With the NFL Draft now behind us, the crack SB Nation Dallas crew convenes for a discussion on how it all went down for the Cowboys and where they go from here.
1) How good will Morris Claiborne have to be to be worth giving up a second round draft pick? What's a realistic expectation for him as a rookie?
Archie Barberio: Claiborne is all that and a bag of chips. I have no problem with the Cowboys trading away their 2nd round draft pick for a cornerback who could become our Charles Woodson or Darrelle Revis. Also consider who the Cowboys would have taken with the 45th pick, Utah State LB Bobby Wagner. Now Wagner is a fine prospect, but another inside linebacker that high really isn't necessary. Would you rather have Michael Brockers and Wagner or Claiborne? Give me a lockdown cornerback any day of the week.
Expectations are going to be high for Claiborne, but realistically, all he has to do is be better than Terence Newman for the Cowboys to succeed this year. This was my third rated prospect in the entire draft, so I expect him to be playing at a high level instantly. He is too good to be a bust. What he really brings to the secondary is ball skills. We haven't had a cornerback with his type of ball skills since Deion Sanders. He may not get 8-10 interceptions his rookie season, but it wouldn't surprise me to see him racking up those type of numbers down the road.
KD Drummond: He'll have to be an All-Pro eventually in order to justify a first and a second round pick; either that or Dallas' pass defense will have to become a top 5 unit. A CB selected with the sixth overall pick needs to be a Pro Bowler to be considered a success, but with the addition of a top 45 player being taken away, the standards go up. I don't think it's fair to say he has to be Darrell Revis at his peak, but if he could pull of a Champ Bailey? #Winning.
Realistic expectations for a rookie? It's tough to know how the dynamic will work with Brandon Carr; which corner will be left on an island more and therefore generate more targets. I'd like to see a QB Rating Against under 70 and a Yards Per Target Allowed under 7. Those would be great rookie numbers that would let me know he has the elite gene.
John Stathas: If he remains our starting corner over the next decade, he's worth it. Something similar to Terence Newman's career is acceptable, although I project Claiborne having a better a career. Newman was the fifth overall pick in 2003 and had two Pro Bowl seasons for the Cowboys. Although we didn't give up any picks for Newman, I still think Claiborne was worth it. We addressed a vital need and probably secured our future at the position. That's worth a first and second round pick to me, as I didn't see any second round targets that would convince me otherwise.
Initially, expect Claiborne to be the #2 corner, deferring the #1 role to veteran Brandon Carr. Their respective performances will determine what their roles look like by season's end. I see Claiborne getting tested early and often. He'll have plenty of opportunities to prove himself early on, and his good ball skills net three to four interceptions with a pick-six among them. And of course, a few mistakes ("learning moments") along the way.
2) On the whole, how well do you think Dallas this year? How many starters will eventually come from this class?
Barberio: Adding Claiborne was a tremendous move. Paired with Brandon Carr, the defense now has two press cornerbacks who can lock it down. Tyrone Crawford reminds me of a better Jason Hatcher, so I expect him to be a starter rather soon. After that, it may take some time. Matt Johnson has the measurables, but needs to adjust to the NFL level. I really like his upside though. Kyle Wilber reminds me a lot of Anthony Spencer, but he is a 4th round pick so that is a good comparison. Danny Coale was a pick I absolutely loved. He could be our #3 WR if Raymond Radway isn't ready to take the next step. James Hanna should be a solid receiving tight end.
Claiborne and Crawford will be starters, so that's two right there. If Johnson pans out down the road, that could be three. Coale may not be a starter, but I see him contributing. Wilber is the real wildcard, but if he pans out, he could replace Spencer next year.
Drummond: I think Dallas did sneaky good. Last draft season, I coined an acronym BPAPN which stands for best player available at a position of need. I don't believe in blindly taking the best player available unless your team is stacked and is already a Super Bowl contender. If you have holes, it's downright stupid to spend a high pick on a position of strength. Screw that. Make a list of all the positions you have to fix (DE, CB, OL, OLB, ILB, S, WR) and then take the best player available at each selection from one of those positions. That seems to be the exact strategy that Dallas exploited in this draft and I think it will serve them well.
Fans are too married to the Top 70 names they've been studying for the last few months that they believe are the best available based on other people's opinions. When those players are still on the board in rounds 3, 4 and 5, it couldn't be that the NFL GMs are right and those services were wrong; Dallas is stupid for taking players they haven't heard of instead of those sliding names. What? Get real. We are amateurs at something none of the professionals are perfect at. Besides, certain services had picks such as Crawford and Wilber slotted exactly where Dallas selected them... you just didn't study up on them so you call them reaches. Get it together.
Stathas: I'd grade it a B+. We addressed practically every need, including a potential star in Morris Claiborne. The Kyle Wilber and Matt Johnson picks in the fourth round addressed some depth needs at OLB and safety, but I still have to raise my eyebrow a bit for both picks. I felt the Cowboys recovered in the later rounds though and saved themselves from a mediocre draft.
Claiborne is an obvious starter. I also see Tyrone Crawford eventually becoming a force at defensive end, although he'll take a couple seasons to develop into that role. And James Hanna and Danny Coale won't be "starters" but I do see them contributing a great deal over the next few years.
