Can Will McClay Live Up To Expectations?

John David Mercer-USA TODAY Spor

After two seasons of severely cap-limited free agent acquisitions, the Cowboys cannot afford even minor missteps in the NFL Draft. A lot of the responsibility for fixing that has been placed on Will McClay, but he still has to get Jerry Jones to go along with his plans.

The Dallas Cowboys have a few needs in the draft. Rather than go into listing what they need or trying to rank order the various positions, let me provide a list of every position that there is absolutely no reason for them to use one of the eleven draft picks they are currently scheduled to have:

Place kicker.

I think that pretty much sums up the situation. Every other roster spot either needs immediate help at starter, should be looked at for drafting a replacement for the future, lacks depth, or would benefit from some competition. Dan Bailey is the only name on the team that really needs no one other than a free agent signed to split the work with Split 'em during camp. Every other position should be getting a close look for talent the Cowboys could draft, and when would be a good place to do so.

Especially on defense. After the rash of injuries on that side of the ball (again) last season, there are enough holes to fill that eleven draft picks seems positively paltry. While there has been a lot of discussion about the scheme and Monte Kiffin being replaced as DC by Rod Marinelli, I think Malcolm Jenkins is not just slamming his new division rival with his recent remarks. He is too close to the truth.

"The offseason comes and you don't do anything in free agency to get any big name players to come help you out," he said, "so I really don't see the light at the end of the tunnel for this defense in improving when you got the same guys and the same coaches."

Dallas needs to add some talent, and with free agency now on a strict wait-and-see basis, the draft is the only game in town. The Cowboys need to get the most talented and best fitting player they can with every single pick they have.

That is a wee bit of pressure to put on the people who are responsible for those things. And this year there is a new face among those people, or at least a face that has a lot more of that responsibility than he did last year. Will McClay has been promoted to assistant director of player personnel since the last draft. The title really doesn't communicate what his real function in the Dallas head office is: Make sure that everyone is on the same page with the 2014 draft board, and that there is no possibility of an apparent breakdown over what to do. That is what most perceive happened when Dallas went on the clock in 2013's first round with a highly-rated Sharrif Floyd still available, but elected to trade back. Judging from the faces and body language in the war room, this was a decision that had to be forced down a few throats.

McClay may be new to his job, but really he is doing the same thing he has been doing with Dallas since 2012: Find talent to put on the field. He just has a bigger stick to wield, and a broader area to wield it in. In essence, he is now the top person in the entire organization on making decisions about building the draft board and how it will be used - well, the top one not named Jerry Jones, of course.

Todd Archer has done a profile of McClay.

In Will McClay, Dallas Cowboys will be covered - ESPN

It is highly complimentary of McClay and his ability to find talent where others miss it. He gets credit for coming up with George Selvie and Nick Hayden, who the Cowboys had to rely on as starters last year as injury and, in the case of Jay Ratliff, rampant obstinacy devastated the defensive line. Selvie was certainly a success, and while Hayden was poorly ranked, he managed to start the entire season. Those are only a couple of the most recent finds for McClay, who hasn't just been involved in coming up with players like Laurent Robinson and Ernie Sims for Dallas. He was finding real gems back in his days as head coach of the Arena League Dallas Desperados, and even before that. His biggest discovery was Arena League quarterback Clint Dolozel, who played with different AFL teams from 1995 through 2008 and amassed over 44,000 yards passing and 931 touchdowns.

This is what the Cowboys are relying on him to do, and not just with the early, high-value selections. He also needs to come up with some real discoveries with those six picks in the seventh round. And, according to his former AFL assistant coach Terry Gray, he will.

"There is not a magic formula," Gray said. "It's just good, old-fashioned bust-your-ass hard work and lots and lots of tape. Lots of calls. Lots of research. Just looking at thousands of players until you find one you think fits for you. He's just got a very unique way knowing a football player when he sees one. That's commonly described by a lot of people, but he just knows it at a different level. It's more than just everybody saying, ‘He can't play.' It's Will finding guys that can play that no one considered.

"Will McClay is a machine. He's a film-watching, evaluating, researching machine. He just never stops and he will never stop."

All signs are that McClay has been given the authority and clout to get it done, and he may well be almost unstoppable.

Almost. Because, like everyone even remotely associated with the Dallas Cowboys, he still has to answer to Jerry Jones. And Jerry Jones still has that general manager title, which he makes no bones about.

McClay may still have to deal with a difference of opinion with the Boss. It is a factor that you can never completely discount, but I think McClay has a few things going for him that may help him succeed. First of all, there was that video from the war room last season. If I was McClay, I would have sent a copy around to all the major players involved on the Dallas staff, and found some way to make Jerry watch it on the big screen in AT&T Stadium. He should hammer home the idea that this must not happen again, and that HE is the man to make sure it doesn't. Get the buy-in now, make sure everyone understands what will happen in almost any given situation (especially the first round, where they should be able to have gamed out almost every conceivable scenario in advance), and that everyone is on board.

The second is something that has a lot of weight with Jerry, and that is how far back McClay's ties with the Cowboys go. The Dallas Desperados are very much a part of the Jones empire, so McClay's time as part of the organization started in 2002. Based on the relationship Jones has with Jason Garrett, that is a factor very strongly in McClay's favor, and likely has a great deal of bearing on how much trust Jones will put in his council.

There is also the "smartest man in the room" theory with Jerry, that he listens more to those who he believes are more competent or better informed than he is. And McClay also fits this criteria to a T. Plus he puts in the work to back up his smarts, and that seems to impress Jerry as well.

And there is one final thing working for McClay: This is exactly what he was put into position to do. To me, there is some significance to the timing of his promotion. It happened shortly after the Floyd Affair. It is hard to imagine that this is not the precise reason for his getting this job, and I can't see it happening without Jerry Jones being fully involved, even if the idea may have come from one of his other key employees (Stephen Jones and Jason Garrett are always the usual suspects in these things.)

My feeling about this is pretty good. I think the Cowboys are going to have a very good draft with McClay's guidance. I think the team is going to get better, and the coaches are going to be able to do some good things with the new players they get.

Now, if the draft will just get here already.

Follow me @TomRyleBTB

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