Every year with the Dallas Cowboys in the NFL Draft is an adventure and 2013 was no exception. The Cowboys came in with a lot of talent but some areas of substantial need and with general manager and owner Jerry Jones running the show, it was impossible to predict what they would do. The Cowboys had some substantial needs along the offensive line, filling in holes in their transition to the 4-3 defense under new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin and just trying to give quarterback Tony Romo the tools to succeed and not only make the playoffs, but win in the playoffs. The Cowboys draft was somewhat clunky and had some picks that left onlookers scratching their heads while other picks were great on value and what they potentially offer the team, but the Cowboys left holes unaddressed and those holes could continue to prove problematic in a division that is wide open at this point.
The Cowboys took many by surprise in the first round, first by making a deal with the San Francisco 49ers to move back thirteen spots and pick up an extra third round pick and then by selecting Travis Frederick, center from Wisconsin. Perhaps as big of a surprise pick in the first round as any, the junior Badger pivot was ranked by most as the top center in the draft, but most looked at him as a third round prospect. After years of being unwilling to invest in offensive linemen in the first round, two of the last three years have had the Cowboys end up adding talent in the trenches. The addition of a center certainly made sense from a needs standpoint as the Cowboys could have used help at both guard and center, but the perceived reach was pretty remarkable and Frederick will have to be a good center for the next half dozen years to warrant the pick. Jerry Jones opened this pick up to further scrutiny when he declared Frederick the starting center without so much as seeing a practice.
Wisconsin offensive linemen are usually a good investment and litter the NFL with talented players, so it is easy to understand why the Cowboys would want one anchoring the middle of their line. Frederick does not look like much in shorts but is a gritty, strong run blocker who works to dig opponents out and turn them and create holes. Frederick actually played closer to 330lbs, so hopefully the fact he measured in at 312lbs is a better indication of where he hopes to play, so he is quicker and can block agile pass rushers more effectively. There is a good amount of talent with Frederick and the Cowboys line needed the help, but in the inside baseball talk of value and reaches, Frederick struggles to make sense. If he turns out to be the best center in the division in the next couple years and is a great contributor, those concerns go by the wayside but there were reasons he was graded closer to the third round than the first. Center was arguably as weak a position as this class had to offer. He can also contribute at guard and the argument can be made that the best five linemen the Cowboys could put out there would have him play guard, but Jerry Jones could not resist opening his mouth and putting the cart before the horse, so he will likely be the starting center when camp opens regardless of the logic pointing to any other possibility.
In the second round, the Cowboys added tight end Gavin Escobar from San Diego State. Escobar has incredible talent and his ability to catch the football and body control look like Tony Gonzalez. He has prototypical size and is a good athlete who can attack all over the field. Escobar looks ready to contribute immediately as a pass catching threat, but his blocking is going to require significant work and effort to improve. While possessing the size to be a terrific inline threat, he may see a lot of time in the slot as a joker option until he proves he can be more effective at the point of attack.
Jason Witten is still a good player and one of the most reliable on the team, but the combination of he and Escobar could really open up options on the outside for their wide receivers. Witten is the consummate pro and if he is willing to take Escobar under his wing and help him develop as a pro and Escobar is willing to listen, it could go that much further to insure that Escobar becomes the player they hope he can be, so when Witten eventually retires, they are equipped to make the transition and continue playing at a high level at that position.
The other potential wildcard in this situation is James Hanna, who was drafted last year largely on his measurables as a joker and potential receiving threat that could stretch the field. If he can develop and be ready to make significant contributions this coming season, the Cowboys offense could have a significant number of options in how they want to use their tight ends both inline and in the slot. Witten, Escobar, and Hanna give them a lot of potential in terms of their ability to be pass catchers but only Witten has showed to be an effective blocker at this point, which will be a slight concern going forward. Witten’s presence may make it somewhat difficult for Escobar to make a huge impact as a rookie, but if he looks good in camp and the coaching staff is willing to put him on the field along with Witten, he could be a pleasant surprise in the Cowboys offense this year.
With the extra third round pick acquired in the trade down with the 49ers, the Cowboys added Terrance Williams, wide receiver from Baylor. Physically impressive with size and speed, Williams offers significant potential for the NFL, but he is still raw in terms of his technique and how he approaches to the wide receiver position. Williams plays slower than he times because of some technical issues that slow him down such as a bad release from his stance and having to slow down to catch the ball with his body. Williams needs to become a consistent hands catcher, work on improving his technique so he plays up to all of his physical tools and if he can do those things, the Cowboys have another impressive weapon in their offense. He is better suited to play on the outside but he could provide some help in the slot as well.
