Life Without Sean Lee. The Cowboys Consider Options in the Middle.

Sean Lee's injury blindsides the Cowboys

Sean Lee’s injury blindsides the Cowboys

When Jerry Jones drafted two LBs recently, he was trying to prepare for the next time Sean Lee went out with an injury which occurs every season. It sure didn’t take long this time as Lee suffered a season ending knee injury during their very first OTA.

It has been pointed out that Lee has never played a complete season for Dallas and that Dallas (believe it nor not) has a winning record (9-7) when playing without Sean Lee. That’s encouraging I suppose but I’m convinced this defense is better with Lee out there than without him out there. “When healthy” are words that often come up when talking about Sean Lee because when healthy, it would be difficult to find a better LB in the NFL than Sean Lee.

Another positive in a situation that doesn’t offer many of them, is that with this happening in the month of May, there is time to make other arrangements on defense. Not like they play the 49ers next week. So how can this defense improve now without it’s top tackler and interceptor? A look at the options and possibilities at MLB without Lee.

Free agency/trade:
The free agency market is cold at this point and doesn’t offer much. All indications have been that the Cowboys are not looking to bring in a player from the outside to replace Lee. Most of what is out there comes with a past of injury issues and risks of more injuries. The Cowboys will look at their current roster to come up with a MLB and I think that may be best.

DeVonte Holloman– Right away the Cowboys are taking a look at the LB they drafted last year. Holloman struggled though a neck injury last season but played in 9 games collecting 26 tackles with 2 sacks. His best game was in the final game with the Eagles when he recorded those two sacks. That strong finish left coaches and fans encouraged that Holloman can compete for playing time at LB in 2014 but with Lee injured, his opportunity to play is here.

Holloman played strong safety in college at South Carolina and also the “Spur” safety/LB hybrid position in 2012. With that secondary experience, he displays better coverage skills than LBs typically do. In the Cowboys Tampa 2, the MLB needs to drop back in the middle of the field and be able to step into passing lanes to defend the pass. Holloman should be able to provide this for the defense right away.

Last season Holloman saw action at all three LB positions including MLB. It think he is capable of playing well at the MLB spot but he does have some developing to do. Holloman should be an asset in pass defense and he showed in that last Eagles game of 2013, that he has a knack for blitzing and sacking the QB.

Bruce Carter-At this point Carter doesn’t appear to be an option as he said,
“From what I see, I think they’re going to keep me at my same position,” Carter said. “I guess they’re just going to try guys and work them in and out and just see who fits best.”

It’s early in this process and my advice would be keep all your options open. Carter wasn’t great at Will last season and he may be more help in the middle than they realize. In Rob Ryan’s defense Carter had to play the middle when Lee was out with an injury, and he performed well actually. Ryan offered this high praise in 2012 while Carter was filling in for Lee,
“I never thought he’d have the ascension that Sean Lee did,” Ryan said. “But he has. He has. That’s the bottom line. This guy’s become a hell of a football player right in front of our eyes this season. I wouldn’t have predicted that.”

I think Carter should get a look at playing the middle.

How about the rookies?

Anthony Hitchens– Jerry drafted Hitchens in the 4th round and pretty much described the pick as an insurance policy for the often injured Sean Lee but he couldn’t have expected Lee to go out this soon. In my draft analysis I described this pick as a reach since Dallas took Hitchens much sooner than his player ranking. As far as player comparison goes, I compared the hard hitting compact Hitchens to former Steeler LB James Harrison.

Cowboy fans will enjoy watching Hitchens physical style of play as he tends to blow up people on the football field. Have to like his physical play but there is concern that he will not be able to offer a lot in pass coverage initially at least.

Cowboys scout/analyst Bryan Broaddus pointed out that Hitchens may have some developing in this important aspect of his game.
“What you get from Hitchens is the physical side of the game more than the athlete. Where he is going to have to make the most improvement in his game will be in the coverage aspect of the position. In this scheme, if you struggle to know where you fit in your zone drops, there are going to be issues.”

The rookie Hitchens can help them in the middle but realistically, he has developing to do in the pass defense.

Will Smith-The Texas Tech rookie was drafted in the 7th round and while I have not heard his name come up at all as a Lee replacement in the middle, I think eventually the coaches may realize they have a pretty good prospect here with the speed and athleticism to play MLB.

At Texas Tech, Smith played weakside LB and that may be his best position in the NFL but I think it makes sense to take a look at him for the middle since the spot is open and he makes lots of tackles. He led the Big 12 in solo tackles (86) last season and on video he covers well in the secondary. I like the way he pursues the football and his athletic ability.

Final Take:
I think the middle LB that replaces Lee is already on their roster. Holloman offers skills in pass coverage that really could help a defense that struggled against the pass last season. My concern is how will he hold up to the physical play in the middle every down?

The rookie Hitchens presents a tough run defender in the middle to help stuff the run but it may take time for him to learn the assignments in the pass coverage. I actually like the idea of playing Hitchens on run plays and get Holloman on the field in pass situations. A shared two headed approach to MLB.

