You're tasked with creating Dallas' OT board. Using the Cowboys grading system, where a player getting a 1st round grade is seen as an impact starter, a player getting a 2 is seen as someone who can be a quality starter and 3s and lower are guys who may take a year or two to progress, but could be solid starters, rank this year's prospects. Furthermore, tell me who you exclude and why. Is 2011 a better year than 2010? Is so, why? If not, why?
(To clarify: I've talked to a couple of sources on this and they all say that grades are tied to projected ceilings far more than anticipated rookie performances. Think long-term when you give out the grades.)
Send your short list to the e-mail address. The link is in the upper left. I'll post your numbers and mine this afternoon.