Draft Notebooks: Another Draft-Day Veteran
Nick Eatman & Mickey Spagnola
DallasCowboys.com Staff Writers
April 25, 2004, 8:15 p.m. (CDT)
IRVING, Texas - A year ago the Cowboys figured running back Aveion Cason was better than anything they would find in the seventh round of the NFL Draft. So they traded a seventh-round pick for the third-year backup running back, hoping to add some speed to the backfield and a potential third-down back.
The Cowboys followed suit Sunday on the final day of the 2004 draft, swapping seventh-round picks with Tampa Bay, and for dropping down 10 spots they received Bucs special teams player/fullback Darian Barnes. The third-year player from Hampton is a bruising blocker, but also a coverage guy on special teams.
"He'll be competing in the fullback mix," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said after the Cowboys completed the second day of the draft, having added nine players during these past two days.
This will give the Cowboys three legitimate fullbacks on the roster heading to training camp: Richie Anderson, Jamar Martin and now Barnes. There is a chance last year's starting tailback Troy Hambrick could be used as a swing player between tailback and fullback.
But the Cowboys probably saw the necessity to at least bring in another true fullback since there is some thought Anderson could be used more in a one-back offense and also as the team's nickel back instead of a true fullback. This would be insurance against second-round draft choice Julius Jones being ready to start this season.
The Cowboys entered the draft with several pressing needs, starting with running back and offensive line. And while they spent their first three picks addressing those positions, cornerback wasn't too far behind on the need list.
So it was no surprise the Cowboys drafted three cornerbacks Sunday on the second day of the NFL Draft, including Georgia's Bruce Thornton in the fourth-round (121st overall).
The Cowboys also picked Rutgers' Nate Jones early in the seventh round (205th overall) and then Purdue's Jacques Reeves (223rd overall).
Thornton was an offensive player in high school and early in his collegiate career, but moved to cornerback before the 2001 season, having started 34 games for the Bulldogs. He had four career interceptions, including a 71-yard touchdown return against Florida State in the 2003 Sugar Bowl.
"I'm just excited about going to the Cowboys," said Thornton, a teammate of quarterback Quincy Carter during the 2000 season at Georgia. "This is a great opportunity for me. I've always loved the Cowboys. I just can't wait to get started and get down there for the mini-camp."
Thornton, along with the other seven draft choices and near 20 rookie free agents the Cowboys were planning to sign, will be at Valley Ranch this weekend for a three-day camp Friday through Sunday.
The Cowboys needed help at cornerback after losing Mario Edwards in free agency to the Buccaneers and knowing that Donald Mitchell, considered a nickel back, was the only corner on the roster with more than two years of experience.
Now the Cowboys are excited about Terence Newman, last year's first-round pick who finished second in the Defensive Rookie of the Year voting to Baltimore's Terrell Suggs. Along with Newman, head coach Bill Parcells said he is anxious to see more of youngsters Pete Hunter, Jemeel Powell and Andrew Davison.
The scouting report on Thornton states he has the size and zone coverage skills to play safety, although he played strictly corner after moving from offense. Thornton had some off-the-field issues before last season when he was temporarily suspended for selling his SEC Championship ring on the internet. However, the decision was appealed to the NCAA and later overruled.
The Cowboys picked two offensive linemen on the first day of the draft, hoping to add some size and depth to the position.
If nothing else, they added championship pedigree.
Both Southern Cal's Jacob Rogers and LSU's Stephen Peterman played on national championship teams from this past season. Remember, LSU won the BCS Championship Series by winning the Nokia Sugar Bowl over Oklahoma while USC ended the season No. 1 in the Associated Press polls, the two teams sharing the national title.
Emmitt's Number Safe
Even though Notre Dame running back was taken in the second round of the draft, the already is being compared to NFL career rushing leader Emmitt Smith.
While they are similar in size and now team, they will not have the same number.
Jones did wear No. 22 in high school and college, but he understands the Cowboys will not be handing out No. 22 just yet, even though Smith says he's returning for a second season with the Arizona Cardinals.
Instead, Jones will wear No. 21, another number worn to high standards in these parts by Deion Sanders, who played five season for the Cowboys (1995-99). But Sanders number has not been treated as sacred, Lynn Scott having worn the number for two years (2001-2002). Scott switched to 38 last year.
