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Finding An Impact Player In The NFL Draft: Why The Cowboys Have A Tough Challenge At Four

Dallas has a great opportunity with their high position in the draft, but cashing in on it is hard.

Sometimes you don't need a top five pick to get a superstar.
Sometimes you don't need a top five pick to get a superstar.
Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

The argument will rage until the draft, and probably well beyond it. Should the Dallas Cowboys take a quarterback with the fourth-overall pick in the NFL Draft? Would it be wiser or safer to go with another position if that player is the highest one on their draft board? The hope is that they will not be in such a favorable position on draft day anytime in the near future. If this does turn out to be a truly rare opportunity for them, then they need to make the most of it.

I just took a look at how the Cowboys might be able to trade back and gain more quality draft picks. That was intended more to further the conversation about what decision the team might take rather than advocating one option as better than the other. Some feel, not without reason, that they should be trying to go for a real "game-changer" with that pick. This put the position concisely.

Certainly a valid stance. However, upon reflection, it is very hard to predict who is going to be a game-changer coming out of college. There have been many players who have looked like a sure thing, only to fall very short of that. Jadeveon Clowney is one recent example. He was taken first overall by the Houston Texans, a move that few argued with based on how he was evaluated coming out of college. But due to injury and possibly also because he may just not have been as good as thought, he has not lived up to that first pick. He may still redeem himself, but right now, he has not provided the impact he should have.

The fact is, it is hard to predict who will be that real game-changer. While some of the players that go on to true Hall of Fame careers are taken in the first five picks, other come from later in the draft - sometimes much later.

The reason quarterback is part of the discussion for the Cowboys is that it is the position that is most often a true game-changer in the NFL. Admittedly, taking a quarterback would be planning on getting the payoff down the road instead of right away, but the basic principle still applies. It is illustrative to look at the top quarterbacks in the league right now. Although it is certainly subjective, six of the top quarterbacks at the moment are Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Cam NewtonAaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, and Russell Wilson. All were playing last week, and three of them are in the division championship games. Look at where they were taken in the draft.

Brady - Certainly the most successful quarterback in the league right now, he was not taken until the sixth round.

Manning - Taken first overall, he has certainly lived up to his draft pick. While he has not been as dominant in winning championships as Brady, he is unquestionably one of the best field generals the league has ever seen.

Newton - Also taken first overall, he is one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in the league and is also very young when compared to most of the other names on the list.

Rodgers - He was not taken until the 24th overall selection.

Roethelisberger - He was taken with the eleventh overall pick.

Wilson - Lasted until the third round.

Of these six outstanding quarterbacks, two were taken first overall, two were taken later in the first round, and two were late-round jewels. Of course, the Cowboys know all about finding a franchise quarterback without using a top draft pick. Tony Romo is one of the most accomplished UDFAs in the history of the league, even given his lack of playoff success.

It casts a good bit of doubt on the idea that you have to use a top-five draft pick to find a franchise quarterback. Even if you include Andrew Luck as an example of how to use a first-overall pick, the best quarterbacks currently in the league still are more likely to come from outside the top ten of the draft. (Luck is also evidence that a top passer cannot get it done without a good team around him.)

And going beyond just the quarterback position, there are plenty of other true impact players that were taken outside the top five. The Cowboys have one on their team. Tyron Smith is arguably the best player they have. Some think he is even better than that.

He was taken ninth overall by the Cowboys in 2011. Two selections later, the Texans took the best player they currently have, J.J. Watt. High draft picks, but clearly real impact players are found outside the top five spots in the draft.

The question is obviously not whether a team wants to get a true impact player in the top five picks of the draft. It is whether the team can get it right. Given some of the examples above, sometimes it is more about how well the scouting department does than anything else. It also is driven at times by how the needs/scheme of the team mesh with the available players.

Right now, we are are looking at the draft prospects and trying to find the one we think is a sure thing. But that is not an easy call to make. It actually is very, very difficult, even for people who are paid and who have access to all the video and other resources teams use that we can only imagine. There are no obvious answers. We can just hope that when the Cowboys do send a name up to the podium, they have taken the right one.

Follow me @TomRyleBTB

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