Thursday, 8 May 2014

My NFL mock draft, take these top 10 picks to the bank

Some five hours before the start of the NFL draft and the fog of misdirection is beginning to clear to the extent that clubs picking at the top of the draft are beginning to show their hands.

Hence my first and only mock draft for 2014.

  1. Houston: Jadeveon Clowney, DE South Carolina
The Texans would like to deal down but and get some extra picks but they don’t want to give the pick away either. Clowney is the draft’s top talent but it’s doubtful a team will part with extra first rounders.

  1. St. Louis: Greg Robinson, T Auburn
He may not be the most polished tackle in the draft but he has the most upside. The Rams will hope he turns into another Orlando Pace. He may never get to that Hall of Fame and still be a pretty good consolation prize.

  1. Jacksonville: Khalil Mack, LB, Buffalo
  The best all-round linebacker in the draft and at this point in time, its best pass rusher, is a nice cornerstone for the Jaguars to once again rebuild on.

  1. Cleveland: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
 The Browns won’t be able to pass up on the best playmaker in the draft, especially with another first-round in their back pocket. Watkins is the complete package in terms of route-running, hands, explosiveness and the ability to break tackles after the catch.

  1. Oakland: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
 Even with Al Davis gone, the Raiders remain the draft's wild card. They will think long and hard about quarterback Derek Carr here but Evans’ combination of size, speed and jumping ability make it a no brainer.

  1. Atlanta: Jake Matthews, T, Texas A&M
 Though the Falcons will take a flyer on moving up for either Clowney or Mack, they’ll find the price too costly for what they’re potentially giving up. Matthews, a solid blocker with Hall of Fame bloodlines, will solve a good part of the Atlanta’s offensive line woes.

  1. Tampa Bay: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
  Make it three Aggies in a row. Who thought Johnny Football would last this long? If the Bucs don’t pick him, he could be this year’s Aaron Rodgers. The Bucs have enjoyed a bountiful offseason and with Evans gone, they come away with the draft’s biggest name.

  1. Minnesota: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida
 The Vikings need a quarterback and Bortles has the body type new offensive co-ordinator Norv Turner prefers in his passers. The Matt Cassel era will be short in the Twin Cities, and it all depends on how fast Bortles develops. He has all the tools.

  1. Buffalo: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
 The consensus all along has been for the Bills to draft tight end Eric Ebron but whispers out of Buffalo give the speedy and explosive Beckham Jr. the inside track. He’s the draft’s late riser.

  1. Detroit: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
 The Lions need coverage help terribly and Gilbert, of the top corners in the draft, has the size to match up with the Bears’ big wide receivers and speed to deal with the Pack’s three-pronged attack as well.  

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Cloudy at the top of the NFL Draft with a high chance of Johnny Manziel

It’s a little more than a week before the NFL draft and who will be chosen with the top 10 picks remains an unsolved puzzle for the mock draft community.

There’s uncertainty unlike any in recent years. Twitter feeds are rife with wild rumours and anonymous reports, talk radio is full of idle chatter, mock draft versions 10.0 and higher have been posted and still, who will be drafted and by whom at the top of the deck remains very much a mystery. lists five players with a pre-draft grade of 7 or higher: South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, 7.5, Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson, 7.4, Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins, 7.3, Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews, 7.2, and Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack, 7.2.

Expect those five to be among the top eight picks of the draft. The flies in the ointment this year are the quarterbacks, none of whom have shown the promise of franchise passers but are solid enough to warrant consideration in the first half of the draft.

Where will A&M's Johnny Manziel land? Will he even be the first quarterback taken?

Before the season, Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater was the presumptive favourite but he started to slide during the season and was downgraded by a poor Pro Day workout.

Central Florida’s Blake Bortles then became the talk of the draft. He looks the part – height, arm strength, accuracy - and may yet be the first passer taken but questionable decisions during the season show that he may not be ready for prime time right away.

And on Monday, ESPN’s Adam Caplan tweeted that Cleveland would take Fresno State’s Derek Carr with its fourth overall pick. No ifs, and or buts.