The Cowboys do not officially retire numbers, but it's unlikely the equipment staff will dish out No. 22 to a player for the regular season any time soon, just as No. 8 (Troy Aikman), No. 74 (Bob Lilly) and No. 12 (Roger Staubach) have not been worn during the regular season since those players retired.
The Cowboys are already selling Julius Jones jerseys in the online pro shop at Dallascowboys.com.
The Cowboys must have found out exactly what they needed to know during the visits they had with draft prospect the previous two weekends. Not only did the Cowboys select Julius Jones with their first pick in the draft - one of four running backs to visit - but three other players who paid visits to Valley Ranch.
USC offensive tackle Jacob Rogers, their second, second-round pick, was brought in for a visit as was Boston College tight end Sean Ryan, selected in the fifth round. Later in the seventh, the Cowboys added wide receiver Patrick Crayton, a small-school standout from Northwestern State (OK) who also visited the Cowboys when they were allowed to work out local players on Good Friday.
And several other players visiting Valley Ranch were high on the Cowboys' board, including Arkansas OT Shawn Andrews, Montana State CB Joey Thomas, Michigan RB Chris Perry and Oregon DT Igor Olshansky.
Where's The Beef?
That the Cowboys did not draft a defensive lineman might seem strange at first. But at second glance, why these Cowboys have not drafted a defensive lineman now in four of the past five drafts.
Yep, since 2000, the Cowboys have only drafted defensive linemen in 2001, and that year they took four: Willie Blade, Daleroy Stewart, Colston Weatherington and John Nix. Of those guys, only Blade and Stewart remain on the roster, and remember, Blade was released and then re-signed a year later. So Nix holds the distinction as the last defensive lineman the Cowboys have drafted.
But in essence, the Cowboys held their defensive line draft last year after the start of training camp. They signed unemployed defensive end Eric Ogbogu during training camp, traded for Oakland defensive end Kenyon Coleman at the end of training camp, claimed a released San Diego defensive tackle Leonardo Carson five games into the season, signed an unemployed but on probation rookie defensive tackle Jermaine Brooks 10 days later and now have signed defensive end Marcellus Wiley as a free agent this off-season.
Many Happy Returns
While the popular needs for the Cowboys heading into the draft were always running back, offensive line and cornerback, Cowboys head coach Bill Parcells was quite anxious about the team's lack of quality return men, especially on kick offs.
So the Cowboys threw some resources the second day of the draft at what they considered their third biggest need, selecting two players in the seventh round specifically for return purposes. As the Cowboys stockpiled picks this second day, they selected Rutgers cornerback Nathan Jones and Northwestern Oklahoma State's Patrick Crayton of nearrby DeSoto, Texas, a college quarterback who will be moved to wide receiver.
Crayton, from the same NAIA school as Lynn Scott, is intriguing. He was the NAIA player of the year as a quarterback at Northwestern Oklahoma State, but did play wide receiver, too. Most impressive, though, was his 26.4 average on kick-off returns this past year and 17.4 on punt returns. The all-purpose athlete impressed the Cowboys when he was brought in for a visit and workout with the area players.
"He's a guy you want to root for," Jones said of Crayton.
Jones, the Big East Co-Special Teams player of the year in 2002, averaged 28.3 yards on kick-off returns in 2002 and 25.7 this past year - finishing with three career returns for touchdowns.
Heading into the draft, the Cowboys had few return alternatives. Zuriel Smith's flame was barely flickering by season's end, causing the Cowboys to sign aging veteran Michael Bates at season's end. They also were using Joey Galloway to return punts. Terence Newman is capable of returning punts, but Parcells seemed hesitant to use him during his rookie season.
If truth be told, and the Cowboys were forced to select a running back in the first round, they would have taken Kevin Jones of Virginia Tech over Steven Jackson. And it was Jones the Cowboys were trying to trade back into the first round for when owner Jerry Jones they came very close to accomplishing while sitting in the second round . . . . The Cowboys got busy immediately after the draft trying to sign rookie free agents, their goal to add another 15 to 20 players and most likely wide receivers and safeties for sure. One player expected to sign is Arkansas' Tom Crowder, one of the nation's top special teams players. Crowder will probably be listed as a safety, but specializes in covering kicks.