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Cowboys 2016 Draft: Why "Best Player Available" Is Not That Simple

It is a phrase often repeated as the goal of the Cowboys, but it is a bit more complicated.

Will Jalen Ramsey be at the top of the Cowboys' draft board?
Will Jalen Ramsey be at the top of the Cowboys' draft board?
Glenn Beil-USA TODAY Sports

Best player available. We have heard it often from the brain trust of the Dallas Cowboys. We talk about it a lot as the underlying goal of the team in the NFL Draft. You can't go wrong if you take the top player left on the draft board. You never want to draft for need, which is why the Cowboys try to fill their holes in free agency to free them up to follow the BPA approach as closely as possible.

But the draft is a complicated beast, even when you pick very high, as Dallas is slated to do this year. It takes more than just lining up four names and taking the top one when your turn comes. On Twitter, KD Drummond (@KDDrummondNFL) and Patrik Walker (@VoiceoftheStar), plus others, discussed this, and it looked like something that merited more discussion, without a 140 character limit.

While the Cowboys do not want to be forced into taking a player at a certain position, it is foolish to think that position and fit are not taken into account when they build their draft board. Every team looks at the same college prospects, but it is probably a safe assumption that there will be 32 different boards when the draft kicks off at the end of this month. Different scouting staffs will come up with varying grades on players, but it goes deeper than that. A player who would be a great fit for one team might not even be on the board for another. One of the clearest examples is the way base defenses shape the evaluations of the defensive linemen. A great 3-4 nose tackle might be largely wasted in a 4-3, and the requirements for edge rushers are not the same, either. A team also has to factor in who it has on the roster already. While the next really great wide receiver may be there for the taking, a team that already has a deep and capable receiving corps may need to consider someone else with a high draft pick. It is all about getting value, where first-rounders tend to be seen as immediate starters, or close. Using that pick on a player that is going to be somewhere down the depth chart is not really a good use of your investment.

This is where there can be some major disagreement between scouting and coaching staffs. One of the more infamous examples of this was the 2013 Dallas war room. As most of you recall, the Cowboys went on the clock with the 13th overall pick, and Sharrif Floyd was the top name on their board. But the coaching staff, which was converting to Monte Kiffin's 4-3 that season from Rob Ryan's 3-4, did not think he was a viable fit for their scheme, and lobbied successfully to go in another direction. The Cowboys traded back and wound up with Travis Frederick, who has since gone to two Pro Bowls, and Terrance Williams, who has been largely successful as the number two wide receiver, despite still catching a lot of balls with his body. That kerfuffle led to the promotion of Will McClay, who has as one of his primary responsibilities getting those kinds of issues ironed out ahead of time and making sure everyone is on the same page.

All of this needs to be taken into account to have the best draft board possible. The Cowboys go into the draft with players slotted by round so they have options for every one of their picks.

And there is some interesting information out there. The list of 30 national visitors to the Cowboys is still being gleaned from sources. The team does not announce who comes in to visit, but the various reporters who cover the team and the league do a pretty good job of getting the names out. OCC has compiled a chart of the known visitors coming in this week, and there is some interesting data there.

Cowboys Pre-draft Visitors per 4/3/2016
CBS Rank Name POS College Proj. Rd Status
2 Jalen Ramsey CB Florida State 1 Official Visit
3 Joey Bosa DE Ohio State 1 Official Visit
Jared Goff QB California 1 Official Visit
DeForest Buckner DE Oregon 1 Official Visit
7 Carson Wentz QB N.D. State 1 Official Visit
8 Ezekiel Elliott RB Ohio State 1 Official Visit
10 Vernon Hargreaves CB Florida 1 Official Visit
11 Laquon Treadwell WR Ole Miss 1 Official Visit
13 Shaq Lawson DE Clemson 1 Official Visit
14 Sheldon Rankins DT Louisville 1 Official Visit
24 Robert Nkemdiche DT Ole Miss 1 Official Visit
33 Paxton Lynch QB Memphis 1-2 Official Visit
38 Derrick Henry RB Alabama 1-2 Official Visit
43 Tyler Boyd WR Pittsburgh 2 Official Visit
116 Paul Perkins RB UCLA 3-4 Official Visit
549 Ryan Brown DE Mississippi State - - Official Visit

Obviously the team is really digging into the first round possibilities, but what is perhaps most intriguing is the list of positions. There are only certain ones on this list: QB, RB, WR, DT, DE, and CB. With the exception of wide receiver, this is the same list of positions that were priorities in free agency.

That actually makes a lot of sense, since there should be an overlap of needs between free agency and the draft. Otherwise you could not reduce the pressure to draft for need by who you sign as free agents. But what is rather interesting is that there are two names that are frequently mentioned as being at the top of the draft that are missing: Laremy Tunsil and Myles Jack. The absence of Tunsil is no big surprise, given the riches the Cowboys are already blessed with. But Jack's absence is more unexpected. It may reflect that the team feels it really has a good situation with the linebackers currently on the roster, and Jack would not be a good way to spend the first pick. It also may reflect a feeling that linebacker is not a position the team wants to spend the fourth overall pick on - something that certainly does not seem to be the case for running back. (Rejoice, all you Zeke geeks.) Admittedly, there are still fourteen names to come, and Tunsil and Jack may still show up, but for now, the priorities seem fairly clear.

This is how BPA is a bit more subtle than just looking at the players and rank ordering them with no consideration for the team's scheme and needs. And it will probably disturb some of those who think Jack is too good a player to not consider, especially if Ramsey is gone before the Cowboys go on the clock. But barring further developments, this may be an indication that Dallas is not as interested in him as the names on this list. Possibly they are not confident in his recovery from his knee injury, or they just don't think he adds as much to the team as other alternatives. Given the evidence from past seasons, this list shows who Dallas would most like to get, either at four or in a trade back. And clearly, BPA is not a pure concept, but has to take everything into account.

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