Carter perhaps a long shot to play in the middle at this point, has experience playing the middle and could be an option considered later due to more injuries at the position. Don’t dismiss this as an option.

Will Smith is a rookie to keep an eye on in preseason games. If he can get to the ball at the NFL level like he did against Texas and in the Holiday Bowl last year, the Cowboy coaches will be looking for a way to get Smith on the field. Smith may turn out to be a better option at MLB than perhaps they realize yet.


These 6 Cowboys Need to Step it Up in 2014 Season

Megatron owned Brandon Carr last year.

Megatron owned Brandon Carr last year.

Every season brings a list of guys who find themselves in a position to step up their game or see the Cowboys GM move on. Case and point, Miles Austin. Sometimes players have under performed due to injuries but regardless, expectations are that they deliver and sometimes they do but sometimes not.

My list of Dallas Cowboys who need to have a good season this year or they may not be around any longer. “On thin ice” you might say.

1. CB Morris Claiborne– When you are a top 10 pick in the draft, expectations tend to be high and especially when that team traded up to get you. Claiborne enters his third season after experiencing a plethora of nagging injuries over two seasons as a Cowboy, and providing inconsistent play.

Claiborne only played in 10 games last season due to injury, although at times he has shown signs that he can be what they thought he was when they drafted him in 2011, as he picked off a Peyton Manning pass last season and returned a fumble for a score in the 2012 season. But he struggled with the new 4-3 defense often looking lost in the a secondary that was completely obliterated too often last season.

2014: The Cowboys drafted a defensive back Terrance Mitchell who appears athletic and already has impressed at rookie mini camp with his quickness and ability to play in zone coverage. Morris will need to step up his game quickly because Mitchell is capable of competing for a spot on the roster. This season Morris needs to show fans why he was the top corner in the draft a few years ago because if he doesn’t, I think Dallas will move on from the disappointing Claiborne in 2015.

2. LB Bruce Carter– The Cowboys drafted Carter in 2011 in the 2nd round and although he was recovering from a major knee injury suffered late in his college season, they believed he could recover and help them. It was expected that at linebacker Carter would make a smooth transition to their new 4-3 defense in 2013, but he didn’t. Carter often struggled in coverage having difficulty picking up backs out of the backfield and appearing a step or two slow at times. Even being benched at one point in the season.

Coach Marinelli even called out Carter this offseason saying “it’s a man’s game” HERE
When coach questions your manhood, you know it’s time to step up your game.

2014: Clearly the Cowboys are determined to get better at LB as they drafted Anthony Hitchens in the 4th round and then Will Smith in the 7th. And word is they were seriously considering drafting one in the first round but the Steelers took Ohio St. LB Ryan Shazier at 15 just before Dallas could get him. Hitchens and Smith are both capable of playing the weakside LB position and are good prospects to earn playing time at LB.

Carter needs to show something soon and I do mean quickly in 2014, or Dallas will be moving on.

3. Safeties JJ Wilcox and Jeff Heath– Wilcox was drafted in the 3rd round last season and Heath was an undrafted rookie that managed to make the team. Both struggled mightily last season adapting to the NFL game after playing at smaller colleges. Stephen Jones has spoken out in support of these guys even suggesting they were better than many gave them credit. By no means have they given up on these two as safeties but I don’t think they can play in 2014 like they did in 2013, or support could evaporate quickly.

2014: While Dallas did not draft a safety early in the draft, they did pick up Baylor safety Ahmad Dixon in the 7th round so it’s safe to say they are looking. Dixon is a solid run defender that needs some developing in coverage but he can certainly compete with the young Dallas safeties in house. Expectations are that Wilcox and Heath will show significant improvement in their second seasons, and they need to or Dallas may decide enough is enough.

4. CB Brandon Carr– The Cowboys gave Carr a $50.1 million contract in 2012 so to say the least, expectations are high. After a productive season in 2012, Carr struggled in the new Tampa 2 defense last season as he was completely destroyed by Calvin Johnson in the Lions game (14 catches, 349 yards). That was the biggest single game performance against the Cowboys EVER. It was enough to make coaches and fans lose confidence in their high dollar free agent corner.

2014: Carr feels the pressure to have a better 2014 and boldly stated recently, “Trying to take over the league,” as he spoke of his role as a shut down corner. Carr said he is training differently and has lost about 10 pounds to improve quickness.

I’m not sure if Carr will “take over the league” in Richard Sherman style next season but he needs to play much better in 2014, or Dallas will be asking to restructure his contract or possibly move on.

5. Right tackle Doug Free– It seems Free’s name comes up often as being replaceable. After a dismal 2012 season where he found himself in a rotation at RT, Free played much better last year under a reduced contract. He enters the last year of that contract with a sense of still having to prove himself. Bottom line I don’t think he can afford to have a poor season in 2014.

2014: The Cowboys drafted tackle Zack Martin in the first round and he will be switching to guard for the 2014 season however Dallas likes his versatility on the line and could consider Martin an option at right tackle if Free stumbles. Free needs to eliminate doubts this season or Dallas may look to replace him in 2015.

