Dallas Cowboys 2017 NFL Draft Profile

The Dallas Cowboys are on the clock for day 26 of Draftmas.

Summary

The Cowboys had a better year than anyone could’ve expected, given that they started a rookie quarterback and running back. Dallas finished 13-3 and were a favorite to go on to the Super Bowl. They ended up losing to the Green Bay Packers in the Divisional round of the playoffs.

Dak Prescott (Photo courtesy: wfaa.com)

 

Although Tony Romo has been released from the team, there is a lot of hope in the future of the team with Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliot and a great offensive line. Left guard Ronald Leary left in free agency, but he only started last season because La’el Collins was injured. The real loss on the offensive line that is going to hurt them is right tackle Doug Free retiring. Chaz Green will get his shot to step up and fill in at that role.

Terrance Williams was brought back to be a solid number two to Dez Bryant, while Cole Beasley holds down the slot. Tight end Jason Witten was given an extension to provide a great security blanket for Prescott.

The defense lost a lot of players that need to be replaced. Barry Church, Morris Claiborne, J.J. Wilcox and Brandon Carr all left in free agency out of the secondary. Young players like Byron Jones and Anthony Brown will need to continue to play well. Orlando Scandrick, Nolan Carroll and Jeff Heath will be expected to elevate their level of play and be leaders in the secondary.

Sean Lee is one of the best linebackers in the game and is joined by Anthony Hitchens and Damien Wilson in the starting lineup. The Cowboys are excited about the progress of Jaylon Smith, who was drafted in last year’s draft, but had a drop foot injury and nerve damage, so had to sit out last season. If he can get healthy, he would be a great addition to the linebackers.

Defensive line is perennially a problem for Dallas. Randy Gregory getting suspended for one season really exacerbated the problem. Tyrone Crawford and Demarcus Lawrence will hold down the defensive end positions, but the rest of the line could be a turnstile of tackles. The defensive line was able to be the best rush defense in football last season, but that was in large part due to the offense controlling the clock and getting leads, forcing opponents to pass.

 

Picks and Needs

The Cowboys have seven picks in the 2017 NFL Draft. With some solid picks, these players can help Dallas win a Super Bowl in the near future.

First round: (1) No. 28

Second round: (1) No. 60

Third round: (1) No. 92

Fourth round: (1) No. 133

Fifth round: (0)

Sixth round: (1) No. 211

Seventh round: (2) No. 228, No. 246

These needs are in no particular order.

Offensive Needs:

Wide Receiver- Terrance Williams isn’t a great number two receiver, but he is cheap.

Right Tackle- Doug Free retiring creates another need for the Cowboys. Chaz Green will be given a chance to play immediately, but an upgrade may be needed.
Tight End- Jason Witten needs a successor for when he retires, but the Cowboys could use a tight end for sets where they use two.
Defensive Needs:

Defensive Line- Any defensive linemen would be welcomed by Dallas. An edge rusher would be nice to cope with the loss of Gregory, though defensive tackle is the weaker of the positions on the line.

Cornerback- Nolan Carroll was signed, but with the losses of Carr and Claiborne, they need more.

Safety- Jeff Heath played well last season, but he is not a long term solution.

Targets and Thoughts

The picks here are who the Cowboys could realistically get where they are drafting. There will be no trades.

First Round:

Pick #28: Jabrill Peppers, S/LB/CB, Michigan

Jabrill Peppers (Photo courtesy: cbssports.com)

Peppers will likely fill in at strong safety, even though he can play multiple positions. He provides good value at pick number 28. With Byron Jones next to him, the Cowboys could have a great safety pairing for years. The downside to Peppers is that he lacks elite ball skills and he could be a “Tweener” who never finds a real position.

Second Round:

Pick #60: Tanoh Kpassagnon, DE/DT, Villanova

Dallas needs to get some defensive linemen in this draft. Kpassagnon is seen as raw because he comes from the FCS level, but Kpassagnon has the size that the Cowboys will love. They can use him in multiple formations at different positions on the defensive line. He will help cope with the loss of Gregory for the year.

