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Mailbag: How Deep Is The First Round?


I truly don't think we can win a Super Bowl without a top 10 defense. In '92 we had the No. 1 total defense and ranked fifth against the pass. In '93, second in total defense. In '95, third in total defense. Do we have the talent to be at least top 10? — RICHARD RIEHL / FREEMONT, OH

Rob: It depends on your definition of top 10. Obviously the Cowboys have a long way to go in "total defense," which is based on total yardage allowed. (They ranked 23rd in yards and 28th in points given up.) But to me, takeaways have to be factored into the rankings, and the Cowboys ended up tying for seventh in the league with 23. If they can build on that, and figure out a way to stop teams from getting five yards a carry, that's a recipe to win games because we know the offense can score points. The 2009 Saints won the Super Bowl with a great offense and a defense that had a low total ranking but was atop the league in takeaways.

Jonny: To answer your question, no, I don't think there's enough talent to be a top 10 defensive team. I'm not saying they are completely void of talent and that the coaching system can't help them overachieve on that side of the ball, but there are unquestionably 10 defenses in the NFL that are better than what the Cowboys will field next season. But I do think that a top-3 offense can win with a top-20 defense, which I think is achievable. It is definitely not 1993. But you're certainly right that the margin of error is very small if the goal is a Super Bowl. The offense has to be close to record-setting, and the defense has to at least have a knack for making plays.

How many players do you consider true first-rounders in this draft? If the Cowboys trade down, how low do they go before they must consider trading out of the first round completely? — PAUL KARAM / HOUSTON, TX

Rob: In a given draft, there might be 20 or so prospects that the majority of teams give first-round grades. Some years more, some years less. Ultimately, all that matters is how the Cowboys will set and view their own board. I know trading down from No. 10 is becoming a popular suggestion for them because the first nine picks could be offense-heavy and they could still get an impact defender while picking up an extra pick. But trading completely out of the first round? That's overthinking things.

Jonny: I'm not quite sure I understand the semantics of the question. I think there are 32 first rounders, and we aren't going to find out who will live up to that expectation for at least a year. The 31st pick may very well be a Pro Bowler and the 12th pick may be a bust. Neither of those possibilities are even all that uncommon. The Cowboys need help quickly. If their favorite players are gone at 10, then I could see them trading back, but I probably wouldn't imagine them going any lower than the 24th pick. Every team is scouting the same players, and they could all be wrong about some players, but they're all watching the same film, so they're all intrigued by the same players.

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