Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Not a secondary priority

Howdy. In lieu of other things to fill my head this offseason (bashing on patrick Crayton doesn't count, I've yelled at him several dozen times internally in the last week) I've taken it upon myself to write up a rundown of every facet of this team's roster; evaluating the current players, their performance, expectations, and salary impact. I will also look at prospective additions to that facet of the roster. I will start with the most oft-lamented portion of this squad: The coverage team.
The format I will use is as such: I will begin by listing the relevant players, going from the one I value most to least. After running through the current performers, I'll turn to the potential newcomers.

Terrence Newman, cornerback. Honestly, there is only one fault I can find with T-New. He's only played for five years, yet he'll be thirty next year. Newman is the truest definition of 'shutdown corner', and he put forth, when healthy, his best season yet. I honestly cannot bring to mind the last time a wide receiver truly burned him in a game; the dropoff between a lead receiver covered by our #2 corner and a lead receiver covered by Newey is incredibly pronounced. He doesn't put up the greatest of numbers, but this can be attributed to the fact that quarterbacks simply don't throw his way. While it's true that he doesn't have the best hands, he can take advantage of a badly thrown pass often enough. If not for his (relatively)advanced age, N would be looking a huge deal in the eyes after next season. Keeping him is a priority, as the secondary is in shambles without Terrence.

Ken Hamlin, safety. I am still shocked by the contract Ham got last season. He was barely 26 years old, going into his fifth year in the league, and had established a stellar track record both in pass and run defense, showing the ability to play at either safety slot. Yet he settled for a contract worthy of someone trying to prove his worth; 1 year at 2.5 million. Needless to say, Hamlin has more than lived up to expectations. He was centerfielder in a defensive unit that sorely needed one, a big hitter and an opportunist with more awareness of the goings-on in his vicinity than we've seen since Darren Woodson. Keeping him will be a big priority, but we can't account for some team not changing its tune from last year and giving Ken a contract beyond his value. I see him getting four years at approximately sixteen million, and he's worth every penny of that to this team.

Anthony Henry, cornerback. The antithesis of Terrence Newman, Henry gambles regularly, gets thrown at even moreso, and therefore gets beat a lot but can also turn the tide of a game. He's still a usable second corner, but at 31 he won't be for much longer. While not a liability, he gets beaten fairly easily by most receivers who exhibit a semblance of speed. Henry is capable in run support, a decent tackler with good instincts. He's under contract for two more seasons at a reasonable rate, so don't expect a cut- but he could see his role on the team decrease through the time he has left with America's team.

Roy Williams, safety. Frankly, he earns a spot above Jacques Reeves purely on his past performances. Roy was a terrifically impactful player in college and in his first few years in the bigs, but has fallen off drastically since then. Still more than capable in run support, Roy can make the occasional big hit. But the frequency of the hits has decreased as his attempts at executing them have increased, and this is unacceptable. Too often he makes powerless tackles that fail to even impede the ballcarrier. Roy needs to return to the player he once was; we've all come to accept that he's a liability in pass coverage. But the least he can do is wrap people up once he gets there, knock out the occasional fumble when the situation calls for it, and capitalize with an interception every now and then. He's changing his number next year, in a straw-graspingly desperate move for a new beginning. Let's hope changing the 31 to a 38 is not a solitary move; that Williams actually makes an effort to return to the star player he once was.

Jacques Reeves, cornerback
. A 4 year vet from Purdue, the seventh round draft pick has performed beyond expectations during his time here. That, however, is not necessarily an indication that he's a great asset. Reeves is a third corner; he has decent speed and coverage skills, is mediocre against the run, and can't cause turnovers with a great deal of regularity. The 25 year old is the magnet that must exist in the Cowboys' scheme; when Newman's receiver only gets a throw or two per game, the QB has to put it somewhere. Playing alongside Terrence can swell your tackle and INT numbers; Reeves hasn't taken much advantage of this. It will also cast you as the goat who gives up tons of plays; and he certainly has been typecast that way. Reeves is not terrible, every team has a third corner. He's a nice piece to have, and should be retained.