Carr and Claiborne were given mulligans because of the transition to the new Tampa 2 defense. Heath and Wilcox were extended mulligans as young, inexperienced rookies. But next year I don’t think mulligans will be available for these four guys in the Dallas secondary.

Carter finds himself in a battle for playing time at the start of camp with rookies and will need to quickly show improvement. While Doug Free needs to have the kind of performance in 2014 that makes fans forget about that dreadful penalty filled 2012 season, once and for all.

RELATED: Guys who needed to step it up in 2013 season.
Spoiler alert, Austin and Costa are gone now.

After NFL Rule Changes, is the Game Safer or Just More Exciting?

Since 2009, scoring in NFL games has been trending upward which probably comes as a surprise to no one who watches NFL games. In fact, the NFL hit an all time high in 2013 of 23.4 points per game. That average has increased every season since 2009 when it was 21.5 points. That particular year it had decreased from the previous 2008 season slightly.
2013- 23.4
2012- 22.8
2011- 22.2
2010- 22.0
2009- 21.5

*A 10% increase in scoring in just 5 years.

Coincidently or perhaps not, significant rule changes occurred after the 2008 season and while the NFL said it was to make the game safer, has it really resulted in a safer game or just a higher scoring more offensive oriented game?

The number of NFL players on injured reserve actually has increased since 2009.
Players on IR
2013- 269
2012- 264
2011- 252
2010- 253
2009- 223

As far as concussions go, the number of reported concussions decreased in 2013 after an increase in 2012. Some medical personnel are skeptical that the numbers actually decreased with more emphasis on not allowing players to play after a diagnosed concussion. The fear is they won’t get reported.
“I commend the efforts that the N.F.L. and N.F.L. Players Association have made,” said Chris Nowinski, the executive director of the Sports Legacy Institute. “However, I’m still certain that 90 to 95 percent of concussions are still not diagnosed, so in that sense the numbers are meaningless. If you can diagnose every symptomatic blow to the head, you wouldn’t have enough players on the field.”

In an effort to make the NFL game safer, here are some of the changes that occurred. Notice most all of them are in favor of the offense. Things really seemed to change after the 2008 season when scoring decreased. Rule changes prior to the 2009 season favored passing.

1. It is an illegal hit on a defenseless receiver if the initial force of the contact by the defender’s helmet, forearm, or shoulder is to the head or neck area of the receiver. Penalty: 15 yards.
2. It is an illegal “blindside” block if the blocker is moving toward his own endline and approaches the opponent from behind or from the side, and the initial force of the contact by the blocker’s helmet, forearm, or shoulder is to the head or neck area of an opponent. Penalty: 15-yards.
1. A player who has just completed a catch is protected from blows to the head or neck by an opponent who launches.
All “defenseless players” are protected from blows to the head delivered by an opponent’s helmet, forearm, or shoulder.
1.The list of “defenseless players” is expanded to include defensive players on crackback blocks, making it illegal to hit them in the head or neck area.

The changes have been focused on protecting the passers and receivers primarily and therefore making the game more conducive to passing.

The Games are producing more offense: Not only more scoring,
-yards passing hit an all time high in 2013 at 235.6/gm. Up every season since 2008.
-pass attempts also hit an all time high in 2013 at 35.4. Up every season since 2008. (ditto for completions)
-First downs hit an all time high in 2013 at 19.9. Up every season since 2008.
-First downs by penalty (1.8) tied a high reached in 2012.
-First downs by passing hit all time high in 2013 at 12.1. Up every season since 2008.

As you might suspect, rushing the ball is declining.

There you have it. Numbers that clearly show an increase in offense in the NFL but no significant decline in injuries and even an increase of players on IR. Did the NFL sincerely intend to make the game safer or was their intent to make it more exciting for fans to watch in the form of scoring through passing? Certainly the popularity of Fantasy Football is driven by offensive stats.

When our government talks like they are concerned with my safety, I can’t help but be a little skeptical that they are actually getting ready to get more of my money. Like enforcing a lower speed limit for example. It rarely results in safer driving as people drive as crazy as ever but it just offers more opportunity for law enforcement to raise revenue through tickets and fines.

Perhaps the NFL is sincere in making the game safer which I think only so much can be done there before you negatively impact the game. But clearly the changes have increased their popularity and the increase in offense is probably not unintentional.

Dallas Cowboys Draft: A Closer Look at The 7th Round Picks

Ben Gardner at Stanford

Ben Gardner at Stanford

In the NFL draft the Dallas Cowboys picked 5 players in the 7th round where it can be challenging to not only find players who can help your team, but even make the final 53 man roster.

All of the picks are defensive players where Dallas could use the most help. A look at each player to evaluate how their role may benefit the team and how they possibly make the final cut. Instead of ranking them in order picked, I start with the guys who appear to have the best chance to contribute and work my way down.