This following the chatter that the Dallas Cowboys, with the 16th pick, could trade up to catch a falling Manziel, who could be drafted anywhere from No. 1 to No. 11.

Throw in next-tier talent like receiver Mike Evans, tight end Eric Ebron, defensive tackle Aaron Donald, offensive tackle Taylor Lewan, linebacker Anthony Barr, safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and there are a lot of wild cards at the top of the table, more so than usual.

But the draft machine, like the league, will focus on the quarterbacks. And there isn’t a bigger name than Johnny Football.

If Manziel slides past quarterback-needy teams like Jacksonville, Cleveland, Oakland, Tampa and Buffalo at No. 9 and turns out to be the star many predict, those GMs will have a lot of answering to do, especially if their picks turn out to be less productive.

Adding to the high stakes: Those teams, save for the Bucs, who made a big splash in free agency, could use the celebrity buzz that Manziel possesses to refresh excitement levels with their fan bases.

But those teams, read management, also can’t afford another miss at the position and with the added cushion of up to four other quarterbacks who could be had in later rounds with similar strengths and weaknesses, they could wait or gain extra picks by trading down. 

And there's also the distractions that come with Manziel. Which brings us to the Cowboys.

They need Mack but should be happy to end up with Barr, the UCLA linebacker who could develop into a legitimate pass rusher. Donald and Clinton-Dix would also be great choices at need positions but their recent market valuations seem to place them above the Cowboys price. Unless they trade up.

But what if Manziel is available?

The acknowledgement that Manziel would warrant the investment should be received as great news for Cowboys Nation. Not because Manziel is destined for greatness, that remains up for debate. But because the Jones brain trust may be finally, finally realizing that the Romo era is nearing its conclusion and that hey, big changes are needed.

Manziel’s slide could push the Jones boys into action. At this point, it’s the only way the Cowboys can shake their salary cap predicament and even that may be two years down the line but it could represent a start. 

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Is Johnny Manziel the anti-Tim Tebow or Michael Vick-lite?

Johnny Manziel is about to strut into the NFL saloon with a reputation for living large, playing fast and loose and seemingly eager to wear the black hat that goes with notoriety.

In other words, he’s the anti-Tim Tebow.

Where Tebow preached unabashedly about his cleanliness and piety, and may have rubbed some fans the wrong way with his weekday sermons, Manziel makes no apologies for his brashness, his collection of Twitter party photos or his larger-than-life me-me-me profile. He relishes it.

Currently out of football, Tebow, the son of missionaries, is building a hospital to help children in the Philippines. His mark on the NFL remains that one playoff win, Tebowing, the meme where he dropped on a knee and rested his fist on his head in glory to God, and as a draft-day cautionary tale.

In comparison, Manziel, an heir to an oil business fortune, is reportedly trying to trademark the phrase The House That Johnny Built, in reference to the $450-million renovation of Texas A&M’s home field where Johnny Football (another pending trademark) made his name. His draft day tale remains unwritten.

Tebow, who trademarked Tebowing to make sure it’s used in The Right Way, was often photographed shirtless yet claimed to still have his virginity. He is now a roving minister.

Manziel was suspended half a game for an alleged autograph scandal, lit up Twitter with various racy party photos and was allegedly told to leave the Manning Passing Academy as a counselor for reportedly being hung over and/or being late to sessions. 

Both quarterbacks enjoyed tremendous success in the college game and have Heisman Trophies on their shelves. They embraced different running styles, Tebow like a bruising fullback, Manziel like a scatback, but both used the same skill to lift their names to the NCAA marquee.

Coming out of college, Tebow was as wholesome as pure milk on campus but had plenty of questions about his accuracy and throwing ability. Questions that should not have been overlooked by the Broncos when they drafted Tebow late in the first round or else Josh McDaniels would still be in Denver. Tebow simply couldn’t complete a mid-level pass consistently.

Manziel, on the other hand, is a double shot of Texas whiskey, no ice. He too comes with questions about arm strength and throwing mechanics. His lack of height (not quite 6 feet) is another issue of concern, as is his penchant for improvisation as a passer.

The biggest link between Tebow and Manziel coming out of college however, is in Q rating. Like the former Gator, Manziel has the PR sizzle to lift a QB-needy franchise out of any malaise. At least in the short term.

