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Dallas Draft Strategy: Building A Plan For The Fourth Pick

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The Cowboys have more draft capital than they have had in a very long time. Getting their first-round selection is key to making it count.

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With free agency taking a pause for the weekend, we have a better idea of where the Dallas Cowboys stand as they look forward to the NFL Draft. They have taken some significant steps in filling holes on the roster. That is always a big goal, and they have mainly focused on re-signing the more important of their own free agents. They also have added Cedric Thornton to shore up the interior of their defensive line. Failure to add a defensive end or a backup quarterback still casts a shadow over things, but there is still time to continue to address those pressing needs. For now, it appears the team should still be able to follow the plan of drafting the best player available, taking scheme and fit into account. Now the question is how that will translate into the card they send up on the first day.

At first glance, it would appear to be simple. Line up the top four players on their board, then take the highest one remaining. Easy peasy.

But it really is not that clear-cut. There are other things to take into account that may make it harder. This is an analysis of how things may stack up for them. While this tries to deal with some basic principles that should drive things, it also deals with some speculation on how players may wind up ranked on the real Dallas draft board.

To begin with, who are the top four players for Dallas? After digesting all the different breakdowns of prospects and the many, sometimes contradictory statements from the Dallas staff, here is what may be developing.

Number one. Again, this is a personal opinion, but it looks like there is one clear player with can't miss potential that also would fit perfectly for the Cowboys, and that is defensive back Jalen Ramsey. With the re-signings of Morris Claiborne and Josh Thomas,  the return of Orlando Scandrick from injury, and still having Brandon Carr on the roster while the team waits to find out what Nolan Carroll will do, Ramsey would be a target to pair with second-year player Byron Jones as a starting safety, relegating Barry Church to backup status. Ramsey may not be the starter on day one, but like Jones, he will be in short order. This also may put Church or J.J. Wilcox at real risk of not making the 53-man roster this year.

The next three. There is a lot of room for debate about these three names, and the order they are in.

Myles Jack is as talented a linebacker as Ramsey is a defensive back, but he does have an injury he is recovering from. All indications are that he is ready to go, but we cannot know what the Cowboys' own medical staff has decided there. If they have also concluded he is good, then Jack is clearly part of this equation.

Joey Bosa is the top pass rusher available, but he is not as certain a prospect as either Ramsey or a healthy Jack. Additionally, rookie pass rushers historically just do not produce. What the Cowboys have to guard against is overvaluing him due to need. And even though the team strives to avoid that, it is still something that is in their minds, no matter how hard they fight it.

Ezekiel Elliott is right there with Ramsey and Jack as far as talent at his position. It is that position that affects his ranking for the Cowboys. Running back is just not seen as valuable as it used to be, and some feel he should not be an option at four just because of that. The counter-argument is that he may be the draft prospect this year who is most certain to have immediate impact. Factor in the offensive line he would be running behind in Dallas and expectations for a revitalized passing game with Tony Romo and Dez Bryant back at full speed, and he could be a shoo-in for rookie of the year.

Although these are my top four players for the Cowboys, the team may have a very different list. Here are the possible candidates to supplant one or more:

Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, and Paxton Lynch. The remarks from the Dallas brain trust, particularly Jerry Jones, indicate that the Cowboys are not looking at drafting a quarterback at four. That may be all a smokescreen, but in the past, the Cowboys have not been so devious with their remarks prior to the draft. Still, the team may find that one of the top three quarterbacks fits there, and there are still analysts arguing the merits of all three. However, this just looks unlikely.

Laremy Tunsil has been called the best player in the draft, but as an offensive tackle, he brings an issue that the quarterbacks also all share. The college game has diverged so severely from the pro style offense that players come into the NFL without adequate training or skill sets. It is doubtful that the Cowboys would see drafting a player to take Doug Free's place with the fourth pick as a valid move, anyway.

DeForest Buckner and Shaq Lawson both might provide help with the pass rush, and some have suggested that either of them might be a better fit for the Cowboys than Bosa. However, they would still be rookie pass rushers and not likely to produce much. Most analysts still rate Bosa as better, and it is likely that Dallas does as well. At least one mock has the Cowboys taking Buckner after Bosa goes before their spot in the draft, but that smacks too much of drafting for need. They might have one pass rusher in the top four, but it seems highly unlikely they would have two.

Laquon Treadwell is the top receiver in the draft, which is one of the "money" positions. That could make him a top four player, and the idea of having him line up opposite Dez Bryant is not only somewhat scary, but he would also be built in insurance if Bryant should miss some games. However, he would be the definition of a luxury pick.

But even if the top four players for the Cowboys are identified, there is another factor that has to be considered. The Cowboys use a type of tier rating system for their boards that breaks rounds down. With the fourth-overall pick, they in effect need to have a "super tier" of players that they feel are legitimately worth the pick. And frankly, it is likely that they might draw a line after only three or perhaps even two names and decide that they would prefer a trade back if those top names are gone.

For this exercise, Bosa and Elliott would appear to be the players who might not meet the criteria for Dallas. They would still be a valid pick if there was no trading partner available, but there are a lot of teams with situations that may make a quarterback, offensive tackle, or even a wide receiver a target for trading up. For that matter, a player that the Cowboys would not see as worthy of a fourth-overall pick might look like just the ticket to someone else.

It is just speculation, but based on what I have been able to garner, I think the Cowboys may well be going into the draft with as few as two players they have zero reservations about taking at four, Ramsey and Jack. There is certainly a real chance that both might be off the board by then. If so, then Tunsil or two of the three quarterbacks are still in play, and suddenly the chance of finding a trade partner should go up. They still might not find one, and Elliott and Bosa both are really good consolation prizes (and if the Cowboys have three names they want at four, there are some real reasons for it to be Elliott over Bosa, at least in my mind), but it will be interesting to see if the war room starts working the phones should Ramsey and Jack both get taken in the first three selections. If they can make a trade back of only a few spots, perhaps staying in the top ten, then some of those secondary names would be in play.

Ideally, Ramsey will slide through and be the pick, but if he or Jack don't, things might get very, very interesting.

Follow me @TomRyleBTB