INDIANAPOLIS -- There has always been an age old discussion this time of year about how teams set up their boards whether to draft for need or take the best available player. I grew up in a scouting system in Green Bay where it was about taking the best player off your board.
When I moved on to run the draft for the Philadelphia Eagles, I carried those beliefs with me in that 1998 draft and we took the best player in offensive tackle Tra Thomas out of Florida State.
In Philadelphia, we had a lot of needs, but none bigger than our hole at left tackle. There were a couple of different directions that we could have gone but we stuck with our highest rated player and continued to do it for the next two days and the draft really fell into place for us. We took this approach mainly because I had never done it any other way, but I also had a tremendous amount of confidence in the board that we had put together. It made me feel very comfortable.
When I came to Dallas, the way that we set the board up and went about our drafting was different than what I had experienced before, but that’s not to say it was wrong -- just different. What I did experience was we were more about filling those needs instead of taking the best player. Again, this was just the way that things were done within the organization.
I thought it was very interesting what Stephen Jones had to say on Wednesday when we had a chance to meet with him.
When asked about drafting for need over taking the best available player on your board, he replied, “You start targeting something and drafting for need, we all know that’ll get you in trouble.”
I have lived that with this man. I remember sitting in that draft room, when we didn’t take the best player on the board. For example, we went into the 2000 draft knowing we were going to be without Kevin Smith at cornerback, who only played eight games in 1999 coming off his injury. Smith was never going to be the same player, and we all knew this.
What made matters worse for us was we didn’t have a first round selection, and to use a Bill Parcells phrase: on our draft board, we had those cornerbacks stacked like club sandwiches.
Day after day before that draft, I just remember those meetings feeling like all we did was look at cornerbacks and put them on that board. Of five total selections we had that year, three of them were cornerbacks: Dwayne Goodrich, Kareem Larrimore and Mario Edwards.
Goodrich and Larrimore were busts and never should have been selected. To Edwards’ credit, he played much better than we ever believed that he ever would.
This year the Cowboys are in a situation where the front office is looking at the prospects of having to rework the defensive line. They have to prepare for the loss of
Stephen Jones is well aware of this, but, to once again listen to his words, he is not willing to reach even at that position.
“It’ll be nice to come out of the draft at some point with a defensive front guy, defensive lineman or two,” he said. “But no, I don’t think we can just say, ‘Hey, we’re going to take the first two picks and it’s got to be defensive linemen.’ I think you get in trouble that way.”
From what I have seen early in this study of these players for the draft at defensive line, there is not that type of player that we saw last season at this time. Despite what we have all heard about the depth at certain positions in the first round, defensive line is not one of them.
I agree that Jadeveon Clowney is the best one in this group but he is not going to be there at No. 16 when the Cowboys select. Now you have to factor in that what Jones said about how the placement of Sharrif Floyd on the board last draft and it appears this club is only interested in using that first selection on a three-technique and not on a one. So with that thought in mind, it could eliminate guys like Timmy Jernigan and Ra’Shede Hageman, who surly would be considerations at that spot.
This is not to say that the Cowboys do not like Aaron Donald, who does fit that role of an up field three-technique, and he might very well be the best player on their board when it comes to their time on the clock like it was for us in Philadelphia but one thing is very clear.
But if he is not, then no matter how much they need a defensive lineman on this squad, he will not be reached for -- which in my experience is the best way to go.