1. LB Will Smith 6-2, 231:
His Fit: Clearly by selecting Smith, their 2nd LB drafted, the Cowboys are determined to upgrade depth at LB. With his nice 40 time of 4.59, I think Dallas is looking for Smith to provide depth at the weakside LB spot. With the way Smith reacts and runs to the ball, he seems like a very good fit in a Tampa 2 defense in my view. I think he could play the MLB as he drops into deep middle coverage well but his best contribution will likely be at the Will. On video, he displays enough quickness to cover backs out of the backfield where he may prove to be a real asset. I didn’t have Smith on my pre draft radar, but Dallas found a good one here.

Final Roster: For Smith to make the final roster, I believe he must find an area to contribute on special teams which he certainly has the athletic ability to do. He will provide depth at LB and likely see opportunity when injuries occur. I like his chances to make the roster as a backup to Bruce Carter but if Carter struggles again this year, Smith’s opportunity may come even sooner.
Player Comparison: Luke Kuechly– A big comparison here no doubt, but not only does Smith have similar size but he really runs to the ball well like Kuechly. Smith was also a tackling machine at Texas Tech recording 34 tackles in back to back games. Kuechly has proven to be a very good fit in the Panthers 4-3 defense.

2. DT Ken Bishop 6-0, 301:
His Fit: Coming into the draft, the Cowboys needed to get younger on the defensive line and I was actually surprised they didn’t select a DT sooner than the 7th. But in Bishop, who visited Valley Ranch prior to the draft, I think they found a good one considering his 7th round status.

Bishop uses his hands well to fight off blocks and has decent quickness. At Northern Illinois against lesser competition he was clearly a man among boys. Able to push blockers out of the way, penetrate the back field, and blow plays up. In my view, he is a one technique that will compete with Hayden for playing time. Bishop can prove to be an effective run stopper in the middle.

Final Roster: The Cowboys are bringing in more defensive linemen than they will carry on the final roster. It’s going to be tough competition but I think Bishop offers play in the middle of the line that can separate him from the pack as a run stopper.
Player Comparison: DT Marvin Austin– Bishop’s quick movement at DT reminds me of the former UNC defensive lineman that the Giants selected in the 2nd round of the 2011 draft. Currently Austin is with the Broncos.

3. Safety Ahmad Dixon 6-0, 212:
His Fit: Dixon has good size and is a physical safety. A hard hitter who’s strength is coming up in run support. Last season, the Cowboy’s weakness at safety was often exploited in pass defense and I thought they could use a ball hawk safety in the draft. While Dixon is a solid in the box safety, he doesn’t offer many solutions in coverage. He is capable of backing up Barry Church at safety and can compete with Wilcox and Heath for playing time. He comes up in run support with no fear and I think fans will like his physical style of play.

Final Roster: The Cowboys released safety Danny McCray so there is a spot open. For Dixon to make the roster, I think he will need to become a special teams ace like McCray offered. Dixon’s ability to separate from the pack of current safeties on the roster will be challenging.
Player Comparison: SS Roy Williams- Dixon’s physical play at safety compares to former Cowboys safety Roy Williams a large safety who could sure bring the proverbial wood. However Dixon’s cover skills compare to Williams as well, and that’s not a real compliment.

4. CB Terrance Mitchell 5-11, 198:
His Fit: I didn’t look for Dallas to draft a CB at all and they waited until their final 9th pick to take Terrance Williams. At the combine Williams performed well in the cone drill and the 20-60 yard shuttles. His straight line speed is not special but he can change directions very quickly and smoothly.

As a corner, he is a bit of a ball hawk and came up with 5 interceptions at Oregon last year. I believe that’s what the Cowboys like about Mitchell and are seeking guys who create turnovers.

Against the run, Mitchell is not a very willing tackler in video I watched. Tends to let the back come to him instead of coming up to take on the ball carrier. His tackling brings a minimum effort too much like corners who have played for Dallas in the recent past like Mike Jenkins for example.

Final Roster: The Cowboys have Carr, Scandrick, and Claiborne as their three corners as well as the dependable veteran Sterling Moore brought in late last season after injuries. 2013 Rookie B.W. Webb never really got into the groove of things but returns to see if he can show improvement this year.

I see Mitchell competing with Webb for the 4th spot and I believe Mitchell will need to be a good special teams contributor to make the final roster. If Mitchell makes the roster, it could be an indication that Dallas is ready to move on from Webb.
Player Comparison: CB Orlando Scandrick– Mitchell has very similar size to current Cowboys corner Scandrick who has developed into a reliable defender of receivers in the slot. They have similar playing styles and Scandrick was a 5th round selection for Dallas that paid off pretty well. Like Scandrick, Mitchell would rather avoid tackling RBs.

5. DE Ben Gardner 6-4, 262:
His Fit: Gardner Plays with a good motor and brings a lot of effort. he is the kind of player that I think fans will find it easy to pull for to make the team. Has nice size for the defensive line but it isn’t clear what position he will play in the Dallas defense. At Stanford Gardner was a DE in a 3-4 and I think Dallas will look at him as a run stuffing left DE. However he may actually be best suited to play a three technique defensive tackle position.

