Sports Outside the Beltway

NFL Draft 2007 – Round 1 #26 – Dallas Cowboys – DE Anthony Spencer

Anthony Spencer Photo LSU Uni Dallas Cowboys .com The Dallas Cowboys have made a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles to get back into the first round to pick Purdue defensive end Anthony Spencer.

It is their second trade in the space of four picks, having traded out of the 22nd pick with the Cleveland Browns. The Cowboys give up 2nd, 3rd, and 5th round picks this year but, since Dallas has multiple picks in those rounds, it’s not clear which picks. Certainly, a 3rd and 5th would be a steep price to move up from the 35th spot; it would be quite reasonable if they’re just giving up their own pick (22nd in round, 54th overall). [UPDATE: Todd Archer reports they gave up the Cleveland 2nd (36th overall) and their own 3rd (88th) and 5th (159th).]

In any case, Spencer is a bit of a reach at the 26 spot and may well have been available at 35. Further, it’s hardly clear that the Cowboys need yet another defensive end, let alone one who’s only 6’3″ and 261 pounds.

What the Experts Say: Profile:

Anthony Spencer Photo LSU Uni Player Evaluation: Coming off a sensational senior campaign, Spencer has significantly elevated his draft stock. Could be used as a conventional defensive end or a rush linebacker in a 34 defense. Needs to improve his playing strength, yet has all the skills necessary to produce at the next level.

STRENGTHS: Explosion, Pass Rushing Skills, Speed

AREAS FOR IMPROVEMENT: Disengaging Skills, Size, Strength

Anthony Spencer Photo Civies Biography: Three-year starter and All-Conference selection as a senior after posting career-best totals of 93/26.5/10.5. Also broke up six passes last year. Junior totals were 23/7.5/3 in a rotational system.

Pos: Outstanding athlete who took his game to another level last year. Quick off the snap, fast off the edge and shows a burst of speed in every direction. Plays with terrific balance, leverage and body control. Fluid changing direction, makes plays down the line of scrimmage and goes hard until the whistle blows. Agile, slips blockers and shows an array of moves. Possesses a decent head, immediately locating the ball.

Neg: At times easily controlled by a single blocker. Rarely used in space or asked to make plays in reverse.

Analysis: Coming off a sensational senior campaign, Spencer has significantly elevated his draft stock. Could be used as a conventional defensive end or a rush linebacker in a 34 defense. Needs to improve his playing strength, yet has all the skills necessary to produce at the next level.

UPDATE: Tim MacMahon disagrees. Indeed, he thinks Jerry Jones is “A genius”:

Trader Jerry is on fire! The Cowboys packaged a few picks together to move up to No. 26 and snag Purdue’s Anthony Spencer.

The Cowboys gave up Clevend’s second (36th overall) and their third and fifth to move up and snag a guy that can be DeMarcus Ware’s pass-rushing partner for the next 8-10 years.


Dallas’ reputation for taking defensive players continues with the selection of Spencer who capitalized on an impressive senior season by moving into the first round. Spencer is an explosive up-the-field player who has excellent initial quickness and closes well once he turns the corner so he should make an immediate impact rushing the passer. He’s also big and tough enough to develop into an effective run stopper. However, this isn’t a great pick. First off, Spencer isn’t big enough to line up at defensive end in a 3-4 scheme and he may not be athletic to develop into an every-down outside linebacker. More importantly, the Cowboys have far more pressing needs.

I continue not to get this pick or the trade that led up to it.

UPDATE:’s Nick Eatman likes it:

Spencer (6-2, 261) looks to be another ideal fit as an outside linebacker in the 3-4 defense. He had 10 ½ sacks and five forced fumbles last season along with 26 ½ tackles for loss, which ranked second in the nation. Spencer was a three-year starter at Purdue, earning All-Big 10 honors his last two seasons.

He will likely compete with Bobby Carpenter and Greg Ellis for the starting outside linebacker role next season, opposite DeMarcus Ware.

All four men 1st round picks, by the way. That’s a lot of investment in one position.

UPDATE: Interestingly, ESPN’s draft “experts” rate Spencer the 23rd best player in the draft.

Scouts Grade: 91

Strengths: An explosive up-the-field player. Displays very good first-step quickness and top-end speed. Also possesses closing burst to turn the corner as a perimeter pass rusher in the NFL. His motor never stopped running as a senior and it seems that the “light finally came on” in terms of his technique and recognition skills. He plays the run hard and will give great effort pursuing from the backside. Displays good strength for his size. He shows good catch-up speed and is a powerful hitter.

