This week's analysis focuses on Kellen Moore's readiness for a NFL job, how the draft will be impacted by Dan Quinn's arrival and the changes in the scouting process this year.
Is Kellen Moore head coach material?
To the surprise of some fans, Moore has received significant interest this offseason as a potential head-coaching candidate. The 32-year old offensive play-caller has emerged as a hot name due to his impressive work with the Cowboys' offense, particularly with Dak Prescott at QB1. The NFL's top-ranked offense in 2019 was on pace for the No.1 spot in 2020 prior to Prescott's season-ending injury in October. Despite the loss of No.4 and several key starters, the Cowboys' offense caught fire down the stretch and Moore's adaptability caught the eyes of decision-makers around the league.
With Moore also earning strong reviews as a quarterback tutor and developer based on his work with Prescott, the young play caller fits the mold as a "QB guru" in a quarterback-driven league. Although he still needs to master the nuances of designing an offense and managing a game, it is easier to gamble on his potential as a head coach with a resume that features impressive offensive output and quarterback development.
Dan Quinn's arrival will impact the Cowboys' draft philosophy.
The Cowboys' decision to bring on DQ will return the defense to a scheme ideally suited for the team's current personnel but upgrades are needed at several key spots. To be effective in this scheme, the Cowboys must have five-star playmakers at the following spots: pass rusher, "junk" defensive tackle, middle and weak-side linebacker, cornerback and safety (strong safety/free safety). Sure, that sounds like a lot of work to be done to improve a unit that was one of the worst defenses in football but the Cowboys have enough ammunition in the draft to attack some of those positions.
In Quinn's defense, long, rangy pass rushers with outstanding first-step quickness and burst are preferred over 300-plus pounders on the edge. The veteran coach also covets athletic defensive tackles with the capacity to shoot though gaps utilizing their athleticism and snap count anticipation to explode off the ball. Although interior defenders must posses enough strength to control the point against the run, Quinn prefers low leverage defenders with strong hands and active feet over big-bodied pluggers at the line of scrimmage.
At linebacker, it is all about speed, quickness, and instincts when staffing the "Mike" and "Will" linebacker spots. The ability to cover running backs and tight ends in space is a priority with pass rush ability (blitz) viewed as an added bonus. Athleticism is coveted over size and that distinction gives the Cowboys an opportunity to build an ultra-fast linebacker corps that enhances the defense (and special teams units).
In the secondary, the Cowboys will cast their eyes on athletic defenders with size, ball skills, and outstanding tackling ability. The corners should measure at least six feet in height with long arms and superb instincts on the island.
At safety, Quinn likes to combine a big-bodied thumper with an active centerfielder-type in the defensive backfield. The box area safety should be a heavy hitter with a nose for the ball and a knack for delivering big hits on runners in the hole. The free safety should possess enough speed and quickness to cover from numbers to numbers as a deep middle defender while also displaying A-plus ball skills and instincts. If he is also a dependable tackler in space, the prospect has all of the tools needed to function as the star on top of the Christmas tree in Quinn's scheme.
If McClay and his staff shop off this grocery list on draft day (and in free agency), the Cowboys could quickly resurrect a disappointing defense.
Dalton Schultz's emergence gives the Cowboys options at tight end.
The loss of Blake Irwin to a season-ending injury created an opportunity for Schultz to get onto the field and the third-year pro took advantage of the extra reps. He finished the year with 63 receptions for 615 yards and four touchdowns on 89 targets. Schultz flashed crafty route-running ability, sticky hands, and clutch ability as a dependable option in the passing game. With the young playmaker also showing improvement as a blocker, he has earned the right to be on the field and the Cowboys should consider expanding their "12" personnel package (one running back, two wide receivers, and two tight ends) when Jarwin returns from injury. The increased utilization of multiple tight end sets will force opponents into different defensive looks and create more big-play opportunities on the ground and through the air.
The cancellation of the Combine changes the evaluation process.
The NFL's decision to cancel the 2021 NFL Scouting Combine will add another challenge to scouts and evaluators attempting to assess the talent and potential of this year's draft class. Scouts and coaches will not only miss out on the opportunity to sit down with top prospects for in-person interviews but they will be unable to watch speed and agility drills, and positional workouts conducted at a neutral location.
Although teams will have a chance to conduct virtual interviews throughout the pre-draft process, the lack of face-to-face time will make it harder for team decision-makers to get a feel for whether a prospect is a right fit for the locker room culture. This will force scouts to spend more time on the phone with their school contacts to complete background checks on each prospect's moral and football character. In addition, Will McClay and Co. will need to choreograph Pro Day visits to ensure scouts are able to get the proper measurements (height, weight, arm length, hand size, etc.) and body-type assessments.
The lack of an organized workout with the top prospects of the class sorted by position groups will prevent scouts from doing in-person comparisons on similarly graded players. With a number of players opting out of their final seasons, the lack of on-field workouts will make it harder to sort out the prospects lumped together in grade clusters. Evaluators will have to trust the opinions formed off tape evaluations more than ever and that could make a huge difference in how prospects are stacked on the board this year compared to previous years.
Amari Cooper is still elite.
Don't let Cooper's Pro Bowl snub change his five-star status as one of the top wide receivers in the league. The sixth-year pro is just as lethal as ever and his 2020 campaign showcased his dominance as the Cowboys' No.1 receiver. Cooper posted his fifth 1,000-yard season (1,114) of his career and set a new career-high with 92 catches. Considering he amassed such production with four different quarterbacks taking snaps, the four-time Pro Bowler deserves recognition as one of the top pass catchers in the game. He is a precise route runner with exceptional stop-start quickness and a variety of releases that make him a hard guard on the perimeter.
The box score scouts don't appreciate Cooper's consistency due to his minimal number of 100-yard games (4) but the film suggests that he remains one of the most feared pass catchers in the game and observers should put more respect on his name.