Jason Garrett’s First Draft as an NFL Head Coach

The NFL Draft is today.

Wait. You already knew that.

If you’re not a fan of the Dallas Cowboys, then most of what I have to say will not go over well with you. If you are a fan, then there’s no telling how you will feel about what I have to say. Don’t worry-it’s not like I’m going to sit here and act like I know more than the experts, or try to make outlandish remarks to get a rise out of you. I’m not Colin Cowherd. I actually believe the things I say.

Watching Dallas play last year was painful. Losers of their first 2 games, and then losers of 5 of their next 6, the Cowboys quit on their head coach. The mentality of the Cowboys has not been the same since they won the Superbowl in January of 1996 (against a Steelers team that cheated its way past Indianapolis in that AFC Championship game, but that’s neither here nor there). I’ve watched them turn-in surprisingly good seasons, surprisingly bad seasons, and then the expected mediocre seasons. You can pretty much guess which is my favorite.

When they play well, the Cowboys steamroll. Think about their 2007 season: the Cowboys started off 11-1, losing only to the New England Patriots, who successfully completed their pursuit of perfection, before losing 2 of their next 4 and finishing 13-3. They were this close (shows pinched fingers) to hosting Green Bay in the NFC Championship game, but Terry Glenn gave up on his route, and Tony Romo’s pass was intercepted. I remember it vividly-it was January 13th, 2008, and the Cowboys’ quest for a rematch with New England on neutral turf was ruined by Eli Manning and the New York Giants. To top it off, the Lakers lost Andrew Bynum to a torn meniscus only hours later against the lowly Memphis Grizzlies. Suffice it to say, I was a wreck.

Digressions aside, the Cowboys didn’t give up. They played hard, but in the end, Romo couldn’t pull it out. Rather, Romo DIDN’T pull it out. The next year, with expectations high and egos higher, the Cowboys floundered to a 9-7 season, culminating in an embarrassing win-and-you’re-in 44-6 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in week 17. When things went badly for the Cowboys, things went badly for the Cowboys. When it rains, it pours. And when it rains in Texas, it hails.

In 2009, the Cowboys surprised everybody and returned the favor to the Philadelphia Eagles, summarily ending their season with a 34-14 smackdown in the opening round of post-season play. Then, true to form, they ate the jock strap of the aging Brett Favre, whose team’s defense looked like the Steel Curtain of the 1970’s against the Cowboys’ fat, unathletic offensive linemen. The result? A 34-3 massacre the likes of which no Cowboy fan wants to see again.

Ever.

So how do we prevent that from happening? Well, considering that this year’s NFL season could be shorter than the shows that air on FOX, I’d say the draft is pretty crucial to establishing a solid foundation in Dallas. Head coach Jason Garrett has a chance to change the fortunes of the Cowboys today, and he better bring his thinking cap. With the NFL Draft taking place today, the league’s most interesting since 1987 (the last time there was a lockout), he can do some serious damage by way of draft only because there is no way for a team to improve itself outside of drafting players. The Cowboys, by way of a dismal 6-10 season, own the 9th pick in the draft, and that bodes well for anyone.

Of the Cowboys many pressing needs, they are set on the skill positions. While Felix Jones hasn’t panned out as planned, and Marion Barber is all but gone in the off-season (or next year), I still like the option of Tashard Choice backing up Felix. He’s solid, possesses decent speed, great cutback ability, has patience, and can catch the pass. He’s not going to get 1,000 yards rushing, mostly because he isn’t built to carry the ball that many times a game, but he is more of a do-it-all back. Choice will catch out of the back field and run up the interior.

At wide receiver, the Cowboys are stacked. Miles Austin returns for his 3rd year as a starter, Dez Bryant gets out of jail in time for training camp, Roy Williams emerges as a good backup, and Sam Hurd continues to impress at training camps but not get it done in games. I like where we are enough to not endorse the drafting of another wideout.

Tony Romo will continue to be “The Guy” for the Cowboys, even though he’s 31 years young.

I’d say that, judging by their defense allowing the seventh-most passing yards thrown against them (243.2 per game), the Cowboys need to add depth to their secondary.