Weaknesses: Lacks ideal size; somewhat on the shorter side with just adequate bulk. Might struggle to get off of blocks as quickly versus bigger NFL lineman. He is quick and fast, but he doesn’t possess great change-of-direction skills. He needs to continue to improve his array of pass rush moves. He will overextend at times and will take himself out of some running plays, as a result. He shows stiffness in his hips and will be limited in terms of dropping into coverage in the NFL.

Overall: Spencer arrived at Purdue in 2002 and was redshirted. In 2003 as a redshirt freshman, he tore some foot ligaments during spring practice which limited him early on but he then saw action in 10 of 13 games as a reserve defensive end and on special teams, posting six total tackles and 0.5 tackles for loss. Spencer won a starting spot for all 12 contests in 2004 and recorded 33 total tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks, and three forced fumbles. In 2005, he once again started every game (11) for Purdue and registered 23 tackles including 7.5 for loss, three sacks, one fumble recovery, and three forced fumbles. In 14 games during the 2006 season, Spencer made 93 total tackles, 26.5 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks, one fumble recovery, five forced fumbles, blocked one kick, and was named to the All-Big Ten First Team.

Spencer turned in a monster season as a senior in 2006. In fact, very few prospects improved their stock as much as Spencer did over the course of the last year. After combining for 17.5 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks through his first three seasons, Spencer notched 26.5 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks as a senior. While some consider him a ‘tweener defensive end/outside linebacker, we’re not convinced he’s athletic enough to play linebacker in the NFL. His best fit most likely will be as a 4-3 defensive end in a one-gap scheme similar to the Colts’. Regardless, Spencer should come off the board late in the first or early in the second round.

Of course, Dallas will use him as a linebacker in a 3-4…

UPDATE (4/29): The morning-after analysis is pouring in. FWST’s Mac Engel:

On the same day teams across the NFL were “put on the clock,” Cowboys linebacker Greg Ellis was also “put on the clock.” The Cowboys’ drafting of Purdue defensive end Anthony Spencer with the 26th pick in the first round Saturday essentially means Ellis’ days with the Cowboys are tenuous. Again.

But the chance to select a potentially dominating pass rusher to line up opposite DeMarcus Ware was too tempting to ignore. Although he’s never played linebacker, the Cowboys view Spencer as a pass rusher who can make life miserable for opposing quarterbacks.

This creates a logjam at linebacker. Spencer, Ellis, Ware, Bobby Carpenter, Bradie James, Akin Ayodele — even Kevin Burnett — were either high draft picks, big-money players, or both. Where and how will they all fit?

“The more pressure players you can have, the better,” Cowboys coach Wade Phillips said. “We’ll think of something.”


Here is a look at the main contributors at linebacker for the Cowboys and where they were drafted.

Greg Ellis 1st round 8th overall 1998
*Akin Ayodele 3rd round 89th overall 2002
Bradie James 4th round 103rd overall 2003
DeMarcus Ware 1st round 11th overall 2005
Kevin Burnett 2nd round 42nd overall 2005
Bobby Carpenter 1st round 18th overall 2006
Anthony Spencer 1st round 26th overall 2007
* Drafted by the Jaguars; he signed with the Cowboys as a free agent in ’06

His colleague, Mickey Spagnola, has yet more details.

Wow! That’s what Jerry Jones promised right, wow?

The Cowboys traded out. The Cowboys traded up. The Cowboys traded down. One minute they are about to make a pick in the first. The card in New York is complete. The next minute they don’t have a first. The next they do, and then some. One minute they got a second. The next they don’t, but have a high third.


For a third-round draft choice and a fifth-round draft choice, the Cowboys essentially brought themselves a first-round pick in the 2008 draft, and potentially a top 10 pick at that, unless you have confidence Cleveland is going to go from a four-win team to an eight-win team overnight.

On top of all that, they still wound up selecting the player in the first round they were going to take in the first place, Purdue projected outside linebacker Anthony Spencer. He was the pick at No. 22, and he still was the pick at No. 26 after the Cowboys momentarily ducked out of the first round then reappeared faster than one of those disappearing rabbits.


OK, he said the Cowboys would have to select a “wow” player if they bundled their picks to move way up in the draft. Details, details. They had a chance but the price was far too steep for Calvin Johnson. Detroit wanted to switch spots in the first, then get the Cowboys’ second, third and, while no one would mention a name, but process of elimination, DeMarcus Ware since we were told it was a defensive Pro Bowl player. No way.


And I’ll be darn squared, Cleveland GM Phil Savage came calling. Not only did the Browns want Quinn, they really wanted Quinn, to the tune of not only offering to swap their third pick in the second round for the Cowboys’ first, but throw in next year’s No. 1 for the Cowboys’ troubles.