Third Round:

Pick #92: Teez Tabor, CB, Florida

Tabor has great tape, but has run terrible 40 times in preparation for the 2017 NFL Draft. The Cowboys need to get some corners in this draft class and could take a risk on Tabor in the third round. If his playing speed is faster than his workout speed, Dallas will get a steal.

 

Conclusion

If the Cowboys can address the defensive side of the ball properly in this draft, they could build a team that is great for years to come.

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Houston Texans 2017 NFL Draft Profile

It’s day 23 of Draftmas and the Houston Texans are on the clock.

Summary

Last year the Houston Texans got to the playoffs yet again, but lost in the Divisional Round for the third time since 2011. They will be trying to build on that this season, but will have a hard time doing so without a franchise quarterback.

The offense was pretty miserable last season, scoring 17.4 points per game. Rushing offense was their forte, as they ranked eighth in the league.

Brock Osweiler is gone, which is addition by subtraction, but Tom Savage is the top quarterback on the depth chart now. The Texans have said they are confident in him, but will likely want to find at the very least, a quarterback for the future in this draft. Lamar Miller did the most he could last season behind a not so good offensive line. If they draft a running back it will only be a change of pace back.

Deandre Hopkins is a great receiver, but behind him there are some problems. Will Fuller showed flashes last season, but was very inconsistent. Braxton Miller has to step up next season too. C.J. Fiedorowicz is a good option at tight end. The offensive line will need some improvements, as left tackle Duane Brown and center Greg Mancz were the only players who played well up front last season.

J.J. Watt (Photo courtesy: si.com)

Defensively, Houston was in the top half of the league in rush defense, allowing 1,595 rushing yards on the season. Their pas defense ranked second in the league last season, but has some key components to replace.

J.J. Watt will return from injury and the hope is that he can return to the great form he had just a few seasons ago. The rest of the defensive line needs to be addressed, especially with the risk of Watt re-injuring himself. Outside linebacker is set with Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus. Inside linebacker is also solid for the time being with Brian Cushing and Benardrick McKinney, but the Texans could elect to take a guy in the late rounds to groom for the future.

The secondary will need some work as well. A.J. Bouye has left for the Jaguars. Jonathan Joseph is aging and while Kevin Johnson and Kareem Jackson are solid, they will need to find some more good corners behind them. Corey Moore and Andre Hal are both average safeties, but could be upgraded.

Picks and Needs

The Texans have seven picks in the 2017 NFL Draft. If they select the right players, they can find themselves back in the playoffs again.

First round: (1) No. 25

Second round: (1) No. 57

Third round: (1) No. 89

Fourth round: (2) No. 131, No. 142

Fifth round: (1) No. 169

Sixth round: (0)

Seventh round: (1) No. 243

These needs are in no particular order.

Offensive Needs:

Guard- Xavier Su’a-Filo hasn’t lived up to expectations and Jeff Allen only played good for one season. They could at least use one from the later rounds.

Right Tackle- Chris Clark shouldn’t be starting and the Texans can really benefit from taking a tackle early in the draft.
Quarterback- Brock Osweiler is gone, but Tom Savage is the starter as of now. They will need to take one quarterback in this draft class.
Defensive Needs:

Defensive Line- The Texans need help and depth around J.J. Watt.

Cornerback- Losing A.J. Bouye is tough, but Houston still has a few decent corners. They will need one for the future and that can play in the dime.

Safety- Both Moore and Hal are average and improvements can be found in this draft.

Targets and Thoughts

The picks here are who the Texans could realistically get where they are drafting. There will be no trades.