Every move photographed. Every nuance interpreted. Every outing papparazzied. If there’s a media superstar waiting to break out of this draft, Manziel is it. He’s a walking one-man version of Hard Knocks.

With some on-field success, Manziel could help build a stadium in Buffalo, put Jacksonville back on the NFL map, end the QB suffering in Cleveland, transform the Twin Cities' offence or restore the roar in Oakland’s Black Hole.  

Just the same, he could party his way out of the league or earn enough suspensions to permanently retard his development as a quarterback.

It’s a proposition teams at the top of the draft and teams looking to trade up for a quarterback have to consider. And given the similar quality of passers in the draft class, it’s a risk that not many teams are willing to take, which is why, along with the other concerns, Manziel isn’t the slam dunk No. 1 overall choice.

He’s not a Troy Aikman, a Peyton Manning, or even an Andrew Luck.

The player Manziel resembles most coming out of college is Michael Vick. Manziel is not as quick or as fast as Vick and also doesn’t measure up in terms of arm strength. But he is a bit more accurate with the ball and has a better sense of anticipation in terms of when a receiver is about to come open. Their freakish abilities to avoid defenders is roughly the same. 

Will their career arcs mirror each other as well? I don’t know but either way, it will be must-see TV.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Is Jadeveon Clowney lazy or an LT clone? Neither, it's just the NFL Draft's silly season

 The pre-draft silly season is here. How can you tell? Just read the Jadeveon Clowney headlines.

He's spoiled and lazy, charges one anonymous scout identified only as belonging to the National Football Conference. At the same time, some mock drafters compare some of his skills to Lawrence Taylor’s.

As the consensus top talent in the draft, the Southern Carolina defensive end is undergoing the relentless scrutiny that comes when the NFL's annual player selection meeting is held in May instead of its previous late April launch.

Clowney has become the main target because no quarterbacks have risen to challenge his throne. Ask the draft experts who the top pivot in this class is and you're likely to get two answers: Blake Bortles and Johnny Manziel.

Both of those QBs have enough questions on their resumes that they're having a tough time knocking off Clowney from the top perch. Further clouding the quarterback debate is that there are four or five other passers who could be drafted in the first three rounds and could eventually lay claim to the best quarterback drafted in 2014: Teddy Bridgewater, Zach Mettenberger, Derek Carr, A.J. McCarron and Jimmy Garoppolo. Even Pittsburgh’s Tom Savage is moving up the charts.

The gap between Bortles and Mettenberger or between Manziel and Bridgewater, depending on which type of passer you prefer, may not be worth making the leap to the top of the draft, if similar options can be had at the middle or bottom of the first round.

That's not to say some team, say Buffalo or Cleveland, may be enamoured to trade up and draft Johnny Football, as he would bring added pizzazz to either franchise, but thus far, Clowney has remained at the top of the charts.

So, is he lazy or LT? As usual with hyperbole, he’s somewhere in between. His stats from last season are rather pedestrian, 41 tackles, 3 sacks; compared to 40 tackles and 13 sacks in 2012.

 There’s no question his productivity was disappointing for someone with his athletic abilities but take a closer look at South Carolina games. There aren’t a lot of double teams. But which way are the plays going?

The majority of plays directed the football away from Clowney. They occasionally went at him to keep the defence honest but mostly they didn’t need to double team because game plans directed the flow away from him. It’s hard to rack up defensive stats when most of the game is on the other side of the field.

There’s no questioning his first step. It is stunningly quick and allowed him to be a tremendous disruptor in the run game as offensive tackles often flailed in reaching for him. His speed, 4.53, at 266 lbs. at the combine, speaks for itself.

But before we crown him as the next LT, realize that his pass rushing skills need a lot of polishing. Those bullrushes that wreaked havoc in the SEC are unlikely to make a dent in the NFL. He plays too upright and seems too stiff in the upper body as a rusher.

What do I mean by that?

The late Derrick Thomas had perhaps the quickest first step next to LT but he combined that with a rare ability to rush the passer at unbelievable angles, where his body would be nearly parallel with the ground yet still be able to generate enough power and speed to allow him to shoulder through linemen. It was freakish, like Taylor.

