On day one of the NFL Draft, the Dallas Cowboys took one of the safest players in the entire draft in Ezekiel Elliott. No matter what else people think about him, they all expect him to see great, perhaps epic, success behind the Dallas offensive line. Maybe that gave them the confidence or courage or just plain chutzpah to take a real plunge with pick 34 in the second round, selecting linebacker Jaylon Smith, who is expected to be on injured reserve for the entire 2016 season as he recovers from a devastating knee injury. No one can be 100% certain he will ever play again, but obviously the Cowboys are making a substantial bet that he can.
What is troubling is that the front office took a player for the future when the team needs some defensive upgrades today. The way the second round played out may have driven things. The Browns took Emmanuel Ogbah and the Titans selected Kevin Dodd, two defensive ends that were both seen as targets for the Cowboys at 34. And it appeared that the war room was working on a trade back once both of those were gone.
Before the #Cowboys picked #ND LB Jaylon Smith, they came thisclose to trading with the #Bears before it fell apart.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) April 29, 2016
Perhaps it was just a change of direction for the Bears, because they would subsequently trade back in the round.
The Smith pick is about as high risk and high reward as can be imagined. It is likely to be either a wasted second round slot or will yield a player that was seen by many to be the best player in the entire draft before his injury. The Cowboys may be banking on the fact that their own team physician, orthopedic surgeon Dr. Dan Cooper, did Smith's surgery, so they likely have as much information on the probability of his recovering as anyone on the planet. And there were at least some indications that there were other teams thinking about taking Smith in the second round, according to some reports on Twitter. It still seems an odd choice to make with so many defensive line players still available.
The selection now means that the team is not expected to have their three most recent second-round picks available to start the season.
Demarcus Lawrence (suspended), Randall Gregory (character ?s) and Jaylon Smith (out for the year) the #Cowboys last three second rounders.— Eric Galko (@OptimumScouting) April 29, 2016
It does , however, fit in with the history of taking either injury or character risks in the second round or trading it away.
Sean Lee, Bruce Carter, Trade up For Mo Claiborne Trade Up for Demarcus Lawrence, and Randy Gregory.— CowboysTalkLine (@CowboysTalkLine) April 30, 2016
Dallas has just not been very effective with its second-round picks in recent years. That may turn around in 2017, but it is not going to look very good at all this fall.
The Cowboys at least got a player that should be available to start the season in the third round, taking 3-tech DT Maliek Collins out of Nebraska. For those who aren't familiar with him (probably most of you), here is a thumbnail profile.
From @dpbrugler scouting report: Collins lined up mostly at 3-tech DT for the Huskers and was the team’s top defensive player last 2 seasons— Charean Williams (@NFLCharean) April 30, 2016
And some outside observers think it is a pretty good pick (although you can make your own judgement on the source).
The Cowboys get an A- for pick of Nebraska DT Maliek Collins: https://t.co/6kegdJIumi. Potential to be a disruptive interior pass-rusher— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) April 30, 2016
In an interview with the draft show at DallasCowboys.com, Collins revealed he had a workout with Leon Lett, which shows he has been on the radar a lot longer than most of us realized. And, no big surprise, he said that Dallas was the place he wanted to go. In the phone call from the war room, Rod Marinelli told Collins "You fit us to a T". That is somewhat encouraging.
Dallas did address the defense with both picks on day two, which was good. The problem was the status of Smith. If he does come back fully from his injury, it will almost certainly be seen as a brilliant pick. If he doesn't, well, you get it. Collins is apparently a solid if lesser known piece for the defensive line. And there is something both have in common with Zeke that reveals something about the desired profile for the Cowboys.
Zeke Elliott turns 21 on July 22— Cowboys Nation (@CowboysNation) April 30, 2016
Jaylon Smith turns 21 on June 14
Maliek Collins turned 21 on April 8
21 is younger than average at draft
In the rest of the action, it looks pretty clear that the Jaguars benefited hugely from picking just behind the Cowboys. They of course snatched up Jalen Ramsey on day one, and then two picks after Dallas took Smith, they got Myles Jack. It could be a stunning improvement for their defense if Jack is able to play up to his potential for several years.
Around the rest of the NFC East, the Giants had what looks to be a much better day than they did in the first round. They took wide receiver Sterling Shepard from Oklahoma at 40. He should be helpful with the health issues Victor Cruz is having. And with the 71st pick, they got safety Darian Thompson, their second defensive back after selecting Eli Apple in the first.
Philadelphia did not have a pick in the second round, because of the Carson Wentz trade. With the 79th pick, they took center Isaac Seumalo from Oregon State. The certainly can use some offensive line help, and it was noted on Twitter that he worked out with Wentz prior to the draft.
Washington took linebacker/safety tweener Su'a Cravens at 53. He is talented, but they will have to figure out how to utilize him properly. At 84 they picked CB Kendall Fuller, a solid-looking player. Like Dallas, they went all defense in the second after going offense with Josh Doctson in the first.
Fans of the Cowboys certainly did not have as much to cheer on day two as they did when Zeke was picked, but all three of their draft choices to date have high character and intelligence. Although Smith is a huge gamble, Collins is a solid pick at the spot and appears to have been selected primarily for how he fits Marinelli's defense. Once you get past the shock of the 34th pick, you can see how it could become a huge benefit for Dallas if Smith does recover.
And of real importance, the Cowboys did not take a quarterback in the first three rounds. Using a pick for a developmental passer after the third is probably a much easier thing to accept than if they had gotten Christian Hackenberg (drafted by the Jets) or Connor Cook before now. And a late-round run on other quarterbacks took Jacoby Brissett and Cody Kessler off the board. We will find out in the last four rounds just what Dallas does to address that, if anything.