The draft is now less than a month away. For the fans of the Dallas Cowboys, most of the focus has been on their first-round pick, the fourth overall in the draft. The player taken with that selection will set the tone of the draft. It is the first domino to fall, and affects every subsequent pick. They not only want to get an absolute home run with that first -round player, they want to get as much as they can out of all their picks, something they have not always done of late.
The Cowboys have a lot of draft capital to work with this year, since they picked up four compensatory picks and now have nine slots overall. It is a bit saddening to think about what they might have had if they had not gotten involved in what look like some ill-advised trades last year. They swapped their fifth-rounder for the sixth-round pick of the Oakland Raiders, and traded their own sixth-round pick to the San Francisco 49ers and their seventh-round pick to the Seattle Seahawks. All they have left to show from all those moves is tight end Geoff Swaim and Brice Butler.
Something that should be noted is that the Cowboys have not even started the actual building of their draft board. According to writers like Bryan Broaddus, that begins on April 11th. Right now, the team is involved in private workouts and extending invitations for their 30 official national visits and the Dallas Day visits for players who lived and went to high school in the Dallas area or attended the local colleges, TCU, SMU, and North Texas. The players that are brought into Dallas on those 30 "official" visits are names that we watch with interest (and search all sources to uncover, since the team does not release the names). In past years, the first-round pick and many of the players taken later in the draft come from those names.
The team will have its own ideas about how to rank and slot the players they put on their board, and will of course keep that information to themselves. Our speculations, as well as those of all the many writers and draftniks doing mocks, are not necessarily what the team will do. But right now, there are a handful of names that are seen as options for the Cowboys to take.
The only name that there is something of a consensus on as a real option for the Cowboys at four is cornerback Jalen Ramsey, who could also wind up going the Byron Jones route and seeing some work at safety if he lands in Dallas. However, he is also generally seen as one of the top two or three players in the entire draft, which unfortunately brings the risk that he can be taken before the Cowboys go on the clock. Besides him, there are a handful of other names that have become likely suspects: Running back Ezekiel Elliott, linebacker Myles Jack, defensive end Joey Bosa, and the trio of top quarterbacks, Jared Goff, Paxton Lynch, and Carson Wentz. All have arguments against them as Dallas' first pick, but there are also reasons to take one of them, as well.
The quarterbacks are a bit confusing when you read what various analysts and draftniks have to say about them. All have their supporters as the best this year. The Cowboys are also likely to have competition for any of them, particularly the Cleveland Browns, who pick second. Other teams may try to trade up into the first- or third-overall pick if they think they can get that elusive franchise passer, the most precious commodity in the NFL. And of course, Dallas still has Tony Romo, who is going to be the starter this season and hopefully for a few years past that. But with his injury history, the Cowboys have to consider getting his replacement if they believe he is available. If they don't, they still have to worry about getting a better backup than Kellen Moore. While they might also get a veteran, it is still a good bet that they would look for another quarterback in the later rounds if they don't take one at four.
But that is a problem. Despite the occasional examples of quarterbacks taken later in the draft who go on to great success, like Tom Brady and Russell Wilson, the statistics show that the chance of viability for QBs taken after the first round, even as a backup, is not good. Most of those don't last at all. Teams are much more likely to get a solid player in the second round and later at any other position. Barring trades, the Cowboys have four picks between 34 and 135. And this year, the draft is a little light on elite, or first-round, talent, but much deeper in the second and third rounds.
That is why Dallas' wisest move might be to pull the trigger on a quarterback at four. It is dependent, of course, on them believing that Goff, Lynch, or Wentz can be a franchise quarterback after sitting a year or two behind Romo. And with the often expressed view of Jerry Jones that Romo may have four or five more years, the four years on a first-round contract, with an option to lock the player in for a fifth, would be crucial to ensure the team had their quarterback when the inevitable day comes that Romo is gone. Not only does this give them a plan of succession there, it also keeps them from having to use a pick later in the draft on a quarterback, which has a very high probability of becoming a wasted pick that could have been used on a player with a much greater chance of being a contributor. Even if it means that Dallas would pass on a standout like Ramsey, they would have a much better chance of getting a talented and valuable defensive back later than if they waited until after the first round to address the quarterback position.
Of course, this is the way it looks right now, and it all depends on how the staff evaluates the players involved. But if the Cowboys want to get the most out of the draft, using the first pick on a quarterback they believe in may be the most effective way to use all their picks in 2016.