Sports Outside the Beltway

Dallas Cowboys 2006 Draft: Day 1

The Dallas Cowboys got the linebacker they were targetting, Ohio State’s Bobby Carpenter, with the 18th pick. They also achieved two other goals they had announced prior to the draft: recouping the 4th round pick that they traded away last draft so that they could take Chris Canty, and taking the “best available player” on their board regardless of need.

Nick Eatman:

The Cowboys have said all along they were in position to draft the “Best Available Player” when Saturday’s NFL Draft got underway. Owner and general manager Jerry Jones said the team’s aggressiveness in free agency didn’t give the team many glaring needs heading into the draft. But as Saturday’s first three rounds unfolded, two things became clear: The Cowboys indeed still had a couple of holes to fill. And they filled them.

The club drafted Ohio State linebacker Bobby Carpenter with the 18th pick, and then landed Notre Dame tight end Anthony Fasano with the 53rd selection after moving down four spots through a trade with the Jets. And that was the first of two trades the Cowboys pulled off Saturday. The second one cost them 12 spots in the third round – moving from 80 to 92 – but gave the Cowboys that all-important fourth-round pick. The Cowboys entered the draft without a fourth-rounder, having traded it to get Chris Canty in last year’s draft. And then the Cowboys completed the wild day by drafting Grambling defensive end Jason Hatcher.

The Cowboys will go into Sunday’s final four rounds with a total of six picks after acquiring three via trades on Saturday. But regardless of what happens on Sunday, the success of this draft will ultimately hinge on Carpenter, a player Jones said he couldn’t risk not taking when he became available. Despite history suggesting the Cowboys might trade out of their 18th overall pick in the first round, they stood pat and drafted a player they had targeted all along.

Not only does Carpenter fit the Cowboys’ 3-4 defensive scheme, with the ability to play the strong side linebacker opposite DeMarcus Ware, but he should be everything Cowboys head coach Bill Parcells is looking for. Carpenter is the son of Rob Carpenter, who played four seasons at running back under Parcells with the Giants from 1981-85.

“We were so happy to see him still there for us,” Jones said after the pick. “He’s a compliment to what we’re doing with DeMarcus Ware. He’s a short term in that we think he will be an immediate contributor. He’s done everything that we’re going to ask him to do. Take on the tight end. Cover on the outside. Rush the passer. He’s done that and he’s got a great background through osmosis with his dad having played in the NFL. “He’s got serious character qualities and has a high motor. We wanted to get the best player we could for the future but also someone who fits what we do in the future. And he’s that guy.”

And maybe it won’t be long before he’s a “Parcells Guy.” However, Carpenter said that title is something he’ll have to earn. “I wouldn’t characterize myself as one of those guys yet. I believe that’s something that’s got to be earned but I’m looking forward to the opportunity,” Carpenter said. “My dad said he always valued hard work and that’s something that I’m going to bring to the table every day. If there’s anything that has been questioned, hopefully I can answer that as well.”

Carpenter will get his first chance to do so next weekend when the Cowboys invite all of their draft picks and rookie free agents, which will be signed Sunday night and Monday, to Valley Ranch for a three-day mini-camp from Friday to Sunday.

Along with Carpenter, all eyes should be on Fasano, a somewhat surprising pick considering the Cowboys already have two-time Pro Bowler Jason Witten and went out and signed free-agent Ryan Hannam in the off-season. But soon after the Cowboys drafted Fasano with the 53rd pick, Jones held his only press conference of the day and told the media he envisions an offensive style that includes “two starting tight ends.” While Jones basically said the Cowboys will have little to no need for a fullback on the roster, he also made a bold statement regarding Fasano, who caught 47 passes for 576 yards last season for Notre Dame. “I expect him to come in here and start,” Jones said. “But I want to be real clear now. Not start in place of Jason Witten. Both of them will start.”

Fasano not only played two seasons with Cowboys running back Julius Jones at Notre Dame, but also spent last season under head coach Charlie Weis, a former Parcells assistant. Jones said Notre Dame runs a similar offense to the Cowboys and uses the same terminology, which could be make for an easier transition for the second-round tight end. “I couldn’t be more excited. It’s a plug-in-place type of situation with the similar offenses we have run,” Fasano said. “I don’t think it’s going to be an easy transition no matter where I was, but I think with this offensive scheme and this coaching staff it’s probably the best situation I could have walked into. “If you are an outsider looking in it is a weird situation. But with the philosophy using two tight ends and being real multiple tight end set oriented I think it’s going to be a great fit.”