Clowney plays a more like LaVar Arrington than Taylor or Thomas. A penetrator who will shoot the gap and who is athletic enough to make a difference but one who may not be a great factor on the pass rush.

At the top of the board, he remains a safer pick than either of the quarterbacks but those pivots tend to rise in the weeks leading up to the draft as teams start to jostle for draft position.

In 2010, Ndamukong Suh graded out as the most talented player on the board but Sam Bradford rose to the top of the charts after he put up a Troy Aikman-like pro-day workout and was selected by the Rams.

With three weeks to go, Clowney remains the top mock pick but as you can see, the misdirection plays are just beginning.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Chris Johnson looks for a free agent deal in an era when kickers are better paid than running backs

A nightmarish offseason for free agent running backs continues with free agent Chris Johnson shopping his wares, hoping to land a deal that his brethren can be proud of.

So far, demand for the speedy running back seems to be limited to a few teams, with little of the fervour seen when wide receiverDeSean Jackson suddenly hit the market.  

Jackson signed a 3-year, $24-million deal with the Redskins days after being released by the Eagles and then continued on his merry way to vacation on a private villa in the Caribbean while his new teammates hit OTAs.

Jackson, at 27, is a year younger than Johnson and coming off a career-best season while CJ2K is not, but the discrepancy in the demand for the players shows the new cold, hard reality in the NFL: Momma, don’t let your sons grow up to be running backs.

That’s because NFL’s transition from a running league to a passing league is now complete. Not just on the field but in the way players are paid and drafted.

There are exceptions: Adrian Pederson in Minnesota, and Seattle and San Francisco employ run-first offences; but the rest of the league clearly values quarterbacks and receivers far more than backs.

How else can you explain the fact that kickers are now in the same pay scale as running backs, and, for the most part, received longer-term contracts.

Don’t believe me? Compare the top deals of 2014:

Graham Gano, 4 years, $12.4 million
Nick Folk, 4 years, $12 million
Steven Hauschka, 3 years, $9.15 million
Phil Dawson, 2 years, $6.1 million
Dan Carpenter, 4 years, $10 million
Adam Vinateri, 2 years, $5 million

Running backs
Ben Tate, 2 years, $6.2 million
Toby Gerhart, 3 years, $10.5 million
Donald Brown 3 years, $10.5 million
Rashad Jennings, 4 years, $10 million
Knowshon Moreno 1 year, $3 million
Maurice Jones-Drew 3 years, $7.5 million

Where have you gone, Walter Payton.

The league was built on the legs of runners like Jim Brown, O.J. Simpson, Payton, Emmitt Smith and LaDainian Tomlinson. Super Bowls and playoff battles were won with 3 yards and a cloud of dust, the ability to keep the chains and clock moving with power football.

But today’s game features three- and four-wide receiver sets, running back by committees, where the passing game sets up the run and not the other way around, and the difference between a running back getting 3.8 versus 4.5 yards per carry doesn’t mean that much because a swing pass or a quick hitch is just as effective.

When did it all change?

I blame The Catch. For a lot of things.

Frozen in time, Dwight Clark's arms stretch skywards for a ball that should've been beyond his reach while Everson Walls trails feverishly behind. Ed 'Too Tall' Jones and two other Dallas defenders jump prematurely at a Joe Montana fake and watch as the upstart quarterback locates the ball exactly where his savvy coach wanted it during the previous timeout. All under heavy duress and a Super Bowl bid on the line.

What's forgotten is that the Cowboys got the ball back with 51 seconds left and if not for an Eric Wright game-saving tackle on a streaking Drew Pearson AND an ensuing Danny White fumble, Rafael Septien would've likely kicked the game-winning field goal. But I digress.

Over the ensuing decade San Francisco would establish itself as the team of the '80s while Dallas would slowly descend into the waiting hands of Jerry Jones.

Bill Walsh would be hailed as an offensive genius and his West Coast offence would become an integral part of the NFL. Tom Landry, and his 4-3 Flex defence, a league staple, would be overtaken by the 3-4 alignment and for a time, Buddy Ryan's 4-6.

