The debate is ongoing and at times heated. Who should the Dallas Cowboys take with the fourth overall pick of the draft? Arguments have been advanced for several players, yet it seems like there are counterarguments for each one. And there may be a good reason for that. The 2016 NFL Draft is shaping up to be fairly weak at the top. Getting a good return on the amount of draft capital expended at a given spot seems to be easier this year after the first half of the first round.
This might make trading back the best option for Dallas, but that is going to require a willing partner. Specifically, a partner that sees someone as more attractive for them than the Cowboys do.
Here are the top prospects in the draft that have been mentioned in various mocks and discussions. They are discussed in the order used in Bob Rang's Big Board on CBS Sports.
Laremy Tunsil, OT, Mississippi. He is seen as the top talent in the draft by several experts, but there is also a concern that he is not truly ready for the pro game. This is partly an issue with the huge divergence between college and pro offenses in recent years. Dallas also has the issue of already having arguably the best left tackle in the league in Tyron Smith, playing on one of the top offensive lines, and a seasoned, still capable right tackle in Doug Free. Using the fourth pick on such a luxury player would be wasteful.
Jalen Ramsey, CB/FS, Florida State. His proponents in the Cowboys' fan base are legion, and vocal. The biggest problem is that he is main competitor for Tunsil as the best overall talent in the draft, and it is very likely he is gone before Dallas ever goes on the clock. Additionally, the sense is that the Cowboys would draft him primarily as a safety, and that is a position that is seen as not really one you use a premium pick on. This is the same argument used to dismiss the idea of taking a running back at four, but is seldom mentioned, certainly not as vociferously as the running back objection.
Myles Jack, OLB, UCLA. He is recovering from a knee injury, and there are some hints that Dallas may be a bit worried about that. He would basically be competing with Sean Lee for a starting job, which makes him a very expensive backup at four. And linebacker is another position that is not seen as a good fit for a premium pick, which is to say it is not one of the "money five" (QB, edge rusher, blindside pass protector, WR, and CB).
Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State. The Cowboys definitely need more pass rush, but rookies don't often deliver much in that department. And there are some rumbles among national reporters that the Cowboys are not as high on Bosa as many others, possibly centering around questions about just how much desire to excel is there.
Jared Goff, QB, California. He's skinny and has teeny hands, which of course immediately disqualify him. Seriously, the big issue Dallas has is using that fourth-overall pick for a player who will cost a relatively high amount to (hopefully) sit on the bench for a couple of years behind Tony Romo. And right now the opinions of all three of the top quarterbacks are all over the place, from what order they should be in to whether any of them are true franchise quarterbacks. The Cowboys would have to be absolutely sure on that latter point to take any QB at four.
Carson Wentz, QB, North Dakota State. There is the small school argument, and some question his ability to read the field quickly enough to thrive at the pro level. All the general issues about a quarterback also come into play with him, although he does have nice, big hands.
DeForest Buckner, DE, Oregon. If there is a player that seems to be rising on the draft boards (at least the ones in the media), it is Buckner. But again, rookie pass rushers do not tend to produce well. And one thing he is not seen as having is elite explosiveness, which is something that Rod Marinelli looks for. That is evidenced by the signing of free agent Cedric Thornton to replace Marinelli favorite Nick Hayden.
Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State. Do you like a good fight? Just throw out an opinion on taking Elliott at four, and sit back to watch the sparks fly. No player has been as divisive as a potential pick for the Cowboys at four as Zeke. One side maintains he would have the biggest impact for Dallas of any player in the draft, even though he would also not be seen as the best running back in either the 2015 or 2017 draft classes. The other side absolutely reels at the idea of taking a runner in the top five in today's pass-oriented NFL, especially with the signing of Alfred Morris to bolster the corps in Dallas.
Ronnie Stanley, OT, Notre Dame. Everything about Tunsil applies here, and Stanley is seen as less effective in the run game, which doesn't help him with the Cowboys.
Laquon Treadwell, WR, Mississippi. Another draftnik, Dane Brugler, described him as "a less-dynamic version of Dez Bryant". Not exactly what you want to spend a top-five pick on when you already have the real deal.
Those are the top ten on Rang's list. One other name that may be in the mix for the Cowboys is Paxton Lynch, the Memphis QB, given the wide difference of opinion on who is really the best among the top three. But again, many of the same arguments against Goff and Wentz apply here.
All this makes the idea of a trade back so attractive, because some of these players that don't appear to be such great fits for the top five of the draft look like much better values in the second five, or down in the middle of the first round. This year's draft class also looks to be stronger in the second and third round than it is at the top, which makes the extra picks received in a trade back valuable. Although the Cowboys may see players in this group that they absolutely want to take at four, there are certainly questions about that. The Great Debacle of 2015 gave them a lot of draft capital this year, and it is imperative that they maximize what they get out of it. Trading back may be the best way to do that - if someone else sees the talent this year differently.