We all know not to judge a book by its cover. In football, never judge a player by what he does in shorts. But my impressions from the Dallas Cowboys' rookie minicamp have me thinking that this draft class could change the direction of the franchise.
When I watched the rookies practice over the weekend, I saw players excelling at the most important qualities for their positions. This, in my estimation, is the most telling factor in a player's future success.
Round one (No. 6 overall) Morris Claiborne, CB, Louisiana State
I applaud the Cowboys for trading up to select the cornerback. Claiborne was my highest-rated defensive player in the draft. He has exceptional quickness and very long arms -- great qualities for his position -- and appears to be a safe bet to become a Pro Bowl-caliber of player early in his career.
Round three (81) Tyrone Crawford, DE, Boise State
Crawford has the strength and burst to get to the passer in the NFL. He looked very good getting off the line this weekend with above-average speed. I see him playing a lot and helping the team as a rookie. Crawford is relatively inexperienced. He's from Canada and played just two years of college football after attending junior college. His best football is ahead of him.
Round four (113) Kyle Wilber, LB, Wake Forest
Wilber is my pick to be the biggest surprise of this year's draft class. A defensive end/linebacker hybrid-type of player, Wilber ranks very high in competitiveness and recognition -- two top qualities for his position. If he doesn't win a starting job this year, he will make the player in front of him better. Look for him to be a very good and possible Pro-Bowl player in the NFL.
Round four (135) Matt Johnson, SS, Eastern Washington
Johnson picked off 17 passes and registered 334 tackles as a safety in college, unheard of numbers for his position. He missed six games in 2011 due to injury and wasn't invited to the combine. It's a shame because he would have put on a show. He's explosive and has a great change of direction. He will contribute on special teams this year and possibly start down the road.
Round five (154) Danny Coale, WR, Virginia Tech
Coale is very fast. He didn't play in a passing offense in college but has good hands. He can be a move-the-chains type of guy, catching the quick slant. He does many things well but will have to improve his route running.
Round six (186) James Hanna, TE, Oklahoma
Hanna is a new-wave tight end with great size and speed that will cause matchup problems. Still, he will have to improve his blocking. He's a classic developmental project who has the potential to one day replace Jason Witten.
Round seven (222) Caleb McSurdy, ILB, Montana
In the final two rounds, teams are looking for a characteristic that led to a player's success. For McSurdy, it's his competitiveness, my top quality for a linebacker. He will be a good special teams player and backup.
Keep an eye out for Memphis guard Ronald Leary. The undrafted free agent may have a chance to start in 2012.
I don't believe in assigning grades to draft classes -- there's too much up in the air. What we know about a player in the spring often changes from what we know in the autumn when they're suited up in pads.