First Round:

Pick #25: Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson

Deshaun Watson (Photo courtesy: cbssports.com)

 Watson is a quarterback that the fans and media love, but that NFL scouts aren’t as sold on. He could go higher than this if a team likes him like the fans do, but if he is drafted closer to where scouts say he should be, the Texans will be able to get him. He needs to develop and become better mentally as a quarterback, as his decision making was not good last season at Clemson. Watson is a dynamic playmaker though and could battle Savage for the starting job.


Second Round:

Pick #57: Tanoh Kpassagnon, DE, Villanova

Kpassagnon is a huge defensive end that needs to get better while in the NFL. He comes from the FCS level, which will raise some questions about the level of competition he faced, but he will be a perfect fit for the Texans 3-4 defense.

Third Round:

Pick #89: Taylor Moton, OT, Western Michigan

The Texans need to get improved offensive line play and Moton will be available. He played right tackle in college and can do that in the NFL, or move to guard. He should be able to fit in at one of the positions of need on the offensive line for Houston.

Conclusion

The Texans have gotten to the playoffs without a franchise quarterback before and can do it again. Even if they take Watson, or any other quarterback in this draft class, he likely won’t play lights out from day one. Taking good players in this draft and getting J.J. Watt back to form can lead the Texans back to the playoffs.

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Franchise Analysis – Oakland Raiders

Depending on the media outlets you follow, the Oakland Raiders’ success in 2016 may or may not have surprised you. Every year, a few teams are able to take the next step and get into the postseason. Today, let’s look into one team who was able to push into the playoffs in 2016, with some Oakland Raiders analysis.

But why was 2016 the year for the Raiders? Well, it was the accumulation of prudent free agent signings, smart and fortuitous drafting and patience. So, what do the Raiders need to do in 2017 to catapult themselves to the top of the AFC West?

2016 Evaluation – Offense

The Oakland Raiders quickly burst onto the scene as one of the most exciting NFL offenses. Led by Derek Carr, they finished as the seventh-ranked offense in terms of points and sixth in terms of yards. Other than improved play by Carr, what other factors allowed this offense to blossom in 2016?

A common theme in most of my analysis is the focus on every team’s offensive line. This was the second-most impacted factor in this season’s offensive success. They were one of the best line units in all of football.

Oakland Raiders analysis

Derek Carr had a breakout year in 2016 by entering the NFL MVP conversation and will look to improve on his success in 2017 (Courtesy of; sportsnaut.com).

Why? Because this franchise spends the second most cap space on their offensive line in the NFL. This unit accounts for over 23% of their cap space at $37.5 million. Acquiring Kelechi Osemele and Rodney Hudson in free agency and drafting Gabe Jackson were critical to this team’s breakout performance in 2016.

For some perspective, this unit allowed the least amount of sacks in the NFL with 18. That is absolutely incredible. Some defensive players will amass more sacks by themselves than the Raiders allowed as a unit. So, if the offensive line doesn’t need improvement, what does Oakland need to do to take the next step in 2017?

While this offense was entertaining to watch and scored a lot of points, they didn’t do it by attacking down the field. Carr often targeted Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree with short and intermediate throws of 15-25 yards.

For example, Carr completed 50 passes of 20 yards or more in 2016, but only eight passes of 40 or more yards, according to NFL.com. Surprisingly, Carr had a lower yards per attempt mark than Alex Smith and Andy Dalton with just 7.03. While they had great offensive success, the Raiders offense can ascend to another level in 2017.

2016 Evaluation – Defense

It was evident to even the most fair weather of Raiders’ fans, if those even exist, that this defense struggled to play consistently at an just an average level. As a whole, this defense finished 20th in points and 26th in yards. Based on this team’s personality, it will be hard for this defense to ascend into the top-10 category.

Because their offense can score so effectively, they will have to get better against teams in “comeback mode”. Meaning, by mid-third quarter, the opposition will have to throw their way back into the game.

Oakland Raiders analysis

Ever since the Raiders drafted Khalil Mack with the number two overall pick, he’s proved his worth, but he can’t play all 11 defensive positions (Courtesy of; Endzonescore.com).

