The Dallas Cowboys have stood pat and held on to their picks, drafting at the top of each of three rounds. they have gotten their man at every turn, including two of their top 5 overall players according to Jerry Jones.
So why do so many Cowboys fans feel anxious or upset? The high price of Ezekiel Elliott and the high risk of Jaylon Smith are a lot to stomach in back-to-back picks, especially when there are much greater perceived needs going unfulfilled in the mean time. Particularly galling to some Cowboys fans is the fact that Jaylon Smith probably does not play in 2016 (though don't tell him that) and so he provides no immediate help. Finally addressing a deep need at defensive line with third-round pick Maliek Collins seems like mere table scraps to many 'Boys fans and some even seem to be taking it as an affront . "We could've had immediate playmakers at 34" goes the refrain.
But this is an error in thinking, exacerbated perhaps by the seeming "win now"attitude embodied in the Elliott pick. A draft strategy is not a monolithic and one-dimensional thing. Picking a player that will pay immediate dividends does not mean that you must pick only players that pay immediate dividends. Nor does picking a player that pays immediate dividends mean that there's no long-term payoff. Ezekiel Elliott should be the running back for the Cowboys for five prime years, and perhaps longer, as he will only be 27 in week 1 of his sixth NFL season -- certainly young enough to extend if he's the player we all hope him to be. But that doesn't mean that the future value of Jaylon Smith is simply erased because the Cowboys have to "win now". And the future value of Jaylon Smith is extremely high, presuming he recovers. Make no mistake, when he sets foot on that field, the Dallas defense immediately gets significantly better.
Which means I was wrong about linebacker. I heard all the ugly rumors about Smith's surgery and assumed he was off the Cowboys' board. But he absolutely and dramatically improves this linebacker group, especially in pass coverage.and edge contain. Having he and Lee together should be a treat to watch if we ever do. We can only hope that the Cowboys understanding of the prognosis for Smith is accurate, but given that team head physician Dr, Dan Cooper is the one who performed the surgery it should be as accurate as anyone can get,
So that's two positions that were not all that needy to begin with erased from contention. And a third one addressed in the third round. Maliek Collins is a 3-tech tackle who's quick first step and deep penetration playing style have drawn comparisons to Henry Melton. To my untrained eye, he occasionally resembles Aaron Donlad, though far less consistent and with less overall speed. But he does have that same kind of explosion both off the line and heading for the QB once he gets free. Collins definitely fills a position of need: upgrading the Dallas pass rush both as a rotational player himself, and by allowing current 3-techs Tyrone Crawford, Jack Crawford, and David Irving to take snaps at defensive end while waiting for Randy Gregory and DeMarcus Lawrence to return from their suspensions. While this pick directly addresses an immediate need, the Cowboys still resisted taking an edge rusher, even though they had the opportunity to draft Noah Spence at 34. There are some project defensive ends still available like Appalachian State's Ronald Blair and Dallas may yet draft one, but it's hard to project any fourth-round player on as actually addressing an immediate need. Be aware that these picks are probably going to be made with an eye toward the future and look for things like:
Dak Prescott and Connor Cook are still on the board along with some lesser known prospects. With Romo aging and no back up in sight, Dallas may take a flyer on one of them. Cook, having played in an NFL system, is probably the most game ready and offers the best chance to challenge Kellen Moore for the primary back up spot, Of course, he was rumored to be a first-round pick and one has to wonder why he has fallen so far, with a kicker and North Carolina State's Jacoby Brissett both going ahead of him.
Witten was unable to help last year's back up QBs the way he did John Kitna in 2010. Gavin Escobar has never broken out (though I believe this had as much to do with the QB merry-go-round last year as anything) and is coming off a major injury. James Hanna has been retained for a year, but has remained a journeyman. Newcomer Geoff Swain remains a barely known quantity. Maybe the Cowboys snatch Jerrell Adams from South Carolina.
There are a couple of well-regarded strong safety types (with Byron Jones officially the starting free safety) remaining in Jeremy Cash and Miles Killebrew. Cash is from Duke, and so perhaps Coach Garrett's fandom there made them look a little closer. Upgrading from Barry Church isn't a necessity (or maybe even a probability) but it might save Dallas some cap space at the same time and could be nice.
The Cowboys always keep developmental Wide Receivers coming. South Carolina's Pharoh Cooper is probably the highest rated one, but I think Tajae Sharpe from UMass fits their profile better.
While the Cowboys are fairly well set here, a little competition for Joe Looney or Chaz Green wouldn't hurt. Jerald Hawkins of LSU took over for La'el Collins and is now, himself available. Or, if you wanted a more athletic prospect who needs to build up his strength, Joe Haeg followed his QB, Carson Wentz, into the draft.
And, of course
Anyone taken in these rounds is likely to be a project corner, but it's worth noting that Orlando Scandrick, Richard Sherman, and Josh Norman were all fifth-round picks, so maybe Dallas should nab this year's version at 135. Only thing is, I couldn't tell you who that player is.
And neither could anyone else, or the player wouldn't make it to the fifth round.