Final Roster: Gardner may benefit from going to the practice squad where he can adapt to the new defense and his position that may change. Making the final roster will be very challenging for Gardner his rookie season but I see what the Cowboys like in him.
Player Comparison: DT Sean Lissemore– Former Cowboy and current Charger that was drafted by Dallas in the 7th round of the 2010 draft in a very similar spot as Gardner was selected. Lissemore brought a good motor and played well for a 7th round pick. Dallas released him last year because of the change to a 4-3 defense. Like Lissemore, I think Gardner will make the most of the opportunities he gets.

Dallas Cowboys Draft: Analyzing the First 4 Picks and How they FIt

First Pick Zack Martin

First Pick Zack Martin

In the 2014 draft, Dallas started with 11 picks and finished with 9 players. Seven of those nine picks were on the defensive side of the ball but 5 of their 9 picks weren’t taken until the 7th round.

In a separate blog, I will look at all those 7th round picks but in this one, I want to focus on the players they selected through the first 5 rounds. The players that Dallas will look to impact their team in 2014. A look at their skills, areas that need improvement, and how they may fit with the Cowboys 2014 team.

OL Zack Martin 6-4. 308
-Martin played tackle at Notre Dame but has the tools to move to offensive guard in the NFL and be successful.
-Good feet and athletic.
-Like how he blocks on run plays particularly. Gets to the next level nicely and blocks both linemen and LBs.
-Able to adjust quickly when pass blocking. Good pocket awareness.
-Aggressive and looks for people to hit until the whistle. Good effort.

Areas to Improve:
-While pass blocking, I saw Martin struggle with bull rushes by Alabama Defensive linemen. That can become more of an issue when he moves from tackle to guard especially at the NFL level with stronger DTs.
-Martin’s short arms are well documented and they are why he is moving from tackle to guard.
-Stands straight up at times when pass blocking which can get him off balance.
-Pass blocking in general could be better for NFL level and his short arms could limit his ability to play right tackle.

How he Fits:
Martin is expected to be a day one starter at guard for the Cowboys. Much like the first round rookie pick Frederick started at center for Dallas last season. It’s not clear which guard he will play but I suspect he will replace Bernadeau at right guard with Leary remaining at left. I believe Martin will quickly become the best guard on the Cowboys roster.

The Cowboys run game should see improvement with Martin next to center Frederick on the offensive line.

Tackle? In 2015, Dallas may look to have Martin move to right tackle in place of Doug Free. It remains to be seen if he can make that move successfully and I suspect they will like him at guard so much, they may want to just leave him at guard instead.

Player Comparison: Tackle Doug Free and/or Guard Kevin Gogan
At tackle, Martin reminds me of current Cowboy RT Doug Free in how he moves. At guard he may be similar to former Cowboys guard Kevin Gogan who successfully made the switch from tackle to guard and became an all pro guard.

DE DeMarcus Lawrence 6-3, 251
-Lawrence is very quick off the snap of the ball.
-One of the better pass rushers available in the draft. Productive in college with 34 TFL and 20 sacks in two seasons.
-Athletic, good balance, and displays natural pass rushing instincts.
-Pursues the run from the backside with a sense of urgency. Able to chase play down from behind.
-Can beat tackles to the edge.

Areas to Improve:
-At only 251 lbs., a smaller DE by NFL standards.
-Teams may be able to run effectively at him due to lighter size. Needs to bulk up some in weight room.
-Doesn’t appear to be a classic 4-3 DE and may lose containment at times. Will need to adjust to the position.
-As a run defender, will need more development.
-Has been in trouble multiple times in college and may present character red flags. DeMarcus says the “childish behavior” is behind him.

How he Fits:
The Cowboys invested a 2nd and 3rd round pick in Lawrence because they expect him to provide an immediate impact to the pass rush and specifically he was drafted to play the right DE. In his rookie season, Lawrence may not play every single down at DE, but I do expect him to be in the game when the other team is passing. Capable of double digit sacks in his first season.

Player Comparison: DE Jerry Hughes -Buffalo Bills
Hughes was a smaller DE like Lawrence at 6-2, 254, who has developed into an effective NFL pass rusher. In 2013, Hughes had 10 sacks for the Bills. Hughes was drafted in 2010 out of Texas Christian as the 31st pick in the draft similar to Lawrence who was picked at 34 by Dallas.

LB Anthony Hitchens 6-0, 240
-Hitchens was the leading tackler for Iowa in 2013.
-Durable and a physical tackler. “HIT-Chins” can bring the wood when tackling. YOUTUBE of Hitchens blowing up an Indiana receiver.
-Strength to take on blockers.
-Appears to have a good nose for the ball in diagnosing plays.
-good athlete who was a productive running back in HS.

Areas to Improve:
-short height liability in pass coverage. Needs to improve pass coverage over all.
-Has been benched before for missed assignments. Inconsistent play.
-Often tackles helmet first and may draw flags at NFL level.
-Often looks for the big hit and may miss tackles at next level.
-Average speed at the position with a 4.74/40 time.