Nathan Jones, cornerback
. Selected 18 slots ahead of Reeves in the '04 draft, the Rutgers alum has seen limited time throughout his tenure here. Keep in mind; 18 slots ahead of Reeves still leaves him a 7th rounder. Jones is not someone you want to hang out to dry, he's a backup and recognized as such. You need guys like this, look what they've done for the Giants and their incredible ruin of a secondary. When you create constant pressure, an inadequate secondary suddenly becomes sufficient. Jones will likely be back at an affordable rate.

At this point we move to prospective additions. This free agent crop is tremendously rich with high-level cornerbacks but almost devoid of safeties other than our own. The problem: The three elite guys (Asante Samuel, Nnamdi Asomugha, and Marcus Trufant) will probably cash in to the tune of a long term deal at about 10 million per annum. This is far too much for the Cowboys to afford; they have their own needs to address. They likely will look to an inexpensive veteran , such as Drayton Florence or Shawn Springs, to fill a cornerback slot.

This year's draft is absolutely overflowing with first-round DBs. There are foreseeably six who should earn that distinction, and only one of them (Hurricanes safety Kenny Phillips) is widely projected to go off the board before our first selection at #22.

Mike Jenkins is the best of the rest. Jenkins has terrific size and speed, can force turnovers, sticks with receivers in both man and zone coverage. He's likely the most experienced of this group. He does, however, lack the sure tackling displayed by most and has some character issues. It may seem like a bit of a leap, but PacMan Jones' skill set and resume jumps to mind (Keep in mind, I wouldn't dare insinuate that Jenkins is ^&*@-ed up to quite that degree). Fun fact: He was born in Germany.

Malcolm Jenkins (no association) is probably the most talented defensive back in this draft. He's huge, runs a supposed 4.3 40, and QBs usually don't look his way. On the other hand, Jenkins is lacking in complementary tackles, does not break up many passes, and hasn't made many interceptions. Strangely, he has trouble with smaller receivers.The Ohio State grad could make someone very happy if things go right, but there is a big bust factor. A good comp doesn't come to mind, but Antonio Cromartie is the absolute best case scenario.

Antoine Cason is the 2007 Thorpe award winner. He's got decent size, good quickness, shows great awareness and terrific hands. He has home-run ability, having run back several of his picks for Six. He is, however, a bit lacking on bulk and struggles at bringing his man down. Despite his height, he has displayed difficulty in coping with large receivers. Best case comp: Marcus Trufant.

Aqib Talib is one of my personal faves. He's not quick, he's not one to turn an INT into a TD, but he makes plays of every kind. One of the larger cornerbacks you'll see, Talib displays excellent coverage ability, footwork, and hands. He's very stout against the run and has done great things against some very good receivers. One glaring problem is his lack of big-time speed, and that could come back to bite him down the road. My first thought when considering Talib was Ronde Barber, but that may be a bit steep. He's actually quite a bit like our very own Anthony Henry.

Reggie Smith is a very interesting prospect. The Oklahoma junior is a tandem safety-cornerback, and as one would expect is drawing many critics. There are those who say that his lack of a clearly defined role will hurt him in the long run, that in the NFL you must specialize in a single position to be truly good at it. I, for one, believe that knowing how to play in two (or in this case, three) spots is a major asset. Smith is the classic jack of all trades. Good in coverage, good timed speed, good change of direction and footwork, stellar at recognizing how the play breaks down and stout against the run. He won't cause sensation with anything he does, however, and that wil deter some people come draft day. I'm having a hard time finding a comp for this guy, to be honest. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

Leodis McKelvin is yet another player who is useful because he fills multiple roles. McKelvin is fairly diminutive, not known primarily for his abilities as a cornerback, and comes from a small program. However, he's absolutely electric on kick returns and has shown all that one can show at Troy as a DB. Demarcus Ware's one-time teammate is shooting up draft boards, and rightfully so. He hasn't been tested to the extent of the big-conference coverage guys, but as I said-shown all he can. Comp: I'm having a hard time with this one too. I thought Devin Hester, but McKelvin brings more than that on defense.

That was exhausting. It's about time I found a use for the intervals of time between my classes, though =D
If you're looking for further information on all this stuff, I'd strongly recommend Scott Wright's NFL Draft Countdown and Football's Future.
Next on the docket: The linebacking corps!

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