Given this situation, the Raiders can better in of two ways. They can pair Khalil Mack with another pass rusher to pressure the quarterback. Or, they could invest in their secondary, giving the players they already have more time to accumulate sacks.

The Raiders would be best served to target defensive linemen, given that they finished dead last in the NFL with only 25 sacks.

Ideally, they should look to upgrade Denico Autry for their base defense. Autry wasn’t able to excel in stopping the run or applying pressure.

It was unfortunate what happened to Mario Edwards Jr. and how he was unable to build upon the productivity of his rookie season. If he returns healthy, maybe Edwards Jr. could a suitable replacement for Autry.

If you disagree and think the Raiders should look to strengthen their secondary, I have no issue with that either.

They could look to upgrade D.J. Hayden as the slot corner. Hayden’s injury history and inability to improve over his first four seasons needs to be addressed.

With all the talent at corner in free agency and the draft, the Oakland Raiders have plenty of options available to them.

Divisional Analysis

The Oakland Raiders were in control of this division for the majority of 2016. Barring an injury to their best player, I believe they would have won the AFC West. The Raiders need to add players this offseason that will help them challenge the Kansas City Chiefs for AFC West supremacy.

I think we can sum up where the Raiders need to allocate the majority of their resources with one word- defense. As stated earlier, they could address their aerial deficiencies by improving their secondary, or pass rush.

If they used free agency to address their needs, the top players. Calais Campbell, Kawann Short, Trumaine Johnson and A.J. Bouye headline this years class. Of course, that’s assuming they aren’t resigned to their current teams.

If they wanted to address these needs with young talent by way of the NFL Draft, there are also a bevy of options. At the defensive line position, it is possible that Chris Wormley from Michigan will be available. Or, in true Raiders fashion, they could draft a physical freak like Tanoh Kpassagnon from Villanova in the third round or later.

If they wanted to address their secondary, they could potentially select Jalen Tabor from Florida or Sidney Jones from Washington. It’s also possible that these players will warrant trading up for, as there are teams ahead of the Raiders with similar needs. Overall, a solid defensively focused draft and prudent free agent signings could make this Oakland Raiders defense look drastically different in 2017.

PostSeason Prospects

This section is largely irrelevant for teams that have made the playoffs. But, it still serves as a good measuring stick for critical areas that need improvement. Below are, in my opinion, the most relevant offensive and defensive statistics that can determine post season success and where the Oakland Raiders stack up.

Oakland Raiders analysis

As you can see, the Raiders offense wasn’t perfect. For all the success Derek Carr had, I was genuinely surprised to see where he and the offense ranked in yards per attempt. Now, he did injure his finger and that limited the amount of downfield throws he could make.

Maybe next year, with a clean bill of health, this number will increase. This could be the result of an underrated rushing attack and the possession receivers Carr is targeting. Also, the Raiders need to become more efficient on third down against secondaries like Denver and Kansas City.

Oakland Raiders analysis

Even with a healthy Derek Carr and a divisional title, I don’t think the Oakland Raiders would have gotten past the Steelers. Why? Because of this defense. Sure, they probably would have capitalized on some errant throws by Ben Roethlisberger, but that isn’t enough.

Methodical, consistent defense is the goal once you reach the post season. Sadly, nothing about these defensive metrics say consistency. They must find a way to put more pressure on opposing quarterbacks; and find a way to limit teams to field goals, not touchdowns. While the situation may look bleak, this defense can look completely different in 2017 after signing and drafting defensive players.

2017 Prediction

You may have noticed there’s one looming issue I haven’t addressed yet. The potential move to Las Vegas. Honestly, I have no idea how or if the move would effect this team. Given their veteran coach, general manager and rising quarterback, the impact will be minimized if they are approved to move.

If the organization makes prudent free agent and draft decisions that are focused on the defensive side of the ball, the Raiders will take the next step. I like the Raiders to finish 12-4 again, but this time, as champions of the AFC West.

 

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