In our most recent pre-draft podcast, I shared that one of the potential problems I anticipated in this year's draft was that the Cowboys could well be "chasing" running backs and defensive ends all weekend. What I meant by this was that, since the top runners and pass rushers were likely to be picked before pick #27 in round one and then to go off the board roughly between picks 34-50 in round two, there didn't appear to be that much sought-after intersection of value and need at the positions. As a consequence, the Cowboys would have to 1) spend draft capital to trade up; 2) reach for the best player at the next tier, thus not maximizing value or 3) get lucky.
As it turns out, the Cowboys' brass felt as if the position they would be chasing wasn't defensive end or running back but cornerback. In their end-of-the-night presser, Jerry Jones told the assembled reporters that the Cowboys:
...thought we could live if we didn't strike well at pass rusher...we thought we could live if we didn't strike well at running back. The place where we did not think that we would feel good and sleep right is if we didn't do something there in our secondary at corner...
The Cowboys were lucky, Jones noted, not to have had Scandrick or Carr suffer an injury last season, intimating that such luck cannot be counted on in future. Hence, the need not only for a corner, but for a top-shelf corner.
Earlier in the presser, the men at the podium were asked whether the UConn product was a first-rounder on their board. Jones the Elder hemmed and hawed for a bit before saying Jones the Corner was one of the top fifteen or sixteen players on Dallas' board. The fact that Jerry didn't come out and say that Byron was a first-rounder suggest to me that he was probably the top second-rounder (which makes sense if we consider that Dallas reportedly had 18 first round grades, but that players such as Randy Gregory, Shane Ray and Marcus Peters might have been put in the box in the interim). At any rate, CB Jones was certainly the last of the top-tier corners on their board, and the assembled braintrust were clearly relieved that he dropped to them.
For Jones to drop all the way to the 27th pick required a good bit of luck. The Cowboys caught a series of breaks in the first round that helped to push not only Jones but several other players of interest their way. Let's review the first 26 picks; I've assembled a table that does just that below, and I've struck a line through the players who were either off their board (due to position fit or being a "box" player) or were at a position that they would have preferred not to draft in round one (QB, WR and OL). Check it out:
|Picks 1-13||Picks 14-26|
|3||JAX||Dante Fowler, Jr.||16||HOU|
Of the 26 picks in front of them, sixteen were players that likely made the Cowboys war room say, "No problem. We didn't want him at 27 anyway." Particularly noteworthy are the picks between twelve and 24. Just as players of interest - Todd Gurley and Trae Waynes - began to fall off the board, thus threatening a run at those positions, nine of the the next thirteen teams obliged the Cowboys by picking offensive linemen, wide receivers, box players or 3-4 defenders. That's a pretty sweet Cowboys-friendly run.
And the Cowboys seemed to recognize it as such. In the presser, Jerry admitted that: "we didn't have any intelligence that he'd be there at all," conceding that "It was hard waiting...we were fortunate." As Jerry intimated in a comment about "crosshairs" and our friend neithan20000 wrote about earlier today, Jones represents the hoped-for intersection of need and value. So, a team anxious about chasing cornerbacks all draft sat patiently and found the last of the top-tier guys (and by far the most explosive and athletic of the bunch) in their laps at 27, thus ending the chase before it had a chance to get desperate.
And it looks as if this run of luck might just continue. One of the benefits of the aforementioned runs on offensive linemen and wide receivers is that other defensive players were pushed down boards. Lets revisit the "little board," comprised of players in whom the Cowboys have expressed interest, that I offered in my final pre-draft post yesterday. Once again, I've used the strike-through method, this time to designate the players who were drafted in round one:
|QB||Brett Hundley||Bryce Petty||Sean Mannion||Chris Bonner
|Garrett Grayson||Hutson Mason|
|RB||Jay Ayaji||T.J. Yeldon||Javorius Allen|
|WR||Dorial Green-Beckham||Devin Smith||Chris Conley||Ty Montgomery||George Farmer|
|OT||Daryl Williams||Tyrus Thompson||Laurence Gibson||Jeremiah Poutasi||Ian Silberman|
|LDE||Owamagbe Odighizuwa||Frank Clark|
|Mario Edwards, Jr.|
|3T||Carl Davis||Chucky Hunter|
|ILB||Eric Kendricks||Bernardrick McKinney (DE?)
|CB||Jalen Collins||Josh Shaw||Kevin White||JaCorey Shepherd||Tray Walker|
A quick glance at this, and we see a fairly pristine board, with only eight Dallas faves no longer available. Look at the 4-3 defensive ends that remain: Randy Gregory, Owa Odighizuwa, Eli Harold, Preston Smith, Danielle Hunter, and Mario Edwards, Jr. All the second tier runners - Tevin Coleman, Duke Johnson, Jay Ajayi, Ameer Abdullah, T.J. Yeldon - remain undrafted. and, finally, a couple of second-round linebackers are still available.
The fact that this many players of interest remain on the board increases the likelihood that the Cowboys won't have to explore the unsavory options outlined at the top of this article: spend draft capital to trade up or reach for the best player at the next tier, thus not maximizing value. And their chances of the third option - get lucky - bump up with every offensive lineman, nose tackle, quarterback, cornerback, and tight end taken. Indeed, Stephen Jones notes in last night's press conference that they expect to be able to choose from a handful of names in the coming rounds.
So, what should we expect to see tonight? It seems pretty clear that the Cowboys' primary targets in rounds two and three will be defensive end and running back. Which of those positions they choose in which of the two rounds will likely depend on which position is richer when they are on the board at #60. It might be the case that a defensive end they have rated highly is still there, but they have to opt for a running back because the likelihood of a good runner being available at pick #91 is slimmer than, say, Frank Clark still sitting there. The day two key lies not in the second but in the third round; the Cowboys must follow what unfolds and make an accurate judgement about where they can get the most value in round three
That said, if the first round trend reverses once teams have had a night to sleep on it, don't be shocked if the Cowboys select a wideout or offensive lineman tonight. In particular, there are some receivers who might be too good to pass up: Devin Smith would be a steal at #60, and how could they pass up Dorial Green-Beckham if he falls into the mid- to late second? Would T.J. Clemmings offer value at the end of round two? You bet your sweet bippy he would.
Still, if I had to place a wager on the players who will be on the Cowboys' short list at #60, I would stick with the usual suspects: running backs and defensive ends. The guys most likely to be around are Danielle Hunter, Ameer Abdullah and T.J. Yeldon. If I had to make a bet, I'd say they'll opt for one of the running backs, if only because of the existence of Frank Clark. Clark is their ace in the hole; they like him, but believe he'll be there in the third round, which makes their defensive end chase much less desperate. With a sharp knife to my throat, then, I'd say the two collegians who become Cowboys tonight are Yeldon and Clark.
Which, of course, means that neither of them will...
How about you, BTB nation? Which terrific twosome do you think will be wearing the star by close of business?