Montana became a first-ballot Hall of Famer. White would give way to Steve Pelluer and Gary Hogeboom.

But it was the rise of Walsh's offensive system that forever altered the league. Not just in the way the game was played but also the way players were drafted and eventually, the way players got paid.
Up until that point, teams needed a superstar running back to win. Period. Needed a first down, you ran for it.

Now here came the 49ers in the championship game with Lenvil Elliott leading the charge -- Dallas was protecting against the pass and Walsh, with time winding down, ran the ball with Elliott to march down the field to set up The Catch.

Don't remember Elliott? Not many do. Elliott was filling in for the similarly unremarkable Ricky Patton. But people do remember Tony Dorsett on the other sideline.

Over time, coaches figured out that three or four Pattons or Elliotts could do a serviceable job instead of paying big money to the Dorsetts of the world, especially when you need to fork out $20 million for a franchise quarterback and $10 million for alpha receivers.

So there’s Chris Johnson, Dorsett-lite, hoping to snag a big paycheque in a league that just doesn’t hand them out any more, especially to older backs.

Yes, he’s a couple of years away from the age of 30, the so-called end of the running back’s productive years, but have a look at Dorsett. From the ages of 29 to 31 he ran 896 times for 3,817 yards, which matched the most productive years of his Hall of Fame career.

Can Johnson help a team? Absolutely. Will he get paid what he deserves? No, and like me, he can “thank” Walsh for that. 

Monday, 14 April 2014

Seven Draft Day plot lines that are difficult to swallow

The movie Draft Day, as a concept, is enticing enough. The plot follows the roller coaster of the day endured by the protagonist, Cleveland Browns GM Sonny Weaver Jr., played by Kevin Costner.

Not only does Sonny find out he’s about to become a dad, thanks to his secret romance with the team’s salary capologist, played by Jennifer Garner; he has to deal with an oblivious owner who threatens his dismissal unless he makes a big splash at the draft; a recalcitrant head coach who sets a fire in his office when he discovers he wasn’t included in the discussion of the team’s massive trade; and a temperamental quarterback who trashes his office when he suspects the trade will likely bring his replacement. To top it off, Weaver has barely had time to mourn the recent passing of his father, the Browns’ franchise coach whom he fired, when his overbearing mother demands an impromptu, immediate memorial on the practice field.

Yes it’s Hollywood and all these storylines are plausible, if somewhat farfetched to all occur in a window smaller than 24 hours. It's like 24 (the TV series) meets Any Given Sunday.

For Dallas Cowboys fans, Dennis Leary plays the coach who sounds a lot like Barry Switzer, only younger and with a desire to create a semblance of an NFL legacy.

The movie loses all credibility with NFL fans when it goes rogue with the draft day wheeling dealing and preposterous timelines. For all its foibles, lack of chemistry between any of the actors, clich├ęd jokes that centre around a browbeaten intern, the movie really falls apart in its plot’s inherent improbability.

Here are five samples.


It begins early in the morning when Seattle calls and offers to trade the No. 1 overall pick for Cleveland’s No. 7 selection. The asking price: Next’s year’s No. 1 and a third rounder. And there’s a franchise quarterback on the draft table.

No contest. Make the trade. Even if you don’t want the quarterback, the value makes the trade worthwhile. You can always trade down again. Plus who makes this offer?

But no. Costner, who’s in the pantheon of the sports movie greats for Field of Dreams, Bull Durham and Tin Cup alone, fumbles the offer and most of the movie as well. The shifty-eyed, overwhelmed executive can’t see the value in the deal and turns it down…

Only to call back a couple of hours later in the day, and find that the trade demand now includes another Browns No. 1 pick…. Which Costner accepts because…

No 2.

On draft day, team owner and water park impresario (Frank Langella) threatens his GM to make a big splash or be fired. The fan base demands it. Needs it.

There’s no doubt this scenario has played out in the NFL. It just doesn’t happen on the day of the NFL’s player selection meeting, hours before the team’s top-10 pick is about to come off the board.

Months ahead, maybe.

No. 3
Having made the ill-conceived trade, Costner orders his football staff to find faults with the franchise quarterback, Bo Callahan (Josh Pence).