3) Which second or third day player the Cowboys drafted most intrigues you?
Barberio: Matt Johnson looks really intriguing, but I am going to go with Danny Coale. I loved this kid at Virginia Tech and he reminds me of a poor man's Miles Austin. We really needed a slot wide receiver, and I was disappointed when we didn't land Joe Adams, but Coale really likes like a good football player.
Drummond: I'm most intrigued to see how Tyrone Crawford puts on weight and if his speed is affected in trying to bulk up in preparation for the double teams he's going to face. If he can add 10 pounds of muscle, keep his speed and penetrate through NFL double teams, the whole complexion of this defense changes. I'd imagine Rob Ryan uses him as a 4-2-5 end initially, but for him to be a success he will have to play on more than passing downs; hopefully by season's end. Dallas desperately needs a penetrating DE to make this mousetrap work.
Stathas: I really love the James Hanna pick in the sixth round. Just at face value, we basically drafted a replacement for Martellus Bennett. Only this pick will give us remarkably more production and cost us much less than Marty B.
But what excites me most about Hanna is his measurables. I'll compare him to the best athletic tight end in football, Jimmy Graham. At 6'4" 252 lbs., Hanna is only two inches shorter than Graham. He has slightly shorter arms and a vertical jump 2.5 inches below Graham's. But Hanna led all tight ends in his class in the 40-yard dash, 3-cone drill, and the 20 and 60-yard shuttles. All were better than Graham's numbers. His football skills are also at a higher level than Graham's were at this point in his career.
Although I don't project Hanna to be the next Jimmy Graham, I think he'll be a great compliment to Jason Witten, and should develop well under his tutelage. With Witten, Austin, and Bryant drawing the most attention in pass coverage, Hanna will have an opportunity to exploit single coverage regularly, and could have success similar to Laurent Robinson's this past season.
4) Are there any position areas you think Dallas should have addressed in the draft that they didn't?
Barberio: Yes, the center position. We had the worst center in the NFL last year and we didn't bring in any talent to compete with what we already have on the roster. The Cowboys obviously believe in Phil Costa, but I don't at all. I will say that Kevin Kowalski looked pretty good when filling in last year. Personally, I think Kowalski should be the starting center next year.
Drummond: Most folks were shocked that Dallas didn't address the interior offensive line. I had posed a few times that they had committed several resources to the position in last year's draft plus in the first phase of free agency, but even I thought they would spend a pick. It looks like new O-Line coach Bill Callahan has seen some potential amongst the Yuglies and wants to see what they can do in conjunction with Livings and Bernadeau; the free agents brought on board.
Stathas: I would have liked to see the Cowboys pick up an interior offensive lineman in the early rounds. I felt Baylor center Philip Blake would have been a great fit, but Denver snagged him four picks before us in the fourth round. But the front office and coaching staff are likely confident that our young offensive line is rounded out enough at this point with free agency signings Mackenzy Bernadeau and Nate Livings. The guard/center position is a need that can certainly be addressed next draft, where we'll likely have less-pressing needs.
5) What's the biggest question mark on this team's roster headed into mini-camps?
Barberio: Once again it's center. The center position really makes me nervous right now, but I do believe in Kowalski. There should be an open competition in camp for the starting role. Another option is moving one of our guards to center. David Arkin, Bill Nagy, Mackenzie Bernadeau and UDFA Ron Leary may be able to make the transition to center. This position really scares me, but I hope offensive line coach Bill Callahan solves the problem.
Drummond: Quiet as kept, I think the biggest question mark is Bruce Carter's readiness. If Dallas has two athletic inside linebackers capable of chasing running backs, filling holes and dropping into coverage, watch out. I like the Dan Connor signing, but Carter is the key. The fact that Dallas only went for depth at ILB in the draft makes me think they believe Carter will be a big contributor in 2012.
Stathas: I think the obvious question mark will be the performance of our two new cornerbacks. But I feel the real question mark will be the team's overall execution this season. The talent is certainly there. One could even make the argument that the Cowboys have the NFL's most talented team on paper. But it's going to take execution play after play, game after game to see results that match our talent level. Over the past several seasons, the Cowboys have had one of the more talent-rich rosters in the league, but have little to show for it. That trend needs to be corrected this year.
6) Going to put you on the spot. Give me a win/loss record for the Cowboys next season.
Barberio: Since the end of the season I have been saying the Cowboys could easily improve two games from 8-8 to 10-6. I stand behind that statement even more because of how much better this secondary has gotten. If the secondary can hold up, the pass rush may takeoff again. At least that is what the Cowboys are hoping for. Give Jerry Jones some credit, he did a fantastic job this offseason improving his football team. I see this team contending for the NFC East title once again.
Drummond: Win/Loss for Dallas in 2012? That's easy... 10-6. Nothing's changed from my prediction when the schedule was announced. Dallas races out to a 9-3 record, makes everyone panic by losing three in a row and then wins the season finale in Washington to clinch win 10 and the division.
Stathas: 11-5 Division winners. The talent is there. I'm one of the biggest Romophobes and overall Cowboys skeptic you'll find, but if we stay healthy and execute properly, this team has a legitimate shot at winning a Super Bowl. But execution and health are BIG ifs.