The pick of Williams was surprising given some of the other options available, but because the Cowboys have a pretty effective group of wide receivers, they had the flexibility to add a wide receiver with physical tools and potential to be developed. Having players like Dez Bryant, Miles Austin and Dwayne Harris along with their group of tight ends make it so they do not necessarily need a big impact from Williams early. It certainly would not be a bad thing if he came in and had a nice rookie year, but their depth chart allowed them to make this type of gamble with the idea that he could be a nice contributor in a year or two rather than needing him as a rookie. Ultimately, they could regret passing on some of the other options that were available, but if Williams develops as they hope, he could be a terrific addition to their group and end up outperforming a number of the receivers picked in front of him.
With their other third round pick, the Cowboys picked J.J. Wilcox, safety from Georgia Southern. Like Williams, Wilcox is an impressive athlete with significant potential but has a ways to go before he is a polished player. Wilcox spent the early part of his career as a wide receiver before making the move to safety and while that is an endorsement of his physical talent, it means he has played only one year at the safety position and is quite raw. Even though he was playing largely on instinct his first year, Wilcox was impressive and as he improves, he could make leaps and bounds as a player. The question facing the Cowboys is how they are going to have him learn; as depth or in the line of fire on the field.
The Cowboys have had a miserable run at the safety position, particularly when it comes to free safety. They have had some players that could contribute as a strong safety but really no one who could protect their corners over the top and make plays on the football. The Cowboys have an extremely talented duo of corners in Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne who should only get better as they get more experience in this scheme and if Wilcox can give them a player with range that can patrol the back end and make plays on the football, it could really make that defense dangerous. The presence of those corners could make the transition for Wilcox easier as it could reduce the amount he needs to do because they are so talented and enable him to make plays and gain confidence as he learns the position. If Wilcox can develop, he has the potential to be an impact player, but he is a raw player coming from a small school, so the transition will not be an easy one.
With their fourth round pick, the Cowboys added B.W. Webb, a corner from William & Mary. The Tribe corner comes in and will be playing for the nickel spot against Orlando Scandrick. The level of competition Webb played against was a concern and appeared to be held against him, but he looked effective against top competition at the Senior Bowl. He could make an impact immediately if he can win the nickel spot but he has long term upside as well to be a starting caliber corner that could fill in on the outside if an injury occurred or if/when one of the starters goes elsewhere in a few years.
Webb is a player who likes to look into the backfield and try to read the quarterback to break on the ball with the ability to get interceptions. He is more comfortable in off man than he is playing up on them and he needs to work on how he jams guys at the line and knocks them off their line. While he is a big play threat that can make interceptions, he needs to improve his ability to read and recognize routes and be able to play off of them as well as being accustomed to finding the ball when he has turned and run with the receiver. His ball skill and knack for producing interceptions could be a great fit in the slot and the middle of the field in general where he has a chance to get to more passes thrown near him.
In the fifth round, the Cowboys added Joseph Randle, running back from Oklahoma State. The running back position has been a source of frustration for the Cowboys as Felix Jones was a bust and while DeMarco Murray has fantastic talent and has had it since he came out of Oklahoma, the issue of injuries that plagued him in college continues to impact his career in the NFL. In Randle, they add a running back that can help come in and reduce the workload from Murray while offering upside going forward.
Randle is a running and receiving threat that loves to use power when he gets into the secondary and punish defensive backs trying to tackle him. He has some agility and can make guys miss which allow him to do what he really likes to do and run over people. Randle’s long speed is not overwhelming and while he can be an effective runner, he is not a home run hitting threat. The good news is this means that Randle can continue adding bulk and strength without losing his athleticism and make more use of power in his running style. He might be ideally suited to play at 215 to 220lbs and specialize as more of a power back who can still make plays as a receiver and be more of a threat in short yardage situations. Randle has the potential to be a starter and feature back if he can continue improving his strength in the NFL and could end up being a better pro than college player, which would be a steal for the Cowboys as he was a tremendously productive player in Stillwater.
In the sixth round with their last pick, the Cowboys picked up DeVonte Holloman, outside linebacker from South Carolina. Listed as a linebacker, Holloman also contributed as a safety for the Gamecocks and was more of a hybrid position they called the spur. The Cowboys may not even be sure where they want Holloman to contribute in terms of a specific position yet, though he is listed as a defensive end currently but he could end up as a linebacker as well. His contribution in the short term is more of a special teams player and just getting him on the field so he can make plays there and if he can evolve into a spot and can contribute in their defense, all the better. While he is somewhat of a tweener in terms of position, he just seems to find ways to contribute and make plays all over the field from tackles to sacks to interceptions.
His best fit in terms of an actual position might be as a strong side linebacker because he has shown to take on blocks as well as match up with tight ends in coverage. He also shows the potential to where he could contribute in nickel situations. Holloman is just a good football player with a bunch of useful skills that have never really added up to one position in South Carolina, so they basically invented one for him. It will be worth seeing how the Cowboys ultimately try to use him on their roster, but he should be a valuable addition to their special teams unit and it would not be a surprise if he works his way into being a contributor somewhere on the defense.