You kidding me again? Next year’s first? Meaning the Cowboys would have their own first and quite possibly a top 10 pick if the Browns cooperate. Meaning the Cowboys could control the 2008 draft, and grab whatever they wanted if Jones was willing to put a little “bundle” together next year.

Like need a running back? Move wherever necessary for some guy named Darren McFadden, who should open the 2007 collegiate season as the Heisman favorite.

Or say Tony Romo doesn’t pan out, that he crashes and burns, and there the Cowboys are in dire need of a quarterback? Well, package those two firsts and go get you one. Might even be able to get the pick of the litter.

But the Cowboys’ good fortune doesn’t stop there. Oh no. The minute they landed in the second round, all phones stood at attention. I mean, you should have seen how many wires were crossing in the war room, who all was calling who around the league, fighting like the dickens to trade back up into the first round. They had no idea if they could.

Then along comes Philadelphia’s Jeffrey Lurie, God bless his soul. The Eagles wanted out of the first round. Didn’t like anything they saw at No. 26. The Cowboys say, hey Jeff, let’s trade places. We’ll take your first, here’s our second, where you still can get your guy, Kevin Kolb, and we’ll throw in our third and fifth to boot.

Deal, Lurie said.

“I hope you can sleep tonight,” Jones chided him on the phone from the Cowboys war room as he hung up the phone after consummating the deal, as if he had been pick-pocketed by the Eagles.

And with the 26th pick, the Cowboys did what they were going to do at No. 22: Select Spencer, the pressure player Phillips coveted. Shame on all of you who were accusing Jones of undoubtedly going to turn a deaf ear to his head coach after Bill Parcells departed.

Now that’s the wow, the old cake and eat it too double, the war room erupting in high fives and back slaps all around as the Cowboys officials could breath again.


So why a pass rusher? Yet another outside linebacker, the fourth they have taken with either a first- or second-round pick in the past three drafts?

Well, let me ask this: How did you like how the season ended last year? No pressure on the quarterback. Let’s see, 34 sacks. Come on, 3-4. That’s supposed to be a defensive formation, not the sack total, which the Cowboys have not swelled past 40 since 1994. That’s 13 season ago.

So the Cowboys, expecting Greg Ellis back good as new and counting on Bobby Carpenter to still be a player, asked themselves this: “Where could we afford to least lose a player, because we’ve got to have pressure,” Jones said.

Their answer was linebacker. Think about it, and heaven forbid, but what if Ware goes down, just as Ellis went down last year. Would that doom the defense?

Well, maybe not now, or at least they have a fighting chance if this defensive end in college can do what Phillips thinks he can do from the outside in the NFL. Plus, you know, I hear how everyone is going to be rushing the passer under Phillips’ defensive philosophy. How Ware is going to be turned loose. How Ellis is going to be turned loose. How the defensive ends won’t be saddled with two-gap responsibilities. How Roy Williams will play closer to the line of scrimmage to get him out of coverage.

Yeah, well if all that is true, and the offense sends like four guys into the pass pattern, by my count, you had better get to the quarterback, because there ain’t enough guys back there to cover everyone.

“We just want good football players,” said Phillips, who actually let the name of Shawne Merriman pass his lips when asked who he thinks Spencer most compares to.

Man, if that turns out to be the case, then make this a double wow of a day.

Not much doubt about that. And, I agree, Wade Phillips knows something about 3-4 linebackers. I can’t help but think Spencer would have still been there in the 36 slot, though. Still, he’s the guy they were hoping to get and a 3rd and 5th aren’t that high a price to pay for insurance.

Len Pasquarelli is a bit perplexed by the pick:

Another redundancy-type choice was Dallas’ selection of Purdue defensive end Anthony Spencer, which the Cowboys made with the 26th pick, after maneuvering out of and then back into the first round. Spencer will play linebacker in the 3-4 alignment preferred by new coach Wade Phillips. Never mind that Spencer’s skills are a mirror of the hybrid-style abilities of DeMarcus Ware, the Cowboys’ first-round choice in 2005.

“For our kind of defense,” Phillips said, “you can never have enough of those kinds of guys who can come off the edge. You always want that.”

There are, after all, two sides of the line. My concern isn’t that he’s a mirror to DeMarcus Ware–that’s a good thing–but that the Cowboys just picked Bobby Carpenter with last year’s #1 to be a mirror to DeMarcus Ware. And that we already have Greg Ellis on the roster in that role.

I agree that you can never have enough. But, certainly, you can’t spend too many first round picks and too much money on one position. You hate to have 1st round picks sitting on the bench eating up millions of cap dollars.

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