It’s no secret that Mike Jenkins had a terrible year. He never got in rhythm for the Cowboys, who expected big things from him after his Pro-Bowl campaign of 2009. Instead, he disappointed, and was more penalized on the field than Lindsay Lohan in court. He single-handedly lost the game against the Tennessee Titans for us (Dallas), and made Kenny Britt look like Jerry Rice in the process. Terence Newman has secretly been a very average cornerback, but he makes up for it by getting selected to the pro-bowl every year, mostly because top-tier corners opt not to play, or can’t because they’re in the Superbowl.

It’s frustrating watching our secondary when the opposing quarterback steps back to throw. On 3rd and long, they’re almost guaranteed to complete the pass and get the 1st down. Instead of playing press coverage, Dallas plays back, relying on their pass rush to create enough pressure to prevent the opposing offense from finding their coverage holes. Well, that didn’t work, as our pass rush, outside of DeMarcus Ware, was anemic.  The Safety play was dismal as well, providing nearly no help to corners that got burned. Teams are basically hand-cuffed this off-season, unable to sign free agents due to the lockout. If it gets lifted, the Cowboys have to make a play at free agent cornerbacks Nnamdi Asomugha (high-five for me. I spelled it right on the first try.), Jonathan Joseph, or Antonio Cromartie. If not, then there is help in the draft.

1. Marcell Dareus DT Alabama 97
2. Von Miller OLB Texas A&M 97
3. Patrick Peterson CB LSU 97
4. A.J. Green WR Georgia 97
5. Blaine Gabbert QB Missouri 96
6. Robert Quinn DE N. Carolina 96
7. Prince Amukamara CB Nebraska 96
8. Da’Quan Bowers DE Clemson 95
9. Julio Jones WR Alabama 95
10. Tyron Smith OT USC 95

Listed above is ESPN’s Scouts Inc Top 10 draft prospects, and the Cowboys are going to pick one of them. Given their obvious needs at corner, and the numerous mock drafts that have linked top corner prospects to the Cowboys, don’t be surprised if they pick Nebraska’s Prince Amukamara. He has good size for a corner, standing at 6 feet, and he has good enough speed to run with most receivers. The only red flag that might concern Cowboys fans is his goose egg in the interceptions category. DallasCowboys.com staff writer Rob Phillips list some other options at corner, should the Cowboys decide to draft a different position at number 9.

A Cowboy named Prince? Sounds like the name and plot of a Disney movie, or the title of a future "Prince" album.

“Colorado’s Jimmy Smith, Texas’ Aaron Williams, and Miami’s Brandon Harris could all go in the late first, early second round. Some believe Smith is arguably the draft’s most talented corner, but off-the-field issues dropped his stock.”

I don’t know about you, but I’ve had just about all the lack of turnovers forced by the Cowboys that I can stand during the Wade Philips era.

Don’t expect the Cowboys to trade up. Patrick Peterson is obviously the best corner prospect of 2011, but he is likely out of Dallas’ reach. After all, another glaring need that the Cowboys have is at the offensive line position.

No team in the league looked older up front than the Dallas linemen. When Romo broke his clavicle, Jon Kitna got demolished. It wasn’t for another few weeks that Jason Garrett figured out a scheme to prevent him from getting flattened by the defense of the opposition, and that was something every Cowboy fan could have diagrammed by week 1: get the ball to Dez. Only when Romo is absent does the offensive line look bad. When he’s healthy, he hides their weaknesses with his ability to scramble and make plays happen on-the-fly. He’s great at that.

Dez opened up the offense for Kitna, and he should be thankful for that. The Cowboys need some depth on the OL, and are almost guaranteed to keep athletic tackle Doug Free. Look for them to take a guy like Anthony Castonzo out of  Boston College (eww, Boston), or Tyron Smith out of USC (another eww). According to Jeff Risdon of  RealGM.com, Smith might be too much of a project, while the underrated Castonzo looks ready to contribute ASAP.

I doubt this happens, but if a player of Von Miller’s caliber drops to number 9, you can bet that the Cowboys will snag him up. Again, it’s not likely, but stranger things have happened. And Dallas always drafts defense first, unless they’re wrapped with a gift like Dez Bryant in the mid-20’s. on day 1.

Expect more of the same for the Cowboys, as they don’t need much help at the skill positions, but instead need depth at guard/tackle and corner. A team could always use more linebackers, too, so don’t be surprised if they snag a few in rounds 3 and 4.

Either way, we’re going to have a lot of fun seeing who shows up on Thursday.

Till next time.

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