How he Fits:
The Cowboys made a bit of a reach to take Hitchens in the 4th round so they see something they like here. He played weakside LB at Iowa but evidently Dallas expects him to backup Sean Lee at the middle LB spot.
“So we saw a guy who could definitely improve us from where we were last year when we lost Sean Lee.” Jerry Jones said of the Hitchens selection.

I don’t look for him to start in 2014 as he was picked to provide depth but to secure a roster spot, it may be important for Hitchens to find a way to contribute on special teams covering kicks.

Player Comparison: LB James Harrison
Watching Hitchens in Iowa’s black and gold running around blowing up ball carriers, reminded me of the former Steelers LB James Harrison. Also he is the same size as Harrison when he came out of college. Physical tackling style like Harrison too.

WR Devin Street 6-3, 198
-Team captain at Pitt.
-Tall and I really like the way he catches the ball at its highest point making the most of his height.
-Catches the ball with his hands and not his body. Good fundamentals coming out of college.
-Effective route runner.
-Panthers leading receiver in 2013.
-Appears slippery to would be tacklers. Able to slip out of tackle for additional yards.
-Runs slant particularly well.

Areas to Improve:
-Lacks bulk and strength to be an effective blocker on run plays. Needs to add bulk.
-Had a shoulder and elbow injury last year so presents a minor reason for concern next season. Says he is 100%.
-While possessing decent speed, lacks a sudden burst to pull away from defenders.

How he Fits:
Dallas is moving on from WR Miles Austin so Street will get an opportunity to compete. He can play both the wide out and slot receiver making him able to provide depth for all receiver positions. Provides a good option at receiver if Dez or Williams were to get injured. His height and ability to catch the ball away from his body, make him a good target near the goal line.

Street may not be a starter at the beginning of the season, but I do look for him to be worked into the offense more as the season progresses similar to Williams last season. And when injuries occur to starters, he will be a solid option.

Player Comparison: WR Andre Holmes
Street compares to former Cowboys WR Andre Holmes who is now with the Raiders. Both have a long, wiry frame with a track and field back ground. Able to go up over defenders and make the catch. Street does bring more polish to his game upon entering the NFL, than the undrafted Holmes did.

In first four picks of the 2014 draft, Dallas picked up a starter on offense in Martin, and an instant impact player on defense in Lawrence. But I’m not convinced they found a solution at any other defensive positions with those picks other than adding depth to LB. While they appear to have found more help on offense than expected, they may have added less help on defense than needed.

The Cowboys War Room Malfunction

What happened in the Cowboys War Room in the first round when they were on the clock? Prospects they coveted were freshly off the board while surprisingly, Johnny Football Manziel remained along with their eventual selection, the dependable offensive lineman Zack Martin.

It was my observation at the time (via NFLN telecast), that Stephen Jones slammed down the phone appearing angry. I consider myself a good reader of body language and I don’t care what they say, the guys in the Cowboys war room looked disappointed before announcing their 16th selection, with Stephen actually appearing pissed. They sure didn’t have that “we got our guy” look on their collective faces at all.

On Friday when asked about the phone, Stephen called it a “phone malfunction” you know like the wardrobe malfunction in the super bowl years ago. But I think the actual malfunction was that Stephen wasn’t hearing what he wanted to hear from other teams regarding a trade down. The truth is starting to leak out a drip at a time and as Mark Twain said,
“A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”–Mark Twain

Today an article on NBC Sports says that Dallas actually wanted Anthony Barr, Aaron Donald, or Ryan Shazier and that Martin (their pick) was who they settled for when all those guys went off the board. I find that easy to believe because it’s consistent with what I observed. They were focused on a pick to help the defense but there is no indication that they attempted to trade up in the first round.

Did those knuckle heads in the war room really think Donald and Barr would fall to 16? Everyone knew that wasn’t happening. Weeks ago here at Dishing the Real, I blogged about trading up and said Dallas would need to move up to the Rams spot at 13 to get Donald and that’s exactly where he went.

Barr was a top ten ranked player the whole time and he went off the board at #9 to the Vikings. No surprise there. It would appear Dallas had no effective strategy to move up and get the defensive guys they wanted most.

Now here is where Stephen’s “phone malfunction” occurs I believe. It’s reported Dallas was literally on the phone with Ryan Shazier’s agent preparing to take him at 16 when suddenly, the Steelers picked Shazier at 15! Imagine how that conversation went? “Sorry. Got to go now it’s the Steelers on the line”.

“Unfortunately, it was a phone malfunction. I was trying to take a call, and I picked it up and there was nobody there. We were having a little phone issue but we got right back on the phone and were able to get our last offers.”
-Stephen Jones

After Shazier was plucked from their fingers, they entertained offers to trade down but that didn’t work out and with just a couple minutes left on the clock, out of frustration no doubt, Stephen threw his fit oh I mean, had a “phone malfunction.” Not even Janet Jackson is buying that one.

It certainly would appear Dallas did not want to select an offensive lineman with their first round pick but settled on the dependable and available Zack Martin as a last resort. This news shouldn’t discourage Martin however, because in the 1990 draft, Jimmy Johnson was trying to move up to select a LB named James Francis but when he failed, Jimmy settled for a running back named Emmitt Smith. Things just have a way of working out sometimes.