Now what that means for Hannam is unclear. But if the Cowboys are anticipating playing more two-tight sets, having three quality players at the position should give them plenty of depth.

And speaking of depth, the Cowboys ignored a few thinner positions in the third round and piled some more on the defensive end spot. In the third round, after moving back 12 spots to acquire the fourth-round pick from Jacksonville, the Cowboys took Hatcher, a relatively unknown prospect who figures to have tremendous upside. The 6-6, 284-pound pass-rusher had 11 sacks last season for Grambling and wowed scouts this off-season by running in the 4.8 range in the 40.

The Cowboys picked up three defensive ends in last year’s draft in Marcus Spears, Chris Canty and Jay Ratliff, and Greg Ellis still remains very much in the picture, especially as a nickel pass-rusher.

While outside linebacker was a position the Cowboys were expected to address, tight end and defensive end were small surprises. But because of the Cowboys’ draft-day trades, they’ve added two more picks for Sunday, meaning they will enter the second day of the draft with six selections over the next four rounds.

One hopes the vision for two tight ends on offense is Bill Parcells’ rather than Jerry Jones’. Still, it makes sense to have the best athletes possible on the field at all time. Keeping a mediocre fullback on the field as a blocker is silly if that means keeping a fullback who can both block and catch would be silly.

While one hopes the Cowboys can pick up a viable free safety and perhaps another wide receiver today, I feel good about what they’ve done so far. In the post-Jimmy Johnson era, the Cowboys have had only a handful of good drafts. All of them have been when they simply drafted their board rather than reaching to grab a high risk/high reward player that most had rated several rounds lower.

In terms of the Rick “Goose” Gosselin Top 100, here’s how the Cowboys did yesterday:

    18th pick: Bobby Carpenter LB Ohio State – #18
    53rd pick: Anthony Fasano TE Notre Dame – #54
    92nd pick: Jason Hatcher DE Grambling – #88

They’re plus three on the day. No great catches but no reaches. The second day, though, is often a spot where one can grab a high ranked guy that fell for some reason. That’s especially true if a team is willing to draft value rather than need.

Jean-Jacques Taylor brings this important news:

[O]wner Jerry Jones said he’s committed to the 3-4 defensive scheme whether Bill Parcells is the Cowboys’ coach or not. Parcells, who did not make himself available to the media Saturday, signed a two-year contract in January. “We’ve really covered a lot of ground to be a 3-4 team, and I don’t intend to change that for a long time to come,” Jones said. “You can’t be flipping in and out of systems. Some players fit some systems and don’t fit others. We’re going – and going strong – defensively with the 3-4.”

I agree. And the team is well-stocked with young, talented players that fit that scheme after the last draft and a half:

A look at the projected starters on the defensive line and linebacker in 2006 reveals DeMarcus Ware, the 11th player selected in the first round last season, and Bradie James as the only returning starters as the Cowboys have gotten significantly bigger and younger. Last season, starters La’Roi Glover, Greg Ellis, Al Singleton and Dat Nguyen were each at least 30. Now, Jason Ferguson is the only 30-year-old starter in the front seven.

Adding Carpenter solidifies the Cowboys’ front seven because he fills an important role. In the 3-4 defense, the outside linebackers are the most important players because they provide the pass rush. At Ohio State, Carpenter (6-2, 257 pounds) showed he can handle every job the Cowboys will ask him to do. He can put his hand on the ground and rush as a defensive end, cover running backs and tight ends, and he has the size to be strong against the run even when he is matched against 330-pound tackles. Carpenter, who had 14 career sacks at Ohio State, also can be an effective blitzer at outside linebacker, which will force opposing offensive coordinators to decide which side to slide their pass protections because Ware and Carpenter each have the ability to rush the passer.

The radical reshaping of a defense that was already pretty good Parcells’ first year with the team–they were ranked #1 statistically and carried a team with Quincy Carter at quarterback and Troy Hambrick at running back to a 10-6 record and the playoffs.

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