My Thoughts: Jerry Jones is easily one of the worst general managers in all of football and there are times when he makes great moves that make a lot of sense and there are times when he reminds everyone why not just anyone can be a scout or talent evaluator. Jones has always overrated his own ability to produce a winning football team and is always trying to prove how good he is and how much he mattered when Jimmy Johnson was running the team and the draft. Every year, it becomes clearer and clearer that Jones is out of his league and holds his team back, but this draft does have potential to be effective and help the Cowboys in a few key areas.
The pick of Frederick in the first round was baffling to put it kindly. Reports suggest the scouting department working for Jones was up in arms over the selection of Frederick and he simply ignored them and went with what he thought he was the right move. This move could have been made in the second round and possibly the third and they opted for him in the first and Jones could not help himself but declare him the starter making an impotent head coach in Jason Garrett look even weaker and further ask the question of why they bothered to retain him for another year. All of this is beside the fact that it puts a significant amount of bizarre pressure on Frederick to be a great player immediately and could impact him negatively as he adjusts to life in the NFL; something he certainly did not need.
I really like the second round pick of Escobar. This was not really a need but a great opportunity to add talent to their roster, give Romo another weapon, and potentially give the Cowboys an added dynamic to their offense with multiple tight end sets, should they choose to use them. For me, Escobar was the second best tight end in the draft and has significant potential to be a game changing tight end in Dallas. If the Cowboys use him, he could pay immediate dividends, but give them a tremendous option to eventually take over for Witten.
The third round left me slightly puzzled. I understand the thought process with Williams and the fact is they do not need him now; they need him a year or two from now. That said, if they were going wide receiver, Keenan Allen and Markus Wheaton were better football players at wide receiver and the Cowboys had bigger fish to fry; more offensive line help at guard and the position that was never addressed which was adding a 3-tech defensive tackle for the middle of their defense. Wilcox on the other hand addresses a huge need but is a similar gamble in terms of betting on physical tools and potential while not getting anywhere near a finished product yet. This could blow up in their face or yield a player that will have warranted a first round pick in hindsight.
The Cowboys may not have really needed a corner right this second, but with the wide receivers in this division and the way the offenses seem to want to spread defenses out in the NFC East, it is a smart move to continue adding depth and players that can contribute in nickel and dime situations. Increasingly, the nickel corner is a starting position in terms of importance so the Cowboys may have found themselves a starter in round four, which is difficult to argue. Webb is not perfect but he was extremely effective patrolling the Colonial Athletic Association and has never backed down from competition or opportunity. The first game of his career was against Virginia as a freshman where he came up with three interceptions and scored one of them as he played an enormous role in the Tribe’s upset over their instate Division-1 foes.
The pick of Joseph Randle makes a great deal of sense not only because they needed help at the running back position to help take pressure off of Murray as well as fill in when he gets hurt, but he has the talent and upside to be a starter and plays a similar style of football as Murray. It is a good fit for both sides and could pay dividends now and in the future, especially if Randle can add the strength and power that his body has the room for and his style would welcome. Anything to help the Cowboys run the ball more so Romo does not have to carry the offense is a smart move at this point.
Holloman might be the worst pick in terms of filling a need in terms of position, but he is just a good player that can really help their special teams and potentially contribute in the long run, once they figure out where to put him. He is a tweener but he seems to find ways to positively contribute to his team no matter where he is placed; the question is finding the best place for him to contribute. If all he ever does is provide help on special teams, the pick will be worth it, but he does have the potential to be valuable depth with versatility and a long term possibility to start.
Every year the Cowboys draft is a roller coaster ride between strange picks and some good ones, so every year fans go in with the hope that this will be the year they finally put it all together and put together a quality draft from start to finish. There is a lot of talent and ability, but largely potential in this year’s class and they could end up with a really strong class if these guys develop, but they could end up with a lot of failed projects as well. It seems unlikely that Frederick will be a bust, but to what extent he is a great player remains to be seen. More likely to bust are their third round picks which are far more potential than finished products at this point. The picks they made on the third day of the draft may have a better chance of contributing immediately and in the long term, but that is the risk they chose to take and it could pay off handsomely if all goes according to plan. Jerry Jones would really do himself a favor if he would stay out of the draft process and hire someone qualified as he could ultimately be the sole reason the Cowboys never get back to the Super Bowl, but there is no indication that he is going to change anytime soon, so Cowboys fans are stuck with riding the roller coaster every year. The offensive line and defensive tackle position are both question marks and the move to the 4-3 is all the more questionable since they did not get themselves a good 3-technique to play in the middle of that defensive line, which could both rank highly among their needs going into the draft next year. The Cowboys have a chance to be an improved team and get into the playoffs again this year, but they could be another year and a better draft away from being anything more.
Tags: 2013 Nfl Draft B.W. Webb Baylor Bears Football Dallas Cowboys DeVonte Holloman Gavin Escobar Georgia Southern J.J. Wilcox Joseph Randle Oklahoma State Cowboys Football San Diego State Aztecs Football South Carolina Gamecocks Football Terrance Williams Travis Frederick William & Mary Wisconsin Badgers Football