The Jones should have been working on contingent plans for these scenarios in advance but I think they got caught on the clock and panicked. Guards Gabe Jackson and Cyril Richardson had visited Valley Ranch prior to the draft, and I believe Dallas was content to pick one of those in the 3rd or 4th rounds after getting their defensive lineman in the first.

But why couldn’t Jerry pull the trigger on Johnny Football? On Saturday Jerry Jones offered,
“I said last night, it was all about Tony Romo,” Jones said. “I was just looking at it today and thought, ‘You put that with the Dallas Cowboys and you put that with the quarterback controversy over Romo, and you’ve got an explosion.’”

There you have it. He wanted to avoid the drama. Jerry didn’t want to upset his veteran QB that he married with a large contract. In my view, that’s a lousy reason to not pick a QB who may turn out to be a future star in this league. Competition may actually help Romo and if Romo can’t stay healthy, you have your next QB to move on.

Little doubt that Manziel was the highest rated player at the time on their board but when asked about it, Stephen was evasive,
“When we look at our boards, we always make the decision based on the overall picture. I’m not going to get into who was what and where, and all that. We’ll pass on that.”

If Manziel turns out to be a great NFL QB, then we all agree Jerry should have picked him. But what if Manziel doesn’t work out?

In the past, QBs have proven to be good investments sometimes. They can be traded for picks if they don’t work out in one location. In 1989, Jimmy Johnson drafted Steve Walsh in the supplemental draft. It cost him a first round pick and he already had drafted Aikman. Foolish move? Not so fast.

The next season he traded Walsh to the Saints for three draft picks. One of those picks was used to get tackle Eric Williams and one was used to get that Emmitt Smith guy I mentioned previously. Those picks helped launch their run of super bowl wins. That’s what drafting a QB “you don’t really need” can mean.

My blog about the Walsh pick.

Dallas Cowboys 2014 NFL Draft Grades. Ladies and Gentlemen, Elvis has left the Building.

war cowboysAfter passing on Johnny Football in the first round to select an offensive lineman, Jerry Jones sounded like he may have been suffering some buyer’s remorse today. HERE He compared the electrifying Manziel to Elvis which may say something about Jerry’s age but we get the point.

ESPN reported that Manziel has already sold more jerseys and sports paraphernalia than both RG3 and Andrew Luck after they were picked. Also the Browns are experiencing a spike in season ticket sales. Johnny is like a rock star in Cleveland where the Rock Hall of Fame is located incidentally. Manziel is a marketing dream and Jerry knows that means money. You blew it Jerry, and time will prove it. You married Romo with that big contract and it limited your options on draft day.

Dallas certainly needed to address defensive needs in this NFL draft but were they able to get the guys to turn things around in 2014? In my mock draft, I had them taking a DE in the 2nd- check, then a LB in the 4th -check, and a WR in the 5th -check. Nailed it! I also had a guard in the 3rd but Dallas took care of that in the first. I like the position picks as they picked the positions I ranked as their biggest needs, however I fear not all of the prospects they picked are going to be the answer.

My grades for each pick based on the player ranking, the need, and the cost.

1. Guard Zack Martin: GRADE: B
Martin was a very safe pick as he never missed a game at Notre Dame due to injury. Described as smart and dependable, and of good character. Martin is a tackle with short arms expected to move to guard which is a big need for Dallas. They met a need here at guard as he should be a plug and play guard but this talk of Martin replacing Free in 2015, is premature considering his short arms. Let’s see how it goes. A safe, solid, hard to criticize pick here that upgrades the middle of the offensive line.

Fill Need? YES
Pick matches player rank? YES

Dish the real comment: Passing on “Elvis” keeps me from giving this pick an A. Who does that?

2. DE DeMarcus Lawrence: Grade C
The Cowboys traded up to get the DE they clearly wanted, by throwing in their 3rd round pick to the Redskins. Defensive end was probably the Cowboys biggest need of all coming into the draft so high marks for filling a need.

Lawrence is smaller for a NFL DE weighing 251, and many projected him as a OLB in a 3-4. In college, he got in trouble more than once so he brings character concerns too. However he is very athletic and should prove to be an effective pass rusher. Coach Garrett explained that Lawrence was one of the few prospects who could play right DE so they moved up to get their guy.

Fill Need? YES
Pick matches player rank? YES
COST: Too High (throwing in 3rd round pick) Trading down in first and drafting Lawrence late in the first would have been a better move.

Dish the Real comment: Lawrence must adapt to playing DE in the NFL and there are character red flags. I don’t like the fact they gave up a 3rd round pick that could have been very useful to fix the defense farther.

3. LB Anthony Hitchens: GRADE D
My first reaction was “who”? which isn’t usually a good sign. The Cowboys certainly need depth at LB and I expected them to pick one right here but I thought there were at least three better LBs on the board like Telvin Smith and Kevin Pierre Louis for example. Draft analysts had Hitchens listed as a 7th round pick at best.

