On April 9, in the offices of the Dallas Cowboys, 17 of the team's coaches, scouts and executives gathered to dissect the best cornerbacks in the 2002 draft. This was a vital day because the Cowboys' position of biggest need was cornerback. Here's how Dallas analyzed one of those options, 5'9?", 186-pound Phillip Buchanon.
Assistant director of college scouting Tom Ciskowski: "Next player, Phillip Buchanon from Miami, Florida; 4.37 on grass; vertical jump 33; hand 7�; arm 29�. Early-out junior. [Ciskowski begins reading the ratings of Buchanon from those assembled in the room.] Ireland 1.00 [meaning Buchanon is the 10th-best player in the draft], Warfield .85 [between eighth and ninth], Ciskowski .60 [sixth], Hess 1.00, [secondary coach Clancy] Pendergast .80 [eighth]. Jeff, go ahead."
National scout Jeff Ireland: " Fort Myers, Florida. Good kid. No problems off the field. Very cocky. Gym-rat type. Great body control, burst. Rare balance and foot quickness. Not a sure tackier, but he will assert himself. Very tough for a little guy. High motor. Quick route recognition and awareness. Does get bounced around by bigger wide receivers, but he's hard to separate from. As a cover corner, you can match him with the best receiver and he'll mark him all day long. Can mirror abrupt double moves. The only real weakness is he's short. He does get outjumped, and he is suspect in run-support. Very sudden as a returner. Excellent ball skills. We'd get a double whammy because of the return skills. This kid is better than [ Texas corner Quentin] Jammer right now, but I still like Jammer better because of the upside. A top 10 player."
Ciskowski: "I love this guy. He competes like Michael Irvin and is a better kid. He thinks he's Deion Sanders. In his mind he's not 5'10". His intangibles are so incredible. You hear about the size. You remember when we picked Russell Maryland, they said he lacked this or lacked that? Emmitt was too short, too slow. Michael Irvin was too slow. They were just football players, like this kid. He's a backoff corner and a press corner, and he can play in the nickel. No doubt he would start for us from Day One. Kevin Smith [a Cowboys first-round choice in 1992], who we all know could play, was seven eighths of an inch taller than Buchanon. Here's seven eighths. [Ciskowski points to the draft board, where he has drawn two parallel lines about an inch apart.] The real world for us is Steve Spurrier spreading you out, the Rams spreading you out. We don't have a corner who can match up with their best receiver."
[Chairs swivel to the big video screen to watch a tape of Buchanon's workout in Miami, then his highlight tape. After watching the quickest 20-yard cone shuttle of draft-eligible players, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones says, "That's Deion stuff." After seeing a relentless Buchanon pursuit on a corner blitz, coach Dave Campo says, "That is a great play!" After a punt return for a touchdown, Campo says, "This guy's a little Deion. What vision." You can feel the opinion in the room shifting toward Buchanon from the scouts' favorite, Jammer. Ciskowski pops in another video. More plays by Buchanon, these against Florida, Florida State and Pitt. Interceptions, passes broken up, wily near-interference noncalls that make him look like a four-year pro. "My concern," says defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer in the middle of the tape, "is his run-support ability." That is the only discouraging word heard during the 21-minute video.]
Scout Jim Garrett: "You divorce yourself from reality if you look at both guys [Buchanon and Jammer] and don't think this guy's better. He's like a veteran. Buchanon would be my choice, hands down."
Jones: "Our grades put him under Jammer. Our exercise before was invalid if we don't put him under [ Oklahoma safety] Roy Williams."
Zimmer: "All the scouts but you, Tom, have Jammer graded higher [than Buchanon]. My question is this: Is the best safety to come out in nine years not as good as the second-best corner in this draft?"
Ciskowski: "Mike, all I'm asking is this: If you had a football person watch tape of both, I bet they'd say Buchanon's a better player."