While the reactions to the selection of Byron Jones by the Dallas Cowboys in the first round of the NFL Draft have been almost overwhelmingly positive (except for dismayed fans of their rivals and one noticeable outlier in the media), the most important thing is how Jerry Jones and company did compared to the rest of their division. All indications so far are that the early returns show them taking the lead in the NFC East after the first round.
Of course we have to consider the obligatory caveat that draft grades issued before any of the rookies have even practiced, much less played in a real game, are fairly meaningless. That never stops us from analyzing things. And when you look at the draft picks across the division, it becomes apparent that there is a bit of a "follow the leader" going on.
Washington was the first division team to go on the clock with the fifth pick overall. (A complete list of all selections is available here.) They took OT Brandon Scherff from Iowa, who was a minor reach based on most boards (I use the CBS Sports board based on its usefulness and accuracy in the past.) However, he filled a key need and was a top 10 talent in a draft that was relatively weak in blue chip players, as well as being the best offensive linemen overall. They averaged out as the second best among NFC East teams by a narrow margin, indicating that adult supervision may finally be taking effect for Dan Snyder's team.
The New York Giants also went with an offensive tackle, taking Ereck Flowers out of Miami (Florida). This was a more obvious reach for need over best player, since the Giants picked ninth, but Flowers was generally seen as being somewhere in the 20 to 30 range as far as overall talent. They also passed on Andrus Peat, who was generally ranked several spots ahead of Flowers. This led to the Giants getting the weakest grades in the division.
Taking offensive linemen with your first round pick and building that as the foundation of your team. Where have we seen that before? Oh, yeah. Tyron Smith. Travis Frederick. Zack Martin. Three of the last four Dallas picks. And Frederick was thought to be something of a reach by many obvious outsiders. It looks like the success the Cowboys had in winning the NFC East behind their three All Pro linemen had a real impact on the thinking of two of their main rivals.
Of course, the Philadelphia Eagles went their own way under the dominant football genius that is Chip Kelly, taking wide receiver Nelson Agholor with the 20th selection. Apparently Kelly decided that since even he quailed at the price being asked to trade up to the first or second spot to get his dream of having Marcus Mariota (or Marioto, according to Roger Goodell), he might as well get another target for Sam Bradford, or Tim Tebow, or whoever he winds up using to run his offense. It doesn't really matter since his genius will still be the driving force behind the team that continues to make a case that the rest of the NFL doesn't know jack (including the Eagles' fanbase, judging by their reactions to the pick). Agholor was also seen as a reach at that spot, ranking as a second-round talent on most boards. The Eagles were seen as coming in third in the division by a narrow margin.
But it wasn't just the Cowboys' rivals that seemed to have learned something from the previous draft successes in Dallas. They also seemed to have learned a lesson, particularly from last year, when they sat at 16 and then took the best player on their board in Zack Martin, despite having many pressing needs on defense. At 27, they were looking at a much longer gauntlet to run and still get one of the players they really wanted, but as the teams ahead of them focused more on offensive line and wide receiver than any other positions, they saw Byron Jones getting closer and closer. They also had two linebackers they considered viable options for their pick, Erik Kendricks and Benardrick McKinney (Randy Gregory was reportedly not on their board for the first round), but Jones was seen as both the best talent and greatest need. By being patient and not squandering picks to move up, they hit on a player that they really wanted. They also got what appears to be a great fit all the way around and someone that impressed them greatly when they talked to him.
While Chip Kelly seems committed to his unique and unconventional vision, the rest of the division seems to be convinced that Jerry Jones and his staff got that Executive of the Year award for good reason. And the process just gains more momentum in Dallas. It is still to early to know for sure if this will pay off in the long run, but right now the signs are all pointing in the right direction.