Hitchens made a lot of tackles in college play and he certainly is a big hitter. He was an outstanding running back in HS where defenders appeared afraid to tackle the big guy. May provide needed depth at all three LB positions for Dallas however, probably not competing for a starting spot.

Fills Need: YES
Pick matches player rank? NO. The definition of a “reach”. Could have drafted him a few rounds later.

“He has some size and had a whole of production at Iowa. This might be a little early in the draft for him, as I had him further down the board.” — Daniel Jeremiah

Dish the Real comment: OK Jerry, you like this guy. Fine, but draft him where he is ranked and use this spot for prospects that are much higher ranked. No wonder you go 8-8 every season.

4. WR Devin Street: GRADE A
With Miles Austin being cut, I expected Dallas to add a WR here and they may have found a good one in Street. He has reliable hands, solid route runner, nice speed, and good height at 6-3. Street will not have to start right away but I believe he will develop into a receiver that Romo likes to go to. There are some weaknesses as he needs to be stronger to become an effective blocker in the run game.

Fills Need? YES
Pick maches player rank? YES
Cost: OK. Dallas did trade a 7th round pick to the Lions to get Street. They had plenty picks to spare in 7th anyway.

Dish the Real comment: Last draft Dallas found a good young WR in Terrance Williams and with Devin Street, I think fans will soon forget about Miles Austin and his pulled hamstring.

5. DE Ben Gardner: GRADE C
Gardner played DE in Stanford’s 3-4 defense and I think he would be better in a 3-4 than a 4-3 so the pick is a bit of a head scratcher for me. Does Jerry realize they play a 4-3 now?

Perhaps D-line coach Marinelli plans to use him as a DT? Gardner plays with a nice motor and hustles to the ball. I think he will be good guy to work into the rotation eventually as an effective run stuffer at either DE or DT.

Fills Need? Perhaps. Wait and see.
Pick matches player rank? YES

Dish the Real Comment:Expectations should be kept low with this pick until we see what Marinelli has in mind. I wouldn’t expect him to contribute a lot in his first NFL season.

6. LB Will Smith: GRADE C+
Smith appears to be capable of playing MLB when Sean Lee goes out with his usual obligatory injury. He makes plenty of tackles and moves to the ball well. Clearly Dallas needed to improve depth at LB and Smith will help.

Fills Need? YES
Pick matches player rank? YES

Dish the real comment:Looks like a decent pick for the 7th round. No one should expect him to start in 2014, but late in the year Dallas may be glad they picked this guy.

7. SS Ahmad Dixon: GRADE C-
The Cowboys may have passed up on some Texas home boys earlier in the draft like Manziel and Jeffcoat, but they do pick Dixon. Dixon is an in the box safety that defends the run well but no so much help in pass coverage, which is actually what Dallas needs. He seems a lot like Wilcox already on the Cowboys roster. I thought Jonathan Dowling (in my mock draft) would be a better pick here as a safety, but the Raiders took him with their pick right before Dallas.

Dixon has been arrested but cleared of charges. He may be a contributor on special teams and add depth to safety.

Fills Need? NO. Need a FS who can cover.
Pick matches rank? YES

Dish the Real comment: Just what the Cowboys DIDN”T need. Another in the box safety that can’t cover. We are left to hope Wilcox or Heath improve this season.

DT Ken Bishop: GRADE B
For a late pick, I think Bishop could help the Cowboys defensive line in the middle. He doesn’t offer much as a pass rusher and will be a one technique for sure, but he could prove to be a poor man’s Timmy Jernigan as an effective run stuffer. Bishop uses his hands well to get off blocks and at 300 lbs, is not easy to move.

Fills need? YES
Pick matches rank? YES

Dish the real comment: Marinelli is trying to put together a rotation of defensive linemen and I think Bishop can be in that rotation and help stop the run. I like the pick.

CB Terrance Mitchell: GRADE B
Dallas held off drafting a CB until their very last pick an indication that they are committed to the current secondary. Terrance Mitchell may offer some depth and special team contribution. Mitchell had a good performance at the combine with the best time among CBs in the 3 cone drill and the 20 yard shuttle. Clearly he is quick and changes direction well. Last season he had 5 INTs at Oregon.

Fill a need? YES
Pick Matches rank? YES and actually there is value here as he was expected to go sooner.

Dish the Real comment: The Cowboys haven’t found Mo Claiborne’s replacement in Mitchell, but they may have found B.W. Webb’s.

Final GRADE: I like that Dallas found a plug and play guard (Martin) and a DE (Lawrence) that should be able to get after the QB. Also like the WR (Street) they found in the middle of the draft.

As far as LB goes, they attempted to add depth but I fear they missed on those picks. I don’t like that they gave up a 3rd round selection and I think there were some missed opportunities to improve the defense more. They also passed on Elvis who may have proven to be their future QB and would have at least put a lot of butts in the seats.

Overall, I expect them to have a very solid offensive line in 2014 and an improved but young, inexperienced, defensive line.

I’m giving Dallas a final grade of C+. That’s right, about an average draft. What else for a team stuck at 8-8 and picking in the middle of the rounds?