Again, there’s no doubt this scenario has played out in the NFL. It just doesn’t happen on the day of the NFL’s player selection meeting, hours before the pick is about to be made.

Months ahead, yes.

As it turns out, golden boy Callahan has one rather large wart. He has one personality trait that matches that of one of the greatest draft busts ever, Ryan Leaf.

No. 4
The draft begins and Costner, having endured a nuclear day of emotions, goes back to his sticky note ‘big board’ and goes with his gut pick, linebacker Vontae Mack, who’s exactly the player Langella, who flies to New York for the draft with a Callahan jersey, did not want to see selected.

Doesn’t try to trade back down. Doesn’t field any offers for the No.1, doesn’t reach out for any. At this point, even Costner quips that he traded three first rounders and a third for a player he could’ve had at No. 7.

NFL fans have seen ridiculous trades and draft picks, never would they be combined like this.

No. 5
Then Callahan begins to slide. All the way to No. 6. The rookie Jacksonville Jaguars GM who has the pick is so inept, he doesn’t know why Callahan is suddenly available. Good thing Costner, who suddenly discovers that he can deal his way out his mess, is there with an offer of three No. 2s. Which is what? Accepted. Really.

Never happens. Ever. Three No. 2s for the No. 6 pick, with a franchise quarterback, Leaf-like rumours and all, on the board. And there are no other suitors for the pick either. Right.

No. 6
Langella, who’s irate in New York, leaves the draft, boards his private plane at an airport, lands in Cleveland and arrives at the Browns facility before the No. 6 pick is made. Or less than 50 minutes of real time. That’s a real trick.

No. 7
And this one is the biggest one to gulp down. Armed with the No. 6 pick, Costner manages to get his picks back from Seattle, and gets an ace punt returner thrown in the package.

For those trying to keep track, the pick that was dealt for three No. 2s minutes ago, suddenly lands three No. 1s, a third and a special teams ace.

Only in Hollywood you say? That would seem to be the case.

There are a number of cameos in the movie, including NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and the usual cast of NFL draft day talking heads, all of whom should’ve advised the screenwriters to rewrite the script, given its lack of reality.

With its seventh pick back, the Browns end up taking the son of the Browns’ all-time great running back. Not Jim Brown, who appears in the movie, but by former NFL journeyman Terry Crews. The running back? Played Arian Foster.


Thursday, 3 April 2014

Confessions of an NFL draft addict and revisiting the Dallas Cowboys 2010 draft

Confession time: I am an NFL draft addict.

I’m not sure how this obsession came to be. It started slowly, with Paul Zimmerman’s annual draft previews in Sports Illustrated, then graduating to Mel Kiper’s mail-order draft guides before the World Wide Web turned this craving into a 24-hour, 365-day free-for-all.

I really can’t get enough. While critics initially panned the NFL Network for broadcasting the draft combine from Indianapolis, I watched breathlessly as future stars competed in 40-times, lifts, shuttle runs, vertical jumps. I took notes. PVRd what I missed.

Underwear Olympics? These were final exams for those graduating to the NFL and for many players, it was their initial national exposure. I was riveted. I still am.

Add the intrigue of the NFL player selection process – the clashing of egos between owners, general managers, coaches, prospective players and their families – the checkered draft history of some franchises or their GMs, the millions of dollars and jobs at stake, and I can’t get past this event being the greatest reality show on TV.

Watching Donovan McNabb getting booed onstage by stunned face-painted Philly fans wearing Ricky Williams Eagles jerseys, watching the Gallery Gods mock the Jets annual selections, Jeff Lageman and Kyle Brady come to mind, or watching prospects in the Green Room waiting and waiting to get drafted, Aaron Rodgers, Geno Smith.

It’s no wonder Hollywood finally found a way to turn it into a movie. Draft Day with Kevin Costner. Getcha popcorn ready indeed.

The draft became a statutory holiday in my household, Mel Kiper Day. Then the NFL turned into a three-day festival and thus it is now dubbed (Mike) Mayockpalooza.

The Good Wife knows I am emotionally unstable during this time period, prone to bursts of incoherent shouting, laughter and … rage. Controlled. Most of the time. 

Better to be left alone. It’s like watching a game on Sunday, only with much, much more at stake.

Teams that win the draft end up in bed with the Lombardi trophy. Those precious picks make or break the fortunes of a franchise. Teams can add complimentary free agent players or even trade for a superstar to get over the proverbial hump, but title seeds are sowed in spring.

Which is why as a Cowboys fan, the past few years have been particularly painful.

Without having direct access to the draft room – I object to it being called a War Room, it’s not even a close metaphor – it’s difficult to explain why Jerry Jones and company have fared so poorly without the guiding hands of Bill Parcells and Jimmy Johnson.

There are so many variables involved in any draft choice that unless you’re there, in the room, and witness to trade offers, rumours and the team’s reams of evaluations, it’s hard to pinpoint where Dallas consistently goes wrong.

Is it scouting? Is it assessment? Is it Jones? He is the easy target and the team’s draft record shows there has to be a communication breakdown within the franchise but you wonder how much bad luck has played a factor in the team’s woes.

Thanks to Jones’ marketing wizardry, there have been two “leaks” of the Cowboys’ draft strategy, in 2010 and 2013. Images of Jones standing in front of the team’s big board allowed sharp-eyed draftniks to make out the team’s “cheat sheet.”

In 2010, the Cowboys’ first-round grades were as follows:

1. Sam Bradford
2. Gerald McCoy
3. Ndamukong Suh
4. Russell Okung
5. Trent Williams
6. Eric Berry
7. Rolando McClain
8. Joe Haden
9. CJ Spiller
10. Mike Iupati
11.  Blocked by Jerry’s arm, but likely Earl Thomas or Dez Bryant
12.  Blocked by Jerry’s arm, but likely Earl Thomas or Dez Bryant
13. Bryan Bulaga
14. Sean Lee
15. Jared Odrick
16. Jason Pierre-Paul
17. Derrick Morgan
18. Kyle Wilson
19. Maurkice Pouncey
20. Navarro Bowman
21. Jahvid Best
22. Tyson Alualu
23. Jermaine Gresham

The list was surprising because it was unsurprising. Most mocks heading into the draft had similar first-round values save for three players: Lee, Bowman and Alualu.

Alualu drew gasps when he was taken by the Jaguars with the 10th pick overall and time has shown that the gasps were an appropriate reaction.

The Cowboys got a falling Dez Bryant with their first pick and then made a prescient choice by taking Lee with their second rounder, the 55th pick.

If Lee was unavailable, would they have still traded up from the 59th pick? Or do they take Bowman and still have an extra fourth in their pocket? Given Lee’s injury history and Bowman’s prodigious production with the 49ers, Cowboys fans would have been even more overjoyed.

This was easily the best draft the Cowboys had since Parcells left but you wonder what would’ve happened had both Lee and Bowman been selected before their pick. Would Alualu be our defensive end?

These variables show some of the factors at play with each selection. The Cowboys could have hit gold – Bowman, silver – Lee or copper – Alualu, depending on the other teams’ needs and assessments.

Is it all luck?

The Cowboys traded up to get Lee in what would turn out to be a very deep draft, with few busts. Their next pick was Akwasi Owusu-Ansah, in the fourth round.

To draftniks, it was a slight overvaluation, like Lee and Bowman, and this time, the Cowboys turned out to be dead wrong. They had a fourth-round grade on Owusu-Ansah, just a few notches above Kam Chancellor, who was the next defensive back taken.

Owusu-Ansah was waived by the Saints, didn’t play last season and is now on the Lions’ practice squad. Chancellor is coming off a Super Bowl win and has a Pro Bowl on his resume.

What if another team had taken Owusu-Ansah? What if a Cowboys scout had seen more from Chancellor and bumped his grade up a notch?

What ifs play a great factor at the draft so when you see the myriad of players that the Cowboys could’ve selected with each draft, consider the hindsight factor.

Where were these lists after the selections were made. Do they have the stones, like a young Kiper did, to say picking players like Trev Alberts is why the Colts “draft second every year.”